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[Weekender] Reality dating contents cater to viewers' fantasies

March 30, 2018 - 16:00 By Kim Bo-gyung
Lizz Warner, 26, senior manager of US-based online media company Buzzfeed, met Mexican Olympian skier Robert Franco, 24, through the popular dating app Tinder during their stay in South Korea for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics last month.

To make their first date in PyeongChang, Gangwon Province, extra special, they agreed to film their meet-up on camera, and posted it on social media-- Snapchat, Facebook, Instragram, YouTube. The video instantly captured attention.

The viewer count of the two video postings of their dates in PyeongChang and Seoul has surged to some 3 million each on Facebook within a month, with over 800,000 views on YouTube as of Thursday.

“I think it’s the natural chemistry that got viewers hooked up,” Warner told The Korea Herald over the phone.

“Also Robby is an Olympian and we met at the Olympics, so I think I’m putting myself in many girls’ fantasies of dating an Olympian.”

Warner is now back in LA and Franco in Mexico, and their social media dating continues as they publicly exchange banter via Instagram Story.

Such reality dating contents, largely inspired by ABC’s smash hit reality dating game-show “The Bachelor” which first aired in 2002, are now flooding into the social media platform delivering natural dating episodes while catering to viewers’ fantasies.

Images from an episode of Channel A's "Heart Signal" that aired March 23. (Channel A)

In the more conservative South Korean mainstream TV, reality dating programs starring ordinary people are starting to gain momentum with TV networks rolling out a growing number of such shows.

“Reality dating shows provide the audience with vicarious pleasure. Due to high unemployment and financial limitations it has become difficult for some to go on dates in real life,” said culture critic Ha Jae-keun.

Korean viewers’ demand for dating programs was ignited by the reality dating game-show “Jjak” which aired on SBS, one of the three major local TV networks, in 2013.

Local TV network Channel-A started season two of its reality dating show “Heart Signal” earlier this month following a successful first season last year.

“Heart Signal” is a reality romance show with three female and four male participants in their 20s and 30s living in the same house.

To put twists into the show, participants in “Heart Signal” are banned from directly sharing intimate feelings and phone numbers until the show ends, and are only allowed to send one anonymous text message per day at night.

SBS also recently aired the first episode of its pilot dating show “Romance Package” where five female and five male participants stay at a hotel for three nights and four days.

Along with its popularity, Korean dating shows have also faced criticism for their cliched setup of successful men and attractive women.

“Viewers should refrain from being excessively absorbed into such dating content that is ultimately for entertainment purposes and is not 100 percent natural, because they could have difficulty forming a healthy relationship in reality,“ Ha added. 

By Kim Bo-gyung (