Orbs, energy-crystals and public canoodling: the rise of the astrological dating show

Pity the reality TV developer. Their working day, I imagine, always begins the same way: with the words “take 10 sexy singles” inked atop a blank page. But what comes next? The developer scrawls the word “island” but hurriedly, embarrassedly, crosses it out. She needs to be more imaginative – throw different things together, see what sticks. What about a show where contestants can’t speak to each other, and must instead communicate through animal mating rituals? Old hat! Love in the Jungle came out in June. A show where siblings date side-by-side? Nope: Dated and Related streams on Netflix this September. Before the reality TV developer knows it, the day is done and there is nothing on her page.

She plods to the car park and turns her eyes pleadingly to the heavens. “It’s all been done,” she laments. And then she sees it – a twinkle in the hazy, navy sky.

This, perhaps, is how we have entered the era of astrological dating shows. With islands, jungles and the First Dates restaurant exhausted, executives have turned to the stars. Amazon Prime’s Cosmic Love follows 20 singles as they search for a spouse through astrological matchmaking. Written in the Stars, coming to Discovery+ in November, sees presenter Clara Amfo help pair up 12 singletons based on their birth charts. Reality dating formats, it seems, are like buses: two come along at once, and you’re unlikely to find love inside.

Cosmic Love is the brainchild of the so-called AstroTwins, American authors Ophira and Tali Edut, who have racked up 30 years’ experience offering astrological advice. “It’s a time when reality dating shows are really popular, astrology is really popular, and they were destined to intersect,” says Ophira, who conceived of the show with her twin two years ago. Though the Eduts don’t appear in Cosmic Love, they were central figures behind the scenes, drawing up contestants’ astrological charts and making matches.

The twins even did a “little protection ritual” once the production team finalised the show’s cast. “We wrote their names on a piece of paper and surrounded all their names with words,” says Tali. “It’s a little hokey, but we wanted them to be in a nice, safe bubble because they were opening themselves up spiritually on the show.”

Profitable prospectors … Tali and Ophira Edut.
Profitable prospectors … Tali and Ophira Edut. Photograph: Amanda Edwards/Getty Images

At the beginning of the production, the Eduts purchased a number of crystals that “gave different energies” and kept them on hand throughout filming. If the twins noticed that one of the contestants needed more courage or should be more emotionally available, they would place the appropriate crystal on their name overnight.

There are four main singletons in Cosmic Love, each representing one of the elements of the zodiac: Phoebe is fire, Noel is water, Maria is earth and Connor is air. In episode one, they are thrown into a house with 16 other singles and allowed to date whoever they like; later, their first “perfect astrological match” is revealed. Each of the main four has four perfect matches in the house but they’re only disclosed gradually, by a mysterious glowing orb called the Astro Chamber.

Related: Cosmic Love review – does astrology-based dating work? Does it heck

Voiced by actor and singer Cree Summer, the Astro Chamber reminds me of Kaa, the hypnotic snake from The Jungle Book, although it says things such as “Your match is waiting for you in the celestial sanctuary” and “Pros of dating a Capricorn: they mate for life”. While Cosmic Love is in many ways fodder for reality dating show bingo (contestants insist they’re “very family oriented”! There’s illicit canoodling on funky furniture!), the presence of the Astro Chamber nicely mixes things up. “I’m still hesitant and sceptical of this orb talking to me,” Connor says early on.

Another standout quote – this one unrelated to astrology – is: “He’s got the face of an angel but the actions of a little slut.” After 10 episodes of such insights, viewers will discover if the singletons listened to the stars and found love or rebelliously coupled up with an incompatible Capricorn. The Eduts will not reveal the contestants’ fortunes. “You’ll have to watch and see!” Tali says. “But there was definitely true love that happened on the show, we can say that much.”

How, then, does astrological matchmaking work? The twins say people must first study their own birth charts, which Ophira says are “sort of the map to yourself … or the instruction manual.” By discovering your own chart, Tali says, you can learn more about your needs.

“Most people know their sun sign, your zodiac sign, but there’s so much more to it,” she explains. “The moon sign, which is your emotional nature, will say so much about what you need to feel secure and relaxed with someone. And then Mercury is your communication style.” Once a person’s birth chart has been fully mapped, the twins look at other people’s charts to see if they might make a good match. Though of course, Tali clarifies, the matched “can still always choose” who they ultimately date.

“It’s not about saying, ‘Oh, you have a Gemini rising. I can’t talk to you,’” Tali explains, “This is just great information to explain and understand each other. People are so quick to cancel each other now. And we’re not cosmic cancellers.”

Astrology has existed for millennia but its popularity has exploded like a supernova in recent years. Numerous astrological dating apps have launched, including Struck, Stars Align, Oromoon and Astrodita. TikTok videos tagged #astrology have clocked up over 41bn views, while Google searches for the term spiked at the end of 2020. In 2021, leading tarot cards publisher US Games Systems said business was booming, with print runs having doubled during the pandemic.

“I think people have become more and more curious as the world becomes more uncertain, people look beyond the material plane for answers,” Tali says. Experts agree. In their 2021 paper “Social contagion of astrology on social media amid the Covid-19 pandemic”, researchers from De La Salle University in the Philippines surveyed 400 students and concluded that the more stressed a person is the more they tended to have a “higher consumption of astrology-related information” online.

Of course, Cosmic Love and Written in the Stars don’t require their audiences – or even their contestants – to actually believe in astrology. In a July Instagram post announcing her hosting gig, Amfo wrote: “Whether you are a full-on astrology believer, cynic or indifferent, we can all agree that watching people navigate attraction and connection will never not be interesting!” The ultimate pull is the time-honoured format.

“Reality shows are like the Greek chorus, the Shakespeare or the Coloseum of our time,” Ophira says, “We learn by watching other people.” The twins hope their show will be educational and also “normalise all genders using astrology for dating”. Already, though, the cynics are shining bright. Top comments on a trailer for the show released in late July read “This looks dumb as hell” next to a sobbing face emoji and “This cannot be real. I hope that this is a simulation, nobody in their right mind would think this is good.”

The twins, as serene and unwavering as the CGI orb that represents them in the show, don’t mind. “I say, ‘Welcome to the party!’” Ophira says, “Because you should not just believe something just because someone tells you – that’s just stupid.” Ophira distinguishes a cynic and a sceptic: the former “dismiss things without even trying” while the latter are willing to do a bit of research. “So please be a sceptic: try out astrology and if it’s not for you, great. But you might just learn something really useful about yourself.”

It’s hard to be too cynical around the AstroTwins, who are ultimately and perhaps ironically very grounded (and yes, who asked me my star sign and made an “Oh!” of recognition when I said Cancer, “Because you asked such thoughtful questions!”). It’s easier to be cynical about the rise of the astro-dating format – many of Cosmic Love’s contestants seem to want to become stars rather than consult them for advice. Plus, there’s the fact that participants have to decide whether they want to marry their matches, a dating show twist that was once considered edgy and extreme and is now regrettably ordinary.

Ultimately it is the success of these shows, not the matchmaking within them, that will determine whether copycats will begin to orbit. You don’t need a crystal ball to foresee a Tarot-based dating show or one in which contestants are matched by the love lines on their palms. Then again, cosmic dating shows might simply be the flavour of the lunar month – even the most talented soothsayer couldn’t decipher the chaos inside a reality TV developer’s head. Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what the next shows are?