I can't blame you if you haven't checked out Tough Love. Even regular VH1 viewers didn’t dig into it with the sick enthusiasm that fuels Rock of Love: Love Bus. Tough Love has a subtler appeal, but it’s also more genuine.
The premise is this: Steve Ward and his mother, Joanne, run a successful matchmaking business. Women come to Tough Love Boot Camp so Steve can match them up with men and coach them to be better at dating. This is accomplished through many awkward and unnecessarily complicated elements, including challenges, randomly numbered rules, dates, booze-y pool parties, group therapy, a weekly hot seat, and a fairly ridiculous promise ring ceremony for the season finale.
Steve is a likeable weirdo, but a weirdo nonetheless. He emphasizes the male gaze with almost religious devotion, chastising the women about their clothes, hair, and make-up, which he justifies by saying that these things send a message to men. The first few episodes are inevitably devoted to parading the women around in front of men and then making them listen to (usually shallow) feedback. Not surprisingly, many participants lash out, but Steve maintains that if they don’t listen to what men think (a collective thought, apparently) they’ll never find a man to love them.
Like the casts of all great reality dating shows, most ladies on Tough Love are a mess. But they’re older, wiser messes (ranging from mid-twenties to mid-thirties) and even seem to have jobs. So they’re messes I can relate to. Well, except for Taylor.
It's just not a canonical episode unless Taylor Royce in the hot seat. Taylor would have been just as at home on any VH1 show, but she never would have lasted a full two seasons (they brought her back for a second chance!) and therefore given me so much joy.
No, Tough Love isn't feminist. I mean, it’s kind of about how brainwashing women will make them more attractive. But by the finale, personal growth is established as the primary goal, and women often “choose me” over their man in the promise ring ceremony. As Steve said in the Season 2 finale, “They have all grown to learn what’s best I themselves.” And that's pretty solid, especially for VH1.
Now that Tough Love Couples is casting, I’m looking forward to seeing men and women endure the bizarre-but-delightful perils of Tough Love on equal terms. Fingers crossed that they'll bring Taylor and her new BF back!