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love, american (tv) style
relationships, reality, and reality tv relationships
by michelle von euw

The television networks have a dirty little secret: being single sucks.

Really. They want you to believe that not having a husband or wife is the absolute worst thing that could possibly happen to the average twenty-something, whether he’s an importer or she’s a former Miss Texas contestant. According to those in charge of producing and scheduling much of the networks’ time slots this year, our nation’s poor singletons will go to any extreme to find a mate, whether they need to: compete against 20 other women who have proven that anorexia is no longer just for the cast of "Friends" and David E. Kelley shows; lie about your income, your family background, even your name; let “America” (and by “America” I mean Fox executives, random family members and then finally 17 people who actually cared enough to pick up their phones) choose your mate; or don face-distorting latex and hope that your personality will shine through –- over cocktails and hula dances, of course.

For years, we’ve been told that sex sells. Who knew marriage could be such a hot commodity?

We could blame Mike Fleiss, who introduced the world to Darva Conger and Rick Rockwell way back in 2000. The consensus following that fiasco was that reality relationships were a bust, better left to the syndicates with their half-hour dating stories. But little Mikey didn’t give up, and thanks to his perseverance, we got "The Bachelor," which takes the concept of marriage and turns it into a very serious process…er, competition…er, fairy tale come true.

Thanks to Fleiss, above-average-looking lonely people from all over the country can now fulfill their Disneyfied fantasies of finding the man or woman of their dreams, using the Darwinesque dating tradition of narrowing the field: each week, the “Bachelor” picks a number of women to “continue the journey” with him, a number predetermined by the producers of the show. If the Bachelor would like seven women to stay instead of six, tough luck. Likewise, if he decides he’s already found the woman of his dreams, he can’t tell her or the other would-be Mrs. Because, just like in real life, trust is the least important part of a courtship. Respect for the process is far more influential to the decision than, say, honesty.

In the greatest misrepresentation of feminism since Helen Gurley Brown, after two seasons of this show, ABC insisted that they would play fair and invite one of the rejectees back to be the Bachelorette. You’d think that one dating show would be enough for most women. But look at the perks. Why should Trista Rehn continue to frequent singles bars or date men from her workplace like Alonzo Mourning or one of the other Miami Heat players she cheers for, when ABC is willing to give her a mansion, a wardrobe from Saks, and two dozen handpicked men –- possibly from the Abercrombie and Fitch catalog -- who will trip over themselves to provide her with jewelry, witty conversation, and bad poetry?

The latest Bachelor was trumpeted by the ABC publicity department as a member of one of America’s most important families. We were praying for a Kennedy or even a Bush, but we got a Firestone. A who? I know when I think American dynasty, I think Firestone. Turns out, his family used to make tires (yes, the ones that got recalled a few years back) but now they make wine. Firestone wine. Can you get that at Olive Garden?

In the grand tradition of Rupert Murdoch, Fox couldn’t let ABC garner all the reality-relationship glory. They gathered a lugnut of an out-of-work actor/construction worker, a gaggle of women who apparently had to leave their professional makeup kits at home, a former host of "Trading Spaces," and an Australian butler with more personality than any of the rest of them combined…which, unfortunately, isn’t saying too much.

Fortunately, perhaps, the Fox executives don’t take themselves –- or the concept of marriage -– as seriously as their brethren at ABC. "Joe Millionaire," set in a French castle, took the Fairy Tale concept even further than the Disney-owned network did: there were evil stepsisters, wicked witches, a prince in disguise, and the ultimate Cinderella -- a poor girl from Philadelphia who works with the elderly and talks to animals –- who ultimately “won” the prize, which seemed to be a few awkward kisses from Evan and half a million dollars. (Most of the girls, hysterically, compared Evan to Gaston -– possibly not recalling that Gaston was Beauty and the Beast's villain, not hero.) Despite all the claims that Evan was there to find his true love, Fox didn’t even pretend that there was an actual connection between Evan and Zora. They even pimped dates with Evan out to their local affiliates before the show ended.

At least "Joe Millionaire" had a tongue-in-cheek quality to it. Fox’s next attempt was supposed to be their most daring: "Married by America." Instead, it was a ratings-tanking, rule-changing, misnomered nightmare. No one got married. America played no role. A better name would have been "Prostituted by America," or "Prostituted by Fox Executives." The entire ill-planned series changed rules so many times, it seemed like monkeys were cutting and pasting different concepts from other reality shows: “Let’s have people call in their preferences, like on 'American Idol!' It works for 'Survivor,' so let’s vote couples off! Oh, remember 'Temptation Island?' Let’s give them strippers!”

Fox’s latest debacle is doing slightly better in the ratings. It looks like Blue Man Group meets Eyes Wide Shut, and plays like "The Bachelorette" meets "Boys Gone Wild." And, it’s hosted by Monica Lewinsky. Who calls the men wimps. The less said about this show, the better, but I’m sure that it will have the same results as all the reality marriage shows to date: no weddings.

Why do the shows continue to get it wrong? Possibly because they focus on perhaps the easiest part of a relationship: chemistry. The shows are established as if the most difficult part of having a good marriage is finding someone with whom you share a spark. The miserable couples on "Married by America" complained about the lack of chemistry, entirely missing the point of an arranged marriage to begin with. And they were sent home. Ultimately, the two couples on that show who made it to the altar were the ones who had no problem having sex within days of meeting each other. (Fortunately or unfortunately, neither couple actually got married. This made marriage counselors everywhere breathe a sigh of relief, I’m sure, but destroyed the entire point of the show.)

Likewise, Bachelor II Aaron Buerge, when asked about his failed relationship with the "winner" of the show, could only lament about losing a girl so beautiful. Apparently, Buerge focused on the chemistry, mistaking physical attraction for love, and once he realized he had to actually work at a relationship with the woman he selected to be his wife –- a courtship which included making out in a hot tub with a 22-year blonde days before he proposed, because that is what the process of the show demanded –- he dumped her.

Here’s some news for Buerge and the rest of the starry-eyed dreamers who hope to find their lifelong partner on a reality television show: relationships take work. A marriage may be founded on chemistry and spark, but to last, it must contain communication, trust, honesty, compromise, and commitment.

But since none of these things translate into ratings gold, I’m guessing we’ll be stuck with slews of beautiful restaurateurs and aspiring E! correspondents marching across our television screens, claiming they’ll do anything for true love – as long as “anything” includes looking good in a bathing suit or evening wear, being able to hold a conversation for five minutes, and put aside reality, instead choosing to believe that the process is the one true way to finding the man or woman of one’s dreams…or at least, fifteen minutes of fame.

As the latest season grinds to a halt, I've garnered this dirty little secret from reality television: it's great to be single. Particularly when the alternative is a lifetime with Joe Millionaire or Ms. Personality.


Originally from Boston, Michelle is a writer, editor, instructor, obsessive sports fan, loud talker, quick laugher, new mom, and chances are, she watches more television than you do. Follow her on Twitter at michellevoneuw

more about michelle von euw


the seven year itch
why can't tv do right by marriage?
by michelle von euw
topic: television
published: 10.10.08

i want my wb
classic tv network lives again
by michelle von euw
topic: television
published: 5.9.08


matt morin
5.7.03 @ 1:19a

"...the easiest part of a relationship: chemistry." Spoken like someone who's already had the luck to find someone.

jack bradley
5.7.03 @ 3:50a

"Firestone wine. Can you get that at Olive Garden?"

Gold, baby. Love it.


brian anderson
5.7.03 @ 8:20a

"Who knew marriage could be such a hot commodity?"

Jane Austen?


jael mchenry
5.7.03 @ 8:52a

Brian: so right, and love your bio. The people who did "Manor House" are doing "Regency House," where everyone will be playing by those rules -- sounds like you might be interested.

Jack: you rock, I have nothing further to say.

Matt: even with your polar approach to dating, I think this bears out. Either you have the chemistry or you don't. The silly thing is when people think that just chemistry is enough. I could find 10 men I'm attracted to on the sidewalk outside. That wouldn't get me anywhere.

brian anderson
5.7.03 @ 9:13a

I could find 10 men I'm attracted to on the sidewalk outside.

True enough, but will it go the other way, as well? Are we defining chemistry as a one-sided or two-sided phenomenon?

erik myers
5.7.03 @ 9:37a

Matt, you're such a whiner.

I think that chemistry is a two-sided phenomenon. It has to work for both people, otherwise it's a crush, or an infatuation, or a (pick a term of your choosing). The problem, I think, is that far too often (and exhibited WELL on these TV shows) people mistake physical attraction for chemistry.

"She makes me hard, it must be love!"

It seems like a teenage concept, but I think many people mistake lust for love.

jael mchenry
5.7.03 @ 10:01a

True enough, but will it go the other way, as well? Are we defining chemistry as a one-sided or two-sided phenomenon? Two, definitely. And I mean that being attracted to someone, and having them be attracted to you, is easier than having a relationship. I don't mean it's something to be completely taken for granted. But it's relatively easy, when you compare it to sharing your life with someone, and working through your differences, and hunkering down when the going gets tough.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: the Mr. Personality show is still all about physicality. She kisses the guys, and rubs up against them in the dark, and even with masks you can obviously tell someone's weight, height, and race. It's no coincidence she kicked the bald guy off last week.

michelle von euw
5.7.03 @ 10:07a

Matt, I'm not saying that chemistry is easy to find. I'm just saying that compared to what comes later, that spark or connection or whatever is the simple part. Yeah, I'm lucky I met Joe*, but the reason we're still together has almost nothing to do with that instant attraction, and everything to do with the much more mundane and difficult work that goes into a relationship.

sarah ficke
5.7.03 @ 10:25a

The people who did "Manor House" are doing "Regency House," where everyone will be playing by those rules -- sounds like you might be interested.

Wow, that looks cool! I wonder if the participants get as catty as the ones on the modern reality shows.

jael mchenry
5.7.03 @ 11:42a

It'll be much harder to express their cattiness, which most reality show contestants aren't clever enough to do. I bet they pick a totally different type of contestant for that one.

matt morin
5.7.03 @ 12:17p

Well, the dating game stuff has been played out. Every network that caters to 20somethings has at least one - Dismissed, Blind Date, Third Wheel, Elimidate, Meet the Parents, etc.

The only place left to go was to marriage shows.

Although I'm waiting for the celibacy show - where they take two early 20's guys and put them in situations where they lose if they hook up.

erik myers
5.7.03 @ 12:25p

That'd actually be damn funny.

michelle von euw
5.7.03 @ 12:28p

celibacy shows! I love it!

Shack, one of the TWOP recappers, had this idea to have a show called "Divorced by America." He described it as getting a bunch of couples who fight all the time and are miserable, and have America vote which one should split.


trey askew
5.7.03 @ 1:20p

Wouldn't that just be an episode of Jerry Springer Michelle?

steven goldman
5.7.03 @ 1:33p

the whole trick to celibacy shows would be to offer a cash reward to the women who seduce the guys (or vice versa)...unless of course, they find the people to be seduced on Blind Date, who tend to be bores (so the seduction efforts would be wasted).

russ carr
5.7.03 @ 1:45p

Actually, wasn't "Temptation Island" a celibacy show?

matt morin
5.7.03 @ 1:48p

Kind of. Except the motivation for not sleeping with someone was the fact that you already had a boyfriend/girlfriend.

I'm talking about using college age guys who have nothing to lose.

Do you want $50,000, or to sleep with this Playboy Bunny?

jael mchenry
5.7.03 @ 1:50p

Hm, interesting. Sex could be just one of the things on the list: do you want $50K, sex with the Bunny, or what's behind Door #3?

brian anderson
5.7.03 @ 1:55p

Only if you take Door # 3 and don't get anything, you win.

russ carr
5.7.03 @ 1:56p

$50k buys a lot of hooker.

matt morin
5.7.03 @ 2:27p

You could call the show "Mr. Masturbation" or "Sleeping Alone."

jael mchenry
5.7.03 @ 2:57p

Or "Resistance is Futile."

robert melos
5.7.03 @ 10:21p

You could call the show "Mr. Masturbation" or "Sleeping Alone."

Matt, aren't those the nicknames your friends call you?

"Who knew marriage could be such a hot commodity?"

Liz Taylor, Zas Zas Gabor.

Although I'm waiting for the celibacy show - where they take two early 20's guys and put them in situations where they lose if they hook up.

Call it "A Date With Britney Spears."

BTW michelle, a great take on the whole dating game television style. Very cool.


tracey kelley
5.9.03 @ 2:42a

The initial chemistry between 2 people harkens back to the primal mating instinct. Since we claim to be an advanced species, we actually like to keep our mates around a little longer. So, as Michelle says, it's the work that makes it.

I also don't believe that just because you're in the candy store, you'll like everything so much that you'd eat it all the time. Hence the complete absurdity of these shows and the possibility of findng "true" love through one of them.

heather millen
5.11.03 @ 5:55p

I love the idea of the Celibacy Show. From the men I know, there'd be a lot of contestants going home empty handed.

Oh, how America loves to watch a trainwreck!

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