It’s Valentine’s Day (please, hold your sighs — we get it, and we know), and for some that might mean Costco-sized teddy bears, fancy dinner dates, mushy gushy Hallmark cards and maybe even a rom-com or two. For others, it means throwing on some ready-for-pickup-by-waste-management trashy reality TV about the bane of all of our existences in this modern, 21st-century world (drumroll please…): dating! We’re sorry if we made you shudder at the sight of the word, but whether you’re kicking it totally solo this completely normal Feb. 14, hanging with your pals or still hoping for a bit of Netflix and chill action on Cupid’s sacred day, we at the Clog are here to share our top picks for the best dating reality TV shows to watch this Valentine’s Day.
If you want to hear British people scream “I GOT A TEXT!” along with other Britishisms like “mugged off” and “dicksand” (don’t ask us what these mean) at each other in various eclectic accents from all across the British Isles, then “Love Island” is everything you’ve ever wanted and more. Hear us out: in this dating reality competition show, a swath of hot, young British singles move into a decked-out villa and compete for £50,000 (and each other’s hearts). Each week, contestants “couple up” for one reason or another (usually to win the £50K) and participate in challenges, extravagant dates, backstabbing and sometimes even a bit of “cracking on.” At the end of the week, although sometimes earlier, as dictated by former host Caroline Flack or new host Laura Whitmore (depending on the season you’re watching), each of the islanders must “recouple” and choose whom they’d like to team up with (or share a spray tan-stained bed with) for the next week. You can watch it on Hulu (along with the U.S. and Australian versions as well), and trust us bruvs, it’s absolutely, positively bloody romantic.
Hiding under the “International” tab on Netflix is a surprisingly enthralling and seemingly mundane Japanese unscripted reality television series by the unsuspecting name of “Terrace House.” At first, the show seems to follow a classic U.S. reality television format conducive to getting people to date, but ultimately digs a little deeper beneath the surface in the most refreshing way. Plain and simple, the show captures the daily lives and interactions of a group of six strangers (three men, three women) who live together in a big, sleek house in Japan (with the exception of the “Aloha State” season, which, you guessed it, takes place in Hawaii) as they continue to carry on with their normal obligations (jobs, hobbies, school, friends, etc.). Although not explicitly labeled as a “dating” show per se, nine times out of 10 (with the exception of Hansan, a fan favorite from the “Boys and Girls in the City” season, the only “Terrace House” cast member to ever go on the show already in a committed relationship), that’s typically what the people on the show are there to do. And, unlike the Western model of explosively dramatic, probably semiscripted dating reality TV, drama is uncommon (but when it does happen, it’s saucy as hell), people usually strive to get along, feelings and emotions are shared more freely and the most mundane of actions, including comparing calendars and work schedules to sort out a time and location for a date (a true ode to the UC Berkeley student experience) are featured. The “Terrace House” dating storylines usually play out as a slow burn, and often in the most rewarding (or shocking) way. And even if you don’t speak Japanese, to quote “Parasite” director and recent Oscar-winning icon Bong Joon Ho, “Once you’ve overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films” (re: reality TV).
Well … where do we even begin? It’s no secret that this season of “The Bachelor” is, well, probably the worst, albeit still maybe the most dramatic, one ever — so bad that viewers are hoping, wishing, and dreaming that the bachelor himself, colloquially referred to as Peter the Pilot, gets sent home without a rose on next week’s episode. Have we sold you on the show yet? If you’d still like to spend your Valentine’s Day watching the granddaddy OG of all dating reality shows, we don’t blame you for it. Whether you’re in or out of the dating game, you’ll be glad you didn’t sign up for a dating experience mostly involving crying, backstabbing, shockingly malicious fighting about whether or not a contestant is on the show “for the right reasons,” exploding champagne in your own face or your country star ex-boyfriend singing to you and your current boyfriend in front of a crowd of hundreds. It sounds like hell, and it probably is, but luckily for you, you get to watch it, not live through it. And that, kids, is (probably) the spirit of Valentine’s Day.
If you’re looking to take a break from the typical over-the-top, shaky camera, talking heads-filled dating reality television show format and instead seeking something a little more realistic, modern, and more representative of today’s current dating scene, then Netflix original “Dating Around” might just be the perfect gem to sit back and relax (and at times cringe) to this Valentine’s Day. Although at first it might be just a little too easy to think absolutely nothing of the show, by the end of the first episode (which features Luke, a vaguely more attractive version of John Mulaney working as a real estate agent), we guarantee that you’ll be hooked. Bonus: the first episode is actually the weakest of the bunch, so this is saying something! There’s not a ton to the show, which might be part of its unexpected charm — each episode revolves around one single-and-ready-to-mingle person living in New York City, ranging from a 60-something widower to an Indian-American divorcée to a queer production designer, and follows them as they go on five different first dates involving drinks, dinner and the option of an after-hours nightcap, all expertly cut to give the illusion that said dates all occurred in one night. Of course, given the amount that the title character of each episode typically drinks, that is humanly impossible. Every date turns out totally differently from the next — culture clash ensues, jokes fall extremely flat, someone runs into a door and there’s even a few make-out sessions in an Uber. Each episode leads up to the title character revealing whom they chose to go on a second date with, which we don’t ultimately see, but first dates are known to be a total wild card, so we recommend watching to feel glad that you’re (hopefully) not on one right now.
If you’re not planning on experiencing any magic this Valentine’s Day, might we suggest the next best thing, TLC’s flagship dating reality show, “90 Day Fiancé”? Yes, upon first consideration, it sounds like a slightly longer and more “realistic” spinoff of the basic premise of “The Bachelor,” but it’s actually a show about a series of engaged couples who have to get married within 90 days because one member of the couple lives in the United States while the other doesn’t and has to get a K-1 visa, which dictates that they have to get married within 90 days or otherwise leave the country. The idea of rushing into marriage is a common one within popular dating reality television, but “90 Day Fiancé” takes it to a whole new level. The stakes are extremely high, with the choice being either marriage or deportation-induced separation. The entire show is like one big train wreck that you just can’t look away from, often featuring unwavering infighting that’s grounded in legitimate compatibility issues and relationship red flags like cultural differences, lack of support from family members and an amalgamation of other problems that inevitably bubble to the surface when you’re given three months to marry someone whose ability to immigrate depends on it. Sure, there are success stories, but let’s forget about love — we’re watching for the never-ending soapy cringe drama of it all.
We at the Clog know that the UC Berkeley dating scene can be tough (and should probably have a reality show of its own), so whether you’re in a committed relationship or not this Valentine’s Day, we certainly hope you leap at the chance to indulge in the messy, cringeworthy and totally “real” dating drama of strangers on television who you’ll probably never meet. You’ll at least be glad you’re not one of them.
Contact Chloe Lelchuk at [email protected].