September 23, 2021
Within the 25 seasons of The Bachelor that have aired in the U.S., there have been 17 Laurens, 13 Jennifers, and 12 Ashleys. In that same period of time, there have been a total of five South Asian women. For men, this statistic is remarkably more bleak: the only South Asian man in the show’s history is Mohit Sehgal, who was sent home on night one of Rachel Lindsay’s season of The Bachelorette. On the other side of the world, the U.K.’s Love Island — a dating show that places dozens of singles on a resort in Mallorca, asking them to couple up and find love for the possibility of a cash prize — cast its very first Indian contestant on its latest season 7, but before she had the chance to unpack, Shannon Singh ended up being the very first to leave the show.
Dating shows have long been the TV equivalent of a comfort meal. It’s good, consistent, maybe a little bad for you, fun — a chance to turn off your brain and watch beautiful people fall in love without having to think about the chaos in your own life. Living alone during the pandemic, I cried every single day watching the likes of Paige and Finn and Siânnise and Luke cook each other breakfasts and try to comfort crying baby dolls on Love Island. But when contestants like Nas — the first South Asian male in the show’s history — were ignored and rejected, or when every new man who entered the villa described his type as “blonde-haired and blue-eyed,” there was a sudden whiplash back to reality I could have done without.
When shows like Netflix’s Never Have I Ever try to reverse those years of damage, protagonist Devi has a writing team behind her, and gets to live out the fantasy she deserves as she juggles the affections of two men. But on dating shows, contestants don’t have the luxury of a Mindy Kaling writers’ room. For as produced as reality TV might be, desire is one thing that can’t be convincingly faked. And for a show that’s meant to be an escape from reality, watching participants consistently sideline the few contestants of color on any show feels more like picking at the scab of a healing wound than it does entertainment.
And maybe, at the end of the day, I’d rather just not have it at all.