Some horror stories about dating are universal, but Texas men have their own host of unique problems. After my last relationship ended, my friends warned me about the trials and tribulations of Austin-area dating: men on a perennial quest for the “spontaneous woman” who will drop everything for a last-minute dip at Barton Springs; men who claim to live downtown but actually reside in Buda or Pflugerville; the plethora of tech bro Californians, new to the area, who expect us locals to either plan the first dates or constantly “show them around town.” I went into my newfound singledom optimistic—maybe even euphoric?—about the idea of finding my potential spouse on an app as easily as I could order Home Slice Pizza via Favor. But almost a year later, as a somewhat regular user of Hinge (and, if I get desperate, Bumble), I can personally confirm that the apps have driven me to despair. Hinge’s “most compatible” feature is almost frighteningly humbling. We’re only allotted a certain amount of free “likes” per day. Not every date I’ve gone on has driven me to temporarily pause my profile for some respite, but I ran into every well-worn cliché I was advised of more than once. Then my friends started talking about Love Island.

I watch my fair share of reality TV, but dating shows have never quite been my jam. Still, with my Hinge profile on ice yet again, I wondered whether I might have better luck leaving my love life’s fate to casting producers. Anything has got to be better than being asked, for the umpteenth time, if I know where to find the best breakfast taco in town. Today’s single Texans have plenty of options for finding a potential partner without setting foot outside the state—if they don’t mind half of America watching it happen.

Multiple dating shows have filmed in Texas within the past few years, pulling contestants from across the state to drink from strangely opaque wineglasses and fight with the opposite sex on TV. Love Is Blind, a social experiment in which singles look for love and, occasionally, get engaged, all before meeting in person, has set seasons in Houston and Dallas. A 2022 season of The Ultimatum: Marry or Move On, a show in which existing couples must decide whether to get married or move on with someone else, filmed in Austin. Married at First Sight, which, as the title suggests, encourages marriage-minded singles to say “I do” before ever seeing or meeting their soon-to-be spouse, shot in Houston and is currently casting singles in Austin. Texas has seemingly transformed into a dating-show hub. Is it our sheer size—are there more singles fed up with dating, like myself, in the Lone Star State than anywhere else? Or is there a certain je ne sais quoi about Texas’s singles that make us ripe for selection? 

Texas is working to become a more film-friendly state, offering a slew of tax incentives, grants, and other benefits to attract production companies to film here. During this year’s first special legislative session, lawmakers bolstered our film-incentive program. That could lead to more Texas-set unscripted (and scripted) shows in the future, but seasons of Love Is Blind, The Ultimatum, and Married at First Sight filmed well before the legislation passed. (Notably, all three of those programs are produced by Los Angeles–based Kinetic Content, which declined to comment for this piece.) If it’s not (or is only partly) a financial boon to film in Texas, maybe there’s something particular to the personalities of uncoupled Texans that makes us prime reality TV subjects.

“You can drive from one side of Texas to the other and it’d take days. Because of the state’s geography, there are so many different demographics of people to choose from” for these shows, said Jose San Miguel Jr., who starred on the Houston iteration of Married at First Sight. “You just have a melting pot of different nationalities and upbringings and cultures, so I think that that makes Texas an easy target for TV producers.” 

Another reality TV alum, Love Is Blind’s Izzy Zapata, opted to try out for the show when he got fed up with the Houston dating scene. The most viable ways for him to find love interests boiled down to three camps, he told me: dating apps, going out, and real-world acquaintances. “I had been dating my ass off here in Houston, but eventually got exhausted of casual dates and hookups. Let’s f—ing go at it and make it work,” he said. Part of the issue with real-word dating, Zapata told me, is that he felt some of Texas’s metros—Houston, Dallas, and Austin—were filled with more “superficial” daters both fearful of commitment and worried about his financial status more than anything else. He hoped the show might open him up to different experiences. “I talked to a girl from Georgia. I talked to another girl from Tampa, and it was very different. They just wanted to get straight to the point and were very serious about dating, whereas people here are very surface level,” he said. “They kind of want to coast and see where it goes and then it just kind of fizzles out.”

Based on what Zapata told me, however, it seems like getting on a reality TV dating show is just as hard as finding a partner through an app—or at least requires more up-front labor. “There was an hour-and-a-half interview to see if I was really looking for love. They asked me about my dating history and my opinions on dating—while simultaneously judging [my] personality.” That was followed, he said, by a nearly three-hundred-question questionnaire, a psychiatric evaluation, and requests for photos (of Zapata as a child, of him with his exes, of him engaging in hobbies, et cetera.) In total, he said, it took about six months before he finally knew he’d secured a slot on Love Is Blind. “I had been engaged once and I thought the [show’s] concept was really cool,” he said. 

Another former contestant, April Marie Melohn, who was on the first season of The Ultimatum, told me that she joined the show because she’d moved from Los Angeles to Austin for her then-partner and wanted to figure out if he was serious about having a family and settling down. Producers from the show, she guessed, found her and her then-partner because of hashtags they used on their Instagram posts. “They reach out to couples that looked pretty happy and essentially asked whether we were interested in being on [the show] and asked if I lived in the area.” 

While Melohn was targeted through Instagram, Zapata said he received a number of calls—then texts—from a Los Angeles area code. (Zapata later learned from his agent that casting producers probably found him through fake dating profiles production companies make to find eligible singles in the area where they’re filming.) Reasons for going on the show vary, too, and certainly aren’t unique to Texans: Zapata was looking for love; Melohn wanted to see if her partner was serious about taking their existing relationship to the next step; and San Miguel Jr., who describes himself as “super picky,” was intrigued by the fact that his show paired up allegedly compatible singles through a mix of questionnaires and interviews with the show’s panel of experts. (San Miguel Jr. and his partner broke up several weeks after the show finished filming and later divorced.) He grumbled about the fact that, in his mind, finding love was secondary to some contestants; some people, he said, only join the show to build their online profiles and become microinfluencers. Influencer culture is booming here. In 2021, VICE reported that Texas was becoming an “influencer haven” due to its relatively low cost of living (compared to New York City or Los Angeles, at least) and its metros’ more laid-back natures.

Though all three former contestants I spoke with said they learned a lot about themselves and, for the most part, enjoyed their time on their shows, none of them ended up with a costar. But that doesn’t mean the experience was worthless. During our phone call, San Miguel Jr. pushed me to think about applying: “It’s not every day that you get to be part of a nationally televised show. If you’re having trouble on dating apps, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to try a different avenue. At least that was my mindset. If you’re really looking for love, then there’s a possibility that you might leave with that.” (The divorce rates for reality TV marriages are similar to the national average.)

Even with a boom in Texas-based dating shows, Kinetic Content can’t pair up every Texas single with a potential partner or spouse. Ultimately, I am yet another single woman in Austin. The day I finished reporting this piece, I checked out my prospects on Hinge. The horror stories from my friends’ recent dating escapades filled my mind, and my anxiety began swirling. But to my surprise, I had matched with a man who was intrigued by a book I was reading in one of my profile photos. I’ll worry about whether he’s another bro looking for a tour guide later; for now, we have a date scheduled for after the holidays.