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Open this photo in gallery:Perfect Match. (L to R) Chase Demoor, Kariselle Snow in episode 01 of Perfect Match. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix / © 2023 Netflix, Inc.

Chase Demoor, left, and Kariselle Snow in an episode of Netflix's Perfect Match.Courtesy of Netflix

String bikinis you could floss with, stemware floating in the pool, sweaty men practising push-ups under the hot Panamanian sun – Netflix is taking up the mantle of salacious, empty-calorie viewing by recruiting its hottest single reality stars to find their Perfect Match this Valentine’s Day.

The streamer has spent serious time branding and curating its library of trending reality shows since the 2020 premieres of Love Is Blind and Too Hot to Handle. Fast-forward through sequels, spinoffs and international formats, and they’ve got themselves an internal star system of hot singles eager to put themselves out there for the cameras – and their social media followings.

Thus, Perfect Match was born. The series features cherry-picked fan favourites and notable villains from the aforementioned series plus others on the Netflix roster: The Circle, Sexy Beasts, Twentysomethings: Austin, The Ultimatum, Selling Tampa and The Mole. Ten singles enter a gorgeous retreat in Panama, pair up with someone they deem their perfect match, pick a bedroom to share and see how it all shakes out.

Enter the twist: Thirteen other singles sit on the sidelines waiting to be tagged in.

Those players enter the game when each episode’s most compatible couple sends one on a date with someone who is already matched up. “Compatible” means winning a random challenge, such as agreeing on whether a habit is “cute” or “cringe,” or making out with their partners and other singles while blindfolded and then rating the hookups. As new daters enter and established pairs are tested, anyone unmatched by the time the open bar shuts down at the end of the night is sent packing. Rinse and repeat.

Nick Lachey, who has quickly become to Netflix what Chris Harrison once was to Bachelor Nation, hosts. Amusingly, the contestants almost always refer to him by his full name.

It’s the exact kind of boozy, sun-soaked vacation that tired brains decompress with at the end of a long day, and if the past successes of such formats are any indication, Perfect Match will indeed be Netflix’s next big hit. Unfortunately, it’s also showcasing the next generation of awful people who are (mostly) there, as the old reality cliché goes, “for all the wrong reasons.”

From the moment Perfect Match kicks off, couples pair up for strategy rather than adoration. Most of the daters know one another from crossovers and events, or the good old-fashioned way: sliding into each other’s DMs. Vancouver’s Francesca Farago, who shot to fame after her appearance on Too Hot to Handle, shares in the premiere that she has history with more than one castmate.

With many of the cast hailing from different states and countries, finding a perfect match that can exist outside the villa becomes even more of a long shot. Rash decisions, heightened emotions and unexpected backstabbing anchor the storylines as the couples split, recouple and move on with new and shinier possibilities, often in a matter of hours.

As you invest more time in these supposed soul mates, you do begin to root for some of them. Contestants who understand the assignment and are trying to find love are easy to spot among the pot-stirrers – those who play a dirtier game in exchange for camera time. The premise wouldn’t work without either group, and that’s how the series eventually snares you.

“This is like Hunger Games for dating,” exclaims American footballer and Too Hot to Handle alum Chase DeMoor at one point. He’s not wrong. Except the prize on this show is unclear, with no pile of cash or anything to aspire toward other than everlasting love in a swimsuit.

Well, that and those sweet social media numbers. Back when Farago did Too Hot to Handle, she made it clear any cash prize she’d amass from the show was worthless: She could make more from one post on social media. Back then she had roughly 340,000 followers on Instagram. A quick look at her following ahead of Perfect Match shows that fan base has swelled to 5.7 million.

Whether these singles truly find love doesn’t matter, so long as they’re selling the perception of wanting it. Or, so long as they’re willing to cause enough drama that those who have found it second guess themselves. It’s the same hotties-in-a-hot-tub formula that’s worked for reality franchises for decades – and Netflix is here to let viewers gorge.

Perfect Match streams in a staggered release: Four episodes debut Feb. 14, with two new batches of four episodes dropping Feb. 21 and Feb. 28.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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