The highs and lows of TV dating

CW: ableism

The spectacle of TV dating exploded onto our screens with The Undateables in 2012, followed by First Dates in 2013 and Naked Attraction in 2016. These shows all offer a more realistic look into the dating lives of the British public, far more than Love Island ever will. 

TV dating offers some of the key points of what we find entertaining; cute, funny moments, and complete cringe fests. These are the three main contenders and the shows have filled our TV schedules for years. The reception towards TV dating is greatly divided. Some rejoice in these shows thankful for this form of entertainment whereas others see it as objectifying. Most of these opinions are based on Naked Attraction and The Undateables. 

The Undateables has been the longest standing TV dating show. In 2012, its reception was greatly positive with 2.72 million tuning in to watch its second episode. A YouGov survey found that 28 per cent of its viewers had positive ratings for it, 21 per cent having a negative opinion and 71 per cent having heard of it. For The Undateables, the main problem is found within its name. Some viewers find trouble with the name being ableist, as one viewer stated that “no one should be called undateable based on their disability.”

The problem is not within the show, as the docuseries focuses on opening the dating world up, but rather the engagement with the show, especially the large extent of memes that follow after episodes airing.  One viewer worried about how it could be viewed as “a spectacle for the gentrified audiences who look at these people as lesser”. It is the one show that engages fully with mentally and physically disabled people searching for love, which many shows on TV do not. Viewers do recognise the representation that The Undateables introduces to our televisions. 

The dating shows that are shown on TV reveal what many people can relate to and break the usual monotony of TV. Naked Attraction is one show that has completely reinvented the TV dating scene. The main aspect of Naked Attraction is the focus on physical attraction, completely bypassing awkward small talk to seeing one another naked, whereas First Dates offers the view of the cute first date scene. It is mixed with the awkwardness of the first dates that either go incredibly well or go down in flames. One viewer saw it as a good way to see what to do and what not to do on a first date. The series First Dates grew so much in popularity that a new series, First Dates Hotel, filmed in Italy, was introduced. 

Naked Attraction appears to have the most divided views in regards to TV Dating. Another YouGov survey found 29 per cent had a negative opinion of the show and only 24 per cent having a positive one. The gradual reveal of the participants’ naked bodies causes many to either regard the show as empowering or as objectifying. One viewer worries about how the show may impact the engagement with sex and relationships, in particular engagement with love languages. 

The focus on physical attraction does not sit well with some viewers, as one viewer states that “people are worth more than their body”. However, the worry of objectification is met with the counter argument that the participants signed up through their own free will. 

Like most reality shows, there is the professional element that becomes a worry. One viewer likened it to the stigma of tattoos during an interview: “I’m not sure it should be televised because of the same logic that leads to the above the collar below the cuff tattoo rule – it’s stigmatised and unprofessional, and whether it should or not, it could have a seriously detrimental effect on other relationships and professional opportunities.”. Whenever, the show does start a new series, the common joke always seems to be ‘imagine going back into your workplace after everyone has seen you on the television’. 

Others see Naked Attraction and shows like it as their first experience of being able to relate to someone on TV, and as refreshing. Through the diverse participation of different body types, to the representation of the spectrum of gender and sexuality, the show becomes realistic and down to earth. The inclusion of varying body types allows viewers to not only finally see relatable representation, but also body types that are still often ignored by media. One viewer mentioned how the show introduced something different to TV and how refreshing it was to see bodies of all shapes and sizes.  

Many viewers commend the TV show for its LGBTQ+ representation, especially as TV dating shows focus more on being heteronormative, particularly Love Island. “One thing Naked Attraction does very well is the inclusion of queer people” stated one viewer.  Naked Attraction is one of the shows that has been able to ensure the inclusion of many groups and identities. For some of the viewers, it was the first time they had engaged with the spectrum of gender and sexuality, and body positivity. 

The show appeals to not just one group, but to everyone through its inclusivity, stated one viewer. The show’s focus on representation is emphasised through its inclusion of infographics that provide information about gender identity, sexuality, and safe sex that some viewers may not have known. The introduction of these infographics helps normalise the difference between people and engagements with sex. For many viewers this will be their first engagement with this information. 

When it comes to reality TV, many can be wary as there is a realisation that it is not a character on screen, but a real-life person. The cons do hold significance, yet for shows like Naked Attraction they allow space for many people. Shows like TV dating will always come with a list of both pros and cons.

Imagine: PsyCat Games