Reality dating shows are usually designed with a single goal in mind: for their contestants to find everlasting love. Netflix's Dating Around is less high-stakes, though its subjects are still encouraged to go on a second date with one of the five potential partners they've just spent an evening with. So when Gurki Basra didn't choose anyone on Dating Around, it not only deviated from the show's general format, it defied the fairytale ending we've been conditioned to want — both for ourselves and on TV.
"To go on a second date with these guys — it just kind of felt like I was leading them on and kind of forcing it," Gurki tells Bustle. "Even though they were nice guys, and I did think about, 'Oh, maybe I’ll meet up with Manny again, he was fun,' I didn't really see myself getting married to Manny or any of that. So I didn't really understand the point of picking somebody just to finish the story of the show."
Gurki was encouraged to audition by a friend who was also applying to be on Dating Around, and she went into the experience cynical, but open to meeting someone. When she reached the final stages of casting, she made it clear to the producers that she wasn't going to comply with the manipulation often associated with reality TV.
"I told the producers ... 'I don't know how this genre of TV works, but reality TV is often highly produced or they tell you to do things. If you guys are going to tell me, 'Oh, you have to hit it off with this guy, or say [something scripted]... I'm not gonna do that,''" she says.
Luckily, that was exactly what the Dating Around team was trying to counteract. She says producers were "totally fine" with the fact that she wanted to go through the show as authentically as possible, even if that meant denying viewers a neat, satisfying conclusion. After all, Gurki says, that's just how it works out sometimes.
"That's the reality of dating, right? How many times do you go on a second date? Not that many," Gurki explains. "You go on a lot of first dates that suck, or that are average, or that are OK. But you're not like, super stoked to go on a second date."
One person she definitely wasn't going to see again was Justin, who, after sailing by a few red flags (he once made an ex-girlfriend give away her cat for him), berated Gurki for getting married even though she wasn't entirely sure about it. She tried to explain the cultural pressure put on her as a Punjabi woman, and that she was young and unsure of herself, but he insisted she was a "liar." And while it was a painful experience, Gurki says it made her think a lot about why she felt compelled to indulge him, even when it would have been totally appropriate for her to put him in his place and walk away.
"Watching it, I was like, 'Oh my god, he's a total douchebag, why was I so nice to this guy?'" Gurki reflects. "I was very surprised at the level of judgment women deal with going into dates. I think we don't know it because we're so used to it, and we just go through with it, and we just handle it a certain way. I felt terrible [on the date] and I wanted to scream at this guy. But I kept my composure, because you're used to keeping your composure when you hear judgment, or some guy who doesn't like something you said. I think it's a subtle thing."
The support she's received from viewers now that the episode's aired has been reassuring for Gurki, and revisiting her experience with Justin has helped heal wounds that existed even before the show. As she explained in an interview with Vulture, many of her friends and family members were critical of her decision to get divorced — so much so that, for several months, her brother was the only person she'd give her phone number to. She had to cut out all of the negative energy in order to move on.
"I didn't realize until I watched the show, but it brought up a lot of shame and bullsh*t that I dealt with when I was getting divorced, [when I received judgment] from my friends or the Indian community," she tells Bustle. "[But] watching the show … I felt a lot of closure. With people giving me support, I feel like I got all the support that I wish I would've had going through my divorce, and being single after that and trying to date."
Since filming wrapped, Gurki's kept in touch with all of her dates except for Justin. When we spoke, she even had plans to meet up with Manny and his new girlfriend to talk about the show. And despite not meeting anyone, she says she'd absolutely do the Dating Around experience all over again, because it affirmed that being her honest self is more validating than any man.
"When I was younger, I wasn't necessarily truthful about the fact that I sucked as a wife too. Even though my husband cheated, both of us sucked," Gurki says. "This sounds so f*cking cheesy, so I can't believe I'm that person out [there] saying these things, [but I'm realizing that] staying true to what I feel and being able to voice that is OK ... and it's the way I should be leading my life. That's been the biggest takeaway — just being honest and being myself is A-OK."
Now, Gurki is teaching that to everyone watching, too.