Bella had a horrible confession. Squirming slightly, she looked up at children’s entertainer Phil at the end of their very first date. “I…” she stumbled, before telling him, candidly and clearly, that she hadn’t wanted to go on a date with him at all. “Ohh,” said Phil – his eyes flickering with apparent distress. Saving face, he turned away from the cameras that were filming the whole thing for ITV’s hit dating show, Take Me Out. Within a day, the Radio Times reported that he “looked devastated” to have “his heart trampled upon on national TV”.
“I wasn’t actually mortified,” laughs Phil now. “That was just a break in filming. They made me look like I was absolutely devastated but I wasn’t.
“It sounds like sour grapes,” he confesses, “but that’s the reality of it.”
How does it feel to have your heart broken on national TV? In this year’s series of ITV2’s Love Island, contestant Dr Alex George has confessed to feeling like a “leper” after being rejected by multiple girls, with one refusing to kiss him during a kissing game. Change the channel, and you’re likely to see similar moments of heartbreak on one of Britain’s many reality TV dating programmes: First Dates, Naked Attraction, Dinner Date, Ex on the Beach, The Undateables, and Take Me Out. Viewers can often, in the words of Bart Simpson, “actually pinpoint the second” when a contestant’s “heart rips in half”.
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“I didn’t think I was blackout material,” says 46-year-old Phil now. Earlier this year Phil appeared on Take Me Out, the Paddy McGuinness-fronted show where men are presented to 30 single women. The women turn off a light in front of their podium if they aren’t interested in the man, and if all the women do so, it’s a “blackout”.
“I thought it was a bit harsh,” says Phil, who admits to feeling a bit “gutted” when 29 women turned their lights off after he performed a magic trick. The one girl who left it on – his date Bella – later confessed she had only done so because she “was just so enraptured” by the magic and pressed her light “too late”.
“I kinda knew there was something not quite right”
“[When she left her light on] I was relieved… you’re relieved you’re not going to get mocked for having a blackout,” Phil says. “But I kinda knew there was something not quite right.” Speaking carefully because he “signed [his] life away on a silly contract”, Phil says the show isn’t all it seems. He says the producers told him to wear “the stupid scarf” he sported on his date, and prompted him to make a joke about a camel. He says he knew about Bella’s confession before she made it. Yet because Phil didn’t apply for the show, and instead was approached by the producers, he looks back on the whole thing as an “adventure”.
“I was fine,” he says. “From the positive side of it, I’ve never had so many dates on my life, I had all these people adding me on Facebook, most of them were crazy and I didn’t have anything to do with them, but I was seeing a girl for a bit.” Phil also said it helped his business, and he is now starting “Activate”, a fitness company for kids.
“It would be worse to be rejected on something like First Dates,” he muses. “Especially if you’re the one to go ‘Yeah I’d like to see you again’, it would be pretty devastating if they said ‘I’d like to see you as friends’. I think that would be pretty hard to take.”
Richard couldn’t hold back tears when, on an episode of First Dates Ireland, his date Timmie said he wouldn’t like to date him again. On the Channel 4 show, singles sit through dinner before telling each other whether they’d like a second date. Social media was outraged that Timmie made Richard confess his feelings first (“I would like to see you again, I thought we got on well”) only to reject him (“I just don’t think there was a spark, I think we’re just better off friends”).
“To be honest I had put too much focus on it being a success, I was hoping that something miraculous may come out of this process,” says 45-year-old Richard now. He explains that he struggled with dating apps in rural Ireland (“like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack”) and hoped the show could help.
“I had put a lot of expectations that this would be a completely different way of trying to meet someone, maybe it would come up with something,” he says. “There was that immediate feeling of rejection… I did cry, I do get emotional at times, it just got to me that day.
“It was hard, because you start thinking: is it me? Am I doing something wrong trying to find someone? Am I wrong even trying to find someone to love? And you start doubting yourself.”
After a difficult 24 hours, Richard says he dusted himself off and decided to “crack on”.
“I don’t want to ever accept that I’d be single forever,” he says. “You can never give up hope.”
“It was hard not to read the comments and to feel hurt”
Neither Richard nor Phil were too worried about their rejections airing on TV, and both were amazed at the positive social media reaction they received. In the show, Richard confessed that he had previously been married and only came out aged 39. When someone tweeted him to say “To the gentleman who came out at 39 and didn’t have a role model… YOU are the role model!” he printed the message off, framed it, and put it in his study.
“That was very humbling,” he says. “That was the reaction side that I was not expecting whatsoever.”
Corey did not enjoy the social media reaction after her appearance on a dating show. Pioc Do Ride is an Irish reality TV programme in which a single person snoops through the cars of three other singles and chooses one to date. In a shock twist, the boy Corey chose (Liam) was offered the chance to trade the date for a €250 voucher for a car service. He chose the voucher.
“The social media side of things exploded,” 26-year-old Corey says now. “People from every corner of the world were talking about it and the Irish language (which I was delighted about) until they started to troll both myself and the guy who chose the car voucher –about our appearances.
“It was hard not to read the comments and to feel hurt… No matter who says what about you, you are going to take it personal, because it is.”
Corey originally decided to take part on the show “for the craic” and was “pretty sure a real relationship wasn’t going to grow from it”. Still, she says, the initial rejection hurt, especially because it was a shock twist in the programme’s format.
Yet nowadays, Corey is able to enjoy the memory. She is now friends with Liam and doesn’t regret the experience, beyond the hurtful comments.“It was a bit embarrassing but I definitely saw the funny side of the story,” she says, “Everyone felt sorry for me, but it was funny.
“My boyfriend thinks it is one of the funniest things he has ever heard!”
If you’re rejected on TV, does it make it easier to get rejected in real life?
“I think fear of rejection holds a lot of people back,” says Phil, who explains some of his friends struggle to talk to women. “I’m quite confident, I will go up and talk to people and I’m not bothered about being rejected, it’s not the end of the world is it?” Richard says his time on First Dates taught him to “toughen up slightly”.
“My mother has a good expression: ‘Don’t build expectations because that way you’ll be disappointed’.” After the initial rejection he says he “bucked [himself] up” and doesn’t regret going on the show at all.
“It was a brilliant experience – okay the date didn’t end how I would’ve liked it to – but I’m proud of myself for having done it.
“If I was asked to do it again, I probably would say yes.”
(Pics: ITV, Getty)