One of television’s most overused descriptions is identifying a reality TV show as a “social experiment.”
Shows from Big Brother to Survive the Raft has been described that way, and it’s often applied to dating reality TV, from Are You The One? to Married at First Sight. Set up an artificial context, put real people in it, and you’ve got yourself an experiment!
Of course, there’s no scientific rigor here. No control groups, no industry-wide ethical standards, very little oversight. And the goal is profit, not proof.
Enter Twin Love, Amazon Prime Video and Freevee’s “social dating experiment.” It, too, does not take a truly scientific approach, and is still a reality TV show produced by a massive corporation.
Yet it is more of an actual experiment than most, and more fascinating as a result.
In its first episode, 10 sets of twins split up, move into different houses, and date each other. Will the twins pick the same people? Will their experiences mirror each other’s?
This set up provides a framework that produces some deeply fascinating scenes and conversations, even when the show gets in its own way.
Unlike The Bachelor, there is no lead—or leads—here. It’s just five men and five women in each house, all of whom are twins.
Producers have cast 10 pairs of identical twins who also just happen to be young, hot, and ready to make out within hours of meeting someone.
There’s diversity in race and background, and even some in sexuality: one participant says he’s non-monogamous, and two twins are demisexual, describing that for themselves as “we’re more drawn to energy and personality.”
A surprising number of the twin pairs have alliterative or rhyming names, in addition to fun spelling: Brittnay and Whittnay, Samir and Samer, Morgan and Madison, Cameron and Ceara, Zoie and Baelee.
Also joining: Sabella and Hanna, Seth and Luke, Jair and Micquel, Matthew and Andrew, David and Andrew, plus later, new sets of twins: Kush and Luv, Gaby and Maddie, Moo and Rhi, Shelby and Ally.
Twins Nikki Bell and Brie Bella host, and break the news to the twins that they’re going to be split up and unable to communicate. This provides immediate and fascinating friction. Some pairs have, they say, never been apart.
One problem with this set-up is that we’re left with two shows in one, where it’s hard to lock in on people as individuals. It can get confusing quickly: identical twins, some of whom have similar names, sometimes wearing identical clothing, being guided by identical hosts.
Split screens help, showing us both twins at once. The houses are different, too, providing some visual cues.
When there’s a split-screen of twins doing identical things—cooking, brushing their hair, pumping up their muscles—it’s amusing, though who knows whether that’s actually happening at the same time.
The production design tips toward Claim to Fame by way of Love Island, with people living together in large houses in the hills, filmed mostly by remotely operated cameras. Each house has versions of Are You The One’s Boom Boom Room sex room; here, it’s the Twintamacy Room.
The experiment seems to fall apart at the very first challenge, where the participants choose who they’re most immediately attracted to. A male twin who gets the most votes from the female twins in one house gets zero in the other house.
The rationale in that first game is also suspect. “In my past, I’ve been dealing with a lot of blondes, so I had to break the cycle here,” Jair explains.
And of course, twins are individuals with distinct personalities, not identical robots.
The researcher behind the famous “Minnesota Study of Twins Reared Apart,” Thomas Bouchard, told The Washington Post in 1998 that, “On average, identical twins raised separately are about 50 percent similar—and that defeats the widespread belief that identical twins are carbon copies. Obviously, they are not. Each is a unique individual in his or her own right.”
These twins were not raised apart, and they are still most definitely individuals.
Separated into two houses, the participants immediately starting about how different they are than their twins, from superficial attraction to personality traits.
They are all connected to their twins, though, so being separated is a twist they’re shocked by immediately. That separation anxiety is more dramatic than dating strangers. “We’ve never ever been apart, ever,” Sabella says.
There’s emotion from that separation, including from the men. “It’s cool to cry, bro,” David tells Seth, who says, “I kinda needed it.”
Some people talk about how much they need their twin, while others discuss their need to be independent. Whittnay says she just wants to “conquer my separation anxiety.”
Those variations in experience, and the cast’s bonding over the shared experience of having a twin sibling is, to me, far more interesting than the dating part of the experiment.
Of course, there’s a reality TV show to produce here.
To test their twin bonds, the producers have designed some fun challenges, which take place on opposite sides of a screen. Can a person detect what their twin is feeling?
“This is a social dating experiment, and the one thing we all know about experiments is you never know what to expect,” Nikki and Bella tell their respective houses. “So, I have a surprise for you.”
It’s the addition of a new set of twins, which means there’s an uneven number of men and women. While the producers are thankfully not forcing the cast to couple up, the men each choose a woman, and the remaining woman must leave—and take her twin with her to keep the houses even.
This is complicated by a decision the producers have made to show each house footage from the other house.
The twins know who their twins are connecting with and hooking up with, and that affects their decisions. If an eliminated person’s twin was connecting with someone, now they have to leave, too.
It is fascinating when twins connect with the same twins, but if one couple was not as strong as the other, are they now more likely to stay together for the game?
I realize this is not a scientific experiment, but giving information about who’s matching with whom ramps up the drama but taints the experiment.
I watched one-third of Twin Love’s nine episodes so far, and for every few steps it took down a fascinating, new path, it slipped back into the well-worn ruts of dating reality TV, during which my attention wandered.
But I will keep watching, because at its core, Twin Love is finding new material amid familiar territory.
While Twin Love undermines its own concept, there’s still a lot that’s interesting here. B
What works for me:
- An actual experiment!
- The bonding among people over their experiences being a twin
- The challenge design
What could be better:
- Not breaking the experiment
- Avoiding the tropes of other dating shows