Entertainment TV From The Bachelor to MAFS: Australian dating shows still won’t celebrate real, queer love

From The Bachelor to MAFS: Australian dating shows still won’t celebrate real, queer love

Australian dating shows need to move away from queer tokenism, participants say. Photo: Getty
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Be it Married at First Sight, The Bachelor franchise, Love Island, First Dates, Dating in the Dark or even The Farmer Wants a Wife – turning on your telly at primetime on any given night will likely show you any number of obscenely attractive Australian singles looking for love.

The MAFS final was the third-most watched episode of Australian television in 2019, only behind the AFL Grand Final and match one of the State of Origin.

Basically, it seems like love is the Midas touch that will turn any reality TV show into a ratings bonanza.

Why then, in 2020, are audiences’ demands for queer-specific dating shows still falling on deaf ears?

The Bachelor franchise host Osher Günsberg has supported the cause from day one, but believes our networks are still a while away from giving the people what they want.

“I’ve always said that queer dating should 100 per cent be on television, you can’t be what you can’t see,” Günsberg told The New Daily. 

“And if you grow up never having seen a same-sex couple living a fulfilling life, having a happy relationship based on love, based on mutual support of each other, you may not ever know how to have that relationship yourself.”

“How do we make queer dating work in a primetime television format where the economic realities are that it costs hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars to make an hour of television?

“That’s the really tricky part, because it’s been tried a number of times overseas … no one’s got it right yet anywhere in the world, and this isn’t to say it shouldn’t happen … it’s very difficult to get all the ducks in a row to make that happen.”

Many queer Australians, like top comedian and drag queen Karen from Finance, find the lack of diversity on our screens so boring they have ditched Aussie TV altogether.

“Unless you have it in you own family, or you see it on television, it doesn’t exist to you.

“If producers, specifically of dating shows, could find ways of including queer people without being tokenistic, it would actually be a lot easier to integrate those relationships into the show, it needs to be authentic and not just to tick a box,” she said.

Should we settle for scraps?

While we are yet to see queer-only dating programs, reality addicts will remember there has been some ground gained.

Despite their souring relationship and train wreck ending, MAFS made history this year by introducing their first same-sex brides, Tash Herz and Amanda Micallef.

And who could forget the salacious stories that emerged when two contestants on theThe Bachelor ditched their leading man and found love with each other in 2016?

But the few tokenistic queer stories hitting our screens are far from representative, and the contestants who experienced them were left with the feeling that perhaps Australians aren’t nearly as progressive as we’d have ourselves believe.

“It would be revolutionary if they did do a queer Bachelorette … I’d love it if they could do Bachelor in Paradise with just girls who are interested in girls,” Tash told The New Daily. 

“I think it would be cool to move away from the tokenistic side of it … But at the same time I understand the importance of slowly integrating, like, take what you can get, which sucks.

“But ultimately it would be amazing if it was queer, because it would feel a lot more protected, and safe, and sacred.”

Baby steps…

Megan Marx, who publicly dated Tiffany Scanlon, one of her fellow contestants from The Bachelor in 2016, said she was disappointed in Australia’s response at the time.

“Obviously [the relationship with Tiffany] was publicised through Australia but also the US – the US reaction was really good, but in Australia it was pretty terrible,” Megan told The New Daily.

“People just thought we were faking it, and I think that’s a pretty terrible way to start off a relationship, by defending it. 

Though she feels Australia still has a long way to go, Megan said integrating queer people into traditionally heteronormative dating shows is still a good start and would mean more exposure.

“If we’re going to be breaking down barriers, we want the general population to watch – people want something that’s relatable.”

The message is loud and clear: Australians love celebrating love, but perhaps it’s time to diversify the types of love we showcase on our screens.

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