Dean and Dav­ina’s af­fair on Mar­riedat­first­sight. The mean girls on The­bach­e­lor. Grant and Eden’s se­cret girl­friends on Love Is­land. On­line or in the of­fice, it seems like ev­ery­body is talk­ing about re­al­ity TV ro­mances.

But it wasn’t al­ways this way...

NW - - Special Report -

Just think back to 10 years ago,” The Bach­e­lor Aus­tralia’s ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer, Hi­lary Innes, says. “I was at ITV [Stu­dios Aus­tralia] and we were try­ing to sell dat­ing shows. No-one here was in­ter­ested in pick­ing up any dat­ing shows.” So why have we all be­come so obsessed with watch­ing other peo­ple fall in love?

The set-up

The Bach­e­lor is the orig­i­nal fairy­tale ro­mance re­al­ity show. It’s been air­ing in the US since 2002. The Aus­tralian ver­sion, pitched at more of a fam­ily au­di­ence, is into its sixth sea­son on Net­work Ten. It has a wed­ding and a baby to its credit, plus two spin-offs, The Bach­e­lorette Aus­tralia and Bach­e­lor In Par­adise.

Cast­ing for­mer pro­fes­sional rugby union player Nick Cum­mins as the lat­est Bach­e­lor has seen a lot of men watch­ing the show for the first time.

“We’re 17 per cent up this year, which is re­ally amaz­ing,” Hi­lary says. “Nick is very dif­fer­ent to the Bach­e­lors we’ve had be­fore. He’s very self-dep­re­cat­ing, very ocker, al­most a throw­back to a [Paul] Ho­gan-es­que kind of per­son. I do think you need to be a bit brave with this for­mat and take some risks.”

Mean­while, five sea­sons of Mar­ried At First Sight have gone to air, with an­other on the way. That’s de­spite ev­ery “mar­riage” in ev­ery sea­son fail­ing, with the ex­cep­tion of Erin Bate­man and Bryce Mohr from Sea­son Two.

This year’s MAFS was a gen­uine jug­ger­naut, smash­ing all sorts of rat­ings records for the Nine Net­work.

“We did strike gold with the cast,” ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Tara Mcwil­liams says. “There were so many mo­ments where we were like, ‘I can­not be­lieve this is hap­pen­ing.’”

Love Is­land Aus­tralia is the new kid on the block. Its horde of hot­ties holed up to­gether in a sunny Span­ish villa drew young view­ers to 9Go! and 9Now in the mid­dle of the year.

Ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer of the show Ma­jella Wiemers says it’s not just about the ro­mance and drama, but about the tongue-in-cheek hu­mour and the chance for view­ers to get in­volved on­line.

“Even though they [view­ers] were sit­ting on the other side of the world and freez­ing their butts off in win­ter, they were still buy­ing into the emerg­ing ro­mance,” she ex­plains.

Finding The Ones

So what’s the se­cret to mak­ing a re­al­ity ro­mance show that draws peo­ple in and gets them ad­dicted? The ex­ec­u­tive pro­duc­ers agree that it comes down to the cast­ing.

“You can plan these beau­ti­ful wed­dings, you can put them up in nice apart­ments,” Tara says.

“But I could go down to some dive of a bar and shoot it. It doesn’t matter where you are, be­cause these peo­ple are such strong char­ac­ters. This show lives and dies by the cast.”

Cast­ing for these shows is a long, ex­haus­tive process. It in­volves sort­ing through thou­sands of ap­pli­ca­tions, then go­ing on a na­tion­wide cast­ing tour to meet hun­dreds of peo­ple face to face.

But there’s a lot more to it than that. Pro­duc­tion teams hunt down peo­ple who would never have con­sid­ered ap­ply­ing them­selves. They reach out to friends of friends of friends. They ap­proach peo­ple on the street who look in­ter­est­ing, which is how MAFS ended up with the quirky Troy Delmege. The show also does “tar­get CAST­ING”, to fill IN GAPS such as “wo­man in her thir­ties who doesn’t have kids yet” or “some­one who’s been mar­ried be­fore”.

“If we’re look­ing for an older de­mo­graphic, we might go to ball­room danc­ing classes,” Tara ex­plains.

The Love Is­land crew, mean­while, put out calls on­line and go scrolling through In­sta­gram.

“So­cial me­dia is amaz­ing now for tele­vi­sion cast­ing,” Ma­jella says. “Hav­ing said that, fil­ters ARE A WON­DER­FUL THING.”

To make it onto Love Is­land, peo­ple don’t need to have a back story. They just need to be “ridicu­lously good­look­ing”, with­out be­ing com­pletely bland.

“We’re look­ing at these peo­ple who are eight out of 10 and above [in looks],” Ma­jella re­veals. “But then they still have to give us some­thing.”

She says di­ver­sity of per­son­al­i­ties is cru­cial.

“You need a mix of peo­ple who know when to talk and when to be quiet, and those who don’t know that.”

Do­ing it for love

MAFS might not have the great­est success rate when it comes to last­ing re­la­tion­ships, but Tara says they do want re­la­tion­ships to suc­ceed, and will only cast peo­ple who are gen­uine about want­ing to find THEIR LIFE PART­NER.

Do peo­ple re­ally go on the show for that rea­son? Tracey Jewel, 35, who “mar­ried” Dean Wells on the most re­cent sea­son of MAFS, says she did. “I was gen­uinely look­ing for love, and put my heart on the line,” she ex­plains.

“I don’t think ev­ery­one has the same in­ten­tions, though, or takes it se­ri­ously. It’s mar­riage, not a dat­ing or hook-up show, so I think peo­ple should be se­ri­ous.”

Nasser Sul­tan, who “mar­ried” Gabrielle Bartlett is more cyn­i­cal. The 51-year-old says he didn’t ex­pect to leave MAFS with the love of his life on his arm.

“You have to be very naïve to think you’re go­ing to have your per­fect match wait­ing for you,” he says.

I was gen­uinely look­ing for love, and put my heart on the line

“Look “L at the success rate – it’s it’ hardly con­vinc­ing. You’d prob­a­bly pr have more luck finding your yo soul mate by walk­ing into Wool­worths and shout­ing, ‘Who wants to marry me?’ and ch choos­ing some­one at ran­dom by the hot chicken counter.”

Jake El­lis was work­ing in sales an and mar­ket­ing on the Gold Coast w when a friend had the idea he’d m make a good Bach­e­lor. The mate kn knew some­one at pro­duc­tion co com­pany Warner Bros and “d “dobbed” Jake in. He went th through the se­lec­tion process, bu but lost out to Richie Stra­han. Be Be­fore long, Jake was called up and asked if he wanted to be on The Bach­e­lorette Au Aus­tralia. He jumped at it.

“It was a once-in-a-life­time op op­por­tu­nity,” he says. “I thought if I said no, it would be some­thing I’d re­gret. If I fell in love, that w was, I guess, a bonus, an am amaz­ing thing. But at the st start, it was for the ad­ven­ture.”

Jake, 31, made Ge­or­gia Love’s to top three, but in the end, her he heart went to Lee El­liott. He go got an­other chance at love w when he was in­vited onto Ba Bach­e­lor In Par­adise. There, Th he fell for Me­gan Marx.

“I knew it was some­thing th that was pos­si­ble, but I was su sur­prised at how strong those fe feel­ings were,” Jake re­mem­bers. “Y “You’re there for a month, which is quite a short pe­riod of time, but you’re spend­ing 24 hours a day with those peo­ple. All you’re do­ing is talk­ing about your feel­ings and ro­mance, ev­ery day, all day. It def­i­nitely speeds ev­ery­thing up.”

Jake says he and a lot of the other guys would plan their own pri­vate lit­tle dates, com­plete with flow­ers and date cards. That way, they weren’t wait­ing around for the pro­duc­ers to do it. “You know that time is lim­ited,” he adds.

That idea that things are sped up ap­plies to other shows too. Ma­jella calls it “ac­cel­er­ated re­al­ity”. “They say that a week on Love Is­land is like a month in the out­side world,” she says. “They’re al­ready shar­ing a bed and fart­ing in front of each other. They’re do­ing the things that most nor­mal peo­ple don’t do un­til much later in a re­la­tion­ship.”

Bring­ing the drama

Just as be­ing cut off from the out­side world helps ro­mances blos­som, it also height­ens the drama. Ma­jella sees it with the peo­ple on Love Is­land. “They have noth­ing else to do all day ex­cept be in that house and do what­ever we need for con­tent,” she ex­plains. “So they’ll over­think things. They’ll go and have five conversations with five dif­fer­ent peo­ple about one other per­son, in­stead of just go­ing to that per­son di­rectly, be­cause that’s the na­ture of the house. They can’t just put on the telly.”

On MAFS, Tara be­lieves the drama hap­pens nat­u­rally if they cast peo­ple who are pre­pared to open up about their feel­ings. Self-de­scribed “su­pervil­lain” Dean, who cheated on Tracey with Dav­ina Rankin, was a clas­sic ex­am­ple. “Dean was so hon­est,” Tara says. “Some­times you were even go­ing, ‘Oh, Dean, maybe don’t be so hon­est!’ In your head, you were think­ing, ‘Save your­self, buddy – maybe pull back on the hon­esty!’ Be­cause it got him in trou­ble.”

Dean and Dav­ina’s af­fair, which sparked ou­trage on so­cial me­dia from view­ers who thought the whole thing was staged, was some­thing the two of them ap­proached pro­duc­ers about. “We didn’t help that af­fair along in terms of mak­ing it hap­pen,” Tara says. “They came to us and told us they were at­tracted to each other. It cer­tainly wasn’t by our sug­ges­tion.”

A week on Loveis­land is like a month in the out­side world

As far as drama on The Bach­e­lor goes, Vanessa Sun­shine was at the cen­tre of it this sea­son. Un­apolo­get­i­cally “dif­fer­ent”, she was tar­geted by “mean girls” Alisha AitkenRad­burn, Cat He­ne­sey and Romy Poulier. Vanessa, 27, wants to make it clear that what she went through was real.

“I copped a bulk of the mean­ness in the house,” she says. “I think it’s a cop-out for the pub­lic to think it’s fake, ‘em­bel­lished’, pro­ducer-co­erced or that the show is en­cour­ag­ing that in any way.”

Oth­ers who’ve been through shows in the Bach­e­lor fran­chise have their own take. Jake says The Bach­e­lorette is “def­i­nitely not scripted”, but is maybe “a lit­tle bit shaped”.

“You had 15 boys to­gether and we would just talk non­sense,” he re­calls. “The pro­duc­ers would come in and go, ‘Hey, guys, that’s great. Maybe we should just talk about love, be­cause that’s what you’re here for.’”

On Bach­e­lor In Par­adise, Jake says there was some “clever edit­ing”, but he ac­cepts that. “It’s a TV show,” he says. “I knew what I signed up for and what could po­ten­tially hap­pen.”

He doesn’t think any­one can blame edit­ing for the way they come across on TV. “I can see that they might scram­ble the tim­ing of what you said, or some­thing like that,” he says. “But at the end of the day, you still said those words.”

The right time

There’s no doubt that all these shows de­liver on love and drama. The ques­tion is, why have they be­come so hugely pop­u­lar in the past few years?

Hi­lary thinks it’s tied into the so­cial me­dia boom. Ev­ery­one gets to share their opin­ion on some­one else’s ro­mance. “You’ve got a con­ver­sa­tion go­ing on a num­ber of lev­els,” she says. An­other rea­son is the rise in pop­u­lar­ity of dat­ing apps – and their short­com­ings. Both Hi­lary and Tara say peo­ple ap­ply­ing for their shows of­ten say they’re sick of us­ing Tin­der and the like. “Par­tic­u­larly with cast­ing the guys for The Bach­e­lorette, a lot of them are say­ing, ‘I want to meet peo­ple the old way, face to face,’” Hi­lary ex­plains. She thinks many view­ers may y feel the same way. They’re drawn to the tra­di­tional ro­mance of The Bach­e­lor, with its red roses and fancy dates. “The old-fash­ioned way has ap­peal,” she says.

Even the youth-ori­ented Love Is­land is old-school in a way. Con­tes­tants are forced to strug­gle through awk­ward conversations they prob­a­bly would have tried to avoid in real life.

“They have to ac­tu­ally have break-up conversations face to face,” Ma­jella says. “They don’t have their phones to be able to DM [di­rect mes­sage] some­one and then hide.”

But, ul­ti­mately, the true ap­peal of these shows lies in one thing: see­ing real peo­ple fall in love, and be­ing able to be­lieve that the ro­mance might last in the out­side world. Hi­lary says The Bach­e­lor doesn’t need to end with a pro­posal. “I would pre­fer that it’s real,” she ex­plains.

As for Love Is­land view­ers, they don’t ex­pect all the cou­ples to live hap­pily ever af­ter. “Even if only one per cent find true love, that’s enough for peo­ple to latch onto,” Ma­jella says. “We’re all ro­man­tics at heart. I re­ally be­lieve that whether you’re 16 or 60, see­ing peo­ple fall in love is com­pelling.” n

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