This week, FOX got in on that sweet, sweet ratings gold that is reality TV dating. The network launched Coupled on Tuesday night — a mashup of The Bachelorette, Tinder, and Gilligan's Island that "puts choice in the hands of the women as well as the men," according to the network's site. It's not a complete mischaracterization. Women do get to make the first decision about whom they'd like to spend more time with. But after that initial moment of "empowerment," we go back to the same old kitsch of dating on the small screen. Nothing exceptional to see here folks, except a bunch of ladies willingly getting plopped on an island so they can battle it out for The One, which I will never not find baffling. Here's the premise: The women arrive on the island of Anguilla first and wait around for the dudes to be air-dropped in by helicopter. (Yep, this is what the quest for true love has come to.) Then the games begin. In the first round, a guy sits in a chair while each woman has about 30 seconds to do a quick chemistry test to see if she's into him. (That means exchanging 20 seconds of small talk.) Then, she has a choice to make. Does she
swipe walk left, back toward the bungalows? Or, does she choose to see if he's into her too and proceed right, to the tiki bar? This is, by the way, the last choice the woman gets to make. It's all dude decisions from here on out.
If she wasn't feeling him and returns to the bungalows, she's back to waiting for another guy to descend from the sky. But if she goes to the tiki hut, that means she's sitting around with all the other contestants who wanted to get to know the guy better. (Guy No. 1 in the series, by the way, is a 26-year-old "musician" named Alex. He is objectively good looking. But honestly, he seems like kind of an airhead to me.)
So now the ladies are all hanging in the tiki hut, waiting for Alex who takes his sweet time strolling over to hang. They have until sunset to chill and chat — at which point, Alex has to pick two ladies to take back with him to the villa. Yep. There is a villa, and the men are asked to feel up out two women to spend a day and night with. A double date with two people you just met, one of whom is your romantic competition? If that sounds awkward, that's because it is.
Alex chooses Brittany, a young beauty entrepreneur, and Lindsey, a sales rep. They head to the mansion together to hang out. Here's where shit gets even more predictable: Alex confesses to both girls that he had instant chemistry with them, and tells Brittany that he knew from the moment they met that he was going to choose her. But after a day in the sun, he chooses Lindsey to move forward with. (For the record, I thought he was going to go with Brittany. But then my boyfriend, who was forced to watch this show with me, reminded me that dopey dudes on reality television pretty much always pick the tall, leggy blonde over the cute, short brunette — it's just TV science. Oh yeah, duh, I forgot the laws of lowest-common-denominator dating. THANKS BABE.)
A double date with two people you just met, one of whom is your romantic competition? If that sounds awkward, that's because it is.
Alex and Lindsey make out for a hot minute before heading to the "couples" side of the house, which sounds like a very different type of program. Where does that leave Brittany? Feeling rejected at the bungalows, wondering if the chemistry she felt with Alex was ever even real, then back in the queue to meet new men. While it's not clear exactly how Coupled intends to match everybody up, it definitely seems possible that there are going to be some leftover people who either get booted off Anguilla or end up with whomever happens to be last man (or woman) standing. So, is this a dating show that gives the power back to women? Not by a long shot — and either Fox thinks we're dumb and wouldn't notice, or producers really believed that giving women one measly decision in round one was actually going to tip the power scales back into balance. But it's not enough to just let women take the lead in the chemistry round, as though that's some kind of concession. That's just what happens to heterosexual singles in real life. People choose to pursue those they have chemistry with, and then, annoyingly, the convention is that women have to wait for men to narrow down the dating pool and ask them out. Coupled may have mixed things up a bit compared to other dating shows. But really, it's just the same old shit on a new network and a different night of the week. The women are dealt one good hand — but the men still hold all the cards.