TV & Radio

Perfect Match shows that self-awareness is ruining reality TV

When did reality TV shows stop being, well, real? Critics of the genre will argue that they never were, and they might have a point. No one believes the cast of Made in Chelsea just so happen to bump into each other on the King’s Road every other day. But think back to Big Brother, or even the early series of Love Island, and you’ll find a lot more reality. Members of the public, unused to cameras and far less bothered by the opportunities that could come from these shows, let their guards down and created great TV in the process. If they returned to other reality shows, it was with a filter in place and any innocence gone. The dreaded self-awareness had set in. These contestants are now Reality TV Stars, here to play the Reality TV Game.

Never has this problem been so glaringly obvious than in Netflix’s latest dating show, Perfect Match. Here, a cast of former contestants from other shows on the streamer – ranging from Too Hot to Handle and Love is Blind to The Mole and Sexy Beasts – are encouraged to find their “perfect match” among other Netflix alumni. The most compatible couples are given the power to play God with their housemates, breaking couples up and bringing new Netflix stars into the mix. It could be a fun format, if the contestants were making their reality TV debuts, but their experience makes the whole thing feel contrived and staged.

When people say that shows like Love Island have gone downhill in recent years, they often argue that the contestants are too focused on building an Instagram following to actually find love. But the stars of Perfect Match don’t just dream of fame; they already have it (depending who you ask). They know that drama plays well on TV, and admit that they can manipulate the game to stay in the house longer. Given the chance to pick which girl to save, Nick – who appeared on The Circle – struggles to choose between his head, his heart and “the strategic side of me”, which is telling him to stick with a girl he doesn’t even like so they can “ride all the way to the end of this thing”. Romantic, huh?

Perfect Match plays out in sharp contrast to a recent hit like The Traitors (UK edition), which was praised for finding normal people – call centre workers, charity fundraisers, retirees – who were willing to give their all to the game in hope of winning the show’s cash prize. But on Netflix’s new show, while the cast all parrot their desire for a “perfect match”, love doesn’t even feel like that desirable a goal. After all, the contestants make it clear from the start that basically everyone knows everyone anyway, and a lot of them have already slept together. The only difference now, it would seem, are that cameras are there.

At this point, “reality stars who go on other reality shows” has become a sub-category of celebrities, populating shows such as Celebs Go Dating in the UK and Dancing with the Stars across the pond. I, like many others, devoured The Traitors over Christmas and eagerly anticipated the arrival of the US spin-off. But I was let down when the cast of the American version were a mixture of regular members of the public and exactly this type of celebrity (even Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte has appeared on Celebrity Big Brother, Dancing with the Stars and his own show, What Would Ryan Lochte Do?). We rooted for hun icon Amanda on The Traitors UK because we wanted her to win the money – but when the Traitors already have a level of fame, it’s harder to do so.

As with the UK series, The Traitors US improved as the show progressed. While fame undeniably affected the strategies that many of the celebrities were trying to deploy – let’s be real, RHOBH’s Brandi Glanville would never have made it as a Traitor – Survivor star Cirie played a truly impressive game, pinching the $250,000 cash prize from her normie castmates at the last minute. Of all the reality stars, however, she was one of the least “famous”. Despite appearing on six seasons of Survivor, Cirie has never won. In the end, it’s her normality that allowed her to win, not her fame.

At a time when offers are surely pouring in for the stars of The Traitors UK to extend their reality careers, you couldn’t blame them for wanting to capitalise on their fame. But while it might be good for their careers, it’s not necessarily good for the shows they star in, as Perfect Match proves. When every contestant has reality TV experience, they enter the action all the more determined to be the chaos agent of the season. But the drama becomes so excessive that every exchange feels like a manufactured attempt to steal attention. I would love Perfect Match… if I believed a second of it.

‘Perfect Match’ is out now on Netflix

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