HBO Max’s reality series 12 Dates of Christmas is back with another trio of singles looking for love in a gorgeous winter wonderland. A New York-based dentist with a charming smile, Markelle Smith was on the hunt for the perfect “holidate” to take home for his family’s holiday festivities in Season 2, which premieres on Thanksgiving.
As the show’s first Black gay lead, he talked about the importance of representation with TV Insider, along with teasing shocking eliminations, what he looks for in a successful relationship, and what else fans can expect to see in Season 2.
How did you first become involved with the show? Were you a fan of Season 1?
Markelle Smith: Yeah, so I wasn’t super familiar with it. Someone reached out to me on Instagram and asked if I’d be interested in a potential dating opportunity, so I was like, “Sure, why not!” And then, we had a phone call, he gave me a little more information about it, and it just kind of went from there.
At the end of this, you are bringing home someone to meet your family for the holidays. What did your family think about you going into this experience knowing they might influence your decision?
Yeah, I’m lucky. My family, when it comes to relationships and dating, it’s kind of a hands-off approach. Their motto is kind of like, “If I’m happy, they’re happy.” Obviously they trust me enough to trust that if I choose someone, that it will be someone that’s good for me. So they were super excited. Once they got used to the idea [of me being on TV], then they got really excited about it.
With three singles at the forefront of the show, what was it like to share the experience with Amanda Grace and Danny Escalante? Did you bond over any shared struggles?
Yes. So, I mean, we were in a very unique situation. We were kinda like in a pressure cooker, you know, having to eliminate people and having to choose someone to ultimately take home, so we were in very similar situations. And I feel like we kinda leaned on each other to help each other with the decision-making process, because it was not easy at all. And so, we became really close throughout the entire process.
Unlike the first season, two of this year’s leads are a part of the LGBTQIA+ community. What was it like bringing that important representation to this season, and how does it differ from other dating shows?
Yeah. I felt like that was very exciting for me to be in the lead position, because I feel like representation matters so much, and especially today with social media. I was very honored and I felt very privileged to be in that leadership position because I just remember, you know, being a young Black [man]. Especially being a person of color, just having that representation for the younger generation, and even people of my age and older, just to see someone like them in that position—I felt like it was an honor to be there.
In the Season 2 trailer, you state that you’re not bringing just anyone home to meet your family and that you were looking for the same feeling you had with an ex. What were you looking for in a partner going into the show?
I feel like when you’re choosing someone to date and eventually bring home to meet your family, you wanna make sure that it’s all there. You wanna make sure that you’re not sacrificing or you’re not settling for anyone in any aspect of life. And so, it’s important to feel comfortable with that person, be able to be open, but at the same time, feel like it’s a safe space.
At another point in the trailer, it appears you are sending several people home at once. What can you tease about the eliminations?
Well, I will say that it was a very shocking elimination ceremony. No one saw what was coming, and I guess you’ll just have to stay tuned to see!
What was your overall experience like? Did you learn anything about yourself along the way?
I felt like it was definitely a learning experience on all fronts, just in terms of dating and how communication and honesty play such an important role, and the benefits of being honest and open in your communications. As difficult as it may be in the beginning, I feel like in the long run, just being super open, super honest, and upfront about your intentions and your feelings just goes such a long way.
What should people look forward to the most this season?
You know, I had a great experience. I definitely think that Season 2 is gonna be steamier, more shocking, lots more twists and turns, so I’m really looking forward to sharing this with everyone.
Watch an exclusive sneak peek at The 12 Dates of Christmas below!
12 Dates of Christmas, Season 2 Premiere, Thursday, November 25, HBO Max