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#42: The Definitive Power Rankings of Netflix Dating Shows
Get in the mood for the holiday binge season by listening to me discuss my most pathetic addiction: Dating Shows
I resisted the urge to watch all of the dating shows on Netflix for a while. It felt voyeuristic, staged, and generally fucked up to wallow in the miseries and triumphs of other people’s personal business. Honestly, it is! For a long time I spoke about HOW stupid it was to watch staged reality nonsense because there were beautiful shows created by brilliant minds that didn’t involve jerks looking for more Instagram followers. However, that was mainly informed by my understanding and limited viewing of The Bachelor, a show that is objectively boring and manufactured to generate social media stars.
Little did I know, there was a world of uncensored, raw, genuinely engaging dating shows on our streaming services. There are also a slew of totally scripted, trashy, garbage shows that are equally appealing. When my girlfriend and I first started dating, we watched HBOMax’s F-Boy Island as a goof because it looked like a fun mess. We have a whole episode on that with Dustin Brookshire–listen to it. But that show kickstarted my recent obsession with reality dating shows. I honestly had FUN watching Fboy. It wasn’t much more than that. Yes, F-Boy Island is somewhat scripted, but it’s goddamn funny and the personalities are hilarious.
For the past six months, Karimi and I have plumbed the depths of multiple seasons of Netflix dating shows. Part of this is due to brain rot, depression, and burnout. I won’t go into specifics of both of our lives, but the various sadnesses that have engulfed our collective experience (not as a couple, but as humans) made us crave the simple pleasure of watching strangers connect, implode, or learn to live with their differences. There are many reasons why dating shows are so popular, but the obvious one is that they are easy to watch when so much of our world is NOT. Dating shows give you the gamut of human emotion in a low-stakes digestible tablet. They remind you that we, this complex species capable of literally destroying an entire planet, just want to talk, laugh, make out, have sex, and have some nice drinks in a tropical location. We can be cruel to those we love, but we also want to be held. We can make terrible self-destructive choices, but we are also kind and sweet to people we barely know.
I won’t claim that all Netflix dating shows restored my faith in humanity, because several of them made me hate people more, but these ridiculous shows granted a calm reprieve from a sometimes hopeless void.
HERE THEY ARE, THE POWER RANKINGS! Starting with Number 9. Should I have listed ten, yes. But whatever.
First of all, the shows that didn’t make the cut: 'Are You The One? , Single’s Inferno, and Back with the Ex. Sorry that you didn’t make it, but be better next time.
9. Love Never Lies (Spain)
I don’t know what to do with this Spanish dating show, because I love all of the other international dating shows that I’ve seen. But damn, this high-concept dating show is awful. God, how do I explain this?
A bunch of Spanish couples are brought to a beautiful villa in Sardinia, and each of them has “Trust issues.” These issues might be based on general insecurity or past infidelities. All of these people are in their early twenties, by the way. They are asked questions about their relationship through a lie-detector (which they call Eye Detect), and if they answer truthfully (according to the lie detector) the collective pot of prize money grows. If they are deemed to lie, the collective pot decreases. After the first round, they are split up, and one group is introduced to a crop of hot singles who want to force the couples to cheat on eachother. People from the past, or just random attractive people are brought in. They know they are being filmed, and yet the urge to cheat cannot be denied. These idiots just can’t help but cheat.
THEN, the separate group is forced to watch their partners mingle with the singles, and more EYE DETECT sessions happen. Every time a truth is told to the Eye Detect, it says very comically “VERDAD,” and when a lie is told it says “MENTIDA.” It’s pretty awful, but that’s why you watch Love Never Lies. It is wonderfully awful, brother.
Should you watch it? Only if your tolerance for absurdity is high. This is a No for me, but maybe you love tacky shit more than I do.
8. Too Hot to Handle
Too Hot to Handle is the quintessential bad dating show. I haven’t watched every season, but I’ve seen enough of Season 2 and all of Season 3. This is another super high concept dating show that utilizes hot, young, stupid, sex-obsessed people to make a vague point of love and attraction.
Here’s the premise: a bunch of airbrushed, cosmetically-enhanced hotties are recruited onto a dating show that they think is all about hooking up. It’s set on a tropical island, and the hot people meet in the first episode, sure that the other sexy straight folks are going to start making out immediately. THEN, a TWIST. The show is actually controlled by a despotic robot console, similar to an Amazon Alexa, named Lana, that decrees no one can make out, touch inappropriately, or have sex, lest the collective cash prize dwindles. People are penalized for hooking up, with the idea that any indiscretions lead to a reduction of the potential winnings at the end. The idea is that these people are supposed to withhold carnal desires in the courtship process so that they can develop GENUINE CONNECTION, a favorite phrase of dating shows.
Obviously, not all of the dummies can resist, and the prize money is routinely subtracted.
Season 3 has a bunch of fools, but most obvious is South African model Nathan and Colorado-based model, Holly. They’re both tall, thin, and conventionally attractive, and they just can’t resist banging even when their comrades’ hard-earned cashish is on the line.
Should you watch it? Yes, for the vapid humans and the absurdity of their “changing” ways via Lana’s enforced chastity and various sessions with therapists and life coaches.
7. Love is Blind (US)
My next three shows are part of the Love is Blind universe. I’ll be real with you and say that my anti-American bias certainly plays a role in how I’ve ranked the three countries represented by Love is Blind. My number seven pick is, of course, Love is Blind US. The reason the US version is my least favorite Love is Blind is mostly because Americans scare me, and I’ll get to that in a moment.
For those who don’t know, Love is Blind is a reality dating show where STRAIGHT singles date without seeing each other. They speak through a wall, in what they call “pods,” and develop intense connections, seeking to prove the absurd premise that LOVE IS BLIND. Why is this premise absurd, because once two singles agree to be engaged (in the dating show way, not the real way), they meet in real life, go on a honeymoon, and then live in a simulated marriage for three weeks. At the end of this period, there is a staged wedding where they must decide, in front of people they actually know, if they’ll get married. This final reveal makes for harrowing television, because it’s quite embarrassing and awkward when someone says “NO.” It’s fucked. It’s sad.
It’s not fair to choose people I don’t like in this one, because so many of the men remind of the scary kind of latent violence within so many American men.
In season 3, boy oh boy there are some scary dudes. Specifically there’s a dude named Andrew who plays this role of a millionaire playboy and it’s incredibly try-hardy, awkward, and annoying. There are also a few dudes who just suck at trust, intimacy, and open mindedness. A young gentleman named Bartise just can’t resist telling his lady how he isn’t attracted to her physically. He says this every day to her. It’s humiliating to watch. But I watched.
Should you watch it–maybe. It isn’t necessary if you watch the international versions, but if you NEED to see Americans do Love is Blind in an American way, then yes.
6. Love is Blind BRAZIL
I watched LIB Brazil after LIB Japan because I KNEW the cultural contrast would be incredible. It is. For one thing, the couples in Brazil almost immediately declared their love. They talked about sex from the start. When the people finally saw each other, they made out and groped. Most boned their first night together. It was just what I hoped it would be–hyper passionate train wrecks. The couples that started out with the most intensity ended up fizzling out by the end, probably because our expectations rarely match reality.
There are some quasi-interesting discussions of misogyny and race in Brazilian society alongside the standard dating show chaos and character/relationship development.
Best part of LIB Brazil is the roller coaster of Shayan and Ana Prado, who start so hot and CRUMBLE. We love it.
Should you watch it? If you’re interested in how dating and relationships contrast in various cultures, then yes! I’d still choose LIB Japan over this one, but Brazil is a better choice than US.
5. Love is Blind JAPAN
Love is Blind Japan offers a profound cultural contrast to both LIB Brazil and US. The cast of the Japanese version is sweeter, more polite, and more concerned with the realities of a romantic relationship. What’s weird is that I started with LIB Japan, so my expectations for the other versions were skewed. There is NO hooking up on Love is Blind Japan. It’s all about cooking meals, having long discussions about complicated topics, and seriously assessing if their futures are possible. Weird relationship dynamics exist here as well, but these dynamics seem more tempered by mutual respect and understanding.
Favorite people: Wataru, the bilingual businessman who loves Midori. Wataru is NOT what his love interest Midori had in mind physically. He is, as she often reminds him, not her type. But he does whatever he can to appeal to as her. He does too much, in fact. But he reminds me of myself, as he has that all-in, puppy dog kind of love for his lady. He has a wonderful deep voice.
One couple was SO strong in LIB Japan from the start. A “Bad boy” hair stylist named Ryotaro and a sweetie pie named Motomi were a perfect match. I don’t want to spoil anything, but watching their relationship develop was a true pleasure. What’s great is that Ryotaro, whose hair was dyed blonde, was considered a bad boy almost exclusively for that reason. Blonde hair. Somehow, despite this terrifying fact, he is a wonderful guy.
There aren’t any people that I don’t like in LIB Japan. It’s just full of good folks.
Should you watch it? If you can only choose one Love is Blind, then this has to be it.
4. Dating Around
Dating Around is the purest and realest “dating show” on Netflix, because it doesn’t have any bells and whistles or obscure hijinks. It is just regular people on dates. Each episode follows one individual on five separate dates at the same locations, and the scenes cut between conversations, drinks, meals, and awkward moments, and at the end of the episode the individual chooses one person for a second date. The first season is set in New Orleans, and the second is in New York, so you also get great regionalized conversations and set pieces. It’s queer friendly, and it feels like a particularly modern examination of dating culture.
Dating Around is beautifully shot, and it makes dating seem less terrifying and more like an exciting, if not anxious endeavor. This is a good vibes show, and it definitely flies under the radar amidst louder, stupider dating shows.
All of the featured people on the show (but not all of the “dates) are likeable. You get the idea that these are real, interesting, cool people who just want to go on five free Netflix dates. Some of them have acting credits, but this isn’t a scripted show. It doesn’t feel like there is much producer intervention. They drink a whole bunch, eat a lot, talk about fun stuff, and make out sometimes. Sounds like the best of dating.
Should you watch it? Yes. For a lowkey, relaxed, and realistic dating show experience, this is a good choice.
3. Indian Matchmaking (two seasons)
Indian Matchmaking is a docuseries/dating show. Indian Matchmaking rules because it’s as much an exploration of how dating/love/marriage exists in a cultural context as it is your standard dating show drama. This show follows a professional Mumbai-based matchmaker named Seema Taparia who works with Indian families in India and the US to facilitate dating and eventual marriage matches. Although the show contains scores of interesting people, Seema is the real star. She is respected by everyone, super-rich and less rich (because most of the people are insanely wealthy or at least well-off), and she holds court in family homes as she dispenses pieces of paper with information about potential matches. These sheets, called BioData, are incredibly important. They are like hardcopy dating profiles, and they are what determine choices. Lifelong marriages and missed opportunities rely on a piece of paper that contains personal values, occupation, a photo, location, and hobbies. Seema only lets people choose one, because she wants them to FOCUS on one person. She has a bunch of rules, and she bases some decisions off of the predictions of a Mumbai mystic who looks at photos and makes determinations like, “this guy is gonna be married in six months.”
Seema is real as hell, too. She tells the annoying people that they’re annoying, and hesitant people to sack up. I love Seema Auntie.
For lovers of language, the code-switching in Indian Matchmaking is reason enough to watch. It’s beautiful to see the seamless code-switching between Hindi and English, and the conversations are captivating.
Should you watch it? YES.
2. The Ultimatum: Marry or Move On (one season)
The Ultimatum is the most dramatic and real show on my list. The premise is kind of convoluted, but here is my explanation. You have a group of STRAIGHT couples where one partner has given the other an ultimatum: you have to marry me or we will break up. The series begins by putting all these couples together so we can see their dynamics, then they are “broken up” to “date” people from the other couples. After this period of dating, the individuals have to decide which person from another couple they’d like a trial marriage with. They choose, engage in the trial marriage by living together for three weeks, and then they go back to their ORIGINAL partner to live for an additional three weeks, then they decide if they want to get married. It’s a lot, and holy shit it’s a journey. It becomes clear early on that some of these couples are combustible trash receptacles, but that doesn’t stop them from idealizing their failing relationships.
There are strange intimate things that happen in the trial marriages, there are uncomfortable truths revealed, there are moments of the most horrible relationship drama. This was one of the only dating shows that left me mouth-agape because of the shocking things that couples say and do to each other. It reveals how messy relationships can be, how cruel we act to the ones we love, and the sparkling possibilities of the early stages of romance. This shit is high-octane drama and I live for it.
The worst person on this show: Alexis. She’s a blond lady who gets no interest from the other men, treats her sweet boyfriend like trash, and then blames everybody else. She is one of those people who thinks she is super hot but can’t come to grips with the fact that other people don’t see her that way.
Best moment: The fallout between April and Jake when April went through Jake’s phone and saw a video of a woman twerking. It’s wild to see how controlling and immature adults act in their romantic relationships.
Should you watch it? If you can handle very immature people who don’t know how to deal with relationships, then yes. If that kind of thing upsets you, then steer clear.
Love on the Spectrum (three seasons):
LOTS explores the world of dating and relationships for people on the Autism spectrum. The first two seasons of this Australian docuseries (although it is advertised as a “reality show”) are set in Australia, but the third season is set in America. In each of the seasons, we see how people on the spectrum confront this already awkward and uncertain realm, and it never, ever, ever disappoints. If you have a heart, you will fall in love with all of the people in Love on the Spectrum, because they are kind, unique, loving, and generally wonderful humans. LOTS is another queer-friendly dating show.
One thing that made me scared of this show initially was the potential for people to watch it and merely make fun of the subjects. I didn’t want to participate in something that wasn’t fully invested in compassion and humanity, but once I took the plunge I couldn’t get away. There is no other dating show that loves its characters like this. No bad guys or temptresses, just people who want to find love who happen to be on the Autism Spectrum. The show is funny without being meanspirited, sweet without being cloying or patronizing, and I just can’t say enough good about it. This seems wrong, but I have to pick my faves from each season. Please know that all of the people are my faves, but I think about a few of them on a regular basis.
Season 1: Andrew makes a Sex on the Beach cocktail and loves to talk about starting a family and jobs. He loves puzzles. He is kind and funny.
Season 2: Ronan Soussa might be the cutest cutie pie of love on the spectrum. Ronan loves cars. His relationship with Katie is full of love and wholesomeness. Once you hear Ronan speak, you’ll want to hear him say anything.
Season 3: my number one guy ever, Subodh Garg. Subodh is a mathematics genius who loves thinking about international travel, honeymoons, and airlines. And he SAYS IT LIKE IT IS. Subodh’s dates with Rachel temporarily restored my faith in humanity, and him pulling Rachel’s chair out wayyyyy too far from the table is simply the best thing ever.
Should you watch it? Yes. Absolutely. Do it now. You’ll feel better.