Often when you think of reality TV dating shows, The Bachelor and Bachelorette are first on your radar. There have been dozens of seasons throughout the legendary franchise, and while they can occasionally wade into compelling territory, they’re not typically treading new ground. Viewers see the same kinds of people and the same few tired pick-up lines over and over again, and eventually, it’s hard not to want something more interesting. Enter Season 8 of MTV’s Are You The One?, which is endlessly refreshing in its diversity and boundary-pushing cast.
Are You The One?’s premise puts around a dozen or so singles in a house together, all of whom have already been paired with someone else on the show by relationship experts and matchmakers. The only problem: they don’t know who their perfect match in the house is — they just know they’re there. Contestants spend the season playing games, going on dates, winning smaller prizes and, if at the end of the season everyone finds their match, the cast splits a $1 million grand prize.
Historically, Are You The One? has paired men and women with suitors of the opposite gender, but in Season 8, Are You The One? features its first sexually fluid cast — gender is no longer an issue, and absolutely anyone in the house could be a match for absolutely anyone else.
This new factor raises the stakes — it’s much more likely that with double the possibilities, the cast won’t figure out all the correct pairings and win the prize. But it also presents necessary LGBTQ representation that feels so refreshing amidst dating shows that still lean into heteronormative ideas of relationships. There will be no Luke P.-style sex shaming here.
The Season 8 premiere of Are You The One? immediately showcases its new level of diversity in meaningful ways. Viewers see Kai, who identifies as trans-masculine nonbinary, administering their testosterone on camera. The episode showcases the story of Nour, a bisexual woman from a conservative Muslim upbringing who’s gone through a divorce and the deportation of her father from the United States. We hear about pansexual Basit’s drag persona, and learn that Paige is using the show as an opportunity to announce her bisexuality to the world for the first time.
These kinds of moments, scattered organically between the actual dating and hooking up of the contestants, feel personal, real, and fresh — and like something modern viewers need, and want, to be seeing and hearing about.
Especially when more traditional shows like The Bachelor focus on following an almost cookie cutter path to marriage and feature contestants that honestly start to blend in with one another, Are You The One? Season 8’s desire to lean into its cast’s differences is so refreshing.
That’s not to say The Bachelor and Bachelorette don’t *ever* make time for meaningful conversations, and plenty of contestants have had wonderful personalities. The monotony among those kinds of shows isn’t always the cast’s fault — in addition to predictable casting practices, The Bachelor/ette has a tendency to leave fun, personality-filled moments on the cutting room floor in favor of petty drama or rehearsed speeches, making it harder for contestants’ quirks, nuances, and diversity to shine.
Admittedly, MTV and ABC likely don’t have the exact same target audience — Are You The One? inevitably slants toward a younger viewership than shows like The Bachelor, and it’s raunchier than what a lot of networks would probably air. But there is overlap there, and old-school dating shows’ tendencies to cast similar types of people and lean on outdated notions of dating have started to make them feel like artifacts from another time, especially when shows like Are You The One? are showing us what could — and should — be the norm.
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