The announcement of a new TV show based on a Snapchat dating concept is the latest nail in the coffin of a genre that doesn’t have a place in an online dating-focused world
Tue 8 May 2018 10.27 EDT Last modified on Tue 8 May 2018 11.31 EDT
Today in hellish sentences I never thought I’d write, a Snapchat dating show is coming to television. Phone Swap, which currently gets 10 million viewers on Snapchat Discover, will run on select Fox stations later this year.
The premise of Phone Swap is simple. Potential love interests decide whether or not to date each other based on the contents of their phones. Theoretically, it’s a potentially gripping premise. Will she love you if she discovers your Barry Manilow Spotify playlists? Will she love you if she opens your banking app and realises that you’re destitute? Will she love you after reading all the nightmarish murder lists you’ve drawn up in the middle of the night on Notes?
However, I suspect two things will stop Phone Swap from becoming a success. First, it’s a dating show about millennials looking at each others’ phones, so it might as well just be called Hey Everyone, Here’s What My Penis Looks Like. And second, it’s yet another gimmicky dating show in a field littered with gimmicky dating shows.
There are the shows like The Bachelor/Bachelorette, which revel in pitting the very worst people alive against each other for a chance to get off with some orange nimrod. There are shows like MTV’s Are You the One, which is The Bachelor with 1% more science and 10% fewer clothes. There’s Naked Attraction, which is just someone looking at bums. There’s been Dating in the Dark, which managed to combine the heartwarming thrill of dating with the hilarity of watching people repeatedly bang their shins on furniture. There was Next, a show which predated Tinder’s zero attention-span emptiness by more than a decade. And there’s Married at First Sight, where two people are wed before they have even said hello, which is essentially just looped footage of profoundly disappointed parents. (130) add
The problem with all of these shows is that they’re not really dating shows. Over the years, the joy of watching two people fall in love – whether it’s an instant click of chemistry or a slow-burn surge of affection – has given way to a carnival of humiliation. Dating is just a veneer that these shows use to plumb the depths of human discomfiture. You don’t watch The Bachelorette because you believe in the purity of love; you watch it to see a bunch of Donald Jr boneheads present their worst selves to the world. And you’re not going to watch Phone Swap to see the magical moment when two people realise that they need each other in their lives; you’re going to watch it for the mortifying moment when a woman realises that a stranger keeps stalking his ex on Facebook. (143) add
To my mind, the reason why dating shows have fallen into this cul-de-sac of cruelty is because the form has already been perfected. And it was perfected five and a half decades ago. The Dating Game remains the essence of everything all dating shows aspire to be. One dater, a few aspiring datees, a handful of questions and a crusading belief in the power of love, and that was all. In the UK, The Dating Game became Blind Date, in which previous couples would return to the show to dissect everything that had worked and failed during their time together. This, thanks to host Cilla Black’s palpable disappointment whenever a relationship crashed and burned, made it the Abbey Road of dating shows. It couldn’t last forever, because the sheer force of grinding repetition was bound to kill it in the end. But it was pure, and everything since has simply been a slapdash Xerox. (154) add
But I could be wrong. Perhaps Phone Swap will become the new gold standard of dating show. I’d even be happy if it was. Anything that permanently derails The Bachelorette, I’m all for.
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