Oh, the season of love. With Valentine’s Day quickly approaching there is really no way to avoid it: love is in the air. And what better way to find love than by going on a reality dating show? Programs like The Bachelor and its multiple spin-offs have been helping singles find “the one” (or the one for now) since before 2002. More recently created shows, such as 90 Day Fiance and Are You the One?, prove the tradition of looking for love on a TV show is still going strong.
But for every success story, there is a show you almost forget existed (or one that you can’t believe really existed in the first place). These are the shows like A Shot at Love With Tila Tequila, which was notable for featuring a bisexual woman looking for love from a male or female partner, and Flavor of Love. (Remember, the one where women tried to date Flavor Flav for some reason?) They were the kind of dating shows that made us scratch our heads, but kept us watching at the same time because we just couldn’t look away. But those weren’t the only ones.
Here are 15 Crazy Dating Shows You Forgot Existed.
15. Baggage (2010-2015)
Baggage is the Jerry Springer-hosted dating game show where three contestants would bring out suitcases representing their literal baggage. Each suitcase contained a secret ranging from the just plain weird (like “I drugged my ex and killed his fish“) to the sad but true (“I left my fiancé at the altar“). The dater had to decide which person had “too much baggage” for them to handle and what secrets they could live with.
Baggage was pretty much the perfect guilty pleasure show. It’s the ultimate “would you rather”, complete with all of the worst possible outcomes. It makes you question who you would choose if you were in this situation while also making you realize the complete ludicrous nature of the whole process. Springer fits well into these proceedings, presiding over the ridiculousness with a sly comment or a bad pun. He’s seen it all and nothing much will surprise him. Or us for that matter.
Watch only one episode Baggage and you have an idea of just what kind of show you are in for: one where a person might overlook a seemingly insurmountable problem because of a person’s good looks. Might not be true love, but it sure was entertaining.
14. Dating Naked (2014-2016)
Dating Naked is exactly what it sounds like. Potential partners meet while completely nude (and tastefully blurred for TV viewers at home). Each week the original contestant must go on a date with a new person and then choose to who keep and who to send home. This all takes place in a tropical paradise, like Bora Bora, where the contestants stay in hopes of developing and trying to maintain a relationship with the main contestant.
The premise of Dating Naked is to “strip away preconceived notions, stereotypes-and clothes.” It’s a bold move for sure, but mostly it just makes you question the kind of dates you can go on while naked. (There are surprisingly a lot.) Contestants don’t get as vulnerable as you would think, making this just a generic dating show deep down. It’s another one of those instances where you just can’t look away, especially with the added drama of a bunch of naked people all living in a house together, fighting for love.
Episodes from season 3 of Dating Naked are currently on VH1’s website, if you feel so inclined.
13. Temptation Island (2001-2003)
Temptation Island was a Fox show that sought to test the relationship of existing couples. The show separated the couples and then placed them with members of the opposite sex meant to– you guessed it– tempt them away from their current partners. It wasn’t so much of a “finding love” show as much as a “keeping the love you already have (or wondering if it’s worth keeping at all)” show. The couples could also vote off people they thought their partner might want to date, giving Temptation Island a game show-like edge.
Right from the start you know Temptation Island is not going to end well. They always had models or Lakers dancers or massage therapists or body builders placed with the couples. You knew something bad was going to happen and, like a car crash, you couldn’t look away. Plus the only “prize” of this dating show was keeping their relationship intact which, unlike some of the others which reward a cash prize, isn’t that exciting.
12. Bromance (2008-2009)
Not necessarily a dating show, but Bromance worth mentioning for its premise all the same. It is the competition show where men competed to become best bros with Brody Jenner from The Hills (and now Keeping Up with the Kardashians) fame. The men had to compete in “challenges” such as dealing with the paparazzi, giving toasts, and taking part in dance-offs. But like any good dating show, the guys also had a chance to spend one-on-one time with Jenner in hopes of not being sent home in a hot tub elimination ceremony (yes really). Ahh, the good old days of reality TV spin-off shows of spin-off shows.
Choosing a best friend is definitely as important as finding someone to spend the rest of your life with, so again TV seems like a natural choice to play out this drama. Jenner isn’t the only reality star to go this route either. In 2008, Paris Hilton also had her own show My New BFF where both men and women competed to befriend the hotel heiress. It was a simpler time.
11. Date My Mom (2004-2006)
Date My Mom is the MTV show where a contestant would go on dates with three different moms who are all trying to convince them why their son or daughter was the best choice. The contestant had nothing else to go on except the mom’s description of the child and their experience on the date. In the end they would have to pick who they would want to date before finally having that person revealed.
When it comes to crazy reality dating shows, MTV is the king. The network had a ton of hits, each with their own hook to pull viewers in. The fun of Date My Mom was obviously in the over-the-top mothers all trying to promote their child. Each mother and daughter or son would be introduced, and then would explain how their parent should describe them to a potential partner. Because nothing says true love like your mom telling someone that you have a rockin’ bod.
10. I Wanna Marry “Harry” (2014)
Doesn’t every girl want to marry a prince? That is what the creators of I Wanna Marry “Harry” seemed to be banking on when they thought up this dating show. The short-lived Fox show followed twelve American women all vying for the love of Prince Harry. Except he was not really Prince Harry, but a lookalike named Matthew Hicks. The show was canceled after only 4 episodes (with the rest airing online), but it was enough to establish itself as one of the more bizarre of recent reality shows.
I Wanna Marry “Harry” had all of the classic dating show tropes, including the smart girl, the crazy one, the sexy school teacher and the suitor who just wanted to find a girl to love him for who he really is (a fake prince). But the show did not take off in the same way as many of the others because of the absurd lie contained at its very core, and the disbelief that accompanied it in the age of the internet.
9. For Love or Money (2003-2004)
What is more important to a person: love or money? That was the premise of the early 2000s NBC dating show For Love or Money. Contestants were told they could win a million dollars, if they rejected the bachelor/bachelorette at the end of the show. The twist? The person doing the choosing had no idea the other contestants were offered this deal. As the show went on over its 4 season run the twist changed each time to give it a new edge.
While the premise of For Love or Money does seem devious, it made for interesting television including the season one winner choosing money over love and then choosing being the bachelorette of season two over the cash. Like most of these reality dating shows, it seems the chances of finding true love are pretty slim. However, there’s always room for a second season. Which is more than anyone can ask for, really.
8. Conveyor Belt of Love (2010)
Conveyor Belt of Love is basically TV show Tinder before Tinder existed. Five women sit in chairs as 3o men go by on a literal conveyor belt. They have to decide, using paddles, if they are “interested” or “not interested” based solely on the man’s looks and his 60 second elevator pitch. If two women decide they like the same guy, the man then gets to choose. And thus the conveyor belt continues round and round again until one man is left rotating. The finale couples then go on a date.
You may not remember Conveyor Belt of Love because it was ordered as a one-off special, with more episodes to follow if the show did well. Sadly, it did not and the single episode was all viewers got to see the men’s impersonations, turkey calls and poem recitations.
Conveyor Belt of Love is perhaps one of the more fun and harmless of these dating shows. There were no gimmicks or tricks other than the ones the guys used to woo the ladies. It was kind of sweet in its own way.
7. Singled Out (1995-1998)
Nowadays Chris Hardwick is known as the King of the Nerds and founder of Nerdist, but back in the ’90s he was the host of MTV’s dating show Singled Out, along with Jenny McCarthy (and later Carmen Electra). The show featured 50 lucky contestants fighting to win the love of a member of the opposite sex. The “picker” was unable to see his or her potential suitors, but had to choose from a number of categories including physical attributes, intelligence level, and personality type to whittle down the field. They had to eliminate the people within these categories whom they did not want to date. The eliminated men or women would then parade by the picker so they could see what a mistake they made (or did not make).
Singled Out not only helped launch Hardwick’s career, but also featured stars like the girl group Wild Orchid (featuring Fergie), Jennifer Love Hewitt, and even Will Friedle as Eric Matthews in an episode of Boy Meets World. While it’s doubtful that anyone ever found real love on Singled Out, remembering it now makes for a pretty great dose of ’90s nostalgia, especially once you get a glimpse of Hardwick’s hair.
6. Dating in the Dark (2009-2010)
Do looks matter or is love truly blind? Dating in the Dark puts these age-old questions to the test. Six people enter a pitch black room and conduct conversations with others they cannot see. From the first initial group they must choose a person to go on a one-on-one date with, again all in the dark. Throughout the show the host gives clues, including a peek inside the person’s bag and a look at personality profiles, so the individuals can get to know each other better. At the end of the show the couple are finally revealed to each other and must decide if they like what they now get to see.
Dating in the Dark seemed to have its heart in the right place, except for the ending, where they let the woman or man see if they were being rejected by making them watch their potential partner literally walk out the door. Sometimes it did all end well, with the couples deciding to date further, but the potential for rejection based purely on physical appearance was always there. It’s an intriguing premise for a show, especially hearing the contestants imagine what they think (read: hope) their date might look like.
5. Joe Millionaire (2003)
Joe Millionaire is the original dating show about convincing women to date someone who says he’s something he isn’t. Evan Marriott is no Prince Harry, but he also isn’t a millionaire. Marriott told 20 women he was looking for love– and that he had a seven figure inheritance. Except the truth was that he was an just an average wage-earning construction worker. It was not until the final woman remained that the truth was revealed, and 40 million viewers tuned in to find out if she would still choose to love a man who had lied to her. (She did, and they split the $1 million prize before later breaking up.)
Joe Millionaire aired in the early days of reality TV, when Survivor and Big Brother only had a few seasons and American Idol was just starting out. It was the beginning of seeing other people’s lives playing out for our enjoyment and Americans could not get enough (sometimes it seems like the same might still be true today). So while Joe Millionaire didn’t give viewers a look at true love, it was a revealing portrait of the kind of reality show that would keep viewers riveted.
4. Room Raiders (2004-2006)
Who could forget Room Raiders and that infamous black light? The MTV show took contestants into the rooms of three potential dates to judge the contents within– and the person by proxy. The dates sit by in a van (a MTV dating show staple), commenting on the action and sometimes explaining the reason for their mess. In the end, the person had to pick a contestant to date based only on what they saw in the rooms.
Snooping around a person’s room to get dirt on them was a lot more interesting in the pre-social media days when looking up someone on Facebook just wasn’t an option. However the lessons of cleanliness, password protection, and finding better hiding spots for things you don’t want people to see are lessons that should be taken away from the show.
3. Parental Control (2006-2010)
Parental Control is the totally real MTV show (like the rest of the MTV dating shows) where parents who disapproved of their child’s significant other would each select a new person who they want their child to date instead. The teen would then go on dates with these new people, all while their parents watched with their kid’s current beau. At the end, the dater had to choose between the people selected by their mom and dad, and their current partner.
There’s nothing more awkward than going on a date while being watched by your parents… except maybe being watched by both your parents AND your current boyfriend/girlfriend. Parental Control was cringeworthy TV at its finest. There were almost always foul-mouthed confrontations between the parents and current partner. And rarely did the dater choose to date someone their parents wanted. But we ended up watching all the same, just in case.
2. Next (2005-2008)
How could we ever forget Next? Five people all sitting on a bus waiting to see if their true love was waiting outside. The person doing the choosing could drop them at any moment date by saying, “Next”, including the very moment they stepped off the bus. If they made it off the bus though they got to go on a date. For every minute the candidate stayed on the date they earned $1, and if they made it to the end of the date they could choose to keep the money or go on another date.
Let’s be real, we didn’t watch Next for the dates. We watched it for the antics of the remaining people left on the bus. These people had a lot of time to kill, so they usually made up games or ended up just making out with each other.
Next was also made great by the contestant introductions. They didn’t just state the contestant’s name and age, but some fun and sometimes very personal facts. Feel free to use any of these to update your Tinder bio.
1. Chains of Love (2001)
Chains of Love is a perplexing. Five people are chained together, four of the same sex and one of the opposite. They spend every waking (and sleeping) moment chained together for four days; testing boundaries, personal space, and the amount of things people can do while chained together. At the end of the fourth day, the picker has to choose who annoyed them the least. There are also challenges along the way the group has to go through, like-team building activities and dates.
Chains of Love might have escaped your mind because of the short time it was on TV, but once you hear the ridiculous premise it’s hard to forget it again. It is one of those “how did they even come up with this” kind of shows. But chaining people together is really no different than making people date naked or see each other’s rooms before meeting them– it’s just another way to get people to come together and reveal more about themselves and maybe, just maybe make a connection with another human being. Or at least entertain the folks at home.
Do you remember any of these crazy dating shows? Let’s reminisce in the comments!
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