Once upon a time, I read a ton of YA. (Who am I kidding; I still probably read significantly more than the average human.) One of the series I was absolutely gaga for was The Selection by Kiera Cass. Set in a dystopic future USA in which there is crowned royalty but still television, a number of young women have been chosen to compete for the hand of the prince. It was The Bachelor with the threat of revolution at its doors. While I’ve only seen a few episodes of the show itself, I was curious to see how it would all play out in the books. And ever since, I’ve been sort of drawn to fictional depictions of that world, and others that are about reality television competitions. Especially if they’re adult genre romance.
Of course, these don’t all have to be Bachelor-style competitions. Yes, those are fun when the author plays around with the trope, but there’s also something exciting about other competitions on display. Whether it’s a baking show (there are so many of those recently!) or some other form of reality TV (usually competition based), there are a ton of great reality show romances featuring competitors, judges, and even folks who work behind the scenes. (Now, if only there were more singing competitions and or the Forged In Fire romance of my dreams…)
Here are a few out now and coming in the near future!
New and Upcoming Reality Show Romances
The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun
Dev has been in love with the fairytale romances promised by reality dating show Ever After since he was 10 years old. Now one of the show’s producers, he finds himself the handler for this season’s Prince, Charlie. Charlie is…not the best prince they’ve ever had. He’s awkward and fumbling, the external outcome of his internal issues when it comes to being around other people. Charlie has anxiety and OCD, and Dev, who has depression, is the only person on set who can help him through it. And that understanding, that time they spend together, leads Charlie to understand even more about himself and how he loves.
Sweet Heat by Zuri Day
Naomi wants out of her retail job. Marvin knows he’s better than the line cook job he feels stuck in. Both see the chance to move a new direction in their lives with the opportunity to be a finalist in a cooking competition in which the winner gets a cash prize to start a food truck business. When they meet in line for the preliminaries thanks to their similar last names, sparks fly — but some other things might fly, too…at each others’ heads.
If the Shoe Fits by Julie Murphy
The first book in Disney Hyperion’s new multi-author series reimagining classic fairytales as modern day grown-up romances, If the Shoe Fits brings Cinderella into the world of competitive dating. Fresh out of design school, Cindy is working for her stepmother on the set of Before Midnight. When there’s a sudden need for a replacement contestant, Cindy agrees to fill the slot. (Also, after looking at this cover a million times I have only JUST realized that she is holding his shoe. Clever, clever.)
Mangos and Mistletoe by Adriana Herrera
Kiskeya and Sully both came to Scotland and the Holiday Baking Challenge with something to prove. They’ve got different reasons to win, and different ideas about what will get them there, but might understand each other best out of everyone there. Not to mention, they spend every waking — and sleeping — hour together, since they somehow ended up sharing a room…and a bed.
Love & Other Disasters by Anita Kelly (January 18, 2022)
When London announces their pronouns on the nation’s most popular cooking competition show, they become the first nonbinary contestant in the history of the show. They knew there would be some pushback, but they’re here to prove their dissidents wrong no matter what. What they didn’t expect was the lovely, vaguely clumsy competitor who would knock London off their feet.
The Love Con by Seressia Glass
Kenya loves cosplay. So much so, that she hopes to make it big by winning the reality competition show Cosplay or No Way. When she needs to have a significant other for the final challenge, her BFF Cameron agrees to pretend for the sake of her potential win. But when fake dating surfaces some real feelings, there’s more at stake than the grand prize.
(P.S. if you like the cosplay element in this book, you should check out Be Dazzled by Ryan La Sala.)
Battle Royal by Lucy Parker
Sylvie and Dominic have…a history. Once upon a time, she accidentally brained him with a unicorn cake when she competed on the baking show where he was a judge. Now, competitors in a different scene — directly across the street from each other, actually — they have to get over their differences when Sylvie is invited on as a judge beside Dominic. Oh, and they’re both vying for the role of Wedding Cake Baker To Royalty, or at least for one particular upcoming royal wedding.
D’Vaughn and Kris Plan a Wedding by Chencia C. Higgins
If D’Vaughn and Kris win Instant I Do, they can win 100 grand. All they have to do is plan a wedding in six weeks and beat all their competition. Oh, and successfully make everyone think their relationship is real. Because it’s not. At least when they start out. But in the process of faking on-screen chemistry, it’s possible there’s some real chemistry there too. Whoops.
Desire and the Deep Blue Sea by Olivia Dade
Callie, suddenly single, needs a “partner” in order to appear on an episode of Island Match. Thomas, who has basically been in love with her since she started working with him at the library, is more than happy to fill in. He has no idea that Callie finds him irritating and frustrating, no matter how handsome or nice she thinks he is. An exotic getaway is the perfect way for both of them to get their feelings off their chest…and hopefully make it through filming the episode.
(And when you finish that and want more, there’s a companion book, Tiny House, Big Love.)
Sugar Butter Flour Love by Nicole Falls
Former high school enemies Travis and Isobel are certain they’ll never have to see each other again…until Isobel gets selected to be on the next season of a popular competition show and is hit with a new twist: each competitor will be paired with a celebrity from their hometown. And it’s just her luck that Travis, a former pro football player, is the one they’ve matched with her. But with Isobel determined to save her family bakery and Travis in need of the hefty donation for his foundation, the pair suck it up and deal. And realize they’re surprisingly good at working together.
Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis Hall
Single mother Rosaline wants to give her daughter the life she deserves, so when the chance to go on a beloved baking show presents itself, she can’t possibly say no. But the heat isn’t just coming from the ovens — there’s the charismatic Alain and cinnamon-roll-sweet Henry to deal with as well.
Donut Fall in Love by Jackie Lau
While the reality television element of this one is more peripheral, it should still be on your radar for reality show romances. After the sudden death of his mother, actor Ryan is taking some much-needed time off at home in Toronto. When he’s asked to appear on a celebrity edition of a popular baking show, he approaches Lindsay, whose bakery he had a…mishap in days before, to teach him how to bake. And their baking lessons? There’s more heating up there than those cakes and cookies.
Fake It by Lily Seabrooke
When restauranteur Avery lands on celebrity chef Holly’s radar for telling off the guy trying to take Holly’s job, she can’t help but check her (and her food) out. Noting the possible chance of the restaurant going out of business, Holly adds Avery and Paramour to the list of restaurants she visits on her kitchen rescue show…and thanks to her agent, everyone thinks she and Avery are dating, too.
Fake It Till You Bake It by Jamie Wesley (June 21, 2022)
What happens after the reality competition is over and everyone goes home? In Jada’s case, she gets marketed as the villain on a Bachelor-style show and needs to figure out where to go from there. When circumstances land her working at the bakery run by a professional football player, she might have her chance to turn her image around. It just involves pretending to be in love with said football player. No big.
I hope this trend continues forever, because I am loving these reality show romances. The competitive feel, the chemistry, the urgency. Not to mention the artistic process (and all the food, of course!)
And I’m serious about that Forged In Fire romance.