Contest #157 shortlist ⭐️

The Perfect Couple

Submitted into Contest #157 in response to: Write about somebody looking for love on a reality TV show.... view prompt

43 comments

Contemporary Romance Drama

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

She thinks she wants him, but really, she needs me. He doesn’t appreciate her like I do, won’t love her like I could. She is blind to his control, but I want to free her from it. For her—for us. So we can be together.

We will be together.


***


It is week one of filming. The chosen few arrive on set with glossy hair, and bright smiles, and a suitcase bulging with only their best—the most flattering colors, the sexiest silhouettes; they are here to find love as the world is watching.

Overcaffeinated producers greet each participant and assign them temporary living quarters. The men are at one end of the property; their space is modern and sleek, with a game room and a gym. Beer. The women reside at the opposite end; their space is soft and inviting, with luxurious sofas and a spa. Rosé.

I have worn a path between both. I am always at the edges—unobtrusive, observant. Filming. Drinking in every tender moment to be released and consumed by the masses.

The rooms buzz with the giddy voices of these handpicked contestants—the best, the shiniest. The loneliest. They’ve come to find love, but they don’t know what to expect—who to expect. The women envision angles and edges of mysterious men. They hope for someone strong and compassionate, a good listener, a safe place. Brown eyes, maybe blue. Tall. The women sit in groups, smiling, and laughing, and wishing for tomorrow to come.

The other end is much the same, with voices deeper, lower. Men discuss their ideals and their visions while pacing the room—nervous figures in dark jeans. Some want an adventure seeker, a fitness partner, or a homemaker. A friend, a beauty, and a lover wrapped in one. All have needs, desires. All want satisfaction. The men lean on counters, and slap shoulders, and wish each other the best.

I visit each domain to gather the footage I need, to record the faces the world will soon grow to love or despise. I work efficiently, filming each subject in equal measure, but I linger in the place that smells like a garden—a garden of fruit and florals and skin. Hair and lips. Curves. I am surrounded by beauty, but I am ignored, hidden behind this bulk of equipment that brings their story to the world; it is the all-seeing eye, remembering everything and blinking only at my command.

I remain, as the sun goes down and the chatter quiets, to capture the mundane moments of single men and women winding down and preparing for bed. But no one will sleep tonight; tomorrow could be the day they find love.


***


Today, the singles will meet in a frenzy of dates. It’s always my busiest day. The producers want to catch everything—every micro expression exchanged between strangers, every visceral reaction to his smile or her laugh. I must be everywhere.

I record a promising pair, who hits it off right away. They seem compatible; he’s a veterinarian, she’s a realtor, and both are independent and intelligent, with big goals and dreams. They lean in closer as the conversation progresses.

One date ends abruptly when a fast-talking insurance salesman insults a metropolitan librarian with a joke about her being surprisingly attractive. She tells him he’s shallow and not worth her energy and leaves the table. He still doesn’t know what he did wrong.

Another couple is all heat. They flirt and banter and touch knees under the table. She wants a big family and he’s up for the challenge. She blushes at his comment about needing the practice.

One couple in particular catches my interest. He's a business executive, steely and confident. She’s a schoolteacher, heart-faced with kind eyes. He commands the room with his brawn, his booming voice. She is honey—sweet and unspoiled. They connect like magnets; we all feel the pull.

Love lingers in the air as day fades to night. The groups of singles return to their rooms, some shaking with excitement, some downcast at their lack of connection. The herd will be thinned in the days to come and those left unmatched will go home. After all, this is television; the world doesn’t want to be depressed by the undesirable. They want passion and drama—a whirlwind romance in 4k resolution.

I follow the men, spanning from one chiseled face to the other. I imagine heat rising off the backs of these virile demi-gods, lusting after the majestic creatures they just encountered. Their fragile brotherhood will be challenged as some realize they are at war with each other, fighting for the hearts of the same women. But no one bares teeth on the first day.

 At the other end, women drape themselves over couches and sip champagne with flushed cheeks and shaking hands. They are intoxicated with the rush; everything is dazzling and warm. They see stars and think they can reach them. Their hope is contagious, though some are afflicted by jealousy and are unable to hide it—especially from my trained eye. Taut lips, clenched teeth, a subtle twitch. But no one shows claws on the first day.

I’ve filmed seasons of experimental TV passion. This is just the beginning for them, but I’ve seen enough to know how it’s going to end. People can only put their best foot forward for so long. Eventually they stumble and fall and show the world what a fraud they are.

And the camera crew always sees it first.


***


It’s week two of filming. A dozen singles have gone home unmatched and unimpressed with the process, probably with a mindset to sue for emotional damage. Six couples remain. The studio is a circus as we pack, and load, and consult a lengthy checklist before embarking on a flight to an island where we know the locals by name. The vapidity of televised romance hasn’t lost its magic for them yet, and the sun-kissed islanders crowd our vans, cheering and waving as we weave through town.

Our couples will have ten days here to explore their relationship and get to know each other on a deeper level, and most waste no time. Shooting on an island feels supercharged, like the location itself is an aphrodisiac. The same people who were hesitant or holding back on set are loose and generously affectionate on the beach. They sprawl on sandy towels and assist each other with sunscreen. Drinks arrive, one after the other, and hands rove—over, under. The microphones catch the conversation, but nothing is really being said.

Each couple has been given an itinerary with exciting adventures or romantic excursions planned for each day. The power couple, the vet and the real estate agent, are ziplining in the jungle today. She loves a thrill, but he’s afraid of heights. The experience is meant to test their ability to work through challenges together. The producers can be cruel sometimes.

The handsy couple is taking a guided tour of a mollusk museum. I guess it was decided that they could use a bit of a cool down, to engage in something more cerebral. But tour guide present or not, I’m certain they will behave shamelessly and completely disregard the museum employee’s knowledge of fossilized scallops.

I’ve been assigned the teacher and the businessman, who will tour the island on an open-aired trolley as I trail behind, filming the highlights. It’s a cloudless day as we jostle along a bumpy road winding through the town. The businessman rests his meaty arm across her shoulders, which seems to me a bit possessive. She leans into the breeze, contentment tugging her lips into a smile. She watches each scene rolling by, and waves at a group of children kicking a soccer ball. She turns around momentarily, glancing at me. She hasn’t forgotten me. I wave—a slight flick of the fingers—and she smiles back, her full lips expressive, teasing. My insides roll with the next bump.

We exit the trolley at the marketplace, where locals line the street in booths overflowing with fruit, and jewelry, and tapestries, and pottery. The heart-faced teacher greets each artisan as she stops to admire their work. An old woman selling jewelry made of seashells rises from her seat and intersects the couple. She lifts a necklace from the table and drapes it around the young woman’s neck. The teacher touches each shell reverently, speaking praise with her eyes. The jewelry maker pushes at the air with her hands, insisting she keep the necklace—a gift. The businessman pulls a wad of bills from his pocket and folds them into her weathered hands, patting them and smiling.

The red dot blinks when I turn the camera on his face, his eyes crinkling in the corners under sleek sunglasses. What a showoff. I bring the focus on her. Sun-bleached shells rest against her collarbone and drape across her breasts. She laughs, smiling up at the man beside her. She is the island itself—a burning sun, a luscious forest. Her body and her mind are a territory that demand adoration—reverence. The man tugs her elbow, ushering her along, oblivious to her glory. He is concrete, gray, and cold, and unyielding, encroaching on the sacred.

I will not let him.


***


It is the end of week three of filming, and the final day of the experiment. By day’s end, six couples will either announce their engagement, or leave the island as they came—single. Time, truth, and the pressure of reality television has revealed that not everyone is as perfect as they seem.

The vet and the real estate agent fool everyone. They had a promising start and burned white hot in their ocean view suite of The Hotel Grandiosa, but I could see from the beginning it was never going to work. He’s a self-absorbed narcissist, and she’s obsessively controlling. They crash and burn the second the cameras turn away.

When the handsy couple finally did come up for air and began to get to know each other, they learned that they are equally uninteresting people and promptly resumed foreplay. There is a betting pool amongst the crew, with the majority being convinced that their lustful fling is truly love; but I am not so naïve and am looking forward to the payout.

Now, I am stationed at the docks to film the moment the teacher and her businessman either become engaged or break it off and go their separate ways. I unpack my equipment and set up my tripod, struggling to keep it balanced with its dented leg bowing in on itself. We’ve witnessed a lot of proposals together, but this is one I’d rather miss.

The sun hangs in the sky, its neon hues mirrored across the water. The heart-faced girl stands on the boardwalk, as radiant as ever, looking concerned. Doubt and worry crease her forehead. She is probably wondering if he has changed his mind, or if she has read him wrong. She must be feeling humiliated, to be standing here alone at sunset, not even given the chance to see this love experiment through to the end—to go home alone by default.

When the sun disappears, it takes her hope with it. Tears leave a trail on her downy cheeks, and he is not here to wipe them away.

And he never will be.

I abandon my camera and step forward, feeling naked and exposed without it. But she deserves transparency; I will never hide from her. And she will never hide from me. We will know and love every part of each other. This will not be a love scripted by fame seekers or tainted by greedy viewers. This will be no drunken debauchery exchanged in the name of entertainment. Ours will be a love so pure and profound that it lives beyond the boundaries of our lifetime—the stuff of poetry and mythology. Her fathomless eyes meet mine as I step closer. Closer.

Voices rise around me and several crew members stride toward the woman standing on the dock. My woman. Frazzled producers shout orders and make endless calls as the crew packs in a rush. A siren warbles in the distance, drawing closer. Sweat trickles down my spine as snippets of conversation rise above the chaos: a body. Washed up on shore. It’s him.

She’s too far away from me now. There are too many people touching her, holding her, pulling her away from me, and I can’t push through. They are ruining everything. I must get to her.

She is upset now, but soon she’ll realize that he was never good enough for her, that he didn’t deserve her. Soon she’ll see that I did this for her. For us. So we can be together.

We will be together.

A new voice, someone grim and uniformed speaks to the production crew in a smoker’s gravel. He says the dead man was found on the shore with damage to the back of the skull. Murder everyone whispers in suffocated shrieks. The man continues, hypothesizing the blow was caused by something smooth and heavy, like a metal bar or tube. He urges us to be on our guard.

My eyes nearly betray me by turning to the dented leg of my tripod.

“It’s terrible. Sick.” I shake my head. “They were the perfect couple.” 

August 06, 2022 02:38

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43 comments

Zack Powell
15:06 Aug 08, 2022

Wow, this got dark fast! I was a little wary from the start when I saw the content warning, but by the middle I'd forgotten about it. Only to get to the last scene, and then what happens happens. 💀 Well played. I think my favorite thing here is your interpretation of the prompt. This looked like the most fun of the five and I tried to write a story for it myself, but I only saw things in terms of the TV show contestants and not someone on the production crew. Very creative subversion of my expectations. Side note: Reading this story remin...

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Aeris Walker
22:55 Aug 08, 2022

Your comments..ah. I feel like you should receive some kind of college credit for them lol. I didn’t really want to leave a content warning, as I felt like it would give too much away, but I didn’t want to risk it not getting approved. But I’m glad the whole thing still unfolded naturally. You are absolutely right, I kind of borrowed from myself in creating another “behind the lens” sort of character, but I love the directness and discernment the POV offers. (And yes, last week was a bust for me. I wrote a whole mess of something that fel...

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Tommy Goround
10:01 Aug 12, 2022

Pardon....why don't the editors adopt an age rating system? The triggers give away the plot.

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Michał Przywara
17:49 Aug 06, 2022

Love it! Right from the first paragraph, I got a strong creep vibe. Very good, possessive opening. And then we learn he's a cameraman, and it becomes all the more sinister. It's the very heart of deception, since "the truth" is the story the camera films, but the viewer never sees what's happening behind the lens. Nor do the contestants :) That's a great place to leave it too. We don't know what comes next. I expect she wants nothing to do with him, particularly if she actually fell for the dead man. That could lead to an explosive rejecti...

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Aeris Walker
20:53 Aug 06, 2022

Oh my gosh, it’s like you were a fly on the wall as I was writing and mumbling out loud, “what if he’s [this]…maybe he’s [that].” I had that thought too, that maybe his character hung around the show for so long because he was looking for love amongst the contestants, or even the failed contestants that left single, but this last obsession was just too strong that it finally culminated in murder. I’m glad the creepy stalker vibes came through from the get-go! As always, thank you for reading and leaving your absolute treasure of a comment. ...

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Michał Przywara
21:02 Aug 12, 2022

Congratulations on the shortlist, shortlist buddy :D

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Riel Rosehill
11:49 Aug 06, 2022

Ooh this was great! You set up that murderous stalker vibe from the very first paragraph, and to write a dark and twisted story from the camera man's perspective was an excellent take on the prompt. And I think you absolutely NAILED this man's voice - the delusional, entitled "nice guy". And he was so creepy! This line, I thought was very revealing of his nature: "I work efficiently, filming each subject in equal measure, but I linger in the place that smells like a garden—a garden of fruit and florals and skin." Skin..! So creepy and I love...

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Aeris Walker
12:25 Aug 06, 2022

Ah, Good eye! Thank you for catching that typo!! I will not usually sit down alone on a Friday night and seek out true crime TV, but if it’s on somewhere, I find that it’s very hard to look away and I have to know how it all ends! I am really glad the line with the tripod had the impact I was hoping for. It’s always hard to know if you’re being too subtle or to overt when hinting at significant information. Thank you so much for reading and for leaving your awesome comment. Much appreciated, as always :) Best of luck to you as well!! You r...

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Riel Rosehill
15:29 Aug 12, 2022

Congrats on the shortlist! So well deserved, well done!! I'm super happy for you 🤩

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Aeris Walker
15:32 Aug 12, 2022

Thank you so much! It made me so happy to to see some of my favorite fellow writers with stars and trophies* under their stories :)

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Jim Firth
09:35 Aug 06, 2022

Aeris, I'm glad you're back with a story this week :) First and foremost, excellent choice of murder weapon! The part about the handsy couple visiting the mollusk museum made me chuckle. Such a great choice to tell this from the cameraman's POV. It afforded the same advantages as third person omniscient (because he was filming everything). The characteristics of the contestants and dynamics between them were very enjoyable too.

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Aeris Walker
10:43 Aug 06, 2022

Thank you, Jim! I wrote something for last week’s prompts, as I try to every week at least to keep up the discipline, but it was genuinely bad and not worth submitting ha ha. I love the perspective from a discerning character—a natural people watcher. And first person is usually my favorite pov anyway. Thank you for reading, as always ;)

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Zelda C. Thorne
14:22 Aug 30, 2022

"The microphones catch the conversation, but nothing is really being said." - this line encapsulates all reality tv (as far as I'm concerned anyway!) This was brilliant! So creepy. My skin crawled a few times! Just listened to your Read Lots Write Lots episode, which was great! 4am??? No. I do it the other way around, sleep til little one wakes me up and then write in the evening til I'm nodding into my laptop. Excited to catch up with your wonderful stories 😃

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Aeris Walker
13:21 Aug 31, 2022

Hey thanks for reading! And for listening! I I remember your interview a while back to under Rachel Smith, and enjoyed getting to “meet” you ;) Love that Deidra and Russell started that podcast—it really brings Reedsy to life. I know some people do their best work late at night and that is just absolutely not the case for me lol.

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Sky S
04:09 Aug 27, 2022

Wow, talk about a twist ending! I loved it from the beginning, but love the ending more. This was written incredibly well. I suspected something from the beginning, but eventually dropped it thinking "No, that won't happen. It's not that dark." And then the end happened and I was in shock. This is truly amazing!

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Aeris Walker
11:54 Aug 27, 2022

Hi Sky! Thank you so much! Even I didn’t think I was going to take it that dark when I started writing haha. I’m so glad you liked it.

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Kevin Broccoli
16:28 Aug 16, 2022

I thought there was no way to make this prompt work in the space provided and you knocked it out of the park. I love how dark you took it because it could have just been campy and tongue-in-cheek. Well done!

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Aeris Walker
21:25 Aug 16, 2022

I am always impressed by what others do with prompts that seem difficult for me, like the cigarette prompt last week, ha. My attempt to describe that scenario would have been so awful: “He sucks on white paper cancer tube…then someone else sucks on white paper cancer tube… society accepts this.” Thank you so much for reading and sharing your kind comment, I really appreciate it :)

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Katie Kanning
02:25 Aug 16, 2022

Hi Aeris, I absolutely love your story! I'm wondering if you'd be interested in letting me read it on my podcast, Unpublished, not Unknown? It's dedicated to promoting indie authors' stories and giving you all the credit. If you're interested you can submit it here: unpublishednotunknown.com Looking forward to it! - Katie

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Aeris Walker
18:28 Aug 16, 2022

Hi Katie, Thank you so much for reading, I’m glad you enjoyed it :) What a great podcast idea (and name)! It would be an honor to have my story read on your podcast, thank you for reaching out!

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Katie Kanning
21:25 Aug 16, 2022

Great! If you wouldn't mind filling out this form so I can be sure to get your name right and give you proper credit that would be perfect. https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScy1dFcrZ_GykZLlbAEf8VtoRTK9Kmf94dWCBcN1Mk9KifY8A/viewform Thank you!

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Amanda Lieser
03:11 Aug 14, 2022

Congratulations on the shortlist! I was really intrigued by this prompt but couldn’t bring myself to take the leap. Kudos to you! I loved the way you created beauty and reality through the viewpoint you chose. I was also really surprised by the end. I would love to devour a sequel to this piece. My favorite line was: And the camera crew always sees it first. This was such a great piece! Congrats again!

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Aeris Walker
09:39 Aug 15, 2022

Thank you so much, Amanda! I think it’s so interesting how some prompts spark 0 ideas for me, yet others come up with incredible stories. Love all the different minds here. Thanks for you positive energy and kind words :)

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Tommy Goround
09:24 Aug 13, 2022

Clapping

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Aeris Walker
12:17 Aug 13, 2022

Thanks, Tommy!

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Kelsey H
07:23 Aug 13, 2022

The little tease at the beginning was a great choice, the creepy/mystery vibe got me hooked and wanting to see what would happen next, even though I must admit the prompt itself didn't interest me. Also I loved that your narrator was part of the crew rather than show contestant. I really enjoyed reading his observations on everyone, especially given the hint at the beginning which had me wondering which one he had an unhealthy fascination with. Also makes me wonder if he gets obsessed with someone every time he films! I really liked the b...

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Aeris Walker
23:51 Aug 14, 2022

Thank you so much, Kelsey for reading and for sharing your kind words! I really appreciate the feedback and encouragement ☺️

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Byron Senior
17:42 Aug 12, 2022

I really enjoyed this. It was very beautifully written, some really great use of metaphor and a creative use of the prompt. I didn't consider to make one of the people seeking love on a reality show one of the staff rather than the contestants.

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Aeris Walker
01:13 Sep 23, 2022

(feeling terrible that I’m just now noticing and responding to this old comment) but thank you so very much for reading my story and leaving your kind words!

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L.M. Lydon
23:16 Aug 10, 2022

I really enjoyed that you wrote the story from the alternative perspective of the cameraman. The narrator's tone starts out so jaded and cynical, and just a bit off-putting. The gradual escalation as the story progresses and the final, full descent into the darkness at the end was very fun!

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Aeris Walker
14:26 Aug 11, 2022

Thank you L.M! I appreciate you reading it :)

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T.S.A. Maiven
02:51 Aug 10, 2022

I loved the way this way written from the eyes of a close observer. It made the show feel more real because that's all it is. A show. Then the way you twisted into a dark obsessive love/murder ending was very cool. Great job with this prompt! I'm new to this site and I'm enjoying reading the stories and giving comments as well as having people read mine. Check mine out if you want. Just remember I'm new!! Thanks :)

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Aeris Walker
10:54 Aug 10, 2022

Thank you so much for reading!! I really appreciate it. Well, welcome to Reedsy! It’s such a wonderful to place to get in the practice of writing and hone your skills. :) And I enjoyed your story!

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Beth Jackson
09:15 Aug 09, 2022

I enjoyed this so much, Aeris! It was so captivating, I was fully immersed in the story, and it was a real treat to read! I loved your take on the prompt, using someone other than a contestant was a very clever idea! I really enjoyed this, thank you for sharing. :-)

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Aeris Walker
20:20 Aug 09, 2022

Thank you so much, Beth 😊

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Yves. ♙
06:10 Aug 07, 2022

You know when you see a TW for physical violence that you're in for something interesting, and I do love me a creep POV! That title drop right at the end gave me a wonderful little shiver.

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Aeris Walker
10:56 Aug 07, 2022

Thank you so much! 😊

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Kendall Defoe
22:42 Aug 06, 2022

I want to throw my TV away now...oh wait, I don't have one. A perfectly grim and disturbing tale for the prompt!

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Aeris Walker
22:58 Aug 06, 2022

Sometimes I want to do the same! I typically end up feeling like I just wasted an hour of my life when I decide to turn it on. And thank you for reading! Disturbing is definitely what I was aiming for.

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Suma Jayachandar
14:01 Aug 06, 2022

Aeris, Great take on the prompt, it's not the participants but someone else looking for love! The details were truly believable, though I'm not a regular watcher of reality shows I have come across a couple of episodes and you absolutely nailed it. I enjoyed reading it. Thanks for sharing!

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Aeris Walker
16:08 Aug 06, 2022

Thank you, Suma!! I guess my days of watching too much trash tv proved useful for once 🤭 Thanks for reading and leaving your kind feedback!

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Suma Jayachandar
15:22 Aug 12, 2022

CONGRATULATIONS 💐🎉 One more star under you belt, well deserved 😊

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Aeris Walker
15:57 Aug 12, 2022

Thanks Suma!! You’re so kind ☀️

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