Love, travel and serendipity merge in heady dating show
(First of two parts)
We initially had doubts when we were asked to check out TLC’s 10-episode, 30-minute reality dating show “Travel for Love,” a “social experiment” that sends five romantic hopefuls across Southeast Asia as they attempt to make meaningful connections with three local strangers on blind dates.
After all, there are way too many TV programs these days that bank on the “randomness” and “frivolity” of their participants’ meetups just to draw viewers’ attention—the most recent being Netflix’s intoxicating binge, “Love is Blind.” However, their viewability quickly dissipates as soon as the novelty overstays its welcome.
But, the elements thrown into “Travel for Love’s” heady mix of romance, travel and culture are too tantalizing to resist. Just by watching the first episode of the show, we were instantly drawn to the “influencers” chosen for its match-making trial run because their individual issues and concerns are often relatable and hit close to home. They aren’t just aspirational tales far removed from the Asian reality.
From the Philippines, there’s hopeless-romantic island girl Samantha del Carmen, who wants her dates to get along with her parents and five other siblings. That’s a very Pinoy trait! Sam will meet her matches in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Polish-Korean pretty boy Anthony Zarsky, who just moved from New York City to Singapore, is flown to Da Lat, a scenic mountain town frequented by honeymooners in southern Vietnam, to go on dates outside his usual preference of Korean girls. Despite his good looks and striking personality, he says even he wonders why he has remained single all these years.
Also tasked to “date out of her comfort zone” is free-spirited musician-artist Mariska Setiawan of Jakarta who has been single for a year. She travels to the remote jungles of Sarawak to immerse in the culture of the warrior Iban tribes, where she meets her well-mannered first date, Kevin. She says she’s always been partial to “manly men.”
Quirky and outspoken Malaysian Tahanee Shauki stresses there’s more to her than the stereotypical notion about hijabsters like her. She meets her dates in Yogyakarta, the only Indonesian royal city still ruled by a monarchy.
Then, there’s sassy Honey from Penang, who’s always been cautious about dating. Her adventure takes her to beautiful Bohol in the Philippines. We touched base with executive producer Priscilla Khoo last week to talk about the unscripted series, appropriately launched last Feb. 14 at 9:25 p.m. on TLC (channel 32 on Skycable, channel 62 on Destiny and channel 64 on Cignal), and produced by Discovery Networks Asia-Pacific (DNAP) in collaboration with Astro. Priscilla knows whereof she speaks because she isn’t just DNAP’s creative head and in charge of content strategy for the relaunched “Asian Food Network,” she was also one of the movers and shakers behind the reality shows, “Amazing Race Asia” and “The Apprentice Asia.”
“Travel for Love” introduces a different kind of challenge, she says. “The influencers are put in new destinations that they have never been to, with no idea of who they will be meeting or the activities they will embark on during their travels.
“By definition, a social experiment is a psychological or sociological research for testing people’s reaction to certain situations or events. The experiment relies on a particular approach when a main source of information is people with their own knowledge and point of view. The entire premise of ‘Travel for Love’ is a social experiment.
“Yes, we have seen countless interpretations of romances in Asian dramas, Western reality shows, and a few Asian love competition series, such as ‘The Bachelor Asia’ and ‘Terrace House,’ but none that is quite like ‘Travel for Love,’ which places its participants on amazing thrills of travel ‘firsts’ that allow them to immerse themselves in new cultures, flavors and adventures with a little joie de vivre.
“What also makes the reality show unique is how the story of the five influencers breaks the conventional format of one episode per protagonist and per destination. Their journeys are instead serialized across their travels and dates. All of them were connected through time, space and distance by the stage provided for them in the show, juxtaposing the same stage of each one on the same progression timelines. An exclusive digital series is also rolled out in tandem with the on-air telecast, which includes an analysis from a love guru on each of their dates.”
Our Q&A with Priscilla:
The first time we heard about this travel + food + romance concept, it all seemed too disparate. What was your inspiration for this idea?
We started off with looking at producing an original nonfiction series on travel and food. The challenge here was how to cut through the multitude of shows with similar themes, so we had to find a unique edge and premise for our new series.
When we started to look in-depth into the key popular pillars of TLC, which included romance and relationships, that was when it sparked the question: What if we sent people out into a place they have never been to, and set them up with three local dates? Will sparks fly?
We wanted to see if travel and having a sense of adventure and excitement can make one be more open to love, given that shared experiences can heighten attraction. We also wanted to see if traveling to another destination and culture can bring uncertainty as it places one out of their home territory.
There are movies and novels that have woven stories of such romantic ideals about finding love in a foreign land for many years now. We opened the door for romance and attraction to take root in the show [to see if people would be more receptive to falling in love] by offering experiences that can boost the odds of attraction, connection and meeting different types of people that they typically wouldn’t date or meet in their regular lives.