A golden age of trashy dating shows is currently upon us, and you might not have even noticed.
Even through scandals and extremely questionable behavior both onscreen and behind the scenes, Bachelor in Paradise has become a staple of summer TV in the U.S., giving a whole new life to Bachelor and Bachelorette rejects by allowing them to hook up with each other on a beach in Mexico.
Stars are born on that beach, and true colors are shown with the help of the ready-made drama that comes with already having at least one reality show under each contestant's belt. Season three allowed two-time Bachelorette runner-up Nick Viall to turn his reputation around so spectacularly that he was named the next Bachelor. Season three watched hapless penis doctor Evan Bass spectacularly fail and then somehow succeed at wooing Carly Waddell, and now they're married with a baby. Seasons two and three followed the will they or won't they love story of Ashley Iaconetti and Jared Haibon to the point where they're now engaged, three years after we first began watching Ashley pine (and pine and pine) for the man who would seemingly only ever be her best friend.
In season five, we're deep in the middle of an unexpectedly complicated tale of a former Bachelor contestant named Tia who dated a future Bachelorette contestant named Colton, and now that they're both on the same reality show, they can't for the life of them decide if they should date or not.
While America has been watching the Bachelor franchise transform into a little ecosystem of hot, interconnected people looking for love with a side of fame and podcast sponsors, the U.K. has been busy building a similar world of its own.
British reality series Love Island just finished its fourth season, but only recently started making the rounds in America thanks to all four seasons being available on Hulu. CBS has even acquired the rights to an American version, but the sheer insane perfection of the original makes it hard to imagine what that might be like.
Where Bachelor in Paradise is all about getting a rose, Love Island is all about getting coupled up. In the beginning of the season, one core group of single people are brought to a villa in Mallorca and forced to choose someone to couple up with based on nothing but appearance. Official couples sleep in the same bed (in the communal bedroom), compete in challenges together, and will occasionally be sent on dates. New people are added to the villa every few days, and every single new arrival sends the house into a tailspin.
The show is somewhat live, airing six nights a week, and viewers get to vote on their favorite couples or favorite islanders. Sometimes, the couples with the least votes get "dumped from the island," or the other islanders have to choose who out of the bottom three couples should get dumped.
Every few days, everyone gets a chance to re-couple, with the guys and girls switching off in terms of who gets to make the decision. Whoever is left single usually gets dumped, but the rules are constantly changing. Occasionally, host Caroline Flack is there to deliver the news of a dumping in person, but most information is conveyed to the contestants through text, prompting them to yell, "I got a text!" In the end, based on viewer votes, one couple wins 50,000 pounds (about $64,000).
While season three was popular, season four more than doubled in viewership, and the buzz in the U.S. picked up as well. Viewers in the U.K. and U.S. alike fell in love with the chaotic yet organized format, the variety of accents and backgrounds, and the self-mocking jokes courtesy of comedian and narrator Iain Sterling, but there was just something about that season four cast that felt like an extra bit of lightning in a bottle.
There were perfectly concocted characters with perfectly satisfying stories, like Laura the Scottish air hostess who was betrayed twice by younger men who left her for newer women before finding her own happy ending with a guy her age, and Georgia, the loud, fun-loving, and above all "loyal" girl who kept getting herself into trouble before eventually and surprisingly choosing a relationship over the chance to stay in the house.
And there was Jack and Dani (the daughter of English actor Danny Dyer), the couple who got together on day one and never once strayed or did anything scandalous, even when confronted with Jack's ex and a questionable dating history.
The villa collectively lost its mind with excitement whenever a couple officially declared themselves boyfriend and girlfriend, and would occasionally even pile themselves into a massive group hug when hapless Dr. Alex got asked on a date by a new arrival, or when a new member joined the "Do Bits Society," a club for couples who had rounded a base or two.
Like Bachelor in Paradise, Love Island is not without its scandals and its darker moments. There were several incidents just this season, with contestants accused of gaslighting and the show accused of unfair manipulation, like when Dani was sent a video of Jack reacting to his ex-girlfriend joining the cast, just to make her panic.
Both Bachelor in Paradise and Love Island have a long way to go before they even begin to reflect the real world in 2018. Love Island featured one brief same-sex relationship back in season two, and so far it has only featured one black female contestant, who struggled to find a partner throughout the season. Plus, as is typical with dating shows on TV, everyone is slim, traditionally attractive, and rarely wearing more than swimwear
There's still a lot of work to be done in terms of representation and equality, but you can't deny that these shows (Love Island in particular) have figured out quite an addictive formula.
We're certainly not here to abandon Bachelor in Paradise for a foreigner (because above anything else, we're loyal, babe!), but we certainly are here to bask in this plethora of singles in swimsuits forced to couple up or die (or get eliminated, whatever).
Bachelor in Paradise airs Mondays and Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on ABC. Love Island is now streaming on Hulu and airs on ITV2 in the U.K.