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The Dating Games

by Neena Louise

  I am puzzled by the popularity of all the increasingly tasteless "dating" reality shows. Such mindless drivel as The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, Joe Millionaire and Meet My Folks (and last season's horrifyingly bad Bachelorettes in Alaska and Temptation Island) all pull repsectable ratings and I can't help but wonder: WHY?

Sure, it can be fun to watch attractive, yet dateless losers as they humiliate themselves on national television, while they shamelessly pursue a rich/pretty/handsome/whatever single. But after the first two or three episodes (and the last one), what is the appeal? Perhaps that's just it: they are very attractive, but that's all they have going for themselves. Perhaps, other than providing eye candy, shows like this make people feel better about themselves: "I'm not so attractive, but I'm not a loser like they are! I'd never stoop so low - I don't have to." Or perhaps it's like a train wreck: you don't want to look, but you just can't help yourself.

My theory, however, is that people simply have "television fatigue". They have tired of the same old sitcoms putting new spins on the same old jokes; the same old dramas telling the same old story in the same old settings; the same old news magazines spewing the same old half-truths; the same old "reality games" with the same old contestants going through the same old competitions. Watching the biggest, most shallow nitwits in America stooping to incredibly low depths just to get a date/spouse is popular simply because it is different. For now, anyway. In time, the new Dating Games will be as stultifyingly dull as Survivor has become. The first Survivor was also a ratings hit (and very entertaining) while Survivor Thailand was so boring it wasn't even worth watching.

That's precisely the trouble with the reality television boom: the first few episodes of any given reality series/game are so new and different, that we actually think they are refreshing and clever. A few episodes in, however, their true colors become apparent, and we discover (much to our shame) that they're actually very stupid, manipulative and exploitative. That's especially true of the dating/marriage reality fare found on the airwaves these days. Just how many half-naked desperate-to-be-married singles sucking face with virtual strangers can one watch? You can see that anywhere on television today (and done better than on dating reality shows), so I just don't understand the continued appeal of watching the same old stuff over and over again.

And what gives with expanding The Bachelorette to 90 minutes? I suspect that was done simply to compete with American Idol (considering American Idol soundly trounced The Bachelorette, that bit of strategy was a colossal failure), but dating/marriage shows don't even need an hour, let alone 90 minutes. They really only need be a half hour: who kissed who, who backstabbed who, show at least one hissy fit, kick someone off, the end. The genre would last longer - and I suspect even more people would watch - if the episodes last just 30 minutes each.

But never mind. With American Idol back (with - much to my surprise - GIGANTIC ratings) and Survivor Amazon on the horizon (let's hope it's better than Survivor Thailand), the Dateless Wonders (er, Losers) will become history in short order. They simply aren't interesting enough for a long shelf life. Let's hope their newly-forged relationships last longer.
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