I love television, which is why I rarely watch it. At its best, it’s engaging and thoughtful. At its worst, it’s a train wreck. Such was the case when I opted not to read The Road on the plane ride home from New York this week, and opted instead for the Jersey Shore marathon on Virgin Air. I almost felt my brains melting as I watched the spray-tanned, muscle-bound, self-proclaimed Guidos alternately preening at, fighting, and hooking up with everyone in sight.
Collectively, we watch these shows not simply to be entertained, but to feel superior. It’s with this preamble that I share with you that I was glued to the TV last night when watching the new season of The Bachelor, followed by a new show, entitled – seriously – Conveyor Belt of Love.
Since I’m a dating coach, I’m always trying to find the “lesson” in reality TV. There’s nothing to learn in merely laughing at the people on these shows. The true value is to find a takeaway, because, make no mistake about it… the people on these shows are not all that different than you or me.
Let’s start with The Bachelor, where the nicest, cutest, squarest pilot found himself surrounded by 25 beautiful women who have pretty much agreed to marry him before meeting him. This makes for excellent television because it functions more as a competition than a real-life organic courtship. And because of the competitive nature of the show, women feel they have to make a strong first impression.
…every woman who tried too hard to make a strong first impression came off somewhere between “mildly kooky” and “batshit insane.”
What’s clear, from my perspective, anyway, is that every woman who tried too hard to make a strong first impression came off somewhere between “mildly kooky” and “batshit insane.” Giving him wood carvings of airplanes, handing him poems, talking about a future together during their first conversation…all made me more uncomfortable than your average Office episode. These women were THROWING themselves at The Bachelor, and it was not a pretty sight at all. Objectively, the women who resorted to various “gimmicks” to get The Bachelor’s attention lacked dignity, which is something I’m sure they figured out when watching themselves on TV. The fact that a few of these gimmicks actually WORKED does not excuse them. Chasing a man, openly pushing for marriage and commitment, making him know that he’s already won without earning it – all are terrible dating practices that should be left on reality TV only. There were three women who offered something positive.
One was the woman who tripped and fell into the Bachelor upon meeting him. It was like a movie – quirky, embarrassing, and completely unscripted. This allowed her to be real, instead of performing some aeronautical themed tapdance. The next woman who had some integrity was the model who said that she wasn’t sure if she wanted to marry the Bachelor. Compared to the other women, it made her sound cold and calculating, but it was the only honest response I heard all night. “Yes, I’d like to get to know this man before I declare my unconditional love for him.” Who could argue with that? Finally, there was a woman who threw herself at The Bachelor in order to get a response…and upon doing so, realized that now she has to retreat back into making him chase after her. Everything else was a train-wreck free for all, with desperation writ large across the foreheads of the beautiful contestants.
Conveyor Belt of Love followed The Bachelor, and, as much as I wanted to turn off the TV to practice my guitar, I had to see what it was all about. Strangely, my wife and I found ourselves hooked. Men roll by on a conveyor belt, where 5 women dissect them in 60 seconds and declare whether they’re interested or not. This continues for 35 men until each of the 5 women end up with one guy to date. Then, the cameras follow them onto the dates, where it either works or it doesn’t work.
What I found equally compelling was witnessing what the women on the show were looking for.
The concept of the show is very much like – you guessed it – online dating…where dozens of men are competing for the attention of 5 attractive (but potentially loony) women. So we watch guys take up their 60 seconds on stage by doing a rap, or a dance, or a banjo solo, or telling a joke, or wearing a costume or saying a canned line… and we cringe, because THIS is the dating pool. Not the adorable, God-fearing, character over chemistry Bachelor. But freaks who have no idea why they’re single and will never learn. So yeah, if you want to get a sense of what online dating’s all about, check out this show.
What I found equally compelling was witnessing what the women on the show were looking for. There was the over-the-top Asian woman who hated everyone and everything, except for the guy who came out in a Speedo. There was the stunning Hispanic woman who seemed to have it all together, but kept trading up for hotter and hotter guys. There was the put-together family values woman who said all the right things about intelligence and character, but wanted to get married so badly that she’d scare any guy off. There was the busty nerd magnet who seemed to put a man’s interest in comic books above all else. There was the cheesy and ditzy blonde, who defied all expectations and chose the Chris Farley look alike.
(I know, you had to be there)
Each of these women represented an archetype – and within one hour, all of their blind spots became apparent. The Asian woman was driven by lust and chose a joke of a man because he was “hot”. The Hispanic woman ended up with a guy who was an explorer and looked like a cologne ad model, but he couldn’t string together a sentence or have an original thought. The family values woman said the word marriage about six times on her date, and was judgmental when her date said something she didn’t like. The nerd magnet went for a cute singer-songwriter because he was interested in Watchmen, but will quickly realize that he’s just a 23-year-old kid with big dreams. Surprisingly, it was the blonde who went against the grain who proved to be the most relationship savvy.
And a funny guy with character is more important than a cute guy with a guitar.
When the fat guy offered to step aside for a man “who had more in common” with the blonde, she refused. When the fat guy asked on the date “why she chose him”, you could see his insecurities bubbling up. Most women a) wouldn’t have chosen him and b) would have judged him for wearing his heart on his sleeve. But not the blonde. She told him that he made her laugh and proved, by offering to step aside, that he was willing to put her needs first. And a funny guy with character is more important than a cute guy with a guitar. Amen.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a typical reality TV train wreck, with people you can laugh at, just like American Idol tryouts. But viewed through the right lens, you can easily discern which of the guys have the right idea how to impress a woman, and which of the women have the right attitude about what’s important to look for in a man. In their failings, you could probably learn something yourself.