If you want to reach someone in Israel, you pick up the phone.
Not to call them — but to send a WhatsApp message, the predominant form of digital communication in the Jewish state. And if you know more than two people, chances are you’re in a large number of WhatsApp “groups” — with friends, family members, coworkers, neighbors, current or former classmates, fellow parents at your children’s school or supporters of the same sports team, political party or charitable endeavor.
If the messaging platform ever goes down — as it did worldwide a couple of weeks ago — it can feel as if the whole country grinds to a halt.
Now, a new reality TV dating show on Israel’s Keshet 12 is using the ubiquitous WhatsApp group as the basis for its new format.
Titled simply “The Group,” the show features 12 single Israelis — six men and six women — who are all situated in their own homes and able to connect with each other only through a WhatsApp group.
The contestants don’t get to see each other, but can send texts and (love ’em or hate ’em) voice notes to each other to communicate. As the show progresses, they are able to break off into one-on-one chats and have show-sanctioned individual phone calls to get to know one another — but no video chats.
Locking the contestants up in their own apartments without the ability to leave gives the show a feel somewhat reminiscent of the 2020 lockdowns.
The show also bears more than a passing resemblance to the hit Netflix series “Love is Blind,” in which men and women date for around a week in “pods,” where they can communicate and talk for hours but cannot see each other. On that show, contestants can propose to their intended through a wall and only then do they get to finally meet face-to-face, and are expected to go through with a wedding just four weeks later.
On “The Group” there are no weddings — at least not within the format of the show. But once the contestants decide to become “boyfriend and girlfriend,” they meet and are spirited away for a week together in an exotic locale, where they can decide if WhatsApp love can translate to real-life love.
The members of “The Group” are fairly homogenous — all young, straight, conventionally attractive, secular Jewish Israelis — the vast majority of whom live in the greater Tel Aviv area. Two of them are named Shai.
Even the format doesn’t stray too far from the actual Tel Aviv dating scene — where early communication is often via text or app. Watching the 12 singles sit on their couches and agonize — and write, delete and rewrite — over what to text each other will feel familiar to many who have dated in the 21st century.
Can love be developed via voice note?
It remains to be seen. Just as long as nobody decides to put the group on mute.