Boredom, True Love or Trauma? Why People “Hook-Up” on Reality Shows

You’re in the jungle (or the Aussie version of it, anyway) and you’re tired. Hungry. Maybe a little cold. You miss your mates and a good soy cappuccino to start your day. You’ve endured wearing a helmet full of bugs and have shoved your hands into a cage full of snakes which was somehow less traumatising than the time you went searching for love on national television. 

You’ve sworn that you are not interested in romance while in the jungle, but there is a funny guy with long hair and rock-hard abs that you can’t keep your eyes off and who apparently once slid into your DM’s. Interesting. You discuss with your new bestie, Jack, whether or not the hairy comedian is hot or not but come to no concrete conclusion. 

Eventually though, due to a number of reasons, the two of you enjoy a little un-holiday romance, why not? Or, perhaps the more interesting question is: “why?” 

Why do reality shows, even the ones that are not dating competitions, so often result in romantic relationships?

Three episodes into I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! and the dingo is out of the Driza-Bone that former Bachelor star Abbie Chatfield and comedian/foot model Ash Williams enjoyed a little lovefest during their time on set and potentially after they were home. 

Williams’ fellow funnyman Ed Kavalee, was the one to reveal the secret, during an appearance on Hit Hobart’s Jimmy and Nathan show on Tuesday, January 5. 

“He hooked up with Abbie Chatfield in the jungle. He’s Australia’s loosest person. He’s got the smell of lawsuits following him,” Kavalee said.

Network Ten’s head of entertainment and factual programs Stephen Tate also told news.com.au, “I can tell you there is a romance but I can’t give you any more detail.” 

Of course, Chatfield and Williams are hardly the first couple to have experienced romantic chemistry while appearing on I’m a Celeb.

Comedian and Married at First Sight contestant, Ryan Gallagher and Geordie Shore star, Charlotte Crosby dated after meeting during the competition, but split in early 2020.

“Everything is obviously so isolated in the jungle and all of your emotions run at a high,” Ryan said during his explanation of why the romance didn’t last. 

However, there was a happier ending for former AFL footballer Barry Hall and former Hi-5 member Lauren Brandt, who met on the show in 2016 and are now married with two children. 

It’s no surprise that reality shows often produce romantic pairings. Not only are producers and casting directors incredibly astute when it comes to orchestrating these relationships, but the very nature of an experience as unique as taking part in such an activity forges an unusual bond. The kind of bond that makes contestants on The Bachelor and Bachelorette feel as though they are ready to get engaged after just two weeks of “dating.” 

Shared experience is often one of the building blocks for a budding romance, which is why you might be more likely to meet a partner at work or while participating in one of your hobbies. It’s why you are also more likely to swipe right on the dating profile of someone who lists interests that are similar to yours. 

As Marriage and Family Therapist Talia Litman tells The Latch, “When we go through a unique experience with someone, the process of becoming close and intimate is often sped up, which can fast track the bonding between people. This heightened sense of intimacy can be very rewarding.”

So it stands to reason that if you experience something that only a very small percentage of the world’s population can relate to, you might catch some serious feels. 

These shared experiences might not always be positive ones, however. Shared pain can also make two people think they are perfect for each other thanks to what’s known as a trauma bond.  

For example, a common type of trauma bond — known as unit cohesion — can be found among people who serve in the military and endure high-stress situations. 

The reason I mention this type of bond, which on the surface has absolutely nothing to do with a reality television show, is that trauma bonds are formed in order to create the type of support needed to survive more trauma. In the real world, and in the absence of traumatic stimuli, these bonds are not as beneficial. 

While to viewers, taking part in a reality competition might seem like a laugh and a quick way to gain new Instagram followers, the participants themselves would daresay argue that they too experience a type of trauma.

After all, they are cut off from friends, family and the events of the outside world and, depending on the show, deprived of food and sleep. That’s before they are then propelled back into the real world to face hordes of people (not to mention the media) who have formed strong opinions about their characters based on a television edit. 

In fact, Chatfield has previously spoken out about fearing for her safety after receiving death threats on social media, which was undoubtedly traumatic for the 25-year-old. 

So why do “reality relationships” tend not to last? Yes, I know that there are some amazing couples out there like Cameron and Lauren from Love is Blind or Georgia and Lee from The Bachelorette, but if you really look into the number of successful couples compared to the number of shows, it’s not great. 

There are likely a multitude of reasons, the most logical being that when reality show participants become reality stars, they invariably get busier and meet loads of new people, giving them options they may not have had previously. Also, participants are often from different parts of the country, or even the world, which introduces the challenge of maintaining a long-distance relationship. 

The most likely reason, however, is the same reason that so many non-reality relationships are unable to last the test of time and that is simply that each person’s intrinsic values are different. 

As Litman says, “shared experiences are a huge part of a strong relationship and a great foundation for success. However, one has to be careful not to mistake intimacy for compatibility. Although you shared a powerful experience together, you may not be highly compatible in day to day life. Areas you will want to test out include alignment in values, life plans, your ability to communicate and make decisions together, and whether you have the qualities you are each looking for.”

So, next time you meet someone who catches your eye — on an app or whilst eating a hearty breakfast of cane toads and kangaroo testicles — make sure you are aligned in the ways that really matter. 

For those who do meet their match through an unusual shared experience, Litman offers this advice: “Recognize that you have a wonderful start to your love story, and incredible memories to reflect on and talk about, but that just because you went through a unique experience together does not mean you are immune to normal relationship challenges and the work required to sustain a relationship.”

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