Bohemian-Austrian poet and novelist Rainer Maria Rilke once said, “Love consists of this: Two solitudes that meet, protect and greet each other.” However, finding true love, meeting a soulmate or connecting to someone on a deeper level, doesn’t always happen in the blink of an eye. It can take months, years, and going on so many blind dates you can’t even remember all of them. But now VIA (DStv 147) has come up with a unique reality show, Die Liefde-eksperiment, Wednesdays on VIA (DStv 147) at 19:30, that might just give strangers the chance to meet their soulmate.

“We have 78 strangers who are looking for soulmates and love in the series,” explains creative director Nicole Bailey. “The 78 strangers are paired in 39 couples, and they have to answer 36 questions, on camera, to see if there is a spark between them. Each episode will feature three couples.”

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It’s science

The 36 very specific questions aren’t a gimmick that VIA and the show’s producers have “just come up with”. It’s a scientific theory. Back in 1977, the American psychologist Arthur Aron and his wife, Elaine, compiled a list of 36 questions that they believe could bring two people together and give them a possible chance at love.

“We bought the format from an American production company, and South Africa will be the first country in the world to air this series. Belgium also bought the series, but they will only air their version next year,” explains Nicole.

The process

It wasn’t an easy task finding the 78 strangers, says project leader Saskia Hill. “We had a call to entry in January 2020, and we were literally flooded with entries. In the entries, the hopefuls had to motivate why they are looking for partner. After entries closed, we went through all the entries and compiled a list of a possible 100 candidates. These people were then called for a 40-minute interview to get to know them better and find out exactly what they are looking for.”

The questions for the interviews were provided from the American franchise holder. The contestants had to complete an online questionnaire, of which the questions were also provided by the franchise holder, and included questions like “how would you describe your perfect soulmate?”, and what criteria the partner should have. “From that feedback, we decided who can go through to the series,” says Saskia.

The creative team then compiled a biography of each contestants, and grouped them with people that had similar sorts of interest. Most of the entries were from the 20-30 age group, and also 50 years and older. “The one thing I picked up is that straight guys were reluctant to enter. We had a lot of gay people and women, but we struggled a bit to get the straight guys onboard, but luckily in the end we got everything sorted,” says Saskia.

Ready, steady, go!

The contestants arrived at different times on the day of filming. “We didn’t want them to see each other at all,” explains Saskia. “They each had their own make-up rooms, and were kept separate until they had to go on set.” The contestants meet for the first time when they are in The Love Lab, the setting for the show. Some were shy to say hello, and others just gave each other a hug before filming started. In The Love Lab, the 36 questions are divided into three envelopes. The first envelope is considered the easiest, breaking the ice. The second are more complex. And the third set of questions are more intimate.

“Some of the questions that the contestants had to answer ranged from which celeb they would invite over for dinner, to how they would describe their relationship with their mother, as well as how they would ask for advice. It was interesting to see the reactions of the people when they asked and answered the questions. For most it was easy, but for some it was awkward, and some found them difficult to answer,” reveals Saskia.

The stare

To make things even more awkward and complicated, the pairs of contestants have to stare into each other’s eyes for a full three minutes after answering the questions. A study in 1970 by psychologist Zick Rubin found that two people with a connection can stare into each other’s eyes for a long time, and that eye contact synchronises brain activity. “The fun part of watching this was that most of them couldn’t do it. They will either burst out with laughter, look up at the ceiling or down to the floor,” adds Saskia.

After taping in the studio, the two contestants are then taken to a coffee shop or restaurant for a more informal chat. “We remove the audio from these conversations and only film it. We found that they bond more during this time away from the studio. And yes, it seems some have found new friends or partners as they have exchanged phone numbers to stay in contact, or setting up a possible date,” gloats Saskia.

Watch Die Liefde-eksperiment S1, Wednesdays on VIA (DStv 147) at 19:30 or on Catch Up

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