The Cabins: The new dating show for ITV is more than a knockoff from Love Island.

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Given how 2020 went, there is a fairly low bar for 2021 to prove marginally better.

And yet, it feels less like a fresh start after less than a week and more like December 36. The nation is shut down again, the High Street continues to crumble (the Oxford Street Topshop shop has closed its doors for good, Paperchase is on the brink of collapse) and even people have put up their Christmas decorations to create some much-needed cheer.

And in line with the Groundhog Day spirit, in the form of ITV2’s The Cabins, another reality dating series graces our screens. With a possible mate, 12 singles move into a cozy cabin in the Cotswolds, hoping things will heat up between them. Each morning, they must decide whether to check out separately and leave the premises or spend another night getting to know each other better.

Although it is repeatedly referred to in the press as a “Love Island-like dating show,” it’s not; it feels much more like First Dates Hotel because of the low stakes and overnight format. When intimidatingly beautiful newcomers disrupt existing couples, there’s no “ditching” one contestant for another, no slo-mo surprise appearances.

Instead, The Cabins provides a relaxing, wintery romance of its own kind, distinct from the heat of a summer fling.

In many ways, at least in terms of the new show’s theme, it’s exactly what the winter edition of Love Island last year might or should have been. In uncharacteristically cold weather that left the cast shivering in their ITV-mandated bikinis, that one was filmed in South Africa. The cabins, on the other hand, with their hot tubs, cozy swings with quilts, and conversations around the campfire under strings of lights, are perfect for the cold season.

The Pinterest-esque, quaint charm is certainly less sexy and sweeter, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s also not shocking that the two shows are contrasted. There were a number of tweets from viewers upset with what they saw as a distracting addition to the basic format at the launch of ‘The Cabins’.

Throughout the series, the contestants are permitted to access their phones, which means they can update friends and family about their dates. For me, the phone messages are not only not a problem, but a nice touch; hearing the cast gush about their initial attraction and lament their dating insecurities is endearing. The ongoing relationship with their mothers warms even the coldest hearts, with one affectionately calling her daughter “sausage.” Unlike most reality dating shows, “The Cabins” doesn’t just match heterosexual couples. There is queer representation, through lesbians Charlotte and Sarah.

Charlotte revealed that she had been dating and marrying a man on and off for 11 years until a car accident before the wedding led to her coming out.

Sarah talked about the difficulties of finding a “girly lesbian” partner. This is not the kind of conversation you usually see on this kind of show. Those in need of their latest Love Island fix will have to wait a little longer, but in the meantime, they’ll find some very good company in The Cabins.

It’s a welcome distraction in these trying times, and these singletons have enough heart to keep each other – and us – warm through the rest of the month.

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