In the mid-aughts, when all of the obvious reality TV show premises were snatched up — survive in the wild, pick a mate from many potential suitors, be the best model, chef, housewife — channels began to test the boundaries of the genre with shows like Joe Millionaire, For Love or Money and Fear Factor. The new renaissance in stunt reality shows seems to be nudity: it started with Discovery’s Naked and Afraid, followed now by VH1’s Dating Naked and TLC’s Buying Naked.
Where Naked and Afraid seeks to force contestants to engage with their primal selves in the wild, Dating Naked aims to strip away all the artifice of dating by putting everything out there at once. (Buying Naked doesn’t even bother to try to have noble goals: it’s just about real estate brokers in a nudist community.) In an era where one-third of married couples meet online and a person can hide behind old, blurry profile pictures, the idea of seeing a potential match’s true self all at once has a certain appeal: once the physical stuff is out of the way, you can actually get to know someone.
But Dating Naked doesn’t ask its contestants to strip down, then cover back up, then go on their date. It forces them to do activities — ranging from boogie boarding to body painting to running around in an inflatable ball — naked. These activities definitely have entertainment value: in the first episode one contestant uses his penis as a paint brush. But it’s not a formula to find love.
Here’s the premise: two contestants, a guy and a girl, come to an exotic locale and go on three dates with three different people, naked. (One of the dates is with each other.) In between the dates, the contestants and their suitors hang out in the Jungle Villa, where clothes are optional and beds are abundant, encouraging the contestants to just do the obvious already. On the final day, the two contestants decide who they want to see again. (The fact that these people usually live on opposite sides of the country is not addressed as an issue.)
But once you (and the contestants) get used to the nudity gimmick, it’s just like any other reality dating show: the inevitable drama occurs. In the first episode Joe, a 23-year-old who looks like an extra on the Jersey Shore, must choose between the other contestant — 36-year-old WeeWee, who has “no f***ing idea” why she’s single, but who Joe says is the coolest girl he’s met — and an impossibly skinny Israeli girl who says that she “doesn’t think too much” and who Joe describes as the kind of girl you bring home, but not to your mom. The personality vs. looks setup plays out in predictable fashion, and you’ll want to scream as you watch these two women so willing to forgive a completely unlikable guy for kissing both girls in front of each other as he makes his decision.
There is no money to be won (like Survivor), no fame to be earned (like Jersey Shore or any show where characters appear in multiple episodes), no true love to be found (like theoretically The Bachelor where you get to spend more the 72 hours with someone) and no accomplishment about which to brag (like Naked and Afraid). That makes the motivations for competing on this show rather mystifying.
The only answer is that there is an endless line of people waiting to make their TV debut — in whatever ridiculous, small way — and as long as those people exist, hundreds of naked versions of reality shows can continue to have single summer seasons, hoping to hit it big with the scandal factor. In the future, everyone won’t just be famous for fifteen minutes — they’ll be naked, too.