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G iven how 2020 panned out, the bar for 2021 to prove itself marginally better is pretty low. And yet, less than a week in, it feels less like a clean slate, more like December the 36th. The country is back in lockdown, the high street continues to crumble (Topshop’s Oxford Street shop has closed its doors for good, Paperchase is on the brink of collapse) and people have even resorted to keeping their Christmas decorations up for a bit of much-needed cheer. And, in keeping with the Groundhog Day mood, yet another reality dating series graces our screens, in the form of ITV2’s The Cabins.
The show sees 12 singletons move into a cosy cabin in the Cotswolds with a potential partner, in the hopes that things heat up between them. Each morning, they must decide whether to check out separately and leave the premises or spend another night getting to know each other better. Despite being repeatedly referred to in the press as a “Love Island-style dating show”, it is not; its low-stakes dates and overnight format makes it feel far more akin to First Dates Hotel. There is no “pieing off” one contestant for another, no slo-mo surprise entrances as intimidatingly attractive new additions interrupt incumbent couples. Rather, The Cabins offers its own, specific type of wholesome wintery romance, quite different from the heat of a summer fling. It’s very much an alternative to Love Island, as opposed to its successor.
In many ways, at least in terms of the new show’s theme, it’s exactly what last year’s Love Island’s winter edition could have – or should have – been. That was shot in South Africa, during unseasonably cold weather that saw the cast shivering in their ITV-mandated bikinis. The Cabins, meanwhile, is perfect cuffing season viewing, with its hot tubs, snug duvet-covered swings and bonfire-side chats under fairy lights. Its Pinterest-ish, picturesque charm is markedly less sexy and more sweet, and that’s not a bad thing.Sarah and Charlotte share a chat. Photograph: ITV
Despite this, comparisons are unsurprisingly being made between the two shows. The Cabins’ launch saw a slate of tweets from viewers angry at what they felt was a distracting addition to the basic format. Contestants are allowed access to their mobile phones throughout the series, meaning they can contact friends and family about their dates. For me, the phone messages are not only a non-issue, but also a lovely thing to include; hearing the cast gush about their initial attractions and lament about their dating insecurities is endearing. The ongoing rapport with their mums warms even the coldest of hearts, with one affectionately dubbing her daughter “sausage”.
That’s not the only difference in the shows, either. Unlike most reality dating show offerings, The Cabins does not solely partner up hetereosexual couples. There is queer representation, via lesbians Charlotte and Sarah. Charlotte revealed that she had been on and off with a man for 11 years and was due to marry him, until a car accident before the wedding led to her coming out. Sarah discussed the difficulties of trying to find a “girly lesbian” partner. These simply aren’t the type of conversations you usually see on this kind of show.
Those in need of their latest Love Island fix will have to wait a little longer, but in the meantime, they will find very good company in The Cabins. It is a welcome distraction during these trying times and these singletons have enough heart to keep each other – and us – warm throughout the rest of the month.