Entertainment

It’s not MAFS and it’s not the Bachelor, and that’s why First Dates works

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God bless the desperate and dateless. The clueless and conceited. For where would Australian TV be without them. Because we are a nation that loves to love. Or, more specifically, a nation that loves to watch the ritual humiliation of other people in the pursuit of love.

Who would have thought from humble beginnings such as Perfect Match with Dexter the robot and his dot-matrix compatibility tests, we would have spawned Married At First Sight, The Bachelor/Bachelorette/Bachelor in Paradise, Love Island, First Dates, Back with the Ex, Date Night and Take Me Out (soon on Seven).

It's enough to make you swoon or retch, depending on your love language (yes, it's a thing).

Of all the dating shows – and I use the term loosely because you can't tell me the fawning creatures on MAFS are genuinely looking for love as opposed to Instagram followers (there's a difference, Ryan!) – First Dates is the most authentic. And sweet.

First Dates: No rose ceremony, no bikinis before breakfast, just a couple making awkward small talk.

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There's no rose ceremony, no faux wedding, no bikinis before breakfast, just a couple sitting across from each other at a table making awkward small talk.

Beyond getting to a second date – as in "do you like me, or like, like me" – the stakes aren't high and that's what makes it sweet. There's no $50,000 prize, which is what the imbeciles on Love Island have dangled in front of them, just the hope that the person you're with will pay for dinner.

Because when it works, you want to pull a seat up at the table and join the conversation and if it doesn't, it makes you thank the lord you don't have to listen to someone talk at you as he says "perfect" all night long and then forgets his wallet.

What it also does is give you hope, because that's what everyone – in the beginning at least – goes into these dating shows with. Hope that the "one" is out there, even if they have to meet them with a camera crew sitting on their shoulder and an editing suite cackling as they draw out every pause to up the cringe factor.

The couples in this week's episode are the perfect mix of hope and despair. Hope for Marek and Mike, even though you can see Marek's face drop when he realises Mike isn't quite the tall drink o' water he ordered; hope for country boy electrician Brad and Instagram model Sarah from Bondi, even though he thinks asking about kids in the first round is an OK move to make (mate, she's a 23-year-old model, she's not thinking about kids until she's 39 and her ovaries are screaming "use me or lose me" as she sells magic mops on TVSN).

Despair, too, for stockbroker Libby, who hides behind her Nana Mouskouri glasses and fringe, and knocks back the chardies as she listens to personal trainer Nick talk at her while he says "yeah, perfect" all night and compliments the waitress on her watch because he can't think of anything else to say.

It's awkward, it's fun, it's family-friendly (which I know is a totally dorky thing to say, but I can't get over the fact MAFS and the various iterations of the Bachelor are broadcast in a family timeslot. Whatever happened to Alf? Who's the Boss?) and it's a shot of love. And can't we all use a little bit of that?

First Dates is on Seven, Monday, 8.45pm.

Louise Rugendyke

Louise is the editor of S and the Sun Herald's TV liftout

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