Okay, this is long. I tried to hit the highlights, but there was a lot of material to cover.
“Hey ladies,” a stereotypical ‘California boy’ calls to a friend and I last Friday as we walk to happy hour at Palomino in Westwood. Immediately I run through a mental checklist of the things he might be selling that I don’t need (discounted spa days, discounted trips to Mexico, mufflers knitted by orphan amputees.. .). As it turns out he’s not hustling for our cash, but is “discovering” us! He wants to recruit us for the reality speed dating show Next
on MTV. I’ve never seen this show, but he assures us that there are no “thought bubbles.” Already heady with the merriment sure to ensue at happy hour (as well as the flattery of being mistaken for someone who watches MTV), I tentatively agree to audition for the show.
All weekend I’m unsure about whether I’ll do it. Do I really want to look at a jackass on television? On the other hand, I haven’t spend much time inside a television studio. . . Alas, as my life is a practice in obscurity and humiliation, Wednesday afternoon finds me outside the MTV studios in Santa Monica, waiting on overpriced outdoor furniture I noticed in last month’s Design Within Reach catalogue when I “practice shopped” a la 3rd grade at my grandma’s house with the Sears-Roebuck catalogue.
After checking in with security, I chill on the lime green plastic couch, salivating with thoughts of selling out on all the ideals I preach in the Psych of Gender class I’m TAing to join up as part of the problem. The kids who work at MTV are way too cool for school. Not only are they sporting awesome clothes, they have electronic entry name badges around their necks. My envy only worsens when I hear two of the cool kids talking shop. “There’s gotta be some blog where people write in about their exes,” says the cool guy to the cool girl. She’s writing on her cool kids’ notepad ™ and I chime in, “Yeah, there’s Breakupnews.com.” The cool girl and cool guy look over at me; I give them the web address. All this time I’ve been under the impression that most of my time spent online is wasted
time, but really I’m conducting important field research in other circles. I should’ve asked to touch one of their name badges as a finder’s fee.
I contemplate the airbrushed designs on the finger and toe nails of the woman waiting beside me, some more MTV folk arrive and we’re cleared to fill out the recruitment inventory and background check releases. This isn’t eHarmony, folks. Just a taste of the challenging and provocative questions MTV throws at its applicants:
What is your biggest physical turn on (nice teeth, good body, etc.)?
What is your biggest physical turn off (ugly feet, big nose, etc)?I feel like MTV is getting down to the things I really care about.
Why are you single?Because I’m not currently dating anyone.
Do you usually do the usually (circle one):
Do the dumping Get dumpedUm, hello, MTV how could you be missing out on the ‘passive breakup?’ It’s not about “dumping” people anymore, it’s about being sufficiently disinterested that the other person is forced to end things with you first. Duh.
Have you ever been involved in a love triangle or been the third party to come between another couple? Please describe how you broke them up.
An essay asks you to describe what you offer that other contestants don’t. I use short sentences, beginning with: I recycle, vote, and email my congresspeople.
I look over at my neighbor’s application (the one with the airbrushed nails - the fingernails are black with flowered designs and the toenails are construction zone orange with flowered designs) and see a loopy scrawl that begins, I’m a real down-to-earth girl. . .
Returning my forms to the table, I see the recruiter that approached my friend and me last week. Here’s the deal, I don’t care how terrific your togs are, or that you’re taking the red-eye to New York to scout locations for your friend’s indie film, I absolutely loathe your smarmy, fake familiarity. Highly concentrated smarm.
At one point my recruiter attempts to chat me up while giving me advice about the audition. I express my skepticism of the producers’ benevolence toward singletons as contrasted with their desire for an exciting show by making someone the scapejerk. “Don’t go in there and be all shy,” he says, “Just be yourself.” I didn’t mention that I’m not so much shy as I am judgmental.
Someone takes my picture. I was a little concerned because my regular smile was feeling off and I have a two day old haircut that hasn’t quite gotten its sea legs yet. Soon after, I find myself annoyed at the recruiter’s display of yet even more repulsive fake charm when he comments on my polaroids. When I sneak a glance, however, I find them quite cute and wish I could keep them for myself.
Four of us are briefed about what we’ll say on camera for the casting director. Wrapping up her schpiel about how we’re to describe the type of men we’re interested in, the woman says, verbatim, “We want to know about personality, but we mostly care about looks – and be very specific. I think that’s it, we’ll bring you all back in soon. .. Oh, and one more thing, if you want to be considered for a beach date, you’ll also need to show us your abs on camera.”
The casting director arrives and the four of us line up on red Xes marked on the floor. A little about my fellow auditionees, so you know what I’m up against. In regard to clothing, let me just say synthetic, small, and see-through. Also having just (albeit begrudgingly) paid upwards of $100 for a cut and color, standing among these women, I’m evermore resolute on my stance regarding quality dye jobs. All three are wearing quite a bit of make-up, two seem to be schooled in the orange foundation tradition. As soon as the cameralight blinks green the woman farthest away from me tosses her dismally dyed hair, lifts her chin, and cocks one of her tightly-jeaned hips to the side– she stays this way throughout the entire audition. The woman next to her also engages in some serious hair flipping and head shaking throughout.
The where-you’re-from, what-you-do portions of the audition aren’t especially memorable. All three women hail from distant suburbs of Los Angeles and work in the food service industry. One is currently “headhostess” for a restaurant chain, but notes her impending move to a different, nondescript suburb where she’ll be a server. The next is a server for The Macaroni Grill, but is soon relocating to Las Vegas– she demonstrates her best cocktail waitress pose. The third works for her dad, but is training to become a masseuse. She uses her best sultry voice to make it clear that she enjoys giving massages. On my turn I say that I’m a PhD student in Psychology at UCLA. When asked what I like to do for fun I mention being outdoors, running, hiking, and that I volunteer during the KCRW pledge drives. “Woah,” says the casting director, looking up from my questionnaire, “You’re like a good person. You help people.” Go figure.
Next we’re supposed to describe what kind of guys we like. The first woman refreshes her pose with a flip of her hair and says she digs Italian men. The next likes men with darker skin. “So does that include Black men? Or dark White men and light Black men?” asks the African American casting director. Apparently, not unlike Burger King, you can
have it your way at MTV. The woman specifies that she means olive skin– her skin tone or just darker. I’m guessing this calibrates into 3 – 5 tanning bed sessions a week. She continues, “I like guys with spiky hair and lots of piercings and tattoos.” The casting director has some clarification questions as to the specific genre of spiky hair guys, but is obviously clear on the tattoos and piercings. The third woman, next to me, takes the ‘badboy’ fetish one step further when she says that she likes guys that “are a little rough, that look they just got out of County.” We all laugh and the casting director jokes about him still wearing the jumpsuit. This exchange goes from clever to priceless, however, when this woman and I walk toward our cars after the audition and I say, “Yeah, I felt bad when we had to say what kind of guy we liked.” She concurs, “I know, when that girl said she liked guys with piercings and tattoos, I was thinking, ‘Hey, that’s my guy.’ I don’t know. . . Three of my ex-boyfriends have been in County, but they have their side that they show me. . . ”
Back at the “build your own man” portion of the audition, I mention that I wouldn’t want to date someone super fastidious about their own grooming. I’m a low maintenance person and don’t want to feel pressured by a guy to spend more time getting dressed. As soon as these words leave my mouth, a chorus of sad “aahs” erupts from the three women to my right. Yes, three people who either attend, or aspire-to-maybe-one-day-if-they-get-around-to-it attend, junior college with bad dye jobs and too small tops from TJ Maxx are moaning in pity for me.
Wrapping up, the casting director asks us to describe the date we’d go on if we had MTV’s Visa for the day. The first woman begins, hip still jut out, “Well, he’d pick me up in a really nice, new car and greet me with that big, warm smile. . . ”
“—Wait,” interrupts the casting director, “you’re
on a date.”
Hip girl looks like the casting director has sprouted a second head and stumbles through the rest of her ideal date. Essentially, I hear 3 variations on the theme of “hitting the clubs, checking out his moves, maybe get some drinks (with their 20 year old CA driver’s licenses?), and seeing how things go
<wink, wink>.” Newsflash: no one wants to see unclassy birds make out with unclassy blokes on television.
I also want to be clear on exactly how foreign the idea of being responsible for a date was to these women. They didn’t know what to do with it. In fact, the third one began her ideal date with, “Well, he’d pick me up – I mean even though I’m taking him on the date and all, he’d still come to my house.” On my turn I say that I like to do something I’ve never done before on blind dates, so in case the date goes south, at least I’ve had a new experience. I suggest watching the horse races at Hollywood Park, taking in some tasty sushi at Nobu in Malibu, and going to a dive bar where people (other people) sing karaoke. For just a moment I notice a tiny glimmer behind the eyes of the staff people, as if I had reminded them of that other world they once knew, long ago, before they got into the business of convincing people that the world that these other three girls live in is real.
So there you have it – my day at MTV.
Am I going to get a call from MTV? I have no idea.
Do I think all dating shows make people look like jackasses? Yes.
Am I willing to be a jackass on TV to eat at Nobu on MTV’s tab? Most certainly.