Just when you thought MILF Manor has cornered the market on cringe-worthy challenges, Netflix’s Perfect Match comes along to claim its place atop the reality TV trash heap.
Perfect Match unites singles from various Netflix series — from dating shows like Love Is Blind to strategy-based competitions The Circle and The Mole — looking to find a long-term partner. Contestants spend much of the show flirting by the pool, as those who don’t pair up are at risk of being eliminated, but in between these rounds of alcohol-fueled “Can I steal you for a second?” chats, the singles are forced to participate in challenges so convoluted Too Hot to Handle’s AI host Lana could have dreamed them up herself.
The first four episodes of Perfect Match, which is being released on Netflix in batches, feature three “compatibility challenges” that seem designed to test host Nick Lachey’s patience, more than anything else. (Vanessa Lachey didn’t make the trip to the villa, leaving her husband to corral these sexy fools alone.) The first sees Lachey ask a series of true or false questions, and the contestants must guess their partner’s answer by standing under either the “Fact” or “Cap” bucket. The partners reveal the answer by pulling the rope attached to one of the buckets; if the guesser is correct, they stay dry, but if they’re wrong, a bathtub’s worth of cold water is dumped on their head. The team that remains dry wins a solo date and a trip to the boardroom, where they can play matchmaker and invite two new people into the house.
On its face, this challenge makes sense: It’s meant to show how well the couples know each other, a key component of any successful romantic relationship. But these people met 12 hours prior, and the true-or-false statements Lachey reads off — such as “The quickest way to turn them on is by kissing their neck” or “Your partner has had a ‘sexident’ in the past” — are deeply personal and have little to do with the singles’ compatibility. Unless they were extremely intimate, both physically and emotionally, during their first night together (which we know wasn’t the case for many of them, like Love Is Blind alum Shayne, who slept on the couch so as not to invade his partner’s space), they have no choice but to guess, and hope they don’t get wet.
You wouldn’t know it from the above description, but Fact or Cap proves to be the most well-thought-out challenge in Perfect Match’s first batch of episodes. In Episode 2, “It’s About the Chase,” the contestants participate in a deranged version of Seven Minutes in Heaven, in which they’re blindfolded and told to make out with the other potential matches. Then, they score each kiss on a scale of one to 10 and explain their rating to the group. The couple with the highest aggregated total score wins, earning date and boardroom perks.
Watching this kiss-and-tell game is a horrific experience, and I would not fault viewers for fast-forwarding until everyone’s tongues are no longer featured so prominently. Running commentary from the contestants, who describe their kissing style as they put it into action on screen, only heightens the secondhand embarrassment.“Once I get the tongue on the lips, then I try to get in a little bit more. I change angles. I work it, you know,” says Nick (The Circle), the excitement apparent in his voice and exaggerated hand motions.
To make matters worse, Perfect Match then forces viewers to sit through 20 full minutes of score reveals, during which the singles are shamed for their behavior (Savannah of The Circle fame gives Too Hot to Handle’s Chase a 7 for slow tempo, but Chase responds with a 3, the lowest score of the challenge) and make weird comments about being aroused. At the end of the tonguing fest, one couple is declared the winner — and we, as viewers, are declared the losers.
Lachey is game for most of this, but he appears to reach his breaking point in Episode 4, “Unfinished Business.” Once again, the Perfect Match host spends a full 60 seconds explaining the rules of the challenge, an unnecessarily complicated game that involves wagering on various physical and mental tasks. As he drones on, he’s met with blank stares and glazed-over eyes, a scene that serves as one of the show’s most unintentionally hilarious moments.
Despite their obvious confusion, the reality stars power through. It helps that for all the complexities of the challenge itself — Lachey announces a task, the couples guess how many they can successfully complete, and then engage in a bidding war to see who will actually do it (the couple with the lowest wager gets the boot) — the activities are comically simple. The pairs are tasked with identifying countries on a map, eating chili peppers, and untying knots on a rope that connects them, as if they’re fifth graders participating in a team-building exercise. The map challenge is particularly exasperating: Francesca (Too Hot to Handle) has to repeatedly tell Dom (The Mole) that Alaska is part of the United States and therefore doesn’t count as one of the 17 countries they must identify to win. But as Joey (The Circle) helpfully tells the camera, “There’s a reason we’re in reality television. ’Cause some of us are not the sharpest tools in the shed.”
Joey isn’t wrong, but Perfect Match’s convoluted challenges don’t exactly allow these singles to play to their strengths. Because as it stands, these games aren’t bringing Netflix’s reality stars closer to lasting love — they’re just embarrassing the show’s participants, and turning viewers off in the process.
The first four episodes of Perfect Match are available to stream on Netflix. Four more episodes drop next Tuesday, February 21, followed by the final batch on February 28.
Claire Spellberg Lustig is the Senior Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.
TOPICS: Perfect Match, Netflix, Love Is Blind, Too Hot to Handle, Nick Lachey