Couples put to the screen test

WILL THEY MAKE IT? Alan and Kirylam, a Brazilian woman, are a couple in 90 Day Fiance, which follows four engaged couples - in each case, an American man and a foreign woman - for the 90-day period they have to marry, under US fiance visa terms. PHOTO: NYT


    Jan 22, 2014

    Couples put to the screen test


    NOTHING better than being trapped in a house with your love, right? The extreme intimacy, the disintegration of private space, the presumption of omnipresence - those are the building blocks of a lasting relationship, no?

    At a minimum, it's a great set-up for television, as seen in a set of new dating and romance reality shows.

    The wacky and appealing Are You The One? on MTV is a dating show that strands 20 single people at a resort and encourages them to seek out their soulmates, with two caveats: Each person has been matched by experts with another person on the show, and if those matched pairs find each other, the whole group splits US$1 million (S$1.28 million).

    This is the latest in a string of clever MTV love-themed shows.

    At the end of each episode, the contestants couple up - some happily, some otherwise - and are told how many are correctly paired, but not who.

    The tension between those who stick stubbornly with their gut and those who are strategically seeking the money is high right away.

    In the first two episodes, it's striking how casually and easily the participants try one another on for size, and how quickly they're willing to mistrust their own instincts in favour of what the show - via the "truth booth" - tells them about their compatibility.

    Shanley and Chris T. bond within minutes, but when it's revealed that they're not a match a day or two later, Shanley moves on with barely a thought, leaving Chris T. stunned.

    Almost instantly, there are love triangles - some premised on sincerity, some on game playing.

    Over time, Are You The One? won't be just about compatibility, but also about the very real wages of cohabitation: When couples succeed in uncovering their match, they get to spend the rest of the time in seclusion and find out whether the experts are on to something.

    That set-up isn't so dissimilar from the one that provides the grist for 90 Day Fiance, on TLC. In this docu-series, four engaged couples - in each case, an American man and a foreign woman - are followed for the 90-day period they have to marry, under the terms of the United States government's fiance visa. Otherwise, the woman must return to her home country.

    All the couples appear to believe they've discovered true love, but they might be undone by actual cohabitation; in most cases, the partners have spent just a few weeks, or less, together.

    In some cases, intimacy backfires. Aya, from the Philippines, appears rattled by having to manage Louis' two sons, as well as parry questions from his former wife - things she didn't have to address when they were getting to know each other through an online dating site.

    This is supposed to be a period of real joy for these couples, who are already working from brittle foundations. But the reality checks come hard and swift: Getting to know each other well may be exactly what tears them apart.