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Splendor In The Crass

Finding soulmates on a TV show

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I cringe at the sight of stupid human tricks: boob and ass flashes at Mardi Gras; jackass stunts; wet T-shirt contests.

But nothing stirs my inner television critic more than the melodrama of reality dating shows, especially the breed that has become pervasive in the past two years: Warner Brothers' elimiDATE, Universal Worldwide Television's Blind Date, MTV's DisMissed, Sony Pictures Television's Shipmates and FOX's Temptation Island.

Each new dating game is a near-copycat version of its predecessor, from Dating Game to Warner Brothers' Change of Heart, which specializes in this sort of dialogue: "But honey, I didn't mean to kiss her, I just leaned in and it just sorta happened."

The stupidity that saturates each show ensures its longevity in the television universe. We may never comprehend why a woman would shove her blind date's face into her crotch (Blind Date). Or why a woman would pledge undying devotion to the boyfriend who has just been gyrating like a Chippendale dancer and sucking alcohol out of other women's navels (Temptation Island 2). Or why seemingly bright women would want to marry the fugly Rick Rockwell on FOX's Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire? But it happened.

Rockwell chose Darva Conger among 50 participants to wed at the conclusion of the two-hour show that aired February 15, 2000 in Las Vegas. The glitz died quickly and the marriage was annulled when it was discovered that Rockwell had threatened to kill an ex-girlfriend who obtained a restraining order against him. Oops.

The dramedy, however, opened the door for more tasteless, vacuous dating shows, with the most extreme example being ABC's newest reality dating show, The Bachelor. In the course of six weeks, 25 women compete to win a marriage proposal from 31-year-old management consultant Alex Michel. It's the kind of show in which everything from what the women wear/say/do to crush their competition and collar their man-whore makes me want to egg my television. But I can't stop watching, no matter how much I want to yank these Tiffany bracelet-wearing women by the wrists and says, "You dummy! Can't you see he's shopliftin' the pootie?"

Apparently viewers can't stop watching either; eight million tuned into the premiere episode March 25, solidifying it as ABC's breakout hit.

Eight million of us are privy to the bachelorettes' most humiliating moments. When they feel stupid, anxious, too cocky, have a cowlick, have bad skin, are too geeky, too fast, too slow, have big boobs, have no boobs, have big hair or no hair -- we are witness and company to their misery. The horror of putting up with a woman who can't shut up about how she's into Freud or the guy who can't stop insulting his date ("So are those real or store-bought?") is our collective dating horror. We've all been there. And why venture into the world of actual dating when it's just a remote control click away? Their pain is our safe, voyeuristic, virutal pleasure.

Dirty Laundry Dirty laundry makes good television. So it's no surprise that The Bachelor is going to pull the kind of audience that tuned in to Multimillionaire. (Mike Fleiss, Madam Heidi's cousin, created the show and produced Multimillionaire.)

Here's the play: Bachelor Alex Michel will go on group dates to get to know the women in his harem and weed out the duds. As of episode two, the field has already been narrowed from 25 to eight, and eventually down to The One. Following the conclusion of the dates is an event called Invitation Night.

The women dress as if it's cocktail hour except there's no horny happy hours corps, just Alex in his gray financial district suit. During this time, he talks to some of the gals. Shannon, a brunette Texan looker who's been cheated on, gets his attention. She and Alex clicked during the Vegas excursion, and Shannon thinks she'll be picked. But the chat at the Ladies' Villa -- that's the name of the Malibu mansion where the women are talking smack about one another, exchanging Alex dating stories and sunning poolside -- reveals that Shannon isn't as special as she thought. It turns out -- duh Shannon -- Alex made all the girls feel special.

"I don't feel special," Shannon says, with Alex's suit jacket draped on her shoulders.

"You're special in my book," Alex says to her.

Pure cheese! And she's buying every word!

Back inside, it's cut time. I imagine this is what a sorority Bid Night is like. Pretty girls dressed up waiting for their name to be called. Eight long-stemmed roses rest on a table. How very Gamma Zeta Phi, no?

"You're all amazing people," Alex tells his harem. "You've also told me to follow my heart and that's what I'm going to do."

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