If Dating Around Feels So Real, It’s Because It (Mostly) Is

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
In some ways, Dating Around is the antithesis to Netflix’s other dating shows. Contestants on Love is Blind can’t see each other; couples on Too Hot to Handle can’t touch. Dating Around, however, has a more straightforward premise: participants embark on five first dates, then choose one suitor to ask on a second. Without a major cash prize or pressure to propose after a certain number of weeks, the stakes are pretty low — and the first dates look all too real, rife with awkward pauses and jokes that don’t always land.
Other than very brief introductions to each episode lead, Dating Around doesn’t feature any voice-overs, confessionals, or interviews. There’s also no Chris Harrison or Nick Lachey recapping the show’s rules and interacting with the daters. (Or, you know, flying to Alabama in an attempt to reunite a pair that went their separate ways.) Basically, the team behind Dating Around aimed to create a dating show grounded in reality, so it should come as no surprise that it’s almost entirely unscripted.
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According to co-creator Paul Franklin, the producers choose each dater’s potential matches and plan the dates, but from there, the interactions unfold naturally — or, at least, as naturally as they can in front of all those cameras. “We set the stage. We cast the people,” Franklin told Refinery29. “But what’s going to happen? It's like, we’re in the car, but we’re not holding onto the steering wheel.” Season 1 contestant Gurki Basra seconded Franklin’s comments, calling the blind dates “100% REAL” on Instagram. 
Another contestant, Lex Liang, also said he would call the show unscripted — but, he added, there wasn’t a complete lack of producer guidance when filming. “While it wasn’t scripted or specifically directed, [the producers] did try to steer it when the ship was off course,” Liang told Time. “At a certain point, I believe the creator took me aside and said, ‘You’re really good at getting information out of your fellow daters. Tell us a little bit more about you and let yourself be a little vulnerable.’”
Though Dating Around isn’t scripted, it is edited as expertly as any other reality show. As showrunner Alycia Rossiter told Bustle, leads only go on one date per day, but wear versions of the same outfit each time, giving the illusion that the dates are happening back to back. And instead of presenting one date at a time, the show weaves them all together, creating a montage of sorts so viewers can compare the pairings side by side — and also laugh at how repetitive first dates can be as contestants repeat the same jokes, questions, and even stories to different people.
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Without talking-head interviews, the show’s team had to get even more creative about editing the episodes. “The producer inside of us at times was just like, ‘Wow, this edit would be so much easier if we just had an interview,’” executive producer Chris Culvenor told Vulture. But, in Rossiter’s words, confessionals don’t feel real.
“It’s just not how life is digested. Confessionals are the way of hearing what’s going on inside somebody’s brain,” she told Bustle. Instead, Rossiter wants Dating Around viewers to feel like they’re hanging out at a local bar or restaurant, casually observing the body language, nervous laughter, and flirty exchanges shared between two people on a first date. For a show from the genre that gave us Champagne Gate, it doesn’t get much more real than that.
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