Boulder’s reputation as the land of high-altitude hotties obscures a cruel truth: Dating here is hard. As locals on “the apps” know, swiping through countless pictures of outdoor adventure bros while trying to discern what lies behind the layers of beard, ski goggles and Carhart beanie can be exhausting and discouraging, to say the least.
Maybe we could learn something from the four single New Yorkers who took a crash course in modern love on Swiping America, a new road-trip dating reality show streaming now on Max (formerly HBO Max). In Episode 6, Boulder viewers will get a special thrill from seeing their favorite local spots on the small screen, and from seeing the People’s Republic given the anthropological treatment.
The simple premise of the show is built around four leads testing the hypothesis that a change in geography can fix a love rut. Each episode finds Ash, Kesun, Krishnanand (Kris) and Reagan traveling to a different city in the U.S. and going on dates with the local residents. After a speed-round series of first dates (Date Zeros), each cast member takes a match of their choosing on a longer date that usually highlights the episode’s locale.
Billing itself as a “rom-doc,” Swiping America upholds many reality-show staples while digging deeper than the standard fare. Feelings are caught, special dates travel on to other cities, cameras get discretely turned off, and viewers can savor the delicious feeling of experiencing a stranger’s romantic drama, which is the hallmark of every great dating reality show. Mixed into the vicarious fun, though, are insights into real issues of love — across a spectrum of gender identities and orientations — and how our past trauma informs how we date.
Per the formula for reality shows, each cast member has their simplified role: Kris’ Instagram thirst traps belie a shy romantic; Kesun struggles to find a man equally as close to his family; Ash wants the perfect combination of physical and emotional attraction; Reagan hides her caution with an intimidating wit. The fact that they all come across as genuinely likable and interesting, as the show unpacks their personal stories and dreams across eight episodes, elevates the feather-light subject matter into engaging television.
In Episode 6, montages meant to represent Boulder linger on the Flatirons and a white chick with dreadlocks. Ash reads from a list of city facts that one-third of Colorado women have “done the deed with another lady.” Both License No.1 and Dushanbe Teahouse get their guest-starring moments. And, in a very realistic depiction of dating in Boulder, one of the matches is a hot firefighter.
In conjunction with the June 22 premiere of the episode, Boulder Weekly spoke with Swiping America cast members over Zoom about their experiences dating in Boulder, and what wisdom they had to share about finding love in our lonely digital era.
First of all, what did you all expect out of dating, and the type of people you would meet, in Boulder — and how did that compare to what it was actually like?
Reagan: I expected to meet people that were active, had a lot of hobbies, and were energetic, outdoorsy-kind of people. And … they all were. They were super smart. They were really active. They had boats. One had a weed farm. I would say hobby collectors.
Kesun: I agree. I had thought, ‘Oh great, they’re going to be laid-back, outdoorsy types,’ and that’s exactly what I got, too.
A lot of queer people in Boulder say the dating scene here is rough. Can you confirm that experience? Do you have any advice for readers trying to date queer people in a small town like Boulder?
Ash: Yeah, I mean, my dates were in Denver, and I met a lot of people that actually lived in Denver. I don’t know if I actually dated anyone that lived in Boulder, but maybe? I think my advice is to put yourself out there. Don’t be afraid to travel a little bit to meet someone great. I met someone great [while traveling]. It doesn’t always have to be so underwhelming.
Kris: For me, all of my dates lived in Denver [laughs], so it definitely confirms those suspicions. But, I think to Ash’s point, they were willing to travel to Boulder to meet me. But I also think that unfortunately, in these smaller communities, if you’re queer, and you’re visibly queer, you really have to be the change you want to see. You have to stand proudly as a queer person and hope that other people are like you, and they probably are. You’re not the only one thinking, ‘Hey, there’s no community here.’
I think there are ways to create queer spaces. The thing I’ve learned about queerness is you’re definitely not alone, which is a great feeling. Traveling across the country, I learned there are so many different queers. I love it.
For Reagan and Kesun’s double-date in Boulder, you went for a hike, which is a very popular first date idea for people here. I’m not entirely sure it’s always a good idea. What are the pros and cons of a hiking date?
Kesun: I loved our double date. I think one of the biggest pros is that you can see if your date knows how to properly dress for the occasion, which I think is very important. It’s like, ‘Did you come here in flip flops? Or do you have a backpack full of tools and snacks?’ These are questions we need answers to immediately. So, I think that was a really, really great idea for a first date. Oh, and also, when you’re hiking, there are little pockets and secret hiding places … which could also be good.
Reagan: Personally for me, hiking would be a great first date because I’m very active, so I can see if I could arm wrestle my date or something. I can see how active and how in shape they are, or even just how interested they are in different activities. And if that’s a requirement for you, then you should absolutely be doing the kinds of things that you want to do in a relationship up front, I think. If you’re not a super outdoorsy person, then do whatever you’re into and make sure that you’re a match with your partner in that way. Like, “Are you winded on this hike? Are you struggling to get up this mountain?”
Kesun: “Are you struggling in any capacity? And is it your fault?” [All laugh]
Some of us have been on the apps in Boulder for a while without a lot of success. Do you have any advice specifically for online dating?
Reagan: I would advise to really put a lot of thought into your profile. I know that I will say an immediate “no” to anyone who doesn’t have a clever caption or doesn’t have good photos. Because I think you actually can learn a lot about someone based on how much effort they put into it. I think you’re actually showing respect for the way you date by putting effort into making a good profile. Show your friends your profile, and get their advice. Like, I’d be hanging out with my guy friends and they would be like, “Get rid of that one. That one’s … nope!”
Kesun: [The cast] would do the same thing. We would have drinks and I would look at their profiles, and I think that’s a really good way to see if you are representing yourself accurately. You do get so used to just seeing like a huge number of people and you really want to stand out authentically.
Ash: As someone that typically pursues, I would say to not just pursue everyone the same way. If she’s hot, I guarantee you that she’s getting hit on all the time. So “Hey, how’s your day?” is not going to cut it. If she links her Instagram and it says something witty, I’ll reference it and ask, “Did I pass the test?” or something funny. Make it engaging. Don’t make them feel like you’re just hitting up every attractive person, because nobody wants to feel like you don’t really care. Treat online like outside.
Kesun: My biggest advice would be, if you match with somebody and you are feeling like you would be interested in actually going on a date with them, I say to always do a phone call or FaceTime really quick just before a date. Even if it’s just for 30 seconds, just seeing them and getting a sense of what their energy might be like and what their demeanor is, and talking to them as another human being is really important. So that can easily eliminate a lot, a lot,of people.
Kris: Personally, I’d say take a break. Get off the apps, and get back on them when you’re really intentional about it. And then, once you’re intentional about it, go slowly. I think these apps encourage you to swipe and like a lot and get a lot of matches, and they don’t go anywhere. Just focus on two or three matches that you’re really trying to develop conversations with. Try and get their numbers or their social media, and get off the apps and just focus on those. Don’t keep swiping because it’s easy to keep swiping. I think especially in smaller cities, it can really crush your soul to keep seeing the same people over and over again.
Of all the places you went in Boulder, on dates or otherwise, what is the hands-down sexiest place to take someone?
Reagan: I loved where we went on our Date Zeros.
License No. 1!
Kesun: The lighting in that place is really sexy. It was very intimate. It’s a good place to take a first date, because lighting is really important.
Reagan: I can’t claim to know Boulder any better than anyone else, but I can really get down to make out in a photo booth.
ON SCREEN: Swiping America is streaming now via Max.