From Temptation Island to The Ultimatum - have reality TV dating shows gone too far to get viewers?

Given how controversial Love Island has been, it’s a wonder TV producers continue to push the boundaries with ever more ethically questionable reality dating shows

It’s getting increasingly difficult to turn on the TV after the watershed and not land on a channel airing a dating show with a new repulsive gimmick.

Last month it was The Ultimatum: Marry or Move On with its terrible premise - marriage-eager partners back their significant other into a corner and tell them to propose or hit the road. That’s an objectively bad idea for anyone in a relationship and frankly the show should have carried a ‘don’t try this at home’ disclaimer. My personal highlight of this car crash of a series came in the finale when a woman begrudgingly agreed to marry her narcissistic boyfriend only to have it sprung on her that the marriage would take place that same day - oh boy could she barely hold back her tears.

Not quite a shotgun wedding on The Ultimatum

Next month will see the return of dating show behemoth Love Island - a programme that puts a group of gorgeous, fame-hungry 20 and 30 somethings into a villa in the hope that they’ll start having sex with each other.

But the list goes on - Married at First Sight, Love is Blind, Too Hot To Handle, Love in the Flesh - Christ, it’s relentless.

And as each iteration of the same dull premise with its own super clever twist gets greenlit, society seems to drift ever closer towards a moral abyss where anything is fair game in the name of entertainment.

Temptation Island, an American show picked up by Channel 4 this year, was presumably pitched as ‘let’s find the most efficient way to screw up a relationship, and then film it’. The series sees apparently committed couples pause their relationship and head off to Hawaii to meet a bunch of attractive members of the opposite sex - they will then resist temptation and go back to their partner stronger and more committed. At least, that’s the plan, of course a fair few of them cop off with the sexy singles and their relationship ultimately breaks down, how fun!

An emotional scene, courtesy of Temptation Island

Let’s revisit Love Island - two contestants and one former host have taken their own lives since the first series aired. Mike Thalassitis and Sophie Gradon hung themselves in two incidents less than a year apart, and since Gradon’s death three new seasons of the show have been trotted out, and very little seems to have changed.

Obviously there’s no single person or programme to blame for those tragic deaths - but it does raise some tough questions about why TV producers and viewers continue to support a culture of reality TV that exploits its subjects to - and past - breaking point. These dating programmes throw mostly unknown people into the spotlight, where they will become celebrities overnight and be picked apart by the public in a death by a thousand cuts style of online trolling. The nature of many of these shows, and Love Island in particular, is that they create heroes and villains from the contestants who are actually just normal people excited by the prospect of fame and money - and who can blame the participants for that?

Mike Thalassitis is one of three people connected with Love Island to have taken their own life

There really is no escape from this hellscape of televised ‘entertainment’ - after the briefest of lulls following the finale of Love in the Flesh last month (where couples who have only dated online meet in real life), news came out about the next worst thing to infect our screens - Lovestruck High, which airs on Amazon Prime Video on 18 May.

Lovestruck High will follow a group of British singles as they go back to school - for some reason it’s an Americanised high school experience and the prize money is in dollars - where they will aim to find the love of their lives. Actually they’re trying to secure a date to the prom, but you get my drift. The series is narrated by Mean Girls star Lindsay Lohan (why not?) and has a $100,000 prize for the couple who will be crowned prom royalty.

Lovestruck High will by no means be the worst offender in the genre - it looks more mind-numbingly stupid than outright immoral - and at least this series also features gay couples. But there’s no doubt Lovestruck High will also shoot its cast into previously unknown levels of fame - and neuroses - as it is consumed by millions of viewers who will be desperate for their next fix of dating show drama the moment they finish the season finale.

Fully grown adult contestants of Lovestruck High look for love in a school... which feels wrong

What started out as mostly harmless trash TV has become something much more toxic as show producers join a rush to the bottom of the barrel, searching for any and every ‘shocking’ twist or ‘dramatic’ reveal that might pull up their audience share.

The shows all involve some element of deception and in most cases producers frame the programmes in such a way to encourage cheating - in fact it’s now built into the format. In The Ultimatum couples who have been together for years have a three week ‘trial marriage’ with another partner. Love Island has Casa Amor, another villa where the guy’s heads are ‘turned’ by a fresh batch of hot young singles, creating discord back at the ranch.

I genuinely don’t know where the event horizon for these shows is, or if there is any idea too ludicrous to be tried out. I’m scared to speculate about outlandish future shows (Love on Drugs - the show that takes ‘speed’ dating literally) in case some big time producer takes my tongue in cheek recommendations and runs with them.

And with no end in sight to these cookie cutter shows, the best anyone can do is to simply not watch them, and try and find something, anything that doesn’t contain a cast of beautiful idiots completing inane challenges badly.