In Netflix’s Perfect Match, out today, 23 cast members from the platform’s other reality shows like Too Hot to Handle, The Circle, Love Is Blind, and The Ultimatum get a second chance at finding a partner on, yes, another Netflix reality show. The stakes are low — no one proposes or goes to the altar — and the couples compete for the dubious honor of being the season’s perfect match and a mystery prize. It’s a ridiculous concept that mostly serves as a promotional vehicle for Netflix’s reality franchises and its stars.
The flaw in Perfect Match, which is hosted by Nick Lachey, is that it takes itself too seriously for viewers to solely be in it for fun and chaos, yet under these ludicrous circumstances, most of the connections never shape up to be anything other than perfunctory, making it impossible to root that hard for any of them.
Perfect Match, a 12-episode show, frames finding love as something that requires strategy and competition as participants vie to break up couples and stay in the house long enough to find a match. Singles arrive at a villa in Panama, mingle over evening drinks, and choose someone to share a room with for the night. The next day, these so-called couples — who are still strangers for the most part — go through a meaningless compatibility challenge in order to win access to “the boardroom,” a room with a giant touchscreen, where the pair that won the day’s challenge gets to invite new people (all cast members from Netflix’s other reality shows) to go on dates with housemates who are already matched up — basically homewrecking.
Strategically, the goal in the boardroom is either to set up their allies with newcomers they might have a shot with, or to draw a wedge in the power couples that threaten to steal the show. The cast often say glowing things about their matches, only to be led astray immediately when someone else becomes single. As a friend once said cynically to me when we were teenagers: We’re only as loyal as our options.
During the regular evening mixers, contestants decide whether to stick with their current matches or give it a shot with someone else in the house. There are more couples than rooms, and whoever isn’t paired up by the end of the night has to pack their things and go. I found the times when all the white people are comfortably matched up leaving the people of color to exit the villa to be particularly wrenching. The cast are constantly sizing up each other’s relationships to see where there may be opportunity, and couples end up reshuffling quickly. Hilariously, it’s also the cast who ultimately votes for the “best” couple among them, which makes no sense but I guess is easier and cheaper than asking viewers to vote.
I wondered if the real toxic relationships are the ones the cast has with Netflix.
A main character in the show is Francesca Farago from Season 1 of Too Hot to Handle, portrayed here as a bombshell comfortable being the villain if she gets what she wants. Francesca quickly becomes the object of desire of the men in the villa, and she says confidently in her confessional that she gets what she wants and that the people she dates are usually obsessed with her. It’s apparent she feels her beauty entitles her to a lot, and the only boundaries she seems to respect are her own. Francesca treats most of the straight women in the villa with contempt, disdain, or indifference, and unapologetically rips apart those who threaten her ascent. She has her softer moments and her allies praise her for her don’t-give-a-fuck attitude, but — warning — she will unearth horrible feelings for viewers who have ever been bullied by peers or disposed of by lovers.
Francesca matches up with Dom Gabriel from Season 1 of Netflix’s The Mole, who is like a puppy dog in a muscled-up human bodysuit. He heeds Francesca’s every command, even when it is not in his best interest. Francesca and Dom are painted early on as one of the stronger couples in the house, but there’s nothing that makes them clearly compatible except perhaps that she’s an alpha and he’s a pushover who won’t fight her. Is this the most we can hope for?
To see cast members from the Love Is Blind franchise — Damian Powers, Diamond Jack, LC, Shayne Jansen, Bartise Bowden — repurposed for this show is difficult to process. The last time we saw them, they were ready to marry someone they’d never seen based on feelings developed through conversations in dating pods. Now, they’re in skimpy swimwear trying to find a match in a villa crowded with boobs, abs, and alcohol. It puts the cast members in a different light, and exposes parts of their personalities we didn’t see when Netflix thrust them into monogamy and engagements. Some of them, like Shayne, still seem genuinely interested in forming deep connections, which I’ve always found to be the most appealing part of Love Is Blind, even when some of the participants ultimately fall short on their promise. Others (Damian and Bartise) reinforce the suspicion that they’ve only ever been in it for themselves.
The idea that anyone actually could find their perfect match in a boozed-up Netflix party house is absurd. Even the cast members admit to that. Still, on some level, isn’t a significant portion of dating in real life like navigating a chaotic party house? Don’t we all just choose a partner from the limited pool of people we’re surrounded by? How many of us have hurt someone to get what we want?
The competition is silly, but Perfect Match still manages to extract an array of relatable emotions from the cast: the desire to connect, to be wanted, to feel a spark with someone, to give it one last go with an ex, to (unsuccessfully) shield yourself from pain and betrayal, to protect your friends, to sabotage your enemies, and to avoid feeling rejected and alone. I wondered if the real toxic relationships are the ones the cast has with Netflix.
So much of the competition on Perfect Match revolves around self-preservation and keeping yourself in the game, which ultimately is antithetical to opening yourself up to love. In the end, almost none of the couples on the show are remotely compelling, but the individuals you hope the best for are the ones who exhibit the capacity to care about someone other than themselves. After all, we deserve that in all our matches.●