Heartbreak TV: When the box plays cupid

Maithili Chakravarthy looks into how love and relationship-based TV shows have taken on the role of couples’ counsellors

Today TV plays matchmaker. TV brings people together. TV is cupid. On shows like Bachelor in Paradise, The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, contestants look for love. Away at tropical destinations, the whole thing looks like spring break. Wild parties, drinking and bingeing are the order of the day as couples hook up in swimwear. Sometimes new people walk in and spoil the show. Existing couples feel threatened as new entrants try and break up a pair by asking one of them out on a date. Will he or she accept? Is he or she really that into me, think contestants whose relationships are being tested.

In the age of the smartphone, dating apps and social media, one can lose a friend and make a friend at the same time. On Bachelor in Paradise franchise, a small group of contenders from former seasons of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, those who were unsuccessful at finding love then, spend time on an island hoping to find ‘the one’ this time around. The show sometimes arranges for surprise visits from lovers on previous seasons, putting participants in dilemma.

On Bachelor in Paradise participants are often trying to overcome heartbreak. “A hotel down at the end of lonely street where you go when your heart is broken. It’s always crowded. The bell-hops tears keep flowing and the desk clerks are dressed in black,” says Urban Dictionary. At heartbreak hotel, it’s usually “breakup breakfast, lost my lover lunch and you have been dumped dinner,” it continues.

Heartbreak TV: When the box plays cupid

Viewers like Rahul Singh from Pune want to take part in the show because it seems like a great deal of fun and gives him hope to find a girlfriend. “The Bachelor and The Bachelorette are like the TV version of a marriage bureau. It’s not easy to find a true match, the made for each other types these days… People on ‘The Bachelor’ series have been successful in finding the right people, and thus this gives others hope too to find the right people,” says Singh.

Declares Google user Ankita Malick in a review online about Bachelor in Paradise, “I like it very much… Love from (India)…I secretly wish to go and join the show.” Viewers, hence, see themselves on the show, finding love in the same way their favourite contestants are. The show is one that makes viewers fantasise about the possibilities of being cast away on a similar island – giving love advice to each other with the warm, blue sea for company, sipping on luscious coconutty drinks.

Heartbreak TV: When the box plays cupid

Indian reality TV shows like MTV Love School and Channel V’s Dare to Date available on web streaming platforms such as Voot and Hotstar respectively are shows where the dating game is explored and hosts mentor relationships. The current hosts of Love School Anusha Dandekar and Karan Kundra are in a relationship, as were the show’s previous hosts Upen Patel and Karishma Tanna. On Dare to Date, VJ Andy provides comic relief and tries to unite completely opposite personalities.

Observes Kolkata-based Sayak Chakrabarti, “I don’t like how judgemental the hosts are. Different couples will have different issues and sometimes, it looks like Karan Kundra forces his decisions, gyan rather, on these guys and since they are in a game show, they feel compelled to accept what he says. Also sometimes the seasons end abruptly. Some farewells and endings are very abrupt. In the last season of Love School, the final ended suddenly. For months the producers create a hype around these people, and then one day, it’s the grand finale, the winners are curtly announced and the programme ends there. There’s no felicitation…nothing. To me, such an ending is abrupt and silly.”

Heartbreak TV: When the box plays cupid

“When one goes to carnivals or fun houses with all those funny mirrors, you see your image. It’s often a distorted version of reality. I would say reality TV shows are a little like that. Relationships that we see unfold on TV are sometimes like an exaggerated, distorted version of reality. The parameters for the relationships are the same — for example, how people get attracted to each other, what they look for in each other.

However, one cannot always make direct comparisons between what’s on screen and real life. On the show people say what they feel and reveal details about their relationships. But in real life one doesn’t always like to air their dirty laundry in public. On shows like Bachelor in Paradise, what becomes interesting and also a source of entertainment for people is when emotions that are generally repressed in society are aired. Hence the Bachelor Nation shows have a following,” says Mumbai-based psychologist Nidhi Mehta.

Love and relationship-based reality shows are also about chemistry. Which couple is the crowd favourite? Whose connection is the most powerful? Where do audience sympathies lie? Dean Unglert and Kristina Schulman met on Season 4 of Bachelor in Paradise and instantly became crowd favourites. Danielle Lombard arrives with a Date Card for Dean who she has eyes for. Viewers watch as Dean oscillates between two women until Kristina decides to exit.

On shows like Love at First Kiss on TLC, participants make out with complete strangers. They assess each other based on a kiss. What follows after the kiss is a speed-date for a few minutes, and ultimately a date in the real world — at a café, a restaurant or another place of the couple’s choosing. One date leads to another and at any juncture couples can choose to back out. Audiences usually cringe at waiting couples, who get stood up when someone didn’t show up for a date. Participants judge each other based on kissing style. One actually dumps women if they don’t know the “whirly-dirly” — a kiss with lots of tongue action mixed with circular movements. And then there are other participants who come on the show, who have never been kissed – think Drew Barrymore in the ’90s movie of the same name…You get the drift…

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