From Take Me Out to Baggage, dating shows are taking over

For those looking for love, gone are the days of coffee, candlelit dinners and online dating. For anyone serious about escaping loneliness/cats/academia, taking to our TV screens is the new way to find ‘the one’.

The modern classic in this genre is ITV’s Take Me Out, an event now essential in the college social calendar.  With Paddy McGuiness’s ever-cheeky innuendos and a good smattering of cringe, diamante and gender stereotypes, Take Me Out attracts millions each week, itching to see if the boys’ ‘talents’ can get any more tenuous or whether any girl will suffer a wardrobe malfunction teetering down those pink steps. It’s also an important sociological study – as we get to know the contestants each week, we come to a greater understanding of what makes the modern girl tick. Reasons for keeping their light on have included a shared love of dragons, owning the same breed of dog and a penchant for deck shoes, whilst professing a love of classical music is enough to send them all reaching for that red button.

But Take Me Out’s monopoly on the field is under threat. This year Baggage burst onto our screens in an explosion of sexy dancers, secrets and suitcases. This show takes on-air confessions to the next level as the contenders reveal their deepest darkest truths to a hyperactive Gok Wan and a packed studio audience, with the contestant eventually deciding whose baggage they can cope with, and who they should send  packing –excuse the pun. Baggage does seem quite sensible in some respects: it’s probably wise to find out whether someone enjoys stuffing dead animals or goes out with girls for cash (both genuinely featured on the show) before falling head over heels in love with them.  But, it’s also a scary test of our first impressions as we discover that the professional golfer who seems so well-dressed and charming declares he won’t date a fat girl, whilst the cute Barbie look-a-like eats her own hair.

Then we have Girlfri3nds, to me the most realistic of the new kids on the dating show block. For those who have missed this gem lurking amidst the wilds of ITV2, take three girls looking for love, put these strangers in a luxury mansion and have 100 men ‘audition’ in front of them. Then comes a veritable marathon of ‘next stages’: a date, 12 hours spent in the fancy pad, 24 hours immersed in the guy’s life and the final hurdle, meeting the girl’s parents, before the couple finally make up their minds to go out with each other. This long and drawn-out process which has us screaming ‘just flipping snog him!’ at the TV is surely the most comprehensive approach to dating ever. Yet it is also slightly implausible because the girls invest so much time, energy and fake tan into making their decision. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising if they whacked out a colour-coded diagram in one of their debrief sessions.

The TV producers are clearly onto a winner here, but why? Perhaps it’s because these shows provide an escape from the sad realities of singledom and a microwave meal for one on a Saturday night, offering a chance to live vicariously through the glitz and glamour of TV. Equally, witnessing two people trying to navigate the rocky road of dating in front of millions makes your average Joe or Joanna’s attempts at romance seem positively first class.

With ITV recently commissioning a further two series of Take Me Out, it seems the serious spouse-hunter should embrace the world of lights, cameras, tiny dresses and vats of hair gel. Ditch drunken encounters on the cheese floor at Park End or furtive glances across the rolling stacks and fire off your applications….