You may have thought chatty Donegal woman Joanne found her perfect match on First Dates Ireland, but what she really found was the inspiration to completely change her life.

Joanne Cullen. Image: First Dates Ireland

Buncrana native Joanne Cullen was paired with talkative Dubliner Max in last weeks’ show and conversation flowed easily over dinner. The pair seemed to hit it off and decided to continue their date into the wee hours, but what happened next? Donegal Woman caught up with Joanne this week to find out.

Joanne, 35, and Max, 32, decided that their connection wasn’t strong enough to warrant a second date, but Joanne gained a huge personal boost from the programme.

Taking on the nerve-wracking task of dating on national television gave her the confidence to quit her corporate job and travel across the world.

“I don’t know if the show gave me a leap of faith or it was a trigger for the change – it gave me a massive boost of confidence,” Joanne said.

“I was a Programme Manager in UCD. I handed in my notice on the 30th of September, wrote a post-it note and sent a picture of it to my brother and sister to tell them I had resigned from my job and booked a ticket to Hawaii,” she said.

Joanne’s Post-It Note

Joanne went off to study yoga in Hawaii and the US and is now about to begin a new life as a yoga teacher in Dun Laoghaire.

Many months have passed since Joanne ascended the famous lift of The Gibson Hotel, but she looks back on the day with positive memories.

“I would definitely go on it again, if they let me back that is!,” she said.

Joanne remembers having to go up and down the lift multiple times for the best camera shots, but once she sat down for dinner the date was completely natural.

Cameras are hidden out of sight in small white pods around the restaurant so daters forget they are there, Joanne said. To viewers at home, Joanne definitely seemed at ease as she connected with Max.

“I didn’t even eat! The nerves and the excitement and energy all combine into one,” she admits.

Max and Joanne. Image: RTE

Joanne didn’t actually sign herself up for the reality show. She now has her best friend Suzanne to thank for the life-changing experience.

“I know the guy I went out with, Max’s friend put him up for it too. I thought to myself, you never know, these are opportunities to meet people.”

“Because dating in Ireland has become so online I think it’s great to sit down and talk to someone in that way.

“Everyone on the show is on the same boat, but no one knows where to go. First Dates enables that fire. Some people have never dated before being on that show and I think it’s a really positive thing,” Joanne said.

The romance of the restaurant is often short-lived once couples go out to the real world, but it’s all part of the fun, Joanne said. She and Max did go partying after their meal, but realised it wasn’t meant to be.

“I think the environment really does lend itself to the whole romance thing, you get carried away by it. There’s a lot of other things going on in the background and it’s very well edited.

“It’s all good fun and in a national sense it’s great to inject a bit of humor into life when there is so much negativity happening. Giving someone a bit of fun is the most important part life.

“Everyone seems pretty laid back on the show because the COCO Television crew are so great. There is a massive crew of people working there and they have so much to do but Mateo and the waiters are so great. They all keep you as calm as possible and they are so caring.”

“They have great fun and put so much energy into making the matches. We were so well looked after. I got about 10 calls before and after the show to make sure everything was okay.”

The positivity of First Dates has inspired many people to turn their lives around, Joanne revealed. “A lot of people were pushed out of their comfort zone and then feel they can do anything,” she said.

Joanne Cullen

Joanne herself took off for three weeks to sunny Hawaii, followed by a week in San Francisco and a week in Austin, Texas. She had a special experience any yogi would cherish in Texas, where she practiced with world-famous teacher Adriene Mishler at The Blanton Museum of Art.

“Adriene is such a beautiful person, she’s a really kind and caring human being. That definitely was one of my best memories from the trip,” Joanne said.

In the coming weeks Joanne will begin to teach yoga in Dublin and dreams of setting up her own studio one day. This new career path could also bring her back to Buncrana one day, she said, while she will always look back on that first date as the first step to a brand new life.

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