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Seven Series In, Is Channel 4's First Dates Losing It?

Photo: Courtesy of Channel 4.
Last week marked the beginning of yet another series of Channel 4’s much loved, much lauded, fly-on-the-wall dating show, First Dates. The programme first aired in June 2013 and follows a simple premise: two people go on a blind date to a restaurant and at the end of their meal must sit together and give a debrief of how they think the date went, before revealing if they’d like to see the other person again.

The results range from heart-warming to excruciating and the show has regularly trended on Twitter, as well as garnering extensive media coverage, from the Guardian last year pondering "How First Dates won the nation’s heart" to er, The Birmingham Mail’s gripping exposé about what it’s "REALLY like" to go on a date in the infamous restaurant. At the show's peak, viewing figures reached 2.2 million, but under a million people tuned in to Episode One, Series Seven last week, suggesting that things might have become a little too predictable.

As much as I love seeing the peaks and pitfalls of strangers’ romantic endeavours, after more than 50 episodes, I may have seen enough. After the "celebrity specials" which have seen not one, but two cast members of Made in Chelsea supposedly looking for "the one" over a steak dinner, it’s beginning to feel like the right time to switch off. As Fred Sirieix, the restaurant’s French maitre d' and very own clichéd-quote generator puts it, “There is only one happiness in this life. To love, and to be loved.” But are we falling out of love with First Dates?

Re-watching the first few series is like looking back at photographs of an old love and wondering where it all went wrong. Who could forget Terry Turbo, Faliraki DJ and self-proclaimed Lothario who claimed to have slept with over 250 women and who visited the First Dates restaurant no less than three times. Memorable moments include Terry informing his date she was close to giving him an erection and asking another what her bra size was.

Then there was Fayhe, a 23-year-old cheerleading coach from Lancashire, who had to endure ex-soldier Will drinking excessively, discussing paedophiles and generally being atrocious company during their dinner. Despite the circumstances, Fayhe remained poised and gracious throughout and when online applications opened for people to apply for a chance to go on a date with her, more than 1,000 men signed up.

Geordie post-office worker Jodie from Season Three was endearingly self-deprecating, liked a “good eyebrow”, was horrifically friend-zoned by her first date, Laura, and yet managed to bounce back into the restaurant for round two a week later. Jodie found true love in Mancunian Laura, who looked like the perfect amalgamation between Katy Perry and Cheryl Cole. Reflecting on the outcome of her first date, Jodie poetically summed up: “I would say there’s plenty more fish in the sea, but when you take the sea of gay and then the lesbians, and then the feminine lesbians (which I go for), it’s pretty much a puddle”.

My favourite date ever though, was first aired all the way back in March 2014. 76-year-old retiree John and former engineer Jean were both attentive, interested in each other’s stories and gave the kind of advice you want to write down on a post-it note and stick on your mirror to read every morning. It didn’t even end with them agreeing to see each other again, but that was almost beside the point. As Jean said, “For both of us, this experience has been an opening door, which we both need to push it open and walk through it.” Amen to that.

But for all our happy history with First Dates, things have begun to go awry. Perhaps it started when former diners started popping up on other, slightly less sweet and innocent, dating shows. Cara De La Hoyde, who this summer won the dubious title of Love Island finalist, and Ex on the Beach regular Jess Impiazzi, both featured in Series Two of First Dates, slightly tarnishing the idea that they were genuinely "looking for love" in the restaurant. Even aforementioned cheerleading coach Fahye went on to pose topless for Zoo magazine.

Perhaps I also started to feel like giving up when the creators made the ill-advised decision to expand, launching Australian-based First Dates Abroad, which lacks any of the warmth or authenticity that the British version had. Added to this is the news that we’re soon to have another spin-off series, the First Dates Hotel. Set in a boutique hotel in the French countryside, the show will allow us to see what happened next for some of the restaurant’s successful daters. Clearly a five-minute clip of a couple awkwardly discussing splitting the bill is just not doing it anymore. The Mirror reckons it “will surely see more Love Island-style antics than the average giggle and playful banter in the famous restaurant,” so that’s something to look forward to.

It's not all bad. Back in December we were treated to the first ever First Dates proposal for a special Christmas episode. Former guest Scott White got down on one knee to propose to his girlfriend Victoria Wills... with a Haribo ring, no less. (Because what’s more romantic than being presented with a Haribo jelly ring, in the bar of the same restaurant where you enjoyed your first, televised date, just months before?) Anyway, she said "yes", and Twitter reacted in kind.
So sure, we’ve had some good times in the First Dates restaurant; some very good times (Season Four’s Louisa, who inquired "How do you greet a male on a date?" is my spirit animal) but many more bumbling greetings and stilted conversations can we take? Especially now we know that some of the staff don’t actually work there (CiCi is a trained actress, meep). It's a tired formula, and one that's starting to feel as stale as the bread served at the restaurant. Finally, it seems it might be time to take off the rose-tinted glasses and step away from the rosé wine. RIP First Dates.