Behind the sun, sand and well-tanned glamour of the Heartbreak Island matches was a ingeniously simple process. So simple in fact, that as recently as 2012, the algorithm that matched the couples won the The Nobel Economics Prize.
Dubbed "the stable marriage problem", the name may not suit the premise of the partner-swapping reality series, but it is hard to envisage a more elegant match making process. It works with two groups of the same size ranking their preference of the other group. The most picked partner of one group is matched with their top partner – but only if that partner also picked them. The second most popular then picks their top preference if that preference has chosen them and is still free.
The process continues like that until all partners are paired.
The show's twist is that the contestants were choosing from just pictures and a bio - so their eventual match may not be the person they would have preferred after meeting them.
Of course, the less popular the contestants are, the less likely they are to have a partner who ranked highly on their list. Even worse, the contestants only chose their top three preferences - so some people didn't get picked at all.
The algorithm was first used to match New York City "eighth graders" (our year 9) to their preference of schools. The students ranked their preference of schools and the schools ranked their preference of students. Until the algorithm was invented, this was a chaotic disaster, with several rounds of application processes.
With the stable marriage algorithm to match students with schools, the idea of "stability" was satisfied; "there is not a student and a school who would prefer to be matched with each other more than their current matches."
And so, the prize was awarded to Lloyd S. Shapley and Alvin E. Roth "for the theory of stable allocations and the practice of market design."
It's a pity we can't invent a system in which online-dating-profiles tell you exactly who you would ACTUALLY want to date so that the Heartbreak Island contestants got the most out of this algorithm.
It might help if your first choice doesn't dab when he walks off the jetty - Sorry Harry!
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