All screengrabs: The Smart Local YouTube channel
I imagine naysayers of One Week Love by The Smart Local are quickly decrying the show as a symptom of everything wrong with the world today.
Still, nothing beats YouTube comment left on episode 6 of the reality dating show: “This show really sums up the gender inequality of society.” The comment has since received 348 thumbs up. Reality dating shows bring all the très feminists to the yard.
But I will give praise where praise is due. In no small way, One Week Love has been an unprecedented success, with each episode on YouTube enjoying an average of 170,000 views across 10 episodes. Love it or hate-watch it, the numbers speak for themselves.
Unfortunately, all that success comes at a heavy price.
Online, all anyone can speak of is the culture of bullying that occurs in the show. The comments on YouTube are vicious; the video responses on TikTok, snarky. But of course, all of this is to be expected when no one can hold anonymous commenters accountable for the shit they say online.
And while it’s convenient to blame it on the edit (I mean, the participants did what they did and said what they said), in this case, it’s perfectly fair to hold One Week Love accountable.
A Quick Backgrounder
But first, the premise. One Week Love brings together a motley crew of 10 cisgender, heterosexual men and women, puts them up in Funan’s Lyf co-living space, throws a myriad of challenges at them, and waits to see if anyone would fall in love.
The challenges run the gamut from childhood games to more physically taxing ones like climbing a wall blindfolded, guided only by your partner’s voice. Those who win these challenges are then rewarded with a compulsory date night.
I’m still confused by this definition of victory. What if I don’t want to go on a date with the other winner?
At the end of each episode, all contestants must choose who they would like to have a ‘Coffee, Tea or Me’ (GrabFood-sponsored) breakfast date with. There are also one-on-one conversations in private booths that contestants participate in, though I’m not quite sure how the pairings were chosen.
According to director Julian Rafael Reyes in behind-the-scenes footage and on an IMO podcast episode, the 10 contestants were chosen from over 300 hopefuls.
The youngest participant is 20-year-old Dania Ervianny ‘I-like-my-boys-with-big-shoulders’ Nah, while the oldest is singer-songwriter Sam ‘I’m-quite-goofy’ Driscoll, who is 28.
My colleague told me that his wife, who hate-watches One Week Love, recognizes the archetypes of the female contestants in the show. “She says they’re the kind of mean girls you face growing up here. Secondary school drama all over again.”
Personally, I think they’re the kind of girls who exclusively shop at Love, Bonito and flaunt their A-line dresses. Except for Dania, of course. She probably shops at SHEIN and is not afraid to admit it.
On the other hand, the men were a mixed bag of pretty boy meets “I-don’t-talk-about-my-feelings-I-just-bury-them” and not wanting to look too desperate for approval.
Nine Gen Zs, one Millenial. What could possibly go wrong? Nothing. Absolutely nothing, and that’s the problem. ‘Nothing’ does not a good reality TV show make.
The question now is this: Without a dramatic story arch, what is a reality TV show? Is mundane, run-of-the-mill monotonous human interaction enough to keep audiences hooked? Frustratingly, the answer is both yes and no.
Coming fresh from You Got Watch’s The Friend Zone (another local online reality TV show), I fully expected One Week Love to feed my narcissistic tendencies. Sadly, halfway into watching episode 2 on the day it was released, my interest waned. But I know I am an anomaly (I blame it on age)—that episode alone racked up 164,000 views.
The show was shelved in the back of my mind. Until TikTok had some things to say.
When the finale was aired, videos addressing the bullying controversies swirled online. Pop culture aficionado that I am, I sat through eight glorious episodes over the weekend. All of which I surprisingly enjoyed before a sliver of said controversy emerged.
When it did (in episode 10, if you’re simply here for the tea), it felt like such a nothing-burger for me. Unnecessary. Redundant. Nonsense. It felt like something the editing team reached for as a last-minute attempt at engineering drama in an otherwise safe and predictable season of pleasant, almost perfunctory blandness.
That’s what it felt like to me, at least. Because when I finally decided to read the comments section, I realised my reaction was not aligned with many others who were tilted with what went down.
TLDR: The girls, Atiqah, Roz, Dione, and Dania, are unhappy that Kasey isn’t spending enough time with them and instead are cosying up to Donovan (who she likes) a little bit too much. Confrontation ensues, and Kasey ends up crying in the corner of the bed where the intervention occurred.
What this is, at least based on what I watched, is a group of girls who don’t say what they mean, indulge in petty arguments, and who should all be shoved back into the all-girls secondary school black hole where they probably came from. It’s enough to trigger Singaporean women who know all too well how bad it was back then in school.
It’s classic juvenile bullying amongst adults who should have known better. But boy, does it make for good television. Whether it’s a responsible thing to air knowing the potential backlash is another issue altogether.
On Social Responsibility
Episode 9 was when shit hit the fan. “Dania spend the 1 week here bullying people. What love did she find? Her love for bullying people?” one YouTube commenter wrote. 971 thumbs up.
“The entire girl gang basically just shows how immature and childish they are, thinking that the world revolves around them,” another user shares. “Outright ew.” 1,100 thumbs up.
I reach out to a friend who produces video content in another local media publication for her thoughts about the moral responsibility of the show. She tells me that she didn’t know One Week Love had this saga going on.
“It was clearly inspired by Terrace House,” she shares when I give her a quick run-down. “So I’m just really intrigued why they never took the learnings or protected their cast.”
She is, of course, talking about the tragedy that befell Terrace House when a cast member, professional wrestler Hana Kimura, took her own life due to the immense cyberbullying she received.
This came on the back of an incident in the house where a cast member accidentally mixed Kimura’s wrestling outfits with his clothes in the washing machine, causing all of Kimura’s costumes to shrink. Visibly shaken, Kimura yelled at him, “Be more considerate to others”, before knocking the cap off his head.
Hana wrote in a tweet before her death: “Every day, I receive nearly 100 honest opinions, and I cannot deny that I get hurt.”
In the wake of her passing, other current castmates and former Terrace House cast members took to social media and echoed her feelings about the harassment they’re subjected to. “Honestly speaking, I receive lots of slander every day,” former castmate Ryo Tawatari wrote on Instagram. “Other members are in agony too.”
In a bid to temper emotions and appeal to viewers’ better nature, the day after episode 9 was uploaded, The Smart Local uploaded a short clip fronted by Fauzi Aziz, one of the panellists in the show’s commentary portion. “An important message for all viewers of One Week Love,” the title card reads.
“Hi guys we know things are getting spicier on One Week Love. In light of the heated comments, we strongly urge everyone to refrain from harassing any cast member and spreading hate.
We have been made aware of attempts made to negatively affect the cast’s lives outside of the series and resorting to online bullying on their individual social channels. Our cast has been put under the spotlight for the week-long shoot but an even harsher spotlight now that the series is out to thousands of viewers.
These seven days are not a reflection of their full characters, and their lives beyond it should not be ruined in any way because of the series.
Let’s give them space to learn from the experience and remember that a little kindness goes a long way.”
By then, it’s too late. This is the Internet. You cannot control the narrative the moment you click upload. Everyone knows that, surely.
There’s also a certain hypocrisy in asking Fauzi to tell the viewers to be civil and not overreact to a situation that is One Week Love‘s own making. I reckon it’s the producers’ way of keeping themselves accountable, though I can’t help feeling that it’s in such poor taste.
To further hold themselves accountable, in part two of the reunion, Fauzi made everyone watch the segment where the bullying occurred to refresh their memory, adding that there would be follow-up questions.
It’s a classic give-the-audience-what-they-want move and milking controversy for all its worth. Never mind that the cast simply wants to heal and move on.
Nothing Terrible, Yet
Perhaps for One Week Love, it is not enough for the show to stand on its own premise sans drama and bullying accusations.
The first eight episodes are pleasant enough for viewers to unpack. Just like any other reality TV show, it’s interesting to witness the evolution of relationships and connections between people who have never met each other. What more when tasked to figure out if sparks will fly.
But evidently, simply leaning on pure human connections is not enough for One Week Love.
Just like any other reality TV show, airing the dreadful sides of human nature is a calculated move by producers to generate conversations, induce disagreements, and get people talking. The only mistake they made was expecting local viewers to be civil.
You may think of me as an alarmist. After all, nothing too terrible has happened. All the cast had to do was fend off (or endure) vicious personal attacks in comment sections. Am I merely making mountains out of molehills? Am I the drama?
To that, I say, “for now”. Nothing terrible has happened. For now. Even though the crew mentioned in behind-the-scenes footage that they constantly checked on the contestants’ mental well-being during filming, will they be responsible for whatever happens after the show wraps?
The issue is one of precedence. I worry other media houses would see One Week Love, not realize what a big mess the whole situation was, and in their quest for viewership and relevance, resort to the same sensationalism the show perpetuates.
It frustrates me because the show is sufficiently good enough without the unnecessary drama at the end. Viewers are tuning in because they, too, are trying to read into the subtext between awkward hellos, reluctant hugs, and on-camera reflections.
We were already invested in the show, One Week Love. You just could not trust us enough to stay.
Armed with almost a decade’s worth of experience and a highly-talented TSL crew, One Week Love had all the necessary trappings to be a perfect parasocial tapestry of human interactions, raw reflections, and homegrown entertainment.
Instead, the dating show finds itself in perilous hindsight, borne out of a delusional belief that Singapore’s social media audience would find it in themselves to take the higher road.
Make no mistake—One Week Love is entertaining. And watching a local media company navigate the treacherous balance between entertainment and social responsibility is one that even RICE can gain insights from.
Given its success-slash-notoriety, I’m confident that Season 2 is in the works. Success begs sequels; success also means more advertisers craving for a slice of screen time, brief as they may be. Let’s hope they return with vital fixes, including syncing the CCTV footage with the audio.