Calum Henderson writes about (mainly terrible) television.

Calum Henderson: Disastrous dates make a bit of fun voyerusim

Australian incarnation puts awkward dinners on display.
Corbin Bristol was the laconic Kiwi, struggling along with ambitious Lauren, on First Dates.
Corbin Bristol was the laconic Kiwi, struggling along with ambitious Lauren, on First Dates.

You could tell as soon he greeted the maitre d' with "hey mate", and said "thanks mate" when the waiter gave him a menu, that Corbin was the Kiwi on the first episode of First Dates Australia.

Like so many reality juggernauts, the show originates from the UK, where it seems to be in the same sphere as the likes of X Factor and Britain's Got Talent. First Dates' simple premise - participants set up on blind dates meet at a restaurant where their awkward dinner conversations are discreetly filmed -has proven wildly popular since its debut in 2013, and now international versions have started appearing. First Dates NZ is currently in production.

Corbin's was one of five dates interwoven through the hour-long episode (TV2, Monday 9pm). The Melbourne-based Kiwi was set up with Lauren, a career-driven gym devotee who fixed him with an intense stare and said: "I'm not crazy. I'm the complete opposite of crazy."

Lauren and Corbin during an episode of First Dates.
Lauren and Corbin during an episode of First Dates.

She described herself as a unicorn. "I'm one of those girls who's above a seven hot but below a five crazy, and that just doesn't exist," she told Corbin, who looked like he was staring into the abyss. They both ordered scotch fillet. "We'll have the steamed greens," she told the waiter. "Sunday's meal prep day," she blathered on, at the approximate speed of an auctioneer or a race caller, "because that's what you do on a Sunday".

It was a terrible date: agonising, uncomfortable, impossible to look away from. "Do you have a five-year plan?" Lauren asked. "Three-year plan? Give it to me, go." Corbin's only plan was for the ground to open up and swallow him whole. "I don't really have one ... " he trailed off sheepishly. "I had a five-year plan when I was 25 and I've hit nearly everything," Lauren continued.

The show's style and tone is closer to Come Dine With Me than The Bachelor or Married At First Sight, and seems to attract a similar type of participant to the madcap cooking show.

At the other tables, "international model" Aiden and "incurable romantic" Emily seemed to hit it off " nice for them but deeply boring for everyone else. Better were the earnest young country kids Tom and Vanessa. "I haven't been on many dates, and certainly not at a restaurant," admitted a nervous Tom. "I'm very happy," Vanessa told him midway through their date. "Good on ya," he replied.

Hopeless but lovable dork Nicholas Nicholas was set up with a woman called Dannii who described her type as, "I'm all about the tradies". Nicholas Nicholas went to the bathroom to ring his friend "Big Fella" for advice, and came back with the line, "Are you a magician? Because ..." Dannii stopped him cold. "Mate, what are you doing?"

Everyone was more or less likeable, even if their dates were more or less total disasters. Then there was Chris, a kind of real-life Austin Powers, who was set up with Caterina, a real-life Kath from Kath & Kim. He stroked her hand and said, "I've heard if you stare into a person's eyes for four minutes something magical happens." Chris was the worst person in the world. Caterina couldn't get enough of him. "Tell me something about yourself," he murmured. "I like dancing," said Caterina. "Music? Give me the music." "I like house music."

After settling the bill, the couples met for a quick debrief with a producer to talk about how their dates went. "You didn't answer any of my questions," Caterina rightly pointed out to Chris. "I've got a finance company," he eventually admitted, mumbling something about printing money. "But that's boring shit."

After their successful date Emily turned down Aiden because there was "no chemistry", while Tom and Vanessa agreed they'd both like to see each other again. Dannii probably had the best time out of anyone, and was keen to get a coffee with Nicholas back in Brizzy.

Although he hardly said a word and ticked seemingly no boxes, Lauren said she was interested in a second date with Corbin. Struck with panic, he turned to the producer and asked in his flat Kiwi accent, "What am I meant to say?"

- NZ Herald

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