While Bachelor-matched couples are notorious for their failure rates — the November split of Bachelorette Ali Fedotowsky and fiancé Roberto Martinez was hardly a surprise — two other reality shows seem to churn out happy couples with startling success: The Biggest Loser and Dancing With the Stars. Dancing has sparked several confirmed real-life pairings including Mario Lopez and his pro partner Karina Smirnoff in 2006 and Shannon Elizabeth and pro partner Derek Hough in 2008—and at least a dozen rumored liaisons. And The Biggest Loser boasts even better odds, having spawned two marriages in its 12 seasons, plus a recent engagement (season eight’s Rebecca Meyer and Dan Wright) and yet another solid couple last season (Ramon Madeiros and Jessica Limpert). The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, meanwhile, have gotten just two couples down the aisle in 22 seasons of trying (one of whom got hitched only after Jason Mesnick traded in original pick Melissa Rycroft for eventual wife Molly Mulaney … whoops).
Seems odd that a weight-loss competition and a ballroom dancing contest would work so well — without the dream-date scenarios and hand-picked romantic candidates. But dig a little deeper and you’ll see that both Loser and Dancing are so steeped in science-of-attraction secrets they should be reclassified as dating shows.
With The Bachelor having just kicked off its sixteenth (!) season of fraught romance and heartbreak, we’d like to offer its star, winemaker Ben Flajnik, a few tips gleaned from far more love-inducing shows. The good news for the rest of us? These tips work just as well in real life as they do in “reality,” so here’s why you should schedule that work-out or dancing date now:
1. Figure out a (non-creepy) reason to stare into your date’s eyes a lot.
On Dancing With the Stars, the competing couples are forced to spend hours every week connecting physically — and eyeball-to-eyeball. Dozens of studies have backed up the value in what’s scientifically called “eye gazing”: Subjects instructed to spend time looking directly at each other like each other more, even if they don’t know each other. Direct eye contact is essentially a sign of two major ingredients for a successful relationship: “Looking in someone’s eyes, that shows respect for them,” explains Beverly Whipple, a Rutgers professor and expert in the physiology of sexual response. “If you respect someone, you can be vulnerable with them.”
2. Work toward a common goal.
Both The Biggest Loser and Dancing With the Stars shows offer an intense version of this. “They give each other a lot of support,” Whipple says, which leads to a close bond. They’re also engaging in an entirely new experience together, whether that’s working out on national television or learning the samba under pressure. “You get a surge of excitement from doing something you’ve never done before,” says Justin Garcia, an evolutionary biologist at the Kinsey Institute. On DWTS, the couples have the added element of competing as a unit: “They’re this team that’s being judged,” says Andrew Trees, author of Decoding Love. “It’s an us-against-the-world feeling., which is very bonding.”
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Studies have shown that busting a move itself is a form of mating behavior. “You feel each other, you smell each other, and sometimes you’re so close you can taste each other,” says Garcia. “And you’re moving to a rhythm together.”
Despite all the evidence to the contrary in the deodorant aisle, sweat is “one of the most powerful aphrodisiacs we know,” Garcia says. “It contains an incredible amount of information about our partner’s immune system.” Might not sound hot, but compatible immunity is key to mating success, and reams of studies involving subjects sniffing used T-shirts — not to mention the timeless tradition of women donning their beaus’ clothes — have backed this up. And it’s possible that Dancing and Loser feature more sweat than any other shows in the history of television, though scientists have yet to study it definitively.
5. Share your struggles.
The biggest key to The Biggest Loser’s extraordinary dating success rate? The contestants understand each other like few in the world can. “People on The Biggest Loser have had to face a difficult life challenge,” Garcia says. Add to that the fact that once they leave the show, they’ll want to hold on to their weight loss—and what better way than by continuing to sweat with a fellow former Loser? “They’re doing this whole lifestyle change,” Trees says.“That helps build a foundation for having a common bond with the person for far into the future. It’s a much better basis for a relationship than having a five-minute romance for the camera.” Future Bachelors, take note.