5 Bizarre Reality TV Dating Shows

If you’re of a certain age, you can remember a time before reality TV. When writers, not producers, determined the course of events in a program. But when the Writers Guild of America went on strike, first in 1988 and again in 2007, networks discovered they didn’t even need writers to create content viewers would devour. Starting with Real World on MTV, reality TV snowballed into Survivor, Big Brother, Amazing Race, and American Idol. 


Reality TV borrowed heavily from game shows, including dating game shows. The first, The Dating Game, aired in 1965 and the genre got a classic Hollywood facelift in 2001 when Temptation Island came on the air. Since then, the Bachelor and Bachelorette franchise has trudged through 18 years of rose ceremonies and surprise twists. Dating shows have gone down some weird deviations in the past 20 years, here’s five.


5 Bizarre Reality TV Dating Shows


Joe Millionaire

I hold a soft spot in my heart for Joe Millionaire. During my freshman year in college, I finally had full control over what I’d watch on TV, and it was all trash. My favorite dumpster viewing was this gem. Women contestants believed the bachelor they vied for was a millionaire.

Photo by René Ranisch on Unsplash

In actuality, Evan Marriott was a construction worker with a $19 thousand/year income. When he proposed to Zora Andrich and confessed the ruse, she still accepted his proposal. The show awarded the couple $1 million in a surprise twist. Their relationship didn’t last past the season finale.


Conveyor Belt of Love

The title tells you everything you need to know. Thirty men had 60 seconds to impress five potential dates as they rode a conveyor belt past them. The women would hold up signs to show if they were interested or not. It aired one episode in 2010, which panned because of the caliber of men who received the brunt of the criticism.

Two years later, the Tinder app launched on the same premise of split-second decisions leading to love. Tinder also panned because of the same reason. 


Are You The One

I’ve loved this show since day 1. They leave 20 men and women in a tropical paradise, and their only job is to find their “one” partner. Psychologists, friends, family, and reality TV producers calculate the matches. If everyone in the house can find their partner, the entire group splits $1 million.

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Every week at least one contestant swears they don’t care about money and insists on picking the wrong person they met eight days ago because of love. It’s some of the best binge-able content out there. 


Married at First Sight

Does it count as a dating show if you’re married in the first episode? Experts picked from a pool of applicants to match “perfect” couples. The two wed, honeymoon, and move in together throughout the show. In the finale, they either stay married or get an annulment.

Season one, episode one featured a bride, Jamie, who had a full-on panic attack at the altar. She found her would-be husband Doug so unattractive she said, “I do,” in tears. Surprise twist? They’re still married now, six years later, and have two kids. Even reality TV gets it right sometimes.


Date My Mom

For two years in the aughts, MTV created a bizarre alternate “reality” dating show. Watch a few minutes of any episode, and you can tell the show’s scripted. The premise is weird, but also ahead-of-its-time inclusive.

Photo by Matt Mariannelli on Unsplash

A guy, either straight or gay, or a gay woman would meet up with three contestants moms. The dater would take each of the three moms on a date. They’d do cute activities like brunch, attending an art class, or hiking. The dater would tell each of the moms why they did or didn’t pick their daughters. The whole thing is very cringeworthy, but also a pseudo-meta treatise on dating reality shows.