Dating has changed beyond all recognition in the last decade. Yes there is still a place for meeting someone in real life and getting along with them on a personal level, but really that’s analogue in a digital world. Today you can swipe your way through hundreds of potential partners while sitting on the toilet. Until just a few years ago people were so embarrassed about internet dating that they would create fake back stories about how they met.
While our daily dating styles have changed, that is as nothing compared to our TV dating shows. Always a popular genre they have undergone a renaissance recently; if renaissance is a word meaning high-concept nudity. Blind Date used to push the boundaries of taste with a little saucy double entendre flirting. For the contestants they had the chance to find the love of their life, for the audience there was tittering at mullets on men and perms on women. That’s hardly enough to keep our attentions today.
Some modern dating shows – I’m looking at you Take Me Out – rely on the oddness of the men they offer up to draw in a crowd. Some like to draw in sympathy with soppy montages of the people seeking love. But some, as we will see on this list, have gone completely bonkers. Here are 15 of the freakiest ways you could ever look for your ideal partner.
And even better your shame is captured on camera and broadcast to the world.
15. I Wanna Marry Harry
Every little girl wants to marry her prince. One TV show decided to offer 12 American women just that opportunity. Sort of. Producers of I Wanna Marry Harry made the women believe that the winner of the show would get to marry Prince Harry, at the time 4th in line to the British Crown. In fact the contestants were dating Matthew Hicks, a part-time Prince Harry lookalike.
Over eight episodes the girls were wined and dined in a stately home. It was in the fifth episode that the remaining contestants were definitively told that they were indeed dating “His Royal Highness Prince Harry of Wales.”
Except that no one got to watch that episode on TV. The series was cancelled after four episodes due to ratings lower than a properly performed curtsy. The final four episodes were later released online, for those interested. The eventual “winner” of the show remained on friendly terms with “Harry” after the cameras stopped rolling.
14. Temptation Island
Have you ever wanted to test the strength of your relationship? No? Funny that. Most people dislike the idea of their partner being surrounded by attractive single people trying to sleep with them. Luckily for the makers of Temptation Island there were a handful of couples willing to give it a go.
The premise of this show is that four couples are moved to a tropical island. Once there they are split up. The four men go to one section of the island to be joined by twelve model-esque single women. The women in relationships are met by twelve hunky male singletons. Skimpy outfits and alcohol are added to the mix and the results recorded for our edification.
Surprisingly enough lots of the relationships floundered. Who would have guessed? The TV show also hit a few bumps with rapidly declining ratings in the US. This has not stopped it being exported worldwide with versions made in the Britain, Bulgaria, and Brazil, to name a few.
13. Love At First Kiss
Everyone knows what the first kiss of a new relationship is like. Knees weak, palms are sweaty, you surreptitiously check there’s no vomit on your sweater, and then the big moment. TV is not a format that has that sort of time to waste though. In this programme – Love At First Kiss – two people are put together and the first thing they do is kiss. The name of this show is pretty on the nose.
And so are some of the kisses. It turns out that under the pressure of kissing in front of a camera some people lose their sense of direction. When mouths do meet however the results can be just as bad. One unlucky contestant had his literal first ever kiss on the show. It did not go well… His potential girlfriend described it like “Kissing his teeth.”
Those who pass the first kiss trial get to go on a speed date and take it from there.
12. Married At First Sight
What if you don’t have the time to meet with a kiss? Then you have to go through the whole awkward process of dates and falling in love. Married At First Sight takes the dating out of dating. Men and women who have been unlucky in love put their lives in the hands of experts and the first time they get to meet the person they’ve been joined with is when they get joined together in marriage.
Unlike matchmakers of old who arranged marriages the experts on this show use psychometric tests and personality interviews to decide who should marry. Before the pair get married though we get to see them tell their close family what is going on. There’s the nice shock of them hearing “I’m getting married,” followed by the punch line “And I’ve never met them.”
Once married the couple get to spend a year together to see whether they are suited to marriage with each other. Sometimes it works, sometimes… not so much. One person was left declaring “I no longer believe love exists.”
11. Playing It Straight
You have to sort of wonder whether at some point in the pitching process for Playing It Straight someone came up with the title Guess The Gay and they decided to alter the entire show around that idea. In this show a woman is confronted with a group of eligible men. Over weeks of dating and getting to know them she has to eliminate them until one is left. The sting in the tail is that some of the men are gay.
If she picks one of the straight men then she shares the prize money with him. If she ends up with a gay man then he gets all the cash. And she is publicly shown to have no working sense of “gaydar.”
Surprisingly this concept was exported to other countries. Both the UK and Australia picked it up, as did Holland where Herken De Homo (Find the Gay One) ran for a single series.
10. Chains of Love
Chains of Love is the greatest waste of a BDSM-title since Of Human Bondage, the novel by W. Somerset Maugham. Instead of a kinky look at the sexual mores of contestants Chains of Love was a dating show with one simple concept. What would happen if we chained men and women together? Will they fall in love or gnaw their own arms off to escape? Tune in to find out!
In the show one person is chained to four people of the opposite sex. Each of the four represents an aspect that the person in the middle is looking for, whether it is brains, beauty, or a bad boy. One by one the chain gang is cut down as the person in the middle decides to lose one of the people locked to them. In the end it all comes down to one and we find out whether they choose to ever be within feet of each other again when the chains come off.
9. Dating Naked
Dating Naked is perhaps the best dating show ever conceived. I feel it is only fair to declare my interest – I’ve watched all three seasons so far. My partiality doesn’t make the concept any less weird however.
Clothes must have been a fairly early human discovery but apparently they make it difficult for some people to make a meaningful match. Dating Naked takes away this impediment. Men and Women are shipped to a beach-side location and, stripped of their clothes, they seek to find love. The blind dates they are sent on certainly get an eyeful.
Most of the naked dates take full advantage of the nudity. Giving each other oil massages in the buff is one way of breaking the ice. If the date involves water sports however you can be sure that the men will point out just how chilly the water is to their companion.
8. Dating in the Dark
Pretty much the antithesis of Dating Naked is the show Dating in the Dark. Instead of baring all this dating show conceals everything. The only time that men and women meet on this show is in total darkness. It is only after they have bonded and gone on several dates that they are given the opportunity to see each other. Once they have seen the other person they can either keep or dump them. This dumping is done publicly with the dumper brutally walking away from the dumped.
The joy (or shameful-joy) of this show is that everyone enters into the show convinced that looks will not matter to them. If they meet someone they feel is their soul mate they could not care less about their appearance. At least that is what everyone says until the lights come up…
7. Seven Year Switch
Seven Year Itch is based on the idea that all relationships start to chafe after a while. We feel trapped by our significant other and start to look elsewhere after seven years. Not all of the couples who starred on this show had been together seven years however. All were married but were felt as if something was lacking in their spouse.
Married couples were matched up and swapped. This pairing up of partners is clearly designed to make husbands and wives realize what they were missing. Think your husband is not romantic enough? Well here is knight on a white stallion!
For the duration of the show “all rules are off.” If ever there was a license to cheat this is it. Surprisingly, despite all these temptations, married couples do seem to stay together after this experience. What we think we want may not be what we need.
6. Sexy Beasts
Sexy Beasts is a UK dating show that aims to take looks out of the equation. Instead of simply hiding the other person in gloomy darkness they decided the best way forward was to make people up as monsters. Using Hollywood make up techniques people are transformed into robots, fish, lizards, and aliens. They are then matched up with potential dates in other horrific masks.
After trying to keep a meal down while looking at someone done up as a toad or ogre they have to decide which of three monstrosities is the one for them. Only once the choice is whittled down to one is the latex peeled back and the true person revealed. This can either be a touching tale of true love… or a cringe-worthy gritting of teeth as the contestant realizes they preferred the make up.
5. Boy Meets Boy
There are few dating shows that have tackled gay dating. Since most dating shows split people up based on gender the danger with gay dating is that people may fall in love with each other rather than the main contestant. Boy Meets Boy was an attempt to buck this trend.
In this show the main star was James, looking to find a boyfriend. He was presented with fifteen men and he had to find the right one for him. The producers however felt this was clearly not high jeopardy enough. Among the suitors was an equal scattering of gay and straight men. James might fall in love with someone with no interest in him, and we were expected to fall about in laughter at his misfortune. If James chose a gay man then they would share a cash prize and a holiday, if he chose a straight man then the straight man walked away with everything – including James’ dignity.
4. Naked Attraction
For those that find Dating Naked too cerebral there is a British series called Naked Attraction that you might enjoy. While in Dating Naked contestants are given the opportunity to talk to their date (while enjoying the delights of their body) in Naked Attraction all that is revealed is the body.
A slowly rising screen reveals legs, genitals, and chests and the love-seeker has to discard his matches based on those alone. This might seem like a short programme as there is only so long that one may regard genitals before even that becomes boring but luckily the host provides inane and pseudo-scientific chatter to fill the howling void at the centre of this concept.
Once the selection is made the two are allowed to go on a clothed date and we find out whether we can judge a book without its cover.
3. Momma’s Boys
Introducing prospective partners to your family is one of the most intense stages of any relationship. Momma’s Boys attempts to leap frog that by basing their whole programme on letting Mommas in on the whole relationship.
Three boys (those of the title) are presented with potential matches to choose from. Except they are not given complete control of their dating. For the women to get a chance with the boys they must first impress Momma. While the boys got the final choice their options where limited over the weeks of the series by their mothers’ decisions.
In the final episode one boy was left taking a romantic trip with his mother after Momma refused to take any of the available women forward to this final test. After taking his mother parasailing the contestant had a tender stroll along a tropical beach with her. You have to imagine that it was not exactly what he had hoped to get out of the experience.
Jerry Hall, former lover of Mick Jagger and current wife of Rupert Murdoch, was the star of the series Kept in 2005. The conceit of the series was that Hall was desperately in need of a toy boy. Once chosen the handsome young man would be Kept by Hall, receiving $100,000.
None of the boys on offer was selected for their intellect. The unrefined bachelors were put through several trials – including posing nude and taking etiquette lessons. The eventual winner claimed to have spent the duration of filming getting “s**t-faced” and declared that his opponents were mostly illiterate. After filming finished the winner got his money but never saw Jerry Hall again.
In the UK adverts for the programme were banned from the London underground. The posters showed Hall surrounded by half-naked men holding a leash.
1. There’s Something About Miriam
As the quote so nearly goes “The past is a foreign country: they do things transphobically there.” There’s Something About Miriam is the sort of programme you secretly hope could not be made today. Filmed in 2003 the set up seemed, to the male contestants, to be pretty standard. They were sent to a tropical location with the aim of winning the hand of the beautiful Miriam. What they were not told was that Miriam was a pre-operative trans-woman.
The show used the usual dating show techniques to try to get dates going as well as possible. In defence of the show one producer said that they never referred to Miriam as a woman to the men involved. It was only in the final episode that Miriam chose to reveal her status to the men.
Before the show could air the men all joined in a lawsuit against the creators of the show alleging conspiracy to commit sexual assault, defamation, breach of contract, and personal injury in the form of psychological and emotional damage. Before the series could be shown the men and the production company settled the case. By treating Miriam as having something to hide, and the men as being duped, the show played into the worst stereotypes of trans-women.