Reality Roundup: What is Love?

Chris Harrison’s Instagram has officially kicked Bachelor Nation back into gear. But in the weeks before The Bachelorette makes its triumphant return, love is already flooding the airwaves. Five different dating-themed shows defined the look of love this week, and one of them might just be the ideal match for you.

1. Love is… Money

Each season, Are You the One brings together twenty-odd twenty-somethings who are willing to admit that they suck at love. Spin-off Are You the One: Second Chances gives them the chance to suck at love again, only this time in Australia. The “science” behind Are You the One purports to pair each contestant with their “perfect match” (heavy emphasis on the air quotes). And, although only one of the ten ‘perfect match’ couples who competed on Second Chances were a romantic pairing in real life, the show’s the weekly physical and (at times) psychological challenges are all aimed at forcing each contestant to examine why they were matched with their partner in the first place. Weekly wins offer the promise of additional cash with each success, while money is taken out of the accounts of each challenge’s losing couple.

And boy does that money talk. Competitor Tori, who shares a colorful history with her perfect match Morgan (they were matched on the show’s fourth season and may or may not have dated until she moved onto his Emily Dickinson-quoting roommate), found it to be instrumental in rebuilding their relationship. “Now that we share $75,000, it’s built a lot of trust that was nowhere before this,” she explained.

Granted, there’s still a lot that the size of their bank account can’t do (salvage Morgan’s tinfoil-clad robot performance, for one, or shield the couple from the seeds of doubt that their competitors are not-so-subtly sowing in Morgan’s earnest little brain).  But with the promise of a cash prize dangling in front of each competing couple, you can be sure that we’ll continue to be presented with perfectly unsuited ‘perfect matches’ that continue to pretend they understand why they were paired together for weeks to come.

New episodes of Are You the One: Second Chances air 9pm ET Wednesday on MTV.  Recent episodes are available on-demand.

2. Love is… Snapchatting Your Own Date-less Date

We’ve all been there: About five minutes into a date, you know it’s going nowhere, he knows it’s going nowhere, and everyone just wants to go home and binge whatever Housewives marathon is playing on Bravo (ok, that last part might just be me).  But it would be rude to leave so abruptly, and too obvious to fake a broken leg, so instead you suck it up and spend an hour staring at the New Year’s Eve photos circa 2005 that are, for whatever reason, still on his phone.

This scenario may soon be one of the distant past. With its bold portrayal of an (admittedly awful) woman who’s not just going to sit back and endure the awkwardness, First Dates gave rise to a revolution this week.

Candice’s date with Ommid was doomed from the fourth question he asked — her age — and never recovered, prompting a bathroom call-a-friend moment that Candice opened with a blunt Hi. I hate him.”)  And then, midway into the date, Candice summarily announced she was leaving. Yes, they had already ordered. No, she didn’t feel compelled to wait for their food to arrive or even (as another dater had admitted to doing earlier in the evening) feign interest because it’s the polite thing to do. She just wanted to leave and so she was out of there.

Nonplussed, Ommid happily enjoyed his fried chicken solo, documenting the momentous occasion on Snapchat. He had his food, she had her freedom — all in all, it really seemed to have worked out.

New episodes of First Dates air 8pm ET Friday on NBC and are available the next day on-demand.

3. Love is… Three Days of Texting

Catfish took an unexpected turn this week. In the typical episode, would-be sleuths Nev and Max help an unsuspecting (or slightly suspecting) starry-eyed romantic uncover the true identity of their online lover. And, since the world is apparently well-stocked with female supermodels who just happen to have naturally low, male-sounding voices, broken web cameras, and unpredictable schedules that are constantly forcing them to jet off to far-flung locales just in time to avoid meeting up with their online suitors, the show is never lacking for material.

Still, in the usual scenario, the ‘catfish’ turns out to be an insecure teenager, desperate for attention and companionship, struggling to understand their own sexuality or to reach some similar level of self-discovery. Honestly, the creepiest part of the show is cast by the shadow of host Nev’s off-camera antics. But now Nev’s child is born and we are no longer forced to stare at various iterations of his fiancée’s baby bump on a daily basis, even that part is cooling off.

Except for this week. Things started off normally enough with 21-year-old Ari meeting model-hot Lanum on a dating site before exchanging “I love yous”, having a few days of intense texting, and finding herself ready to meet her new soulmate. But, then fate intervened, killing poor Lanum’s brother in a car crash (or was it cancer?) and making it impossible for Lanum to find time to meet his new love (though he was happy to accept Ari’s topless selfies in the meantime).

The episode’s creepy reveal leaned far more To Catch a Predator than the show’s preferred Dr. Phil-themed wrap-up. Still, the journey was just as suspenseful and offered yet one more reason to sharpen your Google-stalking skills before interacting with anyone on the internet.

New episodes of Catfish air 9pm ET Wednesday on MTV and are available the next day on-demand.

4. Love is… Spending the Night with a Stranger

It was “Wedding Nights” this week on Married at First Sight, as we followed three couples into their honeymoon suite after being, well, married at first sight (i.e. matched for an arranged marriage and brought together at the altar by a panel of relationship ‘experts,’ including a woman named Dr. Pepper  who moonlights as a relationship expert for the AARP).

Naturally, the conversation was all about sex (as the show’s expert Rachel DeAlto helpfully reminds us, that’s what most married couples do on their wedding night): who was going to have it, when they were going to have it, how much they did or did not want to have it, and everything in between. And, while the episode was all talk and no action — at least for now – rest assured, there’s a whole lot more of married life to unfold.

New episodes of Married at First Sight air 9pm ET Thursday. Recent episodes are available on-demand on Lifetime, and select episodes of prior seasons are available on-demand on FYI and A&E.

5. Love is… Everything from The Bachelor (without all the trappings of The Bachelor)

Picture a world where the bachelor is just a normal-looking dude dating normally-shaped women. Strip away the veneers, the surgical enhancements, and the big dreams of peddling miraculous hair candy on Instagram. Trade in the meticulously edited, musically-augmented confessionals for DIY video selfies; replace the group date performance in a Backstreet Boys concert with a backyard barbeque; and, horror of horrors, weed out the unstable contestants early, regardless of how platinum their private parts may be.

Without all The Bachelor accouterments, it’s no wonder that even Chris Harrison himself would struggle to call the premiere of Married at First Sight: Second Chances ‘dramatic.’  But maybe that’s not the point. Married at First Sight: Second Chances features Vanessa and David, two contestants from failed first-sight marriages of seasons past, who date and eliminate their way through a pool of potential new spouses. There’s no question the two are there for the “right reasons” — if their willingness to marry a complete stranger on TV that one time doesn’t show a desperation to commit, I don’t know what does.  Their earnest enthusiasm for actually getting to know their dates is almost enough to make me believe that those crazy kids might actually make this work. But, until then, the idea of normal dates between normal people is just abnormal enough to keep things interesting.

New episodes of Married at First Sight: Second Chances air 10:15pm ET Thursday on Lifetime.  Recent episodes are available on-demand.

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