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Bravo's Blind Date Revival Brings Back Trashy Memories of a Bygone Genre

Let's all take a trip back to the early 2000s, when syndicated TV couldn't stop setting up awful dates.
  • Of course hot tubs figure prominently in Bravo's revived Blind Date, premiering Monday night. (Photo: Boris Martin/Bravo)
    Of course hot tubs figure prominently in Bravo's revived Blind Date, premiering Monday night. (Photo: Boris Martin/Bravo)

    On Monday night, Bravo will premiere the revived and refurbished Blind Date, where they will set up strangers to go on awkward dates with each other and then make fun of those dates with text and graphics on screen. And if you're wondering where they got this bright idea, the answer is where all great ideas come from: the year 1999.

    For anyone who was in their teens or '20s around that time, you almost definitely remember Blind Date. Or else you confuse it with your memories of its many contemporaries and competitors from that era. Blind Date was the simplest in a wave of early 2000s dating shows that saw two people set up and filmed on a blind date. Their interactions — some positive, mostly awful and awkward and train-wreck uncomfortable — are then presented to the home audience, overlaid with "Pop-Up Video"-style captions and snarky commentary. The home audience becomes the laughing, jeering, recoiling fans as dating becomes a spectator sport. Host Roger Lodge, meanwhile, hung back in a TV studio, ready to deliver the exposition and move the audience on to the next couple.

    On one level, Blind Date was simply a Y2K-era update of one of television's most enduring staples: the dating show. From The Dating Game to The Newlywed Game to MTV's Singled Out and the long-forgotten Studs, TV has never gone too long without a show designed to play matchmaker to single people. Blind Date was different, though; now, after decades desensitization and demystification of American courtship rituals, Blind Date took a sledgehammer to any sense of propriety or even respect to the idea of two people looking for love. Blind Date wasn't there for the contestants to find love. It wasn't for the contestants at all. It was for us. It was to let us rubberneck at dates that were somehow worse than our own dating horror stories. Blind Date knew that dating at the turn of the millennium was an exercise in self-inflicted abject humiliation. This time, we could all be spectators and have a laugh at the horror.

    Blind Date wasn't appointment television. Blind Date was, in the last era before DVRs and streaming made all entertainment readily available, notable for being there when you needed it to be. You didn't need to have VOD options in order to know that when you returned him from the bar after hours or made it back just in time for your curfew to end, Blind Date would be airing in syndication somewhere on the cable dial. And if Blind Date wasn't, one of its many competitors/contemporaries would be.

    The wave of snarky/trashy/irreverent dating shows that followed Blind Date most certainly constituted an Era of television. Can you remember them all?

    • Elimidate: Premiering in 2001, this show fully game-ified the Blind Date concept, with one single matched on a date with four other opposite-sex singles (we'll get to queering this genre in a moment), and in each "round" of the date, the single eliminates one person from the date, ending up with one. It's an incredibly clean and easy to hook onto premise, especially once you realize that one round of the date will always be a Hot Tub Round.
    • The 5th Wheel: Four singles — two men, two women — begin the date and pair off, followed by a 5th person added to the date as a random agent of chaos! This show arguably had the best premise of all of them, which is why it's sad that it often failed to live up to its own promise. Here, as with all of these shows, is where adding a queer/pansexual element to the show would have really opened it up. The 5th Wheel was a direct spin-off of Blind Date, so its pop-up-graphics production ethos remained the same.
    • Dismissed: Once MTV caught the dating-show wave, the trash really got cranked up a notch. The format of Dismissed was incredibly simple: one person sets out on a date with two people vying for their affection. At the end of the date, one gets chosen and one gets … well, the title says it all.
    • Next: Another MTV spin on the genre, this time with the addition of cash prizes and a big ol' bus. Also everybody on this show was in their (very) early twenties, and it very much shows. One person starts off with a bus full of potential suitors on the bus. One by one, they go and participate in the date, until they get dismissed for either saying something stupid or for not being cute or because a producer off-screen pushed a button that delivered an electric shock to an implant at the base of the dater's brain. (Probably.) The most genius part of Next was that they made several gay episodes, which, if you've ever met a gay 20-year-old, is a recipe for an absolute horror movie.

    That Bravo is bringing Blind Date back in 2019 is fascinating, because we're arguably nearing the end of the era that replaced Blind Date. Out of the bald-faced crassness of the early 2000s wave of dating shows grew The Bachelor/ette franchise. Truthfully, it was no less crass or cynical than Blind Date, but it came with the veneer of classiness and the pretense that this was all happening in the service of finding one's true love. Of course, the very idea of finding true love at the end of an elimination-based reality show is deeply insane, and nearly every season of the show bore that out. But that veneer was important, in a "fake it til you make it" kind of way.

    So what does it mean now that The Bachelor's influence is waning and Bravo is bringing Blind Date back? Has the pendulum begun to swing back to full irreverence again? Has the Trump era truly coarsened everything? The boner jokes, body shots, and horny-looking Emoji icons in the clip below say "Yes!"

    Premiering tonight, Bravo's Blind Date will air nightly Mon-Thurs at 11:30 PM ET and Sundays at 10:30 PM ET

    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Blind Date, Bravo, Reality TV