When Are You The One? returned to MTV this month for a seventh season, it did so with all the predictable tropes of the reality dating subgenre. There was Zak, the Toxic Relationship Addict. Kayla, the Guy-Crazy Romantic. Kwasi, the Muscled Egomaniac. Sam, the Independent Feminist. Tevin, the Too-Suave Pretty Boy. All were reductive archetypes; all were irrestistible.

The primary architecture of the show, too, adheres to a simple, if effective formula: throw a group of beautiful, sex-drunk souls into a house, add endless amounts of liquor, stir, and wait for the drama to spill over. It’s a social experiment disguised as a dating show. And, like the best dating shows, it melds fact and fantasy into something that's more like the real thing than you might expect.

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Culture