In Praise of ‘Dating Naked’ and the Glorious Rise of Butts on Reality TV
Yes, you see butts.
That’s the answer to what’s probably your first question about the new VH1 reality series Dating Naked. You do see butts. You see guy butts. You see girl butts. You see so many butts! (The answer to your second and third questions—what about boobs? peens?—sadly, is no. You’ll have to settle for carefully-placed blurs.)
The next questions, though, might be the more interesting ones. Why in the world does Dating Naked even exist? And what does it say about you that you really want to watch it?
Well, you perv (answer to that latter question), as evident by the popularity of series like Fear Factor and Survivor in their heydays, we’re fascinated by reality shows that force its contestants to do things that scare us. And the idea of going on a date naked is terrifying and stressful for a myriad of reasons: insecurity, sunburns, boners.
So in one way, Dating Naked is a shrewd hybrid of the most boring of reality TV genres—the dating show—and the most exciting—face-your-fear series. It’s also an utterly silly, and ultimately pretty fun, entry in the latest, perhaps most desperate effort by networks to find the next reality TV format that will excite viewers in a genre that is seeing its popularity veering toward impotence.
Trace—or blame, depending on your point of view—the rise of reality TV in the buff to the success of Discovery Channel’s Naked and Afraid, which premiered last year and quickly became one of the top-rated nonfiction shows on all of cable. In its wake, Discovery’s cable rivals have declared a veritable No Pants Party in their development offices. There’s TLC’s Buying Naked, about real estate for nudists; Syfy’s Naked Vegas, about body painting; and Discovery’s own Naked Castaway. Plus, of course, there’s Dating Naked.
If you can make a reality TV show about it, you can make it naked.
It’s a fascinating development in the genre. Twenty-two years after The Real World introduced reality TV to the masses, proclaiming that it was “time to stop being polite and start being real,” the concept of “being real” has changed quite a bit. These reality series aren’t just concerned with its subjects stripping emotionally naked anymore. They want them nakedly naked. They want butts.
There’s a lot to admire in both the bluntness of these series and the way they use nudity to lure butts on couches, so that an arguably interesting psychological experiment could then unfold. On that first point, you know what you’re getting. This is not Breaking Bad. It is a show about going on a first date with your wang hanging out, and it does not pretend to be anything more than that.
But there actually is more to these shows than that. Naked and Afraid, for example, all but excises titillation from its episodes, instead focusing on the power dynamics between men and women when they’re left with nothing—quite literally—but their wits and some rudimentary tools.
On an early episode of Naked and Afraid, a female survivalist, after days of living nude and unshowered, discovered that she could catch fish by sitting in a stream, waiting for fish to swim toward her rancid vagina, and then shutting her legs to trap them. She went fishing with her vagina. If that’s not fascinating television, I don’t know what is.
Then there’s Dating Naked, which purports to make a lofty, heady point about finding love in an ever-complicated society—and in some ways actually does.
You may roll your eyes when the Dating Naked host tells the cast that the show’s concept will facilitate dating “in the most honest way possible.” You may grumble when she says, “Before you can truly bare your souls, you’re going to have to bare everything else first,” or scoff when a female contestant named Wee Wee (seriously) swears that the whole seeing-his-penis-before-learning-his-name thing strips away the anxieties that muddy her dating life. But as TV, it’s at least a provocative and playful concept.
This is where I would tell you what happens on Dating Naked, but if you’ve read the title then you already know what happens on Dating Naked. A bachelor and bachelorette each go on three dates on a remote island, and at the end they decide which of the potential suitors they liked best. The singles are briefly introduced and explain why they feel like this is the best outlet for them to find love, as opposed to Tinder or singles mixers or blind dates set up by their Aunt Gladys. Then they get naked and meet their dates for their first time.
What’s next? They giggle. They boogie-board in the ocean. They paint. They talk about love, loss, and wild dreams. And penises.
What happens after their initial naked meeting is a lot less exciting. For one, they put their clothes on (Editor’s note: Boooooo!!!), after which the series is tasked with proving that it’s more interesting—or at least as interesting—as the typical reality TV dating program.
To that regard, and judging by their sheer willingness to be a part of this ludicrous dating experiment, the bare-assed people on Dating Naked are pleasantly goofy, gregarious, and quite fun to spend an hour with. They never seem to lose sight of the fact that what they’re doing is a bit asinine, and therefore they don’t lose their ability to laugh at the whole experience, too.
But we’re moving beyond the point here, and that point is butts. Whether you’re the type who will watch this show with your thumb at-the-ready to change the channel in case someone walks in the room and catches you, or you’re the kind of a person who unabashedly watches shows like True Blood in fast-forward so that you only have to see the sex scenes, you are watching Dating Naked because you want to see butts.
And you know what? That’s OK.
Over the years, reality TV has, quite implausibly, become far too serious. Remember when everyone was shrieking at each other like wild banshees with rabies on those early seasons of The Real World? When Richard walked around naked and Sue told Kelly she’d let her rot in the desert on Survivor? And Simon Cowell and Ryan Seacrest would openly flirt with each other on American Idol? These shows were silly!
Nowadays an episode of a talent competition can’t conclude without at least three contestants crying about dead fathers, dead babies, or a tragic bout with Lyme disease—sometimes all three. And The Bachelor has morphed into a strange meditation on our society’s collective Madonna-whore complex, to the point that scores of think pieces are written about it. Think pieces about The Bachelor!
Annoyingly, Dating Naked tiptoes into heavy-handedness as a few of its subjects start telling sob stories. But then, blessedly, the next scene has them whipping out their dongs and painting with them.
What does that have to say about dating in today’s society? Tune in to find out. Or just watch because you want to look at some butts. You know you do.