MTV’s “Are You the One?” has parlayed its fun-in-the-sun dating competition into a second-season renewal, with plans for a reunion show April 1. And while one can see why the concept worked well enough to hook a survivable percentage of the target demo, as the March 25 finale made clear, what the show says about dating and relationships definitely falls within the basest impulses of the network’s profile.
The series featured 20 singles trying to pair up, with the twist being that each participant’s so-called soulmate is ostensibly there, but all 10 couples must successfully find the designated match in order to split a $1-million prize. In Tuesday’s finale (and SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t watched), the group surprisingly triumphed, winning the largest prize, or so we’re told, MTV has ever doled out.
With that kind of luck, one wonders what their NCAA tournament pool brackets looked like.
Amid the celebration, however, there was a queasy sense that this odd mix of “The Bachelor,” “Jersey Shore” and any number of dating Websites sends a perplexing message about love — one, in the increasingly popular language of MTV, where relationships must be mediated through the filter of technology.
“Catfish: The TV Show” certainly tapped into that vibe, with people feeling they’ve fallen in love with strangers they’ve never met.
Still, the most interesting part of “Are You the One?’s” premise is that couples who are drawn to each other and hook up are later told no, they are actually not right for each other. In other words, attraction and chemistry don’t mean anything; instead, put your trust in the “unique dating algorithm” employed by the show in advance to determine compatibility.
As it’s phrased during the opening credits, “If your perfect match was standing right in front of you, would you even know it?” (What’s the algorithm? All that is taken on faith, which, unless Nate Silver is involved, ought to be cause for considerable skepticism.)
Put another way, the show seems to approach romance from the perspective of an old Groucho Marx joke: “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?”
MTV, naturally, is going to milk this modest enterprise for all it’s worth, and the fact the first edition yielded the big-money payout will only heighten interest in participating. Of course, the next crop of love-seekers will have to wait until the existing one exhausts its 15 minutes of fame, with the reunion offering an opportunity, per the press release, to revisit “the stunning feuds that have surfaced since filming wrapped.”
Yet the show’s survival notwithstanding, initial misgivings about what it says still stand. And while the challenge with any reality show in a sub-genre as well-worn as the dating niche is always to conjure some new wrinkle on the familiar, it’s fair to question the cumulative nature of what MTV’s programming — always viewed as a trend-setter — is communicating. What’s next, a spinoff of the movie “Her,” where the computer isn’t the middle man but actually the object of affection?
“Everyone just won money for like trying to f–k each other,” said John, one of the show’s happy campers, in the closing moments.
In the cold, calculating world depicted by ”Are You the One?,” that sort of makes him the poet laureate of his generation.