From salsa lessons to karaoke, can ‘activity’ dating shows ever lose the cringe factor? | Television & radio | #facebookdating | #tinder | #pof


The rise of reality TV has seen an influx of near-identical shows: if a Love Island season doesn’t show immediate promise, you can watch singles in swimsuits screw each other over on Ex on the Beach, or Temptation Island, or Are You the One?, or Too Hot to Handle.

In a bid to inject new life into these old formats, there have been various genre crossovers, such as the growing pool of talent/dating shows. BBC Scotland’s latest foray into this saturated arena is Love Song, a hybrid of The Voice and Naked Attraction that sees singles belting out bangers in multicoloured pods, in the hopes of, er, getting banged.

There are already a handful of shows that have attempted the same thing, with varying degrees of success (and the exact same number of references to “perfect duets” and “making sweet music together”). There was Sky Living’s Sing Date, a programme I was up until very recently convinced was the product of a summer 2012 dehydration-induced fever dream. The premise was simple, albeit strange: contestants crooned together over Skype, until the best singer (read: best looking) was chosen for a final date in a studio, where they sang an almost-always out-of-tune duet. In The Bachelor’s ever-expanding, increasingly unhinged universe, the latest spinoff is the whimsical The Bachelor Presents: Listen to Your Heart. Musicians sing well-known songs, both individually and as couples, all while living together and going on Bachelor-style dates

The remit of these skill-based dating shows is widening, with the Bachelor franchise hoping to home in on hipsters, if a Facebook post by NBC Universal on a casting call page is anything to go by. Last year, the company posted an advert scouting “single Bachelors Artist between the ages of 35 and 45, above 5ft 7in and any race” who were local to the area and “involved in the arts community at some capacity”.

“If this new brand of reality dating follows through, it’s sure to be the most pretentious,” Paper magazine said of the news. “We’re ready to be wined and dined and entertained and mansplained.”

Flirty Dancing.

Flirty Dancing. Photograph: Robert Parfitt/Channel 4

These shows are a slightly more flamboyant, reality world take on the “activity date” of the real world. But salsa classes or hip-hop karaoke on a first date can be pretty cringeworthy in their own right, and none of these shows have quite cracked the formula of being wholly enjoyable without inducing serious secondhand embarrassment in viewers. Channel 4’s Flirty Dancing comes close, but even it takes things slightly too seriously, considering itself an iteration of La La Land featuring accountants from Wigan badly dancing bachata. While these shows go for a misty-eyed, romcom-esque charm, I can’t help thinking they would be better if they were a little camper and more tongue in cheek.

This is why the most successful talent-cum-dating show, in terms of both viewing figures and bona fide relationships started off the back of it is, of course, Strictly Come Dancing – even if the producers will never admit that’s partly what it is. The “Strictly curse” has to date seen 15 couples split up after rumoured dalliances on the series, and 10 couples (that we know of) going on to make it official. It is treated like a near-supernatural phenomenon; so notorious is the curse that plans this year for dance pairings to isolate together were apparently scrapped by the BBC, fearing a spike in affairs. As with the Olympic village – which also houses good-looking, athletic people in Lycra – these liaisons are inevitable. Our rather nonchalant acknowledgment of the curse in part illustrates our implicit agreement that this is a dating show of sorts, where winning the Glitterball is statistically less likely than winning the heart of someone else’s spouse.

One combination dating show that has proven itself faultless is food merged with flirting. ITV’s cooking show Dinner Date – a version of Come Dine With Me where contestants do their best to prove that the way to a person’s heart is indeed their stomach – has been going strong for a decade. Scarlett Moffatt will soon front ITV2’s Love Bites, a show in which three suitors cook a three-course meal side by side, culminating in a foodie picking the best chef for a date. Though translating this success into dating shows that aren’t cooking-based is difficult, I will certainly enjoy watching the outcome as producers continue to try – even if it’s through my fingers.

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