Duncan Greive watches Māori Television’s new dating show Finding Aroha, and finds a surprisingly authentic reality quest for love.
As a highly-paid television columnist, I am in possession of piercing insights which will rock you back in your seat. Buckle up, there’s a whopper coming.
You ready? You sure? Here goes: The Bachelor NZ is not like real life. Boom.
Mind = blown, right? Yep, well that is exactly why they pay me the big bucks. Other columnists just tiptoe around the truth, afraid to tell it like it is. Not me.
OK so that is an extremely unshocking piece of information – the fact ‘reality TV isn’t real’ still gets regular play as a Big Reveal is one of the best running jokes in our media. There is no country where it’s common for 20 plus members of one gender to live in a mansion together while a single member of the opposite gender slowly winnows them down.
It’s not real anywhere – but it’s particularly unreal in New Zealand. Our dating culture is famously malformed, and watching our naturally reticent species coyly kick the tyres on one another was one of the sweetest elements of The Bachelor NZ.
Having established what we don’t do though, the question remains: how exactly do we find love – or at least strong like?
Finding Aroha, a deeply charming new dating show on Māori Television, attempts to answer that question. As host Miriama Smith (on loan from Filthy Rich) puts it, “Māori love stories combined a focus on passion, and the way marriages connected whānau, hapu and iwi.”
So the show attempts to create a set of new modern Māori love stories by having whānau interview prospective suitors to help a single relative find a mate – or at least someone to hang out with – maybe something might happen in the future, but you don’t want to rush it eh.
The first episode debuted on Thursday, and continues a great run of form for the channel, following shows like This is Piki and Sidewalk Karaoke into the kind of reflection of our national id that you might have expected TVNZ to embody.
Smith’s terrific on Finding Aroha. The show opens with her teasing out the backstory of Arahia, a solo mother from Timaru, who’s here with her two brothers. While the set has twinkling lights and dramatic shadows, the conversation is surprisingly natural. Arahia reveals herself as having returned from Australia, with her 12-year-old son after the end of a 15 year long relationship.
She’s been single two years, and “tried Tinder – but Timaru’s not that big a place.” She stayed in a “toxic relationship” too long, but has no enmity for her ex. Where dating shows often scrub backstories clean, Finding Aroha seems very comfortable with the realities of most people’s romantic lives – kids included.
Later the suitors, Michael and Lorenzo, are introduced to be interviewed by Smith, Arahia and her brothers. The questions are a mostly silly – “have you ever mimied your pants?” “have you ever cried during a movie?” – but they cumulatively build a sense of the men’s character. Michael, also a parent, is funny, mature, dreadlocked. Lorenzo is handsome and gym-ripped, but a bit of a dryballs.
Unsurprisingly she chooses Michael, and the pair go on a white water rafting date, as the show fizzles its way to a conclusion. Because of the location, there’s no room for intimacy and little for conversation, and the lack of a return visit to see whether anything happens is frustrating.
But the frustration is overwhelmed by a kind of joy. Pop culture and media tends to unwittingly imply that love is youngsters’ game – if you’re not on that train in your late twenties it’s tears and two minute noodles for you, forever.
Finding Aroha not only shows that love and relationships can come at any age – next week’s participants looked like they might be much older again in the promo – but integrates whānau in the search in a way which feels surprisingly authentic.
It’s a beautiful thing, and despite its obvious contrivances, a much realer kind of of reality TV.
Finding Aroha, Māori Television, 8.30pm Thursdays
This content, like all television coverage we do at The Spinoff, is brought to you thanks to the excellent folk at Lightbox. Do us and yourself a favour by clicking here to start a FREE 30 day trial of this truly wonderful service.
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed daily digest of New Zealand’s most important stories, delivered directly to your inbox each morning.