As a former dating show fanatic, I come to you with a lot of opinions on dating shows. I was raised watching The Bachelor, and I swear I remember the very first season I watched as if it were yesterday.
Let me paint the scene for you: think season 19, episode 1, white country boy farmer Chris Soules, amidst a sea of thirty predominantly white women fawning over him. There was one Black contestant but like most other Black contestants in The Bachelor history, she gets sent home relatively quickly.
While the initial drama of The Bachelor was very appealing to my teenage self, subsequent seasons lost their allure as the show faced a continued lack of any representation, becoming a vehicle for hyper-sexualizing and objectifying women—a permanent snogfest.
Naturally over time, I moved on to bigger and better things.
There was something about the British accents, the straightforwardness of the contestants, and the god-awful awkwardness that was much more exciting. But not all good things last forever.
Like The Bachelor, I noticed a similar trajectory of wrongdoings with the addition of contestants looking to jump on the influencer pipeline, making them feel inauthentic—representation that was entirely tokenistic (the two latest South Asian contestants were booted of the villa in less than a week and ultimately felt like an afterthought).
And so, at last, in the past year, I turned to Indian Matchmaking. Let’s just say that wasn’t it either.
While grounded in reality, the regressive representation certainly set me back way too many years, with friends asking me, “Are you having an arranged marriage? Do you have to send in your biodata to Seema Auntie??”
I’ve come to realize that I’ve never been able to see myself in a dating show, not that I would ever in a million years want to be on one. (No offense, but me on a dating show would be catastrophic on many levels for reasons we don’t have time to discuss here).
I think there is something incredibly validating about being able to see yourself in the media you consume. Shannon Singh’s appearance on Love Island, albeit brief, for example, helped some British South Asian women feel seen.
So, if you’re someone like me, looking for a modern take on South Asians dating in the diaspora, that is spicy, awkward, and realistic, and that showcases regular ass people with regular ass jobs, and that isn’t hyper focused on sex, then I have just the show for you.
Allow me to present Desi Me Dating by PopShift.
The first episode of the 6-part season 1, kicked off on YouTube last week and I have all the juicy details.
The episode opens with 27-year-old Gautham who works in the sports industry, and 24-year-old Divyanshi, a financial analyst. We get to hear a little bit from each of them individually about their dating histories, when at last they are presented to each other blindfolded.
The twist is that they don’t know anything about each other, including their names, ages, occupations, or religions, unless prompted to ask each other.
I won’t spoil too much here, but let’s just say, from start to finish, the whole 17:33 minutes was simply *chef’s kiss.*
Divyanshi and Gautham have a very cute first date, making margaritas all whilst asking each other some very spicy questions. (Yes, they asked each other whether they want kids on the first date and yes, I fully support it. Normalize asking about children on the first date).
What I appreciated about the show as well as the contestants was how realistic the whole experience was. Nothing felt staged, and as a result it was as awkward as first dates should be.
There were activities like maintaining prolonged eye contact and taking a selfie—I cringed, and loved every second of the very real discomfort that are first dates.
The format of the date was also super fun. The two of them got to know each other relatively quickly with some questions—“do you want kids? Do you think you’re a good kisser? What is the hardest part of dating you?” These dug deep.
This was much more refreshing for me than the 0-100 we often see on dating shows resulting in hyper-sexualization and snogfests. Although, it was still spicy, with the closing scene showing Gautham doing a follow-up with the producers the next day and being a bit tight-lipped with what happened post-date.
Beyond that, Divyanshi and Gautham were two very regular people that I could totally see myself in. As such, there wasn’t reinforcement of any stereotypes or any nods to traditionality which felt much more realistic for me as a South Asian in North America.
5X Press also had the chance to sit down with Raghu Alla, founder of PopShift Media and the creator behind Desi Me Dating, to get all the behind-the-scenes tea.
I was incredibly curious to know what prompted the creation of Desi Me Dating, and delighted to hear that it was actually in playing an introspective questions game with friends that had Raghu thinking, “what if we turned this into a dating game?”
And so, the seed for Desi Me Dating blossomed. As someone who has never watched Indian Matchmaking or other reality dating shows (lucky, I know), Raghu drew from his own perspective and experiences while creating and editing the show.
“I wanted to think about how someone like me could watch a dating show. Something that is short and quick and also not scripted” he said in an interview with 5XPress.
The team had no real rules while creating the show.
I was surprised to learn that the blindfold reveal, which was incredibly exciting to watch, was done completely at random—which was not the case for the recruiting and matching process.
There was a multi-component submissions process, including a questionnaire, followed by a video submission, and further zoom calls (with over 200 submissions) to narrow down the contestants, followed by matches based on personality.
It was important that contestants are given no prior information on each other, so that the process could feel more organic.
“Once you have the biodata, you’re judging, you’re putting people in boxes and not giving them a chance.”
It was also important for the team behind the show that viewers could watch with their friends and be able to see themselves in the show.
“I didn’t want the show to play to the same South Asian stereotypes we see and wanted to depict dating specifically in North America. There will be no Aunties or traditionality.”
We love to see it.
In terms of the future of the show, it seems that the sky's the limit for the PopShift team.
Raghu spoke of expanding the age range of contestants (the current season had an age range in mid-20’s), switching up the date formats (with the potential to include double-dates), having queer contestants on the show (they’re hoping to receive more submissions), and even exploring Canadian and UK versions of Desi Me Dating.
I’m excited to see where this show goes, and I will be hosting my very own Desi Me Dating watch parties (I’m currently the only attendee, but everyone is welcome).
That’s all the tea for now. Go watch episode 1 and share your thoughts on the PopShift Youtube channel. Episode 2 will be out later this week.
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