Romantic Competition Reality Shows… this is my genre of choice.

I think a lot of people think I’m a cynical single. I’m always the first to look for the red flags in relationships. I complain about weddings (for good reason – whyyyy are we giving you money for finding love, this is a ridiculous notion in 2020). I’m more likely to say “gross” than “awww” when I see a ‘cute’ couple on instagram. I should be the person who hates Bachelor Nation, Rom-Coms, and #FridayBrideDay on TLC…

But let’s be honest, I’m obsessed.

Sure – a lot of it is hate watching. There are many dresses to mock, romantic gestures to eye roll at, and I very much enjoy betting on how long a couple will last before they break up.

Yet, I watch it all the time just for those moments where even I, the cynic has to admit love exists.

Rom-coms are a fantasy, so I don’t have to worry about bad breakups and big gestures being too much, because it’s not real. It’s just a movie and in that world, everything is perfect. I love a good rom-com more than anything else. I love nothing more than curling up with some take-out and a rom-com on a rainy Friday night. You all know this – this blog is just one rom-com review after the next.

Romantic reality shows on the other hand are a whole other ballgame of obsession. I know – they are not ‘real’. They are often ‘constructed’ reality where storylines are edited or people are produced to get the results that make the best TV. this is my line of work. I get it. But I also know that as much as these people are manipulated – they are real people with real feelings. I have no clue why anyone would ever subject themselves to these shows, yet I’m so glad they do.

I spent my entire summer watching pretty much nothing but romantic reality shows and I have grown to deeply care about the people on these shows. I adore Maura; I want Alexandra and Dylan to get married; Hannah B is (surprisingly) hilarious; I want to be best friends with Demi and (depending on the day) JPJ; and I think Basit is incredible. I want all of these people to find/keep the lasting connection they want in their lives.

If you know these people, you know the shows I’m talking about: Love Island, Love Island USA, The Bachelorette, Bachelor In Paradise (aka BIP), and Are You the One: Come One Come All. While the goal of these shows might be to find love/gain a couple hundred thousand instagram followers – the real goal is to win.

This is the true root of my love – I love competition. I love watching people finding love just for fun (i.e. terrace house, any rom-com). But these shows suck me in in a highly obsessive way because they are gamified.

I sometimes take my romantic-gamification to the next level with bets between other friends who watch these shows. Points are given out for things like kissing (bonus if it’s in a hot tub or helicopter), complaining that someone is ‘not here for the right reasons’, and saying “I could definitely see myself falling in love with you during this journey”. I take this seriously and I often win, but I win because these shows are predictable and I understand how to produce TV (and my aforementioned competitiveness).

This past summer however – we’ve had a bit of fresh air blow through these shows. Still enough the same that it feels comfortable, but keeping things fresh.

Love Island (the OG British edition) had never been better. Winner Amber was a gem. The Tommy/Molly-Mae relationship was phenomenal. The Amy-Curtis-Maura drama was incredible. Frankly, Maura was must-watch TV.

Love Island USA had a solid first season. Do I want it to be a bit more scandalous, yes. Was it better than BIP, I’ll say it – yes it was so much better. A fresh cast of people to cheer on as they fall in love was a joy. With BIP – I’m over all the same old bach stars (who these days feel like d-list celebrities and not ‘real’ people). But on Love Island USA – there were so many wonderful new faces to root for. While Hannah G and Dylan felt stale and boring, Elizabeth and Zac were the exact same but at least somewhat more interesting because they were new. Really – I was just obsessed with Alex and Dylan. Loved them. Can’t wait for season 2.

The Bachelorette pulled off one of the best seasons in years with Hannah (who we all thought was going to be a dud). Alabama Hannah was funny, sexy af, and highly relatable. While watching her fawn over Luke was painful, her ‘Windmill’ adventures with Pilot Pete more than made up for her lack of judgment. When she finally ditched Luke, her table move was incredible. Picking Jed and subsequently dumping Jed was wild. But most importantly, here’s a photo of Tyler C because really – this is why we all watched her season religiously.

While BIP kept us equally engaged/annoyed with all the stagecoach drama – the real moment of the season was when Kristian walked down the stairs for Demi. I mostly hate-watch BIP – the people on this show are general insufferable and were all dumped on their respective seasons for a reason. But this is a pretty conservative, basic show – so to see it attempt to include Kristian + Demi’s story was a big step forward. I only say attempt because I don’t think they did the best job switching up the format to be inclusive (I’d give them a solid B).

The real summer winner was Are You the One: Come One Come All. I could not shut about this show all summer. It is love gamified to the next level (if they don’t all find their perfect matches – no one gets money). Add in the “twist” edition of a sexualy fluid cast and you get a real win. I don’t like that having a sexualy fluid cast was a ‘twist’ but I do like that they did it and I want them to stick to it. It is much stronger than the straight format of this show. As a straight cis girl, it’s not my place to analyze this show on how it portrayed the LGBTQ+ community, however, in my opinion, showing that “love is love is love is love” on tv is a net positive and the more shows we have showing all kinds of love the better.

I don’t love every show in this genre. My most recent show was Temptation Island. I started because I needed something to watch while I waited for these other shows to come back, LBH – it was the definition of trash tv. It is a true train wreck show that I could not help but watch. The basic idea is 4 couples ‘split up’ for a month and hope to avoid (or find) temptation from the singles they are living with to ultimately decide if their original partner is the one for them. You know the couples heading into the villas are going down, why any of them would ever go on this show is mind-boggling – but I’m grateful for their participation. If you ‘win’ you leave with your original partner. That’s bullshit. I’d argue that this is the WEAKEST of the genre, but at the same time, it does add a twist to the genre. Every other show starts with singles finding love, this show starts with couples and ends with them all breaking up. So while I’m not the biggest fan, kudos to the team for bringing something different to the table.

Essentially – 2019 was a great year for Rom-Comp-Reality and I’m very excited about the prospects for 2020.

Tonight The Bachelor kicks off it’s 40th(?!) cycle. Will it be the most dramatic season ever? Probably not – but it will give us a new crop of girls to cast the Bachelorette from. Pilot Pete is a solid choice for a lead and his collection of women seem great. At this stage, I just want him to ditch everyone and then get back with Alabama Hannah – but I know after really getting to know these girls, I’m sure there will be a few that I’ll root for.

Love Island (UK) kicks off it’s first-ever winter season on Jan 12th. Caroline Flack will be missing due to an assault charge but Irish presenter Laura Whitmore will be there for hosting duties. Frankly – I don’t care about this switch. I would be much more upset if Iain Stirling couldn’t do the season. Winter also means that the Love Island villa is changing locations – instead of filming in Mallorca, the production is moving to South Africa. We have no news about who the Islanders are yet – but I know they will be fantastic.

As always I’ll be tweeting out thoughts on the shows as I watch so follow along over at @paula_sand and know that I will be back at the end of the seasons to do some recaps.

Plus – I want to know your thoughts! Are you also a Bach fan? Will you watch Love Island with me? I need people to talk about these shows with 🙂

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