Carmen Electra
Youtube/MTV

MTV Dating Shows That’ll Bring Back Those Forgotten, Cringy Feels

The late 90s and early 2000s brought us some of the best and worst of televised times for MTV. With the iconic network's big 40th birthday in mind, let's look back at the speed dating experiments we'll never forget, even if we'd like to sometimes.
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MTV turned 40 this week. Hard to believe, isn’t it?

Four decades later, the pop culture staple looks a lot different than it did in 1981. As noted by Variety, “it’s been a cliché for years to complain about what happened to the music on MTV.” So we won’t go there today.

For those of us who grew up with MTV in the 80s, 90s, or early 2000s, we’ll always reflect on our time together fondly. So let’s celebrate the network’s big 4-0 with only love in mind.

Frankly, it’s impossible to put into words just how cringe-inducing most of these dating shows really were, so we’ve decided to let Pauly Shore do the “talking.” This is MTV after all.

Here are the most insane, ridiculous, and iconic MTV reality dating shows that ever aired, accompanied by their cringe factor.

Room Raiders

Cringe Factor: 4.5 out of 5

2003 was a big year for surveilled hijinx on MTV.

On Room Raiders, three contestants are rushed into a van like they’re being kidnapped from their home. One single goes into their bedrooms and comfortably snoops around. They must decide who they’re most attracted to through “clues” they gather while invading their privacy. The contestants are nervously watching from afar.

In the spirit of fairness, those who’ve been raided get to raid the single’s room when it’s over and cause some humiliation of their own. In 2005, a teenage Zac Efron was on Room Raiders. And, well, it’s one of those things you should just see for yourself.

Youtube/ZacEfronHD/MTV

Dismissed

Cringe Factor: 5 out of 5

You know the drill. One person goes on a date with two people at the same time. From the moment they intermingle, the contestants vying for the lead’s affections trash talk each other and never play nice. Meanwhile, the single caught in the middle tries to figure out who they like more.

When it’s time to pick the winner, they’re able to dodge common courtesy, bypass compassion, and get right down to business. At the end of the date, they just say “you’re dismissed” to the contestant who failed to impress them.

Youtube/MTV

Parental Control

Cringe Factor: 3.5 out of 5

Parental Control was on MTV from 2006 through 2010. This is “how it’s done.” Disapproving parents audition potential partners to replace their son or daughter’s current spouse. But that’s not even the cringiest part.

They all sit down together, watch the dates unfold, and argue. By the episode’s end, the son or daughter must decide if they’ll stay with their significant other or leave them immediately for some random person their parents selected. I won’t lie, this one wasn’t easy to look away from, but it was way more dysfunctional than fun.

Youtube/MTV Vault

Next

Cringe Factor: 4.5 out of 5

In the early 2000s, Next paved the raunchy way for shallow warp speed dating long before any apps existed. Here’s the setup: one single goes on three blind dates and says “next” to end the interaction whenever they want, including the first second they see them. But that’s not the real selling point with this one.

As each single stepped out of that mega bus, three bullet points “explaining” who they were popped up. Hands down, these bizarre quirk boards were the most memorable aspect of the show.

Youtube/All That/MTV

Also noteworthy, for every minute they lasted on the date, contestants earned $1. Ain’t love grand?

Date My Mom

Cringe Factor: 3 out of 5

This one isn’t exactly how it sounds. It’s worse.

One young person goes on three different dates with three moms. But these moms are not looking for love themselves. They’re on a date with the person who may very well become their son or daughter’s spouse by the episode’s end.

Each mom tries to convince the single person to choose the fruit of their womb. At the dramatic beachfront finale, the dater in power explains who they don’t want to be with, why it won’t work out, and reveal the “winner” without being sure which mother belongs to which single.

Youtube/megz17x/youtube

And yes, they must decide who to date solely based on the “date” they just had with the person’s mother. A fairytale, I tell ya.

A Shot of Love With Tila Tequila

Cringe Factor: 3.5 out of 5

After finding fame through MySpace, Tila Tequila was a star on the rise for a mere moment. In 2007, A Shot of Love started out strong, but much of what transpired was difficult to watch.

Looking back, it could’ve gone so differently. While her public approval rating was still up, Tila Tequila revealed she was bisexual on her televised quest for love. The premise made MTV dating show history. Both heterosexual and LGBTQ+ contestants competed for her heart. Although, it was clear some contestants were there for a good time and nothing more. And she seemed the most drawn to them. Hence, why a second season came to be.

Youtube/MTV

By the series’ end, Tila wound up unlucky in love twice. Shortly after that, her exes put the reality star on social media blast.

Exposed

Cringe Factor: 4 out of 5

After Next, MTV switched up their reality dating formula a tad. Exposed still had raunchy puns, egomania, and ruthlessly unwarranted trash talk between strangers. And yes, one person still went on a date with two people at the same time. But this time, they have help in making their final decision.

A friend spies on the date from a van and tells their pal just how honest their dates are really being. Secretly using a lie detector of sorts, everything they say is voice analyzed for its level of truthfulness. Because what’s more important than trust?

Youtube/MTV

As for how legit the lie detector was, I’m not sure that part really mattered to anyone involved.

Score

Cringe Factor: 3.5 out of 5

You may have forgotten about Score. Or maybe you want to. In 2005, MTV was churning out reality show concepts left and right. In the throes of American Idol’s heyday, they had a very timely idea.

For this short-lived series, aspiring songwriters join forces with Ryan Cabrera, better known in this MTV era as Ashlee Simpson’s ex. But I digress. Cabrera and his proteges write songs to woo some lucky single. The original songs are then performed to the object of their affection.

Judged only by the sounds of love, a date is chosen blindly.

Youtube/MTV

Is She Really Going Out With Him?

Cringe Factor: 4 out of 5

In 2009, MTV took rejection to the next level. The sociological trends level, that is. Is She Really Going Out With Him focused on how many wonderful women choose to settle in relationships. Or as MTV describes the premise, it’s a series that “brought to light perhaps the most puzzling phenomenon of our generation: hot chicks dating d-bags.” 

Following one fairly odd couple at a time, audiences were given glimpses into their dynamic and shown all the ways the guy was not a catch. By the end of the episode, the woman either had to dump him or stand by her mediocre man.

Youtube/MTV

It’s also where Jersey Shore‘s Snooki got her start. The series called her beau at the time a “complete loser.”

TailDaters

Cringe Factor: 3 out of 5

TailDaters was another short-lived series. And it’s not hard to see why. From 2002-2003, MTV was all about hiding people on a big bus and giving them more power on someone else’s date than anyone needs. So they took the idea for a spin once again, but with even more comments from the peanut gallery.

Here’s the game. Friends, family, and exes watch their loved one on a date from the “stakeout bus.” They offer up real-time (and often crass) commentary the entire time. In turn, the single doesn’t have to make the final decision for themselves or hear their own thoughts. How helpful.

Youtube/MTV

Singled Out

Cringe Factor: 5 out of 5

Singled Out was MTV’s first reality dating show. Along with being a whopping success, the high-energy dating game is the most iconic by far. It’s also one of those reality dating shows that was mostly funny on purpose.

As a 90s kid, I was hopelessly devoted to MTV. And so, Singled Out was my first crash course in relationship “rules,” no matter how ill-guided.

Youtube/MTV

Hosted by snarky Chris Hardwick, 50 guys and 50 girls wait in a pit to compete for a date with one person. Jenny McCarthy was the OG co-hostess with the mostest before Carmen Electra took over her dating show duties.

The pool of singles is narrowed down to three through a few swift rounds of compatibility testing. Those left standing are given punny (and sometimes perverse) monikers and answer a final round of rapid-fire questions.

Rather quickly, a winner emerges. The potential lovers are placed back to back, turned around to see each other for the first time, and poof, welcome to your new relationship.