Duncan Greive is the editor and founder of New Zealand pop culture-obsessed website The Spinoff and columnist for the NZ Herald.

Duncan Grieve: Dating show puts real into reality

Maori TV’s new series authentic take on hunt for love.
Miriama Smith is terrific in the hosting role for Finding Aroha.
Miriama Smith is terrific in the hosting role for Finding Aroha.

As a highly-paid television columnist for the New Zealand Herald, I am in possession of piercing insights which will rock you back in your seat. Buckle up, there's a whopper coming.

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 are afraid to tell it like it is. Not me.

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 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, the question remains: how exactly do we find love - or at least strong like?

Finding Aroha, a deeply charming new dating show on Maori Television, attempts to answer that question. As host Miriama Smith (on loan from Filthy Rich) puts it, "Maori love stories combined a focus on passion, and the way marriages connected whanau, hapu and iwi."

So the show attempts to create a set of new modern Maori love stories by having whanau interview prospective suitors to help a single relative find a mate - or at least someone to hang out with.

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.

The show opens with Smith, terrific here, teasing out the backstory of Arahia, a solo mother from Timaru, who's here with her two brothers.

Arahia reveals herself as having returned from Australia with her 12-year-old son after the end of a 15-year 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 sanitise backstories, Finding Aroha seems at ease 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 mimmied 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.

She chooses Michael, and the pair go on a 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 what happens is frustrating.

But the frustration is overwhelmed by a kind of joy. Pop culture and media tend to imply that love is youngsters' game.

Finding Aroha not only shows that love and relationships can come at any age but integrates whanau 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 reality TV.

- NZ Herald

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