‘Farmer Wants a Wife’: Inside TV’s Genius, Silliest Dating Show


Since Farmer Wants A Wife—a reality dating show whose premise is contained in its title—debuted on Britain’s ITV in 2001, it has spawned more than 30 remakes in markets around the world. A couple dozen had already premiered when The CW mounted its take in the spring of 2008, and once that tanked, some producers would assume the concept was burnt for U.S. audiences. But Chris Culvenor is different, and if Fox’s version of the series, which premiered Wednesday night, works, it will be because Culvenor, an executive producer with dozens of unscripted series to his credit, brought the show back to its original concept.

“The CW version was largely a departure from the standard Farmer Wants A Wife format,” Culvenor, who was not involved with that iteration, told The Daily Beast’s Obsessed. Though The CW’s version featured just one titular farmer in a kind of rural Bachelor, Culvenor’s adaptation follows the model international audiences have watched, and which he and fellow executive producer, Paul Franklin, have already mounted in Australia: “Multiple farmers on multiple different farms, and women who are looking for love, actually living with them, and trying out what life on the farm is really like.”

Culvenor means this literally. The premiere kicks off with each of four Farmers meeting his eight Wife candidates in 10-minute speed dates. Afterward, the Farmers each choose five women to move with them to their actual farms, getting to know each other through the typical activities and tasks one undertakes on a working ranch. As on The Bachelor, the Farmers also get one-on-one time with the women who’ve come to live with them; in this case, it’s 24 hours with the one woman of each man’s choice, once a week. Over six weeks on the farms, the pool of women keeps shrinking—until, ideally, the Farmers have each determined which one will be his Wife.

Casting is key for a show like this; you can’t just round up a few attractive singles from a Los Angeles club the way it seems that producers for dating shows like Are You The One? can. Finding the farmers was the first challenge. “We were casting people who not only haven't been on a dating show or been approached about a dating show before, but some of them don't have a TV, and don't even have strong internet access in some of these places,” Culvenor says. “These are really remote farmers who are legitimately working the land, working hard, and aren't in the social circles that casting producers and dating shows might have mined in the past.”

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Then they had to find the Farmers’ prospective Wives. “A really key part of the format is that we upload the farmer's profiles online with a short video and information about them and where they live,” Culvenor explains. “And then it's the women who are actually applying, not just to be on TV, but to meet a specific farmer. It's not just like they're looking for a generic suitor. They are applying to be with a particular person.”

Whereas The Bachelor franchise kicks off each season with a lengthy parade of would-be matches parading in front of the chooser, trying to be memorable by deploying a gimmick of some kind, the Farmers are involved in selecting their Wife candidates, too. “The men look through all the applications along with us,” Culvenor says. “So in that first episode, they're all on the same page, at least from those initial impressions. That's a key distinctive difference from almost every other dating show I can think of.”

Because the show premise requires a commitment to join a Farmer on…his farm, the question of who’s there for the “right reasons” is more crucial than is usually the case. “We are really asking a lot of these women to potentially, if they find love, turn their life upside down and move to the country,” Culvenor says, “so we didn't want anyone who wasn't legitimately interested in that.”

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Some of the potential Wives may get a gut check on what they actually want once they’ve mucked out their first stables, but it’s also possible that Culvenor and his casting team will have screened them out in the casting process: “The audience can smell when something is being put on or something isn't quite reading right,” Culvenor says.

Fans of Dating Around, an unscripted Netflix show Culvenor and Franklin made with former Bachelor producer Alycia Rossiter, was justly lauded for featuring participants who don’t conform to the square jaws and beachy waves that seem compulsory in TV’s biggest reality dating franchises; several of Dating Around’s blind daters were queer, and one episode revolved around a septuagenarian private investigator.

Farmer Wants A Wife already breaks the dating-show mold by centering rural people (and their possible partners) who aren’t on TV primarily to become Instagram influencers; but while international Farmers have sometimes involved queer couples, most American dating shows are determinedly straight.

Culvenor thinks American network TV could be close to breaking that barrier: “From all the conversations we're having with broadcast networks, diversity in just about all areas is top of mind for them, so I think we're making great steps and great strides.” (Montré Burton, the showrunner of Lifetime’s Married At First Sight, said something similar in the summer of 2021, but while Australian and UK versions of the franchise—which Lifetime also airs—have featured same-sex marriages, the American version has yet to attempt it.)

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Elsewhere in the world of reality dating, the recent Perfect Match was a big mixer for past stars of Netflix’s unscripted shows, including two of Culvenor’s: The Mole and Twentysomethings: Austin. Though Culvenor wasn’t involved—that one’s the brainchild of another Chris, Kinetic Content’s Coelen—he did check it out and enjoyed what he saw: “It was a very interesting experience to see cast members from two different shows that we'd mingle in amongst them. It was like one of those crossover sitcom specials you used to watch, where the Flintstones meet the Jetsons.”

When Culvenor is not making unscripted TV for you to get addicted to—ranging from HBO Max’s Finding Magic Mike (tragically disappeared from the platform just as Magic Mike’s Last Dance made it more relevant than ever) to ABC’s mega-mini-golf show Holey Moley (somehow still not renewed for Season 5, though Culvenor says they’re in talks and “hopefully you'll be hearing more about it”)—he unwinds with shows like The Last Of Us, Shrinking, and Succession; he’s also “a long-suffering Clippers fan.” And he tries to keep abreast of his field by “at least watching the first episode” of every unscripted show, sticking with the ones that really pop; he particularly admired Coelen’s “edgy” Netflix show The Ultimatum.

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And Culvenor still thinks fondly about the first show that made him want to make unscripted TV himself: the first season of CBS’s Survivor. “I think it lit up everyone's imagination about what unscripted could be and the worlds you could play with,” he says. Soon, those will include four hunky American farmers and the city folk who aspire to share their acreages—all of whom join an international franchise that has reportedly produced 180 marriages and 410 children…and counting. “The Farmer Wants A Wife universe,” says Culvenor, “is expanding every single day.”

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