It’s that special time of year again when the sun sets a few hours later, so you can enjoy those tinnies in the park until at least 9pm. But you won’t stay out until 9pm, will you? That’s when Love Island’s on, and tuning in late is as bad as not watching it at all. Think of all the quality commentary you’ll miss on Twitter!
But dating shows are not simply replacements for the summer holiday flings we wished we had. These saucy little morsels of reality TV heaven can be snacked on all year round, with a plethora of flavours to choose from. Don’t know where to start? We’ve got you covered. Here are the best reality dating shows on the planet, handpicked by (self-certified) experts.
Ah, the blueprint for reality TV dating shows. Each year, we tell ourselves: no more. It’s enough. And yet, like clockwork, when the photos and rumours of fresh contestants start circling the internet’s drain around late May, Love Island once again sinks its fake-tanned paws into our brains, heart and soul. Basically, it’s an unavoidable British summertime staple providing high drama, memes and legendary quotes five nights a week.
As Twitter loves to clamour: bring back the labourers, the beauticians, the estate agents. Wannabe influencers begone! Well, this year, it looks as though ITV has finally taken some cues from the audience. With talk of Casa Amor getting unceremoniously axed – the most explosive part of the show – and eBay replacing the likes of In The Style or Pretty Little Thing as its official sponsor, this year’s season might make or break the crown jewel of British reality telly.
Love is Blind
Time to give credit where credit’s due. Love is Blind is so much more than a simple reality TV dating show – there are far too many layers to it. What starts off as a show about blind dating soon morphs into a programme about new couples on holiday, then a wedding show, before LiB reaches its final form: proper, salt of the earth reality TV combining all of the above, with (un)healthy doses of family drama, cheating rumours, anger management issues and commitment crises chucked in.
Love is Blind gives us way more than we bargain for, even when it has relatively little to work with in the first place, bar a set of predictably unhinged contestants. The second season only aired this year, so there’s plenty of time for the format to get tired, but for now, it has earned its spot in the canon of quality reality TV. Best of all? The reunion, which is usually the most drama-filled episode of the season. Honourable mention to the heinous gold-tinted wine glasses each cast member has glued to their hand throughout the show, and, of course, all the extra dirt you can dig up online once the guilty Netflix binge comes to an end.
Too Hot to Handle
Possibly one of the most openly horny reality dating shows on TV, where some of the hottest people you’ve ever seen are packed into a tropical paradise in a bid to find The One. English-speakers from all different locales are brought together for the show, from proper Aussies to fame-hungry Americans and your typical influencer Brit. Not quite sold yet? The contestants are invited onto the show under false pretences before the big reveal: everyone must keep their hands to themselves, or risk the $100,000 cash prize. Depending on whether you slip up with a simple smooch or full-on shag, different amounts will leak from the almighty shared pot with every transgression. Too hot to handle sounds about right.
Picture this: 15 Brits are flown out to an all-American high school (actually located in the US) and dropped into a so-called school environment, before making their way through various “classmates”, one dodgy date at a time, in the hopes of turning one of them into a soulmate. With a $100,000 prize at stake, naturally, pure chaos and hysteria ensues, all of which is narrated by none other than Lindsay Lohan.
This is the premise of Lovestruck High, Amazon Prime’s attempt at getting in on reality TV dating show mania. With an entirely British cast bar one Irishman, if this didn’t sound bonkers enough already, the show gets actors on board to play teachers, steadily encouraging their, um, students, to hook up with one another. With a cast of contestants who fall anywhere and everywhere on the sexuality spectrum, there’s only one thing to find out in this Sex Education-esque reality TV mashup: who’ll make it to prom night in one piece?
Love in the Flesh
The BBC’s latest foray into the realm of reality TV involves a different flavour of couple: ones who’ve dated online, some for months, others years, before finally bringing them together IRL for our viewing pleasure. Against an idyllic Greek backdrop, us lucky lot at home get to find out whether they’ve been swapping nudes or sweet nothings. But most importantly, can their online connection carry over into the real world? Presented by Zara McDermott, a seasoned reality TV alum herself, what starts off as a genuinely interesting premise quickly descends into what can only be described as a tedious Love Island knockoff with less budget to play around with. Sorry to the Beeb – ITV retains the reality crown for now, at least.
Married at First Sight
There are some dating show concepts that are so morally dubious, so utterly and completely unhinged, that it almost feels as though they should be banned on ethical grounds. But obviously we still watch them. Married at First Sight is a prime example, a what-it-says-on-the-tin concept that matches unlucky-in-love couples up after some sketchy compatibility assessments. The first time the betrothed meet is on their wedding day. What could go wrong?
An international franchise, Married at First Sight had relatively humble beginnings in the UK. Couples got married, lived together for a bit and then, at the end of the series, decided if they wanted to get divorced or not. But then lockdown came and, with it, an import from down under. The Australian series upped the ante, bringing Love Island-style dramatics and Big Brother-worthy bust ups. There was cheating, swilling and more than enough drama to stimulate our sad little lockdowned minds. Naturally, the new series of Married at First Sight UK followed suit. We can’t look away.
If you like slow burn romance (at least in reality TV terms), then Singles Inferno is for you. This Korean take on televised dating drops a bunch of very attractive singles (surprise!) on a “deserted” island and waits patiently for sparks to fly. The contestants complain about how basic their set up is, but this is no Shipwrecked. The digs are glamping-at-Glasto lush and they don’t even have to forage for food. Lazy.
But back to the dating element. The couples mingle and complete a few tasks, and then every now and then are asked to choose someone to go on date with. If the person accepts, they get to escape their hell in paradise and spend a night in a luxury hotel. Are they gonna bang, though? Obviously not. Instead they get into deep chats while eating everything they can off the room service menu.
Dating shows don’t have to be all sun, sex and suspicious lip filler. Sometimes they can be genuinely wholesome and heartwarming, a shot of serotonin to quell your Sunday scaries. First Dates pioneered this particular brand of reality TV, filming normal people as they go on a first date at Paternoster Chop House in London. After, they’re interviewed and asked the all-important question: fancy a second date?
At best, you get tear-jerking, made in heaven matches, as couples open up over a steak and a bottle of red. At worst, someone acts like a bit of a dick and it’s a bit awkward. Either way, it makes for charming, cosy TV. And there’s not a single complicated bikini in sight.