After several people recommended the MTV reality dating show Are You the One? this summer, I finally watched it this week…and became fully obsessed with it.
Here’s the show’s premise: a bunch of single twentysomethings (who “suck at dating”) are selected to live in a house together. (Yeah, that ol’ chesnut!) Before the season begins, relationship experts do in-depth interviews, questionnaires, and personality tests, and predict the ideal pairings for everyone in the cast. (So, if there are 20 people in the cast, there will be 10 “perfect matches.”) The goal is for each member of the cast to figure out who their predetermined perfect match is. They have a set number of chances to guess as a group, and are only told the number of matches they get correct in a given round — not which perfect matches they got right. If the cast accurately guesses all of the perfect match pairings — again, as chosen by experts — by the end of the season, they will win $1 million.
What makes it so entertaining is that people are horny and complicated and will insist someone is their perfect match even though it’s very obvious that the person is…not. (Because, for example, that person has zero interest in them.)
The real reason I, like a lot of people, started watching this season, is because it’s got a twist: for the first time, everyone in the cast is sexually fluid — so everyone can theoretically be paired with everyone. There are 16 people in this cast (i.e., there are eight perfect matches), so each person has 15 potential perfect matches. (In previous seasons, it might have been, say, nine potential perfect matches.)
I don’t watch much TV and I’m definitely not a reality TV person, but I am hooked on Are You The One?. Here’s why I’ve been loving it so much:
It’s an MTV reality show! The nostalgia part of my millennial brain is lights UP whenever I watch AYTO. There’s something about it that’s so wonderfully MTV; if you liked, say, The Gauntlet, you will probably like this show. It’s just such a pleasure to watch!
It’s a tight edit. A lot of reality TV is filler (looking at you, Bachelor), but AYTO zips along at a great clip — each episode goes down like a can of White Claw. They don’t spend too much time on the things that ultimately don’t matter (like the challenges) and instead get right to the good stuff.
The fact that everyone can be paired with everyone (instead of several people competing for one person) changes the stakes. There are no real “losers,” which is nice. That said, people still are competing with each other (because two people might be into the same person), so there’s lots of drama. Everyone is chasing everyone, which is very fun to watch.
Everyone is queer! To be honest, I wasn’t prepared for how remarkable — or how normal — that would feel. It’s kind of incredible to see this group of people — who represent all sorts of identities and personality types — pursue same-sex or gender fluid relationships casually and openly on national television. It’s also so refreshing to watch a show in which there is no token queer person because everyone is queer.
The show is fascinating. I was surprised by how many relatable dating experiences/attitudes pop up throughout the season. After just a few days in the house, the cast members are already experiencing the full spectrum of emotions and bigger questions you can expect to see over, like, several months of dating. It’s kind of wild to witness such a pure distillation of dating in your twenties, and the ways in which people want to brute-force bad relationships that they are convinced are meant to be. There’s something about this — and, really, the show as a whole — that feels shockingly real, which I wasn’t expecting.
I’m also fascinated by the sense of inevitability each cast member expresses about their perfect match. Instead of going into it thinking, “I need to determine my perfect match to win the money, but I’m free to fall for whoever I want,” they seem to believe that the person selected as their perfect match is their perfect match. (At times, it feels a little strange/extreme — like you’re watching an episode of Black Mirror that’s going to end with all of these people marrying for life.) As a result, they have basically zero interest in strategy (which drives me crazy!!!) and are way more interested in feelings. They are devastated if they realize their perfect match isn’t who they wanted it to be or thought it was, and seem determined to forge a relationship with the person the experts chose for them.
The show has surprising moments of sweetness! Two people doing their makeup together before a party; a bro opening up to his love interest about his childhood; a cast member creating a really beautiful gift for another cast member to make amends; the cast gently and lovingly but firmly confronting the person who is the source of much of the drama in the group…it’s all been fairly moving and lovely, which I wasn’t expecting.
AYTO is just really goddamn entertaining. My girlfriend and I watched the whole season this week (10 episodes have aired so far, and there are two remaining) and were invested by, like, the end of the first one. On Friday night, we found ourselves jumping around and screaming at the TV like we were watching sports.
My one not-insignificant quibble/caveat is that AYTO doesn’t seem to recognize when reality TV antics/jealousy/“drama” cross over into behavior that I would actually describe as abusive. (I’m specifically thinking about Episode 9.) I remember when Real World producers broke the fourth wall to talk about whether the cast felt safe following a fight, and I think they should have done that in Episode 9, particularly because it’s a show about love and dating, and each episode features a relationship expert checking in with the cast. On a show that gets so much right, this was such a miss that I found it genuinely baffling.
Overall, though, I really do like Are You the One? and think it’s worth a watch, especially if you want something kind of lightweight to breeze through. The next episode airs Monday Sept. 3 at 11 p.m. ET on MTV, and I’m very excited about it.
And if you’re interested, here are some other articles about Are You The One? that do a great job of articulating what’s so appealing about it:
How MTV’s ‘Are You The One?’ Is Changing Dating Shows, Rolling Stone.
How Queer People Brought Some Actual Reality to Dating-Reality TV, Jenna Wortham / New York Times.