Why we really needed reality dating shows in 2020

Because casual dating was a no-no this year, reality shows became essential viewing for those missing love connections

Since casual dating, sex and even flirting with strangers were mostly forbidden this year because of the pandemic, those of us who weren’t in steady relationships had to find a suitable replacement. Enter the cheesy reality dating show, which maintained its guilty pleasure status but during lockdown suddenly became a way to experience, vicariously, the highs and lows of romance.

Here, complete with spoilers, is a highly personal list of some of the best dating reality shows of 2020.

Best reality dating show: Love Island U.S.: Season 2 (Crave)

The second season of the U.S.’s hit reality dating show was supposed to air in May at an exotic island. But the pandemic and precarious air travel made that a no-go. So the clever producers decided to tape it on the Las Vegas strip, atop the Cromwell Hotel at its legendary Drai’s rooftop patio, submitting all “islanders” to a quarantine before filming began to make sure they didn’t cause a superspreader event.

The backdrop of Sin City proved the ideal setting for watching: a) Mackenzie manipulate Connor; b) Carrington try to prove he wasn’t a player while playing with every woman in sight; and c) Maura struggle to find a personality, and love, after dumping the clingy, whiny, potentially abusive James.

In the end, it was a competition between power couples Cely and Johnny, who experienced their own drama thanks to Casa Amor’s Mercades, and fan favourites Justine and Caleb, who were so cute even Chrissy Teigen tweeted about them.

The love-seekers were all hot, diverse (okay, maybe not in body size, age, ability or sexual orientation) and up for participating in even the most humiliating challenges (remember the food regurgitation one?).

And Matthew Hoffman’s bitchy, pun-laden narration made it all go down as smoothly as one of the drinks prepared by foodie Calvin.

Courtesy of Netflix

Dating Around’s second season, set in New Orleans, showed what a real first date is like. Remember them?

Most realistic dating show: Dating Around, Season 2 (Netflix)

While the second season of Netflix’s most impeccably edited dating reality show lacked something as jawdropping as season one’s infamous Gurki episode, it did change locales (New Orleans) and upped its diversity factor. Musician Deva was set up with both men and women, and awkward university prof Ben’s nervous tics came across as terrifically refreshing.

Best of all, this series evoked that heightened feeling of being on a first date, where you’re trying to find common ground, read body language, not spill your drink or food… oh, and see whether a second date is a possibility or not. Plus, New Orleans looks like a nice place to visit – that is, if we ever get to travel again.

Best new reality dating show: Love Is Blind (Netflix)

This reality dating show – in which strangers got to know each other, fall in love (possibly) and propose marriage just by talking to each other – premiered on Netflix in February, just before for Valentine’s Day. But a month later, when everyone was stuck at home, lots more people discovered it and soon binged it.

And no wonder. The social experiment was like something from a Psych 101 class. Is it possible to fall in love with someone without seeing them? The result was equal parts heartwarming love story (Lauren and Cameron emerged as the series’ favourites pretty soon), trainwreck (Jessica and Mark) and melodrama (Gigi and Damian, Carlton and Diamond).

What no one expected, however, was that it would shed light on things like bisexuality, mixed-race dating and how to deal with deep-seated psychological scars. Add copious amounts of alcohol (usually imbibed by Jessica) and you had an irresistible series, complete with several drop-the-mic moments.

Sweetest dating reality show: Dating On The Spectrum (Netflix)

More diverse shows like Indian Matchmaking and Dating On The Spectrum are proving that we’re getting tired of franchises like The Bachelor. While Dating On The Spectrum could be sentimental and “othering,” it was still a valiant effort at shedding light on the unique challenges of finding love while on the autism spectrum.

The shot-in-Australia series was a little rough around the edges – some of the subjects seeking love only made sporadic appearances – but it was full of genuine heart, something missing from most reality shows.


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