"It's a reality TV show, where four girls or four guys go on a date at the same time with one guy or one girl. Over the course of the date, the one guy or girl eliminates their dates until there's only one left."
Ah, elimiDATE. Got it.
This was the rundown given to me by Jane, an agent at a local casting company for extras. I'd signed up during an aimless spate of unemployment, around the same time I got my mail-order bartending certification. I never really used either, but this is how they found me. elimiDATE, as I soon learned, airs every weeknight on the WB at 10:30. Most of its appeal comes from the opportunity to rip on the inevitably unflattering, whorish lengths people go to in order to win.
"Does this sound like something you'd like to audition for?" Having just blown in the door from work, I was multitasking by returning phone calls while folding laundry in the room I share with my boyfriend, thinking about dinner and distinctly not looking for a date. The proposition seemed too inappropriate to let slip.
"Sure, what the hell," I said, and hung up laughing.
My "audition" involved sipping a vodka tonic at a previously specified downtown bar while completing a questionnaire. The questions were general inquiries into my taste in men and sexual preferences, whether or not I have any tattoos, and more specific questions like, "Are you comfortable in a bathing suit?" followed by the sub-query, "Do you look good in a bathing suit?"
After snorting my way through their quiz and posing for a couple head shots, I was summoned upstairs, where I was greeted and asked to turn around in front of a camera. Then came a short, taped interview based mostly on some of my saucier questionnaire responses. Not giving a rat's ass whether I was chosen, and doubtful that I would be, I felt comfortable and cocky. I wore a tarty sheer top with a bright red bra and showed no fear for the camera, or for speaking candidly about everything from whips to nipples. It was fun. A few weeks later, after nearly dismissing the whole thing, one of the producers called to say I'd been selected as one of THE four girls--all but one of whom would wind up elimiDATEd.
During the span of time before shooting took place, I was inundated by friends and acquaintances alerting me to the fact that people I know actually watch this show. In fact, I was offered a crash course in how to defeat my competition by a group of loyal viewers--all male--who routinely heckle the contestants between bong hits. Over the course of this seminar, we watched two episodes of Blind Date, one episode of elimiDATE, and an epic program they call the Blind Date Hall of Shame.
Through the dense fog of my pot-addled perceptions, I came to a horrifying conclusion: every last person on these shows looks like a total asshole, and I was about to become one of them. I drove home paranoid and shaking, giggling maniacally and kissing a fond goodbye to my dignity.
That done, I blundered ahead in the name of curiosity and kicks, keeping in touch with a series of bubbly voices on the telephone telling me I was awesome, gonna win, etc. I kept in particular correspondence with one of the producers, Sandy, who encouraged me to "just be yourself and get wild." She also made the fateful suggestion that I do or bring something to give to my "date" that would make a strong first impression--I needed a gimmick.
My committee of couch potatoes decided I should play it cool, with just a simple handshake and introduction. This seemed like a lackluster idea, but acknowledging my own lack of expertise, I offered the suggestion up to Sandy. She seemed a little flat on the concept, so I whipped out my own backup idea: When I met my date, I would hand him the remote control to my vibrating underpants. Sandy paused, then burst out with "I would fucking LOVE you if you did that!" After quelling some laughable peeps of concern from my boyfriend, I announced my intentions to the committee. They threw up their hands.
"You win," they said. "That's it, you win."
My Beefcake Dream Date
Based on my own scattered description of what I thought was sexy, I knew they would stick me with a "rocker type." This is a vast and perilous chasm of descriptive imagery in anyone's hands--much less the WB's. So I didn't expect much.
Scott was a solid-looking guy working an urban cowboy look in a brown leather jacket and cowboy hat. In retrospect, I feel a twinge of guilt for dismissing his shoulder-length layers as "outdated" on national television. Then again, I can't wait to see what he or the other contestants chose to insult about my own appearance.
As I approached Scott and the other three contestants, things immediately went downhill. Instead of a grand, punchy entrance, I found myself standing around awkwardly while he was still talking to the third contestant. My big splash had more of an "oh sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt" vibe to it. He seemed puzzled by the remote control I gave him, and I don't think putting his hand in my crotch--so he could feel the vibration--made a very classy first impression. In fact, he didn't warm up to it until the cameras were turned off, at which point he left it on for long periods of time while making flirty faces at me from a distance.
Sex toys aside, it's unsurprising there was little in the way of chemistry between us. I was underwhelmed by the opportunity to try on his hat, and he returned the favor by barely even glancing at me while I was wearing it. When he inquired after my pet peeves, I impulsively blurted out, "fanny packs and Tevas." As luck would have it, he occasionally sports a fanny pack. Sorry, but this is one rare stylistic case in which I am unwilling to compromise. Not only did we downright clash on issues of accessorization, but I found I was distracted during our conversations. I repeatedly had to be refreshed on the topics and became mildly panicked and hugely amused at my inability to pay attention to anything he was saying.
Then there was Lucy. I'd brought her with me as a hair and makeup person/ strategic consultant, not caring that it was somewhat conspicuous to "bring a friend" into this type of setting. Trouble started at our first shooting location, the Meow Meow. In between takes, as we sat around in the back room eating pizza, I witnessed a tense episode of small talk between Scott and Lucy.
Although I was in the room, the "rules" of the show forbade any off-camera conversation between cast members, so I couldn't join in. Having already heard her take on Scott's personal style--which was considerably less charitable than mine--I knew she would make him feel like a dork. This couldn't be good for my game.
To this day, I have seen only two episodes of elimiDATE. One was filmed in San Diego--a land of tight, bright, skimpy clothes (one girl wore a stars 'n' stripes tube top). Even though Portland is known for its lovably slouchy, infuriatingly frumpy tastes, I figured they'd dredge up a similar brand of mall-rat fashionista. As it turned out, I felt like the most high-maintenance of them all, even though my tattered coat sleeves were in the process of falling off. What greeted me on the street corner that afternoon, was a cotillion of friendly girls, modestly clad in comfortable denim and earth tones. Big fucking surprise.
One thing you don't see on the show is the "isn't this crazy!" insta-bonding that goes on between cast members. I was disappointed that none of them seemed particularly catty or even feisty. I was convinced I had ended up on the dullest episode of elimiDATE ever made and felt somewhat apologetic for not instigating a catfight. When the cameras turned off, it was all giggles and hand-squeezing--although I secretly eyed them all with suspicion.
The first young lady to be ousted was a sweet thing by the name of Molly, as the other female contestants had unanimously predicted. Before she left, she gave a short, stirring speech expressing how happy she was to have been on the show, wishing us the best of luck, and telling us we were all beautiful. I was practically glowing. Even once the cameras were turned off and I saw her leaving, she hugged me and repeated those sentiments with apparent sincerity. Unfortunately, I had just been sullied by my first "confessional" interview with the camera and the show's real manipulations, and her warmth made me feel like a jerk. Go on, Molly; run. Save yourself.
A "confessional" interview on elimiDATE goes something like this: You are seated in front of a camera, away from the other cast members, and told to speak to a happy face stick-um on the lens, with a big hot blinding freaking light, which is distracting if not nauseating. Then you are asked a series of leading questions formulated out of notes taken during your on-camera interactions. The prompting came as a huge relief, since I was unable to muster much of anything for the other cast members besides a wary sense of solidarity. I felt oblivious to the subtle conflicts that the producers managed to flesh out of our stilted conversations.
During the interview following Molly's elimiDATion, I was asked about her parting speech. Trying to be honest (silly me), I began by explaining that I didn't really feel like I knew her well enough--and they stopped me right there. The question was reiterated more specifically: "Do you think she was really being sincere?" Every time I wheedled around trying to be "myself" (i.e. not a rabid shit-talker), they made me do it over. Frustrated with having to repeat and simplify my statements, I got snippy. So, "Well, I guess it's possible that she might have been a little less than sincere" winds up being, "She was totally insincere." Can I go now?
To be fair, the producers don't force you to do anything, but they are full of suggestions. Trying to make the most out of my experience, I went along with almost every lame antic they came up with. But when they wanted me to close my interview with "Party On!," I refused. (At this point it was pretty obvious I was being put in the "wild girl" box.) When I took their suggestions, it was mostly out of concern for the fact there just wasn't a lot going on between the cast. I felt like we were letting them down.
As the day wore on, my excitement quickly wore off. People started to grate on each other's nerves and gripe about expediting the process. To keep the contestants company during all the down time, each is assigned a "buddy." They say this person is going to be "your bitch" and fetch you food and beverages, in addition to acting as your chauffeur. That's a somewhat misleading representation, however. They did hold my water bottle while I was on camera and gesture towards the trunk of a car filled with cheap junk food. But the truth about "buddies" is that they are "chaperones." They are with you at all times off camera, to prevent any talking between cast members, to get you walkie-talkie clearance every time you have to pee, and to make sure you don't get drunk in between takes. The last girl my buddy supervised said she felt like she was on a date with him more than the intended love interest. In fact, they had plans to get together that weekend. At least someone's getting hooked up on the damn show.
The Vibrating Panties
At this point in my life, I can say there is nothing so mundane as a pair of remote-controlled vibrating underwear. I have discussed them to the point of utter exhaustion and have seen their charm exploited into nonexistence. On the show, however, these things practically became their own character.
Most of the stunts suggested to me involved the underwear. Likewise, I was repeatedly asked by production and cast members on camera to describe what they feel like. As Lucy put it, "What do they want you to do, fake an orgasm?" It didn't take long before I started to feel like a one-trick multiple-orgasm pony.
The ridiculousness of elimiDATE peaked for me at Kells, where we ate dinner. While the cameramen were changing a battery, Sandy whispered a suggestion in my ear. She said I should go to the bathroom, take off my underwear, return, and throw them on the table, vibrating for all to see. Fine, good, whatever.
Once the cameras were rolling, I obediently excused myself to do as I'd been told. While the others chatted and drank, I slipped into a stall and started pulling off my pants. At this point I realized my microphone wires were tangled in the underwear and would have to be unplugged. This led to the realization that my mic was probably still on, so I couldn't yell for help. If I had, they would have surely marched the cameras in to find me pantsless and tangled. I enjoyed a private moment of hilarity, half-naked in a bar bathroom, stuck in my vibrating underwear while the show carried on without me. I was totally floored as to what to do or how I'd wound up in such a predicament. My absence had long since been conspicuous by the time Lucy and Sandy found and extricated me.
When I reappeared, I was still whirling from the confusion in the bathroom and abruptly slapped my undies down on the table. It was a beautifully timed move that perfectly coincided with the arrival of our food. After all that trauma, the general response to my stunt was best summed up by one girl's bitchy question: "Did you wash those out?"
Since that time, I have been deluged with inquiries as to where one can purchase a pair of remote-control vibrating underwear. If you would like a pair for yourself, or simply as a great gift idea, they are available on the internet for about $60. Not the thriftiest purchase you'll ever make, but I like to think of them as an investment. Personally, mine are going back into hibernation until their novelty has a chance to recharge, and once again, get me into all kinds of trouble. Plus, the pink box they come in makes a cutesy soft-core wall hanging.
The Horrifying Conclusion
I was not at all surprised or disappointed to be elimiDATEd. I'd run out of enthusiasm over the course of the day, and it showed on camera. I just wanted to go home to my real boyfriend. Lucy and I had been speculating on what they would do if we ditched and went for a drink somewhere. Despite the fact I was rapidly losing interest in the interactions between cast members, I was just beginning to enjoy the interviews and starting to get into the pissy 30-second sound bites. I imagine, at some point, most contestants just throw sincerity to the wind and give the producers what they want. Even if you happen to say something that interests them, you are asked to repeat and/or condense it to the point where it sounds flat, unconvincing, and witless.
When he dismissed me, Scott gave the accurate, if generic, "We just don't have very much in common," excuse.
Aww. At least he let me down easy.
Lucy harbored a conspiracy theory that the producers orchestrated my elimiDATion because I was "too wordy" for television. Whatever the reasons, I was relieved to go, my curiosity sated. Oddly enough, it was my parting shot that required the greatest number of takes, each progressively more vapid and snotty than the last. For most of them, Lucy and I were shot leaving together, sometimes kissing or futzing with my hair. We tried everything to please them, annoyed and desperate to return to a natural plane of reality.
My consolation prize is that I'm supposedly being nominated for the elimiDATE All Stars, scheduled to be shot in Jamaica. However, I'm afraid I have to defer all credit to the panties. I'm sure the All Stars would consist of the same general process and irritations, only much, much worse. Still I'd wager I can put up with a lot more shit if I'm putting up with it in Jamaica.
And for a second consolation prize, I now know for certain there's only as much reality in reality TV as you want to bring to it. And seeing how it's little more than a fucked-up and contrived public experiment in social psychology--the less reality there is, the better.