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The Group Chat

Netflix's Dating Shows Are Having an Identity Crisis

Perfect Match is the latest series to prove the streamer knows nothing about love.
  • Perfect Match, Love Is Blind, Too Hot to Handle (Photos: Netflix; Primetimer graphic)
    Perfect Match, Love Is Blind, Too Hot to Handle (Photos: Netflix; Primetimer graphic)

    In the three years since Netflix planted its flag with Love Is Blind, it’s taken the reality dating genre to new heights with bold social experiments and increasingly-ridiculous challenges. These shows have proven that people are willing to do nearly anything to find love — or if you’re a cynic, to become a reality TV star — even if it means dressing up as a furry creature (in the case of Sexy Beasts) or entering into a trial marriage with a stranger (The Ultimatum: Marry or Move On).

    Now, Netflix has recruited the most popular (and most dramatic) stars from its unscripted properties and turned them loose in the ultimate dating competition: Perfect Match, in which contestants hop bedrooms searching for their soulmate. It’s an ambitious crossover, but does it work? As Perfect Match concludes its first season, Primetimer’s Brianna Wellen and Claire Spellberg Lustig weigh in on the new mash-up and discuss its place in the larger Netflix Reality Dating Show Universe.

    Claire Spellberg Lustig: Netflix’s reality stars have double-dipped before — think Too Hot to Handle’s Chloe Veitch appearing on The Circle Season 2 — but Perfect Match marks the first time this ever-expanding group has truly crossed over. Perfect Match seems uniquely designed for this group of contestants, who come from shows ranging from Love Is Blind to The Mole, in that it blends elements of Netflix’s dating experiments, strategy-heavy shows, and obstacle-based competitions into one. With that in mind, let’s start with a big-picture question: Do you think Netflix’s attempt to mash up its various reality TV properties was successful?

    Brianna Wellen: As a longtime lover of every reality show that Netflix puts out, from the most wholesome to the trashiest, I appreciated seeing people from these different properties all in one place. Where the mash-up went wrong was in the actual concept of the show. Either give me these strategy-minded folks from many different shows competing in challenges to win money or reach some similar end goal, or give me all the love-focused contestants trying to find the one in a more traditional dating setting. This combination of both is confusing and chaotic.

    Claire: “Chaotic” is the best way to describe Perfect Match. The show’s challenges are so convoluted that poor Nick Lachey has to jump through all sorts of hoops to explain the rules to the slack-jawed contestants standing before him. And the games themselves seem designed to embarrass the singles, some of whom end up unfairly dragged through the mud by their fellow villa-mates. (The less said about that blindfolded kiss-and-tell challenge, the better.)

    You’re right that contestants from strategy-based shows like The Mole and the marriage-ready stars of Love Is Blind don’t seem to be on the same page about the type of show they’re competing on. This becomes apparent with Savannah (The Circle), who’s eliminated after maneuvering her way into an advantageous match with Nick (also from The Circle), and later with Will (The Mole), who won’t shut up about how determined he is to win “the competition.” But this behavior is silly, because being voted the “Perfect Match” doesn’t actually come with a cash prize. It almost feels like the show’s producers either never clarified the rules of the game for the contestants, or they never bothered to ask.

    Brianna: And the Too Hot to Handle contestants seem out of place on both sides. The fake shows all those folks originally signed up for before being asked to remain cellibate for weeks on end had names like Parties in Paradise and Wild Love. They entered the reality television world strictly to hook up and gain a few thousand Instagram followers and instead became pawns in Netflix’s mind games. That’s why no one should have been surprised when contestants like Chase came in not caring about winning challenges or falling in love.

    Claire: Absolutely. I think this is ultimately why I find dating experiments like Love Is Blind and The Ultimatum — both of which come from the mind of Chris Coelen — a bit more appealing. Unlike the Instagram-obsessed stars of Too Hot to Handle, these people are (more or less) normal, and their everyday problems fuel the drama. Questions like, “What will my family think about my fiancé who I said yes to sight unseen?” or “Can we overcome our differing views on children?” are far more interesting to me than, “Will these hot people in bathing suits be able to keep their hands off each other?” There’s a certain messiness to LIB and The Ultimatum that Netflix’s heavily-produced Love Island knockoffs just don’t have.

    Brianna: Of course, those shows come with their own flaws and unspoken set of rules. Getting to the finish line is still a prize, if only for bragging rights among the other contestants. It adds an unnecessary layer of pressure for these relatively young people to settle down and play nice even when there are glaring issues (like an unneutered dog). In some ways I prefer the convoluted, bikini-laden shows because the stakes feel less real. When Nick and Vanessa Lachey step in to encourage two clearly incompatible twentysomethings to get married, that can lead to a lifetime of heartbreak, whereas a rogue heavy petting session on Too Hot to Handle or a flubbed challenge on Perfect Match can easily be forgotten in the annals of time.

    Essentially, Netflix’s muddled dating show identity is only hurting those with good intentions stepping into the more “traditional” programs.

    Claire: While we’re on the topic of “traditional” dating shows, it’s worth noting how cisgendered and heterosexual these series have historically been, even on a supposedly modern platform like Netflix. Perfect Match does switch up this formula a bit by giving Francesca (Too Hot to Handle) the opportunity to match with Abbey (Twentysomethings: Austin), but Netflix’s other reality dating shows are noticeably lacking in queer representation. I’d love to see the streamer take a page out of MTV’s book and order an all-pansexual season of Perfect Match, should the show be renewed for Season 2.

    Brianna: Netflix seems to be at least trying to acknowledge that with the upcoming series The Ultimatum: Queer Love! That’s a start, even though contextualizing queer relationships in the confines of heteronormative monogamous expectations may introduce its own set of problems. But at least Netflix is taking baby steps and is willing to get a little messy in its quest toward inclusion in these dating shows.

    The next step they take should be adding a little more clarity to the intentions and rules behind each show. Otherwise we’ll end up with some hybrid quiz show/physical challenge with all the contestants dressed as aliens, the grand prize being a chance to be the only Netflix reality show alum allowed to procreate, while the losers are left to sink into the set of Floor is Lava (don’t steal that idea, Netflix).

    All 12 episodes of Perfect Match are now streaming on Netflix.

    TOPICS: Perfect Match, Netflix, The Circle, Love Is Blind, The Mole, Sexy Beasts, Too Hot to Handle, Twentysomethings: Austin, The Ultimatum: Marry or Move On