A breakdown of the lifelong love lessons we can take from popular reality dating shows like The Bachelor and Married at First Sight.
If our obsession with seasonal workplace sweepstakes and ritualistic wine and cheese nights are anything to go by, reality dating shows have well and truly stolen our hearts. There’s just something about watching, comparing, and judging flirtatious escapades and dating faux pas that gets singles and couples equally invested in the romantic lives of strangers. But why?
Human psychology will tell us it’s down to one thing: love fascinates us all.
And reality tv love fascinates us by:
→ Portraying an often fictional yet relatable drama, like a modern soap opera that conjures feelings of empathy.
→ Inviting us into the ‘secret’ lives of others, intruding on intimate and personal moments.
→ Exciting us, even when the tale of romance is one we’ve heard a million times over.
→ Educating us on how to behave in love and life.
→ Enticing us with the thrill of the chase (and the drama).
→ Making us feel human, and part of a community.
But what can we learn from our go-to guilty pleasure shows? Here’s a breakdown of the top five love-related shows in Australia right now, and the format, appeals, and lessons that make them irresistible.
1. MARRIED AT FIRST SIGHT: VULNERABILITY IS STRENGTH, BUT LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS
Married at First Sight does precisely what it says on the box; puts a ring on the fingers of two strangers, coupled based on their “scientific compatibility”. From the first time, they lock eyes at the altar, to first dates, moving in, and connecting with other couples, the show follows the bonds formed (and not-so-formed) by complete strangers on their quest for love.
While most dating shows follow the conventional love story, Married at First Sight jumps in at the point most couples would wait years to reach – the wedding. Reverse engineering the journey to finding love, results in more awkward social interactions, heightened aggression, and a ‘will-they, won’t-they make it?’ back and forth that’s oh-so addictive.
When it comes to finding love, there is strength in vulnerability (but keep your expectations low). Although many of us would be shaken by the idea of marrying a stranger, these dating hopefuls place their trust in matchmakers like me, for the chance of finding that lifelong love.
But that doesn’t mean they’re not entering the experiment with some hardline expectations that often lead to one thing: disappointment. While we all have a type (and there’s nothing wrong with that), expecting a stranger to fit every one of your criteria can leave you undeservedly resentful towards them.
In season three, Deborah was devastated to discover her husband-to-be was a caucasian and not a Polynesian per her expectations. Her visible disappointment and frequent jabs ultimately stopped the relationship from progressing further, with it ending almost as quickly as it began.
2. THE BACHELOR: OTHER SINGLES AREN’T YOUR ENEMIES, BUT IT PAYS TO PUT YOUR FEELINGS FIRST
When it comes to reality dating shows, most people would say The Bachelor is the first that springs to mind. Taking one hot bachelor (or bachelorette) and serving up a pool of eligible singles vying for their attention, the show sees candidates given the boot until they choose their ultimate partner.
One word: drama. The contestants get heated, scandal runs rampant and gossip travels fast. Just like Married at First Sight (minus the science), we become immersed in the personalities of our favourite ‘characters’, hoping our obvious pick is the final man or woman at the end, and willing our least favourites to be sent packing.
It’s no surprise competing against 20+ singles can bring out contestants’ competitive side, but whether it’s on-screen or in real life, no one is your enemy in the dating stakes. From swiping the apps to speed dating, frequently checking your new flame’s Instagram likes, or worrying about who else they’re chatting to, focusing on your own connection is likely to yield a far more positive outcome. Blossoming relationships where the couple focuses on their strengths, values, and getting to know one another (rather than their whole dating history or who else they’re talking to) can ultimately build a stronger bond in the long run.
3. LOVE ISLAND: GOOD LOOKS, SEX, AND MONEY AREN’T EVERYTHING
14 singles, dubbed ‘Islanders’, enter a villa in Fiji. To avoid elimination? They must remain coupled up, with the ultimate goal to win $50,000. Motivated by love, money, fame (or all three), personalities, cracks, and true intent begin to show after a few days cooped up together, with outrageous results.
Social media is a key driver of Love Island’s success, appealing primarily to millennial viewers who turn laughable phrases and embarrassing moments into GIFs, memes, and gossip. We place ourselves in the shoes of attractive men and women who strut about on-screen, flaunting bodies many of us could only dream of, picking and choosing their next fling as though at a hotel buffet.
No matter how attractive, desirable, or enticing the looks, fame, and money that form the premise of Love Island may be, true love goes deeper. It’s clear to see why only a few relationships from the show survive, as motives become clearer as the season progresses. From growing social media followings to a huge cash injection, dating in real life may not be so alluring, but the show serves as a reminder love is about connection, vulnerability, and companionship. Looks fade, tough times come but real love goes beyond the surface.
4. BEAUTY AND THE GEEK: LETTING YOUR GUARD DOWN CAN HELP YOU FORM UNEXPECTED BONDS
In the ultimate experiment to answer if opposites really do attract, 10 beautiful women are coupled with 10 intelligent men and find unexpected commonalities, friendship. Pairing brains with beauties, the contestants compete in wild challenges and funny activities, with the winning couple claiming a prize of $100,000.
While some may argue the show reinforces harmful stereotypes about pretty women being unintelligent, and geeky men aka the nice guy coming last not fitting the social norm., Beauty and the Geek is heartwarming, wholesome, and far more progressive than it appears. In a world filled with judgemental first impressions and apps based purely on physical appearance and sexuality, Beauty and the Geek teaches us that true connection goes deeper than the surface.
It may seem obvious, but a clear takeaway from Beauty and the Geek is to never judge a book by its cover. Being open minded, and letting go of ideals we may have about our ‘perfect match’ or ‘must-haves’ in a partner, can allow us to open our minds and hearts to connecting with someone we would never ordinarily approach. While the ‘Beauties’ and ‘Geeks’ may have typically gone for someone ‘in their league’, they allow themselves to form unique and (potentially) truly compatible connections, with some couples going from strength to strength both on and off the show.
5. FARMER WANTS A WIFE: A CHANGE OF SCENERY CAN DEEPEN THE BOND
Five Australian farmers seek to find love in a lineup of city girls wanting a taste of a simpler life, amongst a flurry of drama, romance, and culture shock. The show follows the evolution of the farmers’ raised as country guys with their uncomplicated lifestyles and relationship needs. Matched with their respective bachelorettes – who stay at their farms and are introduced to an all-new way of life. Ultimately, each farmer must decide which lady is most compatible with farm life as well as having the much sought after chemistry. Is one more powerful than the other?
Considered one of the most successful reality tv dating shows, Farmer Wants a Wife has resulted in nine marriages, and 23 babies. The show offers more mature, deep, and meaningful conversations and has an air of authenticity, unlike other dating shows, especially with many of the contestants being older by comparison. In the scheme of not-so-real reality dating, Farmer Wants a Wife appears to be the most genuine in my opinion.
Just like Beauty and the Geek, Farmer Wants a Wife shows us opposites can and do attract. As city girls adapt to country life, both the farmers and bachelorettes learn to accept and embrace their differences. Outside reality tv, this teaches us that while common values can be crucial, opposing interests, perspectives, jobs, and lifestyles offer a fresh perspective. From experiencing new locations to finding a brand new hobby, opening up to those who are different from us (or our usual type) offers the opportunity to positively grow as a well-rounded individual in the relationship. Having complementary similarities and differences allows for fulfilling each others voids.
Whether it’s drama-filled romances or genuine partnerships, reality tv dating shows entice us with soap-opera style plotlines, a peek into the secret lives of others and inspire us with modern takes on the traditional fairytale love story. They can teach us about letting our walls down, opening our dating pool up, and successfully attracting those we perceive as opposites. Ultimately, while there may be debate as to whether on-screen love is authentic or fake, the lessons the shows teach us are undeniably real.
WISHING YOU LOVE, ALWAYS,
Louanne Ward x
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