A number of factors have ensured the sweeping success of TV3’s “Date Rush,” least of them being its organising principle. It may be many things, but a dating show?

Sure, it is marketed as one, and on surface level, could pass off as one. Formatted very much like a game show, too, the programme is in equal parts tense, hilarious, cringe-worthy, and occasionally, actually almost romantic. 

And so, on Sunday nights, introduced by a short profile clip and peppy music, a young bachelor or spinster emerges on stage, in charming, figure-flattering apparel, happy feet, and an overall beckoning demeanour, to ten perfect strangers of the opposite sex behind buzzers (called “rushes” at the show), pitching themselves as an eligible partner. By the end of three, increasingly sensational rounds, which primarily involve first impressions and first date questions, contestants hope to find a match, and then, hand-in-hand, or arms wrapped around each other’s body, dance away in the first steps of a happily-ever-after journey.

The theatrical turn events sometimes take on “Date Rush” have constantly led to a number of conspiracy theories, key among which is that it is staged; that showrunners manipulate happenings to incite the public, and drive up viewership. The allegation doesn’t strike me as true (it has also been debunked by former contestants), but one can appreciate sceptics’ logic. For instance, the duration between when contestants acquaint themselves and when they take up cosy residence in the crooks of their date’s arm, or on their shoulder, is strikingly short to be this comfortable.

At least, judging by the social media excitement it generates throughout the day it airs, there’s neither doubt about its infinite entertainment value, nor that TV3 struck gold here.

Host, Nii Kpakpo Thompson

But “Date Rush” is actually about other things. Number one: Nii Kpakpo Thompson, its host and real star, for how well he can read the room and moderate it, his original humour, charismatic candour, and overall emotional leadership — especially during regular, heated moments. The seasoned broadcaster and MC has shone admirably, so that, now, it near–impossible to divorce him from the show. “Date Rush” may be a medium for ambitious youths to find love, but it is very much the “Nii Kpakpo Thompson Show” too.

Number two: the revelation of DJ Faculty. The resident turntablist at “Date Rush,” has also emerged to be a pleasant surprise, for his relevant song selections; his ability to take apt real-time cues from happenings on the show; comments passed, contestants’ appearances, and even gesticulations. Complementing Thompson in his role as sidekick, Faculty deserves equal commendation for keeping the energy in the hall on a consistent mood plane.

Next, if the drama that unfolded between the pink shirt-loving Ignatius and the scorned Freelove — now its most popular alumni — has taught us anything, it is the show’s utility as a platform to accrue fast-track celebrity. 

 Those who know how the game works — as I suspect Ignatius does—can leverage it into something more worthwhile. Since the May 3 episode showing him turn down all seven women available to him (including a particularly bemused contestant named Freelove) aired, he has become its latest face, taking the raving Freelove along with him. Ignatius’ conduct during the episode has been condemned as disrespectful to women by a section of the viewing public. At the same time, it has been lauded for reviving discussion on how some women handle rejection. 

But that all feels tangential. The core issue is this: Ignatius’ new-found fame must be worth something, he feels, and he’s bent on riding it till the wheels fall off. In the days following the now-famous episode, he has been a fixture at multiple platforms (starting with the channel at Media General, which owns TV3) to sustain the flame, and draw notice to his other endeavours, which also include modelling, and mixology. Freelove, too, will have you know that she’s an actress, voice-Over artiste, event planner, and influencer. She may have gone on the programme looking for love, but it’s not all there is to her.

This next point is as obvious as the pimple on Millicent Agyepong’s right cheek. Look closely at the show’s name, and you’ll find that it is designed to entrench Rush Energy Drink, its headline sponsor’s top-of-mind awareness. If any stroke of ingenuity exist in “Date Rush,” it begins here. A true marketing suplex.

So, back to this essay’s underlying question: “Date Rush”– prestige trash or essential viewing? A by-product of COVID-19 is that it may have pushed the bounds on what we can accommodate as consumers of television content; but which way are we leaning?

The show’s many disciples stress that it is an effective way to unwind after a long week, for it contains copious hilarity, and fundamentality purports to actuate love. It allows for networking among its stars, and, aside being a curious facilitator of public confidence, also offers fifteen minutes for contestants to promote their works and talent—if they recognise it, that is. And yet, if TV3 basks in the traction that “Date Rush” currently enjoys, for which reason its ratings are climbing exponentially, it must also recognise the part it’s playing—actively or passively — in providing abundant material for cyber-bullying, permitting habitual body shaming, and other, less glaring forms of disrespect that happen on the show.