Why we enjoy ‘Winter full of Love’ and other reality TV about relationships

Winter full of Love, First Dates, Farmer Seeks Woman. We can’t get enough of it: programs about finding love. What does this say about us? “We love watching dates.”

From the exciting ‘Ooh, who would sit opposite me’, the awkward silences, the clichéd questions such as: ‘What do you do in everyday life?’, getting to know each other, the spark that jumps out or that painful rejection; we love watching programs about finding a partner.

According to media psychologist Mischa Coster, this is not surprising: “Dating really appeals to the imagination. Almost all of us have experience with it. We often find it interesting even if we no longer do it ourselves. It’s exciting to watch a date and these programs allow you to do that unabashedly. When we see people having a first date in a restaurant, we would like to sit next to them, so to speak, to see how it ends.”

“Love and dating are universal themes. We all know it, the discomfort, the infatuation, rejection. That is why we like to look at it,” Timo Harmelink also explains. He has already had many hours of reality TV this year. He, together with three others, creates the popular podcast Reality check and discusses reality shows.

Recognizable and accessible

The podcast did well, but became extremely popular when the three podcast makers started writing daily B&B Full of Love were going to discuss. The program is recognizable and accessible, according to Harmelink. The TV makers focus on a broad target group by casting various people. “There are different participants of different ages, almost everyone can recognize themselves in someone.”

‘Love professor’ Alfons Vansteenwegen (a Flemish sexologist and relationship therapist) prefers to zoom out and thinks the popularity of these types of programs fits in with a broader movement in society. “We have started to find relationships increasingly important in recent years. We come from a period in which egocentrism and autonomy were central. You didn’t need anyone, you could be happily single. And that is also possible, but we are also more likely to admit: I do want a relationship, I am looking for love.”

Critics also call these types of programs ‘gloating’, or ‘monkey watching’, but according to media psychologist Coster, that is putting it too simply. “Most viewers sympathize with the participants. You feel the awkward moments and may experience vicarious shame, but you can be happy for someone when they find a partner. It’s empathy rather than schadenfreude.”

That for example B&B Full of Love is so popular, may also have to do with a kind of escapism, according to Coster. “No research has been done yet, but I think it is possible. We are currently confronted with intense images in the news and on social media of wars, for example. It may well be that we now prefer to watch these kinds of programs, a kind of flights. We know what to expect, it is ‘safe’ in that sense. You don’t have to be afraid of unpleasant images, it’s ‘feel good’.”

‘We think we can learn something from it’

“We also like to watch reality TV because we think we can learn something from it,” says Coster. “We look at situations and think about how we would react. We often think that we can do better than the participants. People are masters of overconfidence. What we also like to do is discuss the programs we have seen. That also serves as a kind of mirror that is held up to us. These debriefings are a kind of human knowledge competition, because from the bench we often know exactly how something should have been done and how it should not have been done.”

Love professor Vansteenwegen also says that we can learn from watching how others imagine their way on the path of love on TV. “You can learn by seeing things happen. But I also say: the real school of love is par excellence the family that someone comes from. So in that sense we have been ‘programmed’ much earlier than we think.”

Relationship therapist Ava Glazenburg from Haarlem emphasizes that watching a date is completely different from sitting opposite someone. “I see such programs as a false experience. It’s not real and in that sense, you don’t really learn much from it.” Although she understands why we like to watch it: “Love is a basic need. And these kinds of shows are about finding love, so it touches basic emotions of ours. Although at the same time you can also feel guilty, for example because you find what you see uncomfortable.”

The programs that are now so successful, such as the one that has been running for years First Dates , have certain elements that make us want to keep watching, explains the media psychologist. “You have the element of surprise: who is pitted against each other? How do they react to each other and is it a match? That remains fun. In addition, as a viewer you are curious how the date goes.”

In Long Live Love , where two people are put in a holiday home, the format of ‘being locked up’ plays a role. Coster: “You put people in a different room and see what happens. This was of course once the success of reality programs Big Brother , and an element of it still works as a program. You are somewhere and you have to make something of it. I think that at B&B Vol Liefde, where they stay in someone’s bed and breakfast, this also contributes to the success.”

The feeling that you are watching something ‘real’

The secret to the success of a good dating program is the feeling that you are looking at something ‘real’. Coster: “It has to feel authentic. Of course, it’s television so all kinds of things are being produced. But as a viewer we want to get the feeling that we are watching real feelings.”

So it must feel that the participants have sincere intentions, Harmelink also says. “A lot can be arranged, but you have to have the feeling that the people who participate really hope to find love. I think that’s why, for example Farmer seeks wife is so popular, you see participants there who really hope that it will become something.”

Bee B&B Full of Love , the ratings hit last summer, the sincerity was not always present in every participant, Harmelink found. “The program also has a slightly ‘crazy element’, as I call it. They cast a few special types, for example the spiritual Walter and his women. We all liked that, but as TV makers you shouldn’t go overboard with that. On reality shows you often have people who only participate because they hope to become famous. Or because they want to become an influencer. They become celebrities after their participation.”

“If that is only their goal, the viewer will immediately see through it. Then it no longer feels real. But you also have the couple Paul and Debbie B&B Full of Love . They are now famous Dutch people, participating in other TV programs. Fine, because they really are a couple. But as TV makers you have to make sure that people don’t just participate for fame.”

Much staged

According to Harmelink, as viewers we know that a lot has been staged, but it shouldn’t feel that way. “The program The Bachelor for example, is completely destroyed and viewers notice this immediately. Then it becomes less fun. Like Love Island , which is staged in such a way, then participants know exactly how it works and it becomes more of a game than a genuine program. Then viewers will drop out.”

Harmelink himself participated in a podcast First Dates , he says. “That program usually feels quite natural, but you receive all the instructions; what you should ask about and what not. It is really different than what you see on TV.”

Are we getting tired of shows about love and dating? Not for the time being, Coster thinks. “We like it too much and TV makers will try to further exploit those formats. So you will see all kinds of variations of those programs.” Harmelink agrees. “Although I do hope that the makers do not go too far. B&B Full of Love lasted about seven weeks, which is actually too long. Then things are milked too much. But as long as it is genuine television, we will continue to watch it and then talk about it with each other.”

Relationship therapist Glazenburg also does not expect the programs to decrease in popularity anytime soon. But she still wants to give a tip: “Turn off the television and spend that time with your partner, for example, or if you don’t have one: yourself.”

And, she adds, while you’re watching dates on your screen, you can actually make yourself vulnerable and work on your relationship, or go on a date. “Because you learn the most from experiencing it yourself.”

Reality TV about love

In First Dates , which can be seen weekdays on NPO3, features several first dates. Participants are linked together through the program and get to know each other during a dinner.

In Winter Full of Love from the makers of B&B Full of Love (in which owners of bed and breakfasts abroad are looking for a partner, a huge hit for three seasons), Dutch bachelors who have emigrated to winter areas are followed who are looking for love and interested parties come along. Can be seen via Videoland and during the week on RTL4.

In Long Live Love which can be seen online and every working day on SBS6, singles are given the time to get to know each other by spending at least 24 hours or a maximum of four days together in a holiday home.

In the new dating show Love Raft ten bachelors go into Swedish nature. They will be told on the spot who they are linked to. Every Tuesday on NPO3.