For more than two decades, individuals have been looking for love on TV — in so many different formats.
“The Bachelor” has served as a blueprint for many, spawning numerous spinoffs — 60 collective seasons having aired since the first in 2002 — with its very straightforward format: a group of singles vie for the attention of one man or woman.
It was a method used many times through the years. VH1 tackled the same with “Rock of Love” as Bret Michaels searched for love and “Shot at Love,” with Tila Tequila looking for “the one.”
Some have flipped the format upside down, like “Joe Millionaire,” which threw in an added layer of a man lying about being rich. Others have gone the realm of seeing what happens when bringing together large groups of singles, à la “Love Island,” “Perfect Match,” “Too Hot to Handle” and “Are You the One?“
Each work for their own reason. Below, Variety has gathered 19 of the best reality dating TV shows of all time. The below are not ranked, but are placed in alphabetical order.
Are You the One?
Premiering on MTV in 2014, “AYTO?” began as a group of singles that are secretly paired with “the one” via a matchmaking algorithm. All singles must live together and try to figure out who their perfect match is. If successful, the group splits a $1 million prize. While the first seven seasons were male-female, the eighth season featured a sexually fluid cast. The Season 5 cast is the only group who were unable to figure out all perfect matches, leaving with no money at the end. Ryan Devlin and Terrence J have hosted through the years. The show also led to a spinoff, “Are You the One: Second Chances,” hosted by Karma Brown. The series brought back 10 perfect matches to compete in different challenges that tested each bond. After three years off the air, the show returned in 2023, moving to Paramount+ with an international season hosted by Kamie Crawford.
Bachelor in Paradise
Every true fan in Bachelor Nation knows that “Bachelor in Paradise” is the best series in the franchise, even if it’s not the highest-rated. Starting as a summer show, “Paradise” has risen far above a guilty pleasure, and will now air in the fall, as part of ABC’s year-round “Bachelor” programming. We don’t even care if they’re there for the right reasons: seeing fan-favorites, villains and Insta-thirsty alums reunite on the beach in Mexico is a recipe for disaster — or reality TV. Plus, when you look past all of the tequila, twerking, tiny bathing suits, tears and tattoos, “Paradise” actually has a better track record for long-lasting couples than “Bachelor” or “Bachelorette.”
Long before the days of Tinder and Bumble, blind dates were actually called, well…blind dates. The show that ran in national syndication from 1999 to 2006 paired up two strangers to meet for the first time, as cameras followed the good, the bad and the ugly of their first date. The best part? The producers added commentary, animation and speech bubbles on screen to show what they — and everyone at home — were thinking. Essentially, the 90’s version of an emoji.
Longtime “Bachelor” producer Elan Gale launched “FBoy Island” in 2021 for Max, flipping the dating reality franchise as we knew it on its head. The reality show — which was canceled by Max after two seasons and picked up by The CW — features three women dating a mix of self-proclaimed “nice guys” and “f-boys,” trying to figure out who is who. Former Bachelorette Katie Thurston joined the third season after failing to find lasting love on the ABC hit.
The 2003 reality show originally aired on Fox, following a group of women vying for one man who they believed to be a millionaire; in the finale, they learned he was an average Joe and if they still accepted him after finding out, they’d split $1 million. In 2022, the show came back with an updated title and twist. “Joe Millionaire: For Richer or Poorer” featured two bachelors — one a secret millionaire and the other a working class man.
The international franchise is one of the most popular, with versions in 24 countries, including U.K., U.S., Australia and Spain. The original British series debuted in 2005 on ITV and featured celebrities, but was canceled after two seasons. It was brought back in 2015, this time with normal people (referred to as “islanders”), living together in a villa, continuously monitored by cameras and microphones. They must couple up to remain in the villa; the public also can vote on who they like and dislike, and when some are dumped, new islanders (or “bombshells”) enter the villa. The U.S. version debuted on CBS and CTV in 2019, with host Arielle Vandenberg, The show moved to Peacock for the fourth season and Sarah Hyland became host. A spinoff, “Love Island Games,” will bring together fan-favorites from across the franchise for a second chance at love and competition, set to debut in November 2023 on Peacock.
Love Is Blind
The pandemic produced one of the greatest dating shows in recent memory with Netflix’s socially-distanced experiment where singles meet each other through a wall in pods to decide if love really is blind — to the point of becoming engaged in the pods and getting married within a matter of weeks, all on television. It may sound crazy, but five seasons in, the show remains a top hit for the streaming giant, and has produced fan-favorite reality (and social media) stars. Plus, the show may even have a better track record of engaged-or-married couples than have come from long-running shows like “The Bachelor.”
Love on the Spectrum
The Australian show first aired on ABC in 2019, later moving to Netflix and dropping its second season in 2021. An American version of the show, “Love on the Spectrum U.S.” premiered in 2022 on the streaming service, becoming a quick hit as it follows people on different parts of the autism spectrum explore the dating world.
For eight seasons, Patti Stanger was the ultimate Bravolebrity, starring in her own show where she matched up her clients from her company, The Millionaire’s Club, a dating service for high-end (read: rich) clientele. Permeating the pop culture zeitgeist, Stanger’s “Patti-isms” may not fly in today’s world, but her candidly brash dating advice (no hard alcohol on first dates, unless you want a baby!) hooked viewers for nearly a decade. Modern matchmaking shows have tried to emulate Stanger’s format, but copycats like “Indian Matchmaking” or “Jewish Matchmaking” on Netflix don’t hold a candle to what Stanger achieved — after all, Stanger is the ultimate Jewish yenta, aka matchmaker.
Long before you could be ghosted, you were “nexted.”
Every millennial remembers the RV of MTV on “Next” — a savage dating game show where a main contestant was put on a series of blind dates with other daters who were secluded on a bus together, waiting for their turn, essentially, to be dumped. After stepping out of the bus for a freeze-frame moment where three random facts were displayed on-screen, each single met the main contestant for a date. The catch? When he or she was sick of you, they yelled, “Next!”
If you think about it, the MTV show was really ahead of its time. “Next” was basically swiping — but on TV.
Married at First Sight
In the Kinetic Content series based on a Danish format, “MAFS” follows three to five couples who have been paired up by relationship experts, agreeing to meet for the first time at the altar. After tying the knot, they go on a honeymoon and live together for eight weeks until deciding to divorce or stay married. The show debuted on FYI in 2014, where it aired for four seasons. Since Season 5, it has aired on Lifetime. As of 2023, 16 seasons have aired. There have been multiple spinoffs, including “Happily Ever After,” “Couples’ Cam” and “Unmatchables.”
In what seems like record time, Netflix has created its own cinematic universe of reality dating personalities — so it was only natural to bring its Avengers all together.
On “Perfect Match,” stars from streaming shows like “Love Is Blind,” “Too Hot to Handle,” “The Circle,” “The Ultimatum” and more all come together to live under the same tropical roof as they frolic around in bikinis, drink too much alcohol from signature monochromatic cups and swap spit with each other, as they participate in challenges and obstacles on the beach. Don’t expect any grand love stories to come from this show, but if you’re in the market for a mindless, messy time, this show is for you. Aside from its sloppy goodness, the show has received widespread praise for its inclusion of bisexual cast members, which stands out among the long-standing heteronormative genre of reality dating TV.
Rock of Love
In 2001, VH1 introduced a whole new generation to Poison’s Bret Michaels with “Rock of Love With Bret Michaels,” a dating show in which 20 women fight to be the rock star’s girlfriend. Inspired by “Flavor of Love,” starring Flavor Flav, the series led to multiple other shows, including “Rock of Love 2,” “Rock of Love Bus,” “Daisy of Love,” “Real Chance of Love,” “For the Love of Ray J” and “Charm School.”
The popular MTV dating show aired for six years — and may have had the wildest premise of them all. Each episode, three men or women would be taken into a van where they would watch on camera as another single raids their bedroom. The raider must choose who to go on a date with based on what is found in their room. Fun fact: A 17-year-old Zac Efron appeared.
Shot at Love
In 2007, MTV cast Tila Tequila as the lead of their bisexual-themed reality dating show, along with 16 men and 16 women vying for her love. The contestants didn’t know she was bisexual until after the pilot ended — and 10 people were eliminated. The show even got a second season and multiple spinoffs, including “That’s Amore!” and two iterations of “A Double Shot at Love” — one featuring “Jersey Shore’s” DJ Pauly D and Vinny Guadagnino.
The original show aired on Fox for three seasons from 2001 to 2003, following multiple couples who choose to live with a group of singles of the opposite sex, to see just how strong their current relationship is and whether they’ll be tempted. The show was brought back, this time on USA Network in 2019, and has continued to introduce new twists. Mark L. Walberg, who has remained the host throughout both iterations, has a special connection with the contestants, acting almost as a therapist instead of a host.
The Bachelor/The Bachelorette
The franchise that started it all, “The Bachelor” will forever be the blueprint for any reality dating show that makes it on air. Numerous shows have tried too emulate it, but few have succeeded. Starting in 2002 as a midseason experiment, the franchise has now aired more than 60 seasons of television over the course of two decades, spawning spinoffs like the female-fronted “Bachelorette,” raunchy guilty pleasures like “Bachelor Pad” and “Bachelor in Paradise” and the short-lived “Bachelor Winter Games” and even a “Bachelor” singing competition show that ran for one season.
While viewership has declined, the pop culture power of “The Bachelor” has not; its shows regularly lead ABC to win the night over their broadcast competitors, and the brand recognition of the franchise is immeasurable (just look at the number of knockoffs, podcasts, memes and TikToks produced daily). Of course, with millions of fans also comes critics, and the franchise is no stranger to controversy. With the ouster of longtime host Chris Harrison and franchise creator Mike Fleiss, the world of “The Bachelor” has weathered more behind-the-scenes drama over the past few years than have been produced on screen — but this fall, execs hope to turn it all around with the latest spinoff, a feel-good senior citizen dating show, “The Golden Bachelor.”
“The Ultimatum: Marry or Move on” follows couples on the verge of marriage — one of the pair have issued an ultimatum to get engaged or break up, while the other isn’t sure. The pair have eight weeks to decide — three of which they’ll be broken up and living with new partners. The Netflix show, created by the team behind “Love Is Blind,” has aired two seasons since its 2022 debut, plus a “Queer Love” season, featuring all women and non-binary people.
Too Hot to Handle
Imagine putting together a giant group of genetically-blessed, scantily-clad, 20-something singles and telling them that they can’t have sex. How do you think that’ll go? Not great!
That’s essentially the premise of “Too Hot to Handle,” which was Netflix’s second hit in the dating genre, following its pandemic breakout “Love Is Blind.” As the world was on lockdown, eyes were fixated on the screen as reality stars were forbidden from kissing or any other sexual contact. As for the prize? Well, the pot of money shrinks every time someone breaks the rules. (Spoiler alert: That happens a lot.)
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