As reality dating shows dominate prime time television in Australia, it is impossible not to notice the ominous third party that appears to accompany all couples on at least their first few dates.
It always sits just within frame, its presence so visible it’s almost become invisible. No matter the time – it’s a non-negotiable addition, a prop that so effectively sets the scene.
But it isn’t just about how it looks – it’s also about what it does. The relatively cheap inclusion can transform an individual’s behaviour, making boring scenarios into bloody good TV.
That third party is, of course, alcohol.
The most “explosive” episodes on Married at First Sight took place at the dinner party, where wine was poured liberally, glasses were frequently smashed, and as the night rolled on, fights almost always erupted.
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We would watch for an hour and a half, as almost two dozen adults drank virtually non-stop.
On Bachelor in Paradise last week, Florence and Jake went on a day date to a nearby waterfall. They hiked, and after setting up a picnic, they whipped out a bottle of champagne. It looked to be about midday.
Reality television can, of course, be deceiving. We don’t know if the pair drank the entire bottle, or if it was simply there to establish a romantic mood.
Host Osher Gunsberg even assured us on Twitter last night that, “There’s plenty of meal breaks, and everyone eats,” for anyone who was concerned about the excessive alcohol consumption seemingly without meals.
Regardless of whether contestants eat or not, what we’re seeing is the normalisation of drinking for hours, and in some cases, days, without stopping.
It’s reminiscent of old films, where the characters were exclusively pictured with a cigarette in their hand. By the end, you no longer noticed it – but if you had any inclination towards smoking, you’d certainly find yourself feeling like one.
The ubiquity of drinking on reality television also implies that a bottle of wine is a prerequisite to getting to know someone romantically, making alcohol and dating somewhat interchangeable.
In fact, drinking often makes the process of dating murkier, simulating butterflies when they’re not actually there, and lowering our inhibitions which often leads to risk-taking behaviour.
Jill Stark, author of High Sobriety, says, “Women have more anxiety issues relating to their self-esteem and gain more confidence from drinking.”