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I have to confess a grim fascination with Blind Date. It is simply a syndicated monument to strange behavior. The show finds ambitious men and women that will do literally anything to get attention, and then puts those singles on a date together just to see what will happen.

It’s usually on late at night, when viewers are too groggy to bother slapping the remote. The show always features two couples and introduces them with quick sound bites and a few little factoids. The women and men who enter these “dates”—two- or three-stage outings funded by those who make the show—are nearly always TV friendly. They’re physically attractive, personally outrageous in some way and as often as not, polar opposites of each other. Then, once the stage is set, our couples go off on a first date with each other. With a camera crew.

I don’t watch often, but last time I did, the first couple featured a woman named Gloria, who was about 23 or so, Asian, and a former beauty pageant winner. People that go on real blind dates are almost always beauty pageant types, aren’t they? Gloria’s opposite was a guy destined for loserville—25 or 26, bartender, white guy named Steve or some such, and seemed intent on saying every dumb thing possible.

Of the racial divide, Steve declared that he had “yellow fever,” which turned out to be his charming way of saying that he preferred women of Asian extraction. He actually expected Gloria to find his declaration flattering instead of insulting. Of her stated career desire to “help people,” he offered the helpful advice that she could start with him. But the most surprising moment came at the dinner table in some swank restaurant (no doubt chosen by the producers because it had offered up free meals for the TV time). Before eating a bite, Gloria insisted that she and Steve offer grace. He seemed stunned, as though she’d suddenly started speaking Chinese. No, on second thought he would have liked that too much. He acted like she’d sprouted a second head. Things went rapidly downhill from there.

Couple No. 2 featured another average duo—a pro football player and a former collegiate cheerleader. The football player was a tall sort named Jeff or something like that (I’m a little rough with the guys’ names, mostly because they’re all so similar), who reminded me of the monster character in Young Frankenstein. The cheerleader was a healthy blonde lass named Tiff, and Blind Date helpfully popped on a graphic describing her as “34 C—real!”

These two got along much better than Gloria and Steve. Where Steve had all the social skills of a baboon, Jeff simply didn’t need them. Turns out Tiff digs athletes, so all the galoot had to do was tell her what he did for a living and things moved swiftly from there. Tiff told Jeff all about her rather storied past, helpfully captured on tape by the camera crew; the couple ended up making out in a dark corner of another swank restaurant the producers had lined up for them. All in all, Tiff and Jeff found much mutual entertainment.

And that’s at least part of the problem with Blind Date and why I call it a grim fascination. You feel like you’re spying on people, and you need a shower once you’re done, but as trashy it is, it’s sometimes difficult to look away. You also keep asking yourself a couple of questions, hoping to make some sense out of watching otherwise normal people act so weird on a first date. Is Blind Date really in any sense a view of reality? Do most people really say and do such dumb things on first dates?

Thankfully, the answer to both is no. Let me explain. Hopefully you noticed a pattern to the participants that end up on Blind Date. Beauty queen, cheerleader—the women are chosen for Blind Date first and foremost because they provide eye candy, both for their “dates,” and more importantly for the audience. In turn, more often than not the people on Blind Date are an ambitious lot—they’re on the show not to get a date or a mate, but to get a job. They’re mass media wannabees, hoping to land a part in the next low-budget movie or, if they luck out, a TV show of some kind. So they act up by saying all sorts of outrageous things that most people either wouldn’t say at all because they aren’t true, or would at least wait to spring on, say, the second date.

The men have the same ambitions and are likely chosen for the same reasons. It’s a win-win for everyone involved—the producers get to make a successful show for next to nothing, while the blind daters get the exposure they crave. The big loser is the idea that dating is a search for a mate, and should be approached with some seriousness.

As for the show’s reality, think back to your last first date. How’d you feel? Chances are you were so nervous you could hardly think straight. You were on your best behavior, wore your best stuff and talked your best talk, or at least you tried to. You kept the weirder corners of your life to yourself, hoping not to scare off your date before the waiter could bring on the bread. Imagine going through that first date with a big TV camera in your face, operated by a least two burly guys. Imagine a light brighter than the sun in your face, nearly all the time. Imagine a big boom mic on a long black pole that never strayed more than a foot from your head (and probably smacked you or your date once or twice), and imagine that somewhere off to one side stood an intense guy with a cell phone permanently grafted on his face, who kept yelling into that phone in staccato bursts of profanity. How normal a first date would that be?

Blind Date, and its blind daters, is a fiction dressed up as reality to titillate viewers and make a little easy money for the producers. Normal people on blind dates just don’t act like they’re hamming it up for some director watching in a darkened room somewhere. At least I hope not.

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