Reality TV isn’t real.
A simple enough statement, yes, but I’m not sure everyone understands that. Thus, this tale is my personal experience with the medium.
Between 1999–2006, a syndicated reality show called Blind Date existed on American airwaves.
Technically, I’m pretty sure I signed a non-disclosure form that says I’m not allowed to discuss anything that happened during my appearance, so for the sake of this article, we’re going to play a little O.J. Simpson If I Did It.
(I’m nothing if not afraid of legal repercussions, no matter how slim the chance.)
(Oh, and if you don’t remember, If I Did It was the never-published book where O.J. wrote about the murders of Nicole and Ron Goodman from a hypothetical point of view. You know, what it might have been like, had he done it. *wink wink*)
So, since I cannot legally discuss anything regarding the show Blind Date, I’ll tell the tale of a dating show called “We Don’t Know One Another But Let’s Hang Out For A While Like We Would If We Were On A First Date.”
(You can see why that show didn’t catch on.)
It started at a bar in Los Angeles.
The place has since been torn down, but it was on Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles. Dane Cook performed there every Tuesday (I think) night, and I went to see him on his cusp of becoming huge. When his show was over, an attractive 20s-something woman approached me with a card.
“Would you like to be on TV?” she asked.
Keep in mind, I wasn’t special. She was handing these out to everyone; they were like fliers for 20% off your next dry-cleaning bill.
I took the card, went home, and dialed up the number the next day. Everything happened pretty quickly after that. They wanted me to come in as soon as I could; I think it was even that afternoon.
(The show was filming non-stop, so they needed new bodies on the production line constantly. It was a conveyor belt, or better yet, a slaughterhouse. I was just one of many head of cattle they wanted to eyeball.)
I drove to the production office and was put in a waiting room with ten to fifteen other young men.
We filled out our intake forms, and one by one got called into a back room. While waiting, I noticed that every guy before me was only gone for a moment. An assistant would come out, call a name, they’d disappear for a minute, and then the young man would leave.
When my name was called, I went to the room and discovered a cameraman, an interviewer, and a backdrop.
I stood in front of the camera, and the interviewer peppered me with questions. I don’t remember any of them, but I do remember the cameraman having to stifle his laughter during my answers.
At some point, I realized, “Hey… I’ve been back here ten, fifteen minutes…”
Since every other interviewee had been in and out the door quickly, I had the sense I was doing something right.
I was correct; they called me on my way home and asked if I’d be up for filming ASAP. I don’t remember exactly when, but it was either the next day or within a couple days.
(Remember: conveyor belt. Just keep banging these episodes out.)
There was just one problem: I had to get permission from my girlfriend.
Yeah, you read that right. I was in a relationship, and I didn’t want to screw things up. Fortunately, my better half trusted me, saying, “As long as there’s no kissing or hanky-panky, it’s cool.”
She trusted me, because I told her the truth: I only wanted to do it because it was stupid. If I could get on and make the “worst of” reel, it’d be funny.
(If you’re unaware, “We Don’t Know One Another But Let’s Hang Out For A While Like We Would If We Were On A First Date” was famous for airing dates gone wrong. Fights, drunken silliness, general nonsense… I wasn’t interested in finding a mate, I just wanted to be an idiot.)
Back to the matter at hand: on my intake form, I described the kind of woman I was interested in, and more importantly, the activities I would like to do on our date. I remember listing white water rafting and skydiving.
When it came time to film, I was given a location to meet the crew.
When I did the producers started right in: “We’re looking for a connection. Just get to know her. We want the two of you to hit it off…”
I was told “Cindy” was waiting for me on a beach, and that I’d approach her from behind and introduce myself. They’d get the first reaction from each of us captured for all the world to see.
Well, they didn’t tell me what not to say, so when I walked up to the awaiting stranger I said, “Hi, I’m Nathan. I have a film crew with me. Wanna hang out and let them watch?”
Rule number one: don’t acknowledge the cameras.
Oops, first meeting was ruined by me. Maybe tell me rule number one upfront? Whatevs.
Anyway, here’s where I have to be gently mean. I’m glad I ruined initial contact, because I’m sure my first reaction to Cindy wasn’t the best. Simply put, Cindy wasn’t my type. Numerous studies have explained that people decide whether or not they’re attracted to someone in less time than it takes to blink. We’re either interested, or we’re not, and I wasn’t.
And who knows, maybe she wasn’t attracted to me, either. I’m not all that, and I know it. Enough women have told me so for it to sink in.
Now, remember where I said skydiving or white-water rafting would be fun? It probably would have been. What the show decided we should do is to hop on two-wheel electric zip scooters and go back and forth on the sidewalk. I say, “back and forth,” because we had to stay in range of the cameras and wireless signal of our microphones. Instead of riding around, we had to limit ourselves to a specific area.
It was, in fact, the opposite of fun.
Following scooters, we were put in cheap kayaks and told to paddle around a lagoon a bit. Like with the scooters, we had to stay in range of the cameras and wireless reception. No adventurers we, just piddle-fart paddlers. Both events were much less interesting than, say, skydiving.
Following that, it was time to hop in the Not-Blind-Date Truck and drive around a bit. Ostensibly, we were driving to dinner, but since the restaurant was only a block or two away, we had to drive in circles to make it look like we were driving somewhere.
This is where the trouble really kicked in.
Since Cindy and I lacked what the kids call “chemistry,” the producers felt the need to “help” us along. Cindy and I sat in front; I drove. The producers sat in back and needled the shit out of me.
Pre-filming they’d said, “Just talk to her naturally. Get to know her.”
Well, when two people are trying to get to know one another, one topic of conversation is “favorites.” Favorite band, favorite movie, etc. We started down that path, but the producers kept interrupting us.
“You can’t talk about that,” they’d say.
“Why not?” I’d ask.
“Licensing,” they’d respond. “Copyright laws.”
While I may be as dumb as a potato(e), I’m not completely stupid.
Their point was: you can’t talk about Peter Gabriel, because we don’t hold the license to any of his songs. To which I countered, “No… I can talk about Peter Gabriel all I want. We can’t play the radio, because yeah, you can’t afford to buy his songs for the show, but I can discuss me liking him and his songs.”
They didn’t agree, and we got into a little tiff about it. Which was not smart on my part; never anger those who have editing power over how you’re presented.
After the drive, it was time for drinks, so we had to change out of beach clothes and into evening wear.
Because I’m an idiot, I forgot a belt, so I kept having to hike my pants up. Having the wireless pack for the microphone attached to them didn’t help any, either.
(Quick aside: I’d like to point out that even back then, I was smarter than Donald Trump…
Between takes—and yes, there were multiple takes of things—they would say, “Just act natural.” Then they’d counter it with, “We’d like to get you walking into the restaurant again.”
So as “real” as it was supposed to be, it was also very fake. Anyway, between takes, I would turn my microphone off. Whenever they’d call “Cut,” I’d reach down and flip the switch. Before “Grab ’em by the pussy” was even a thing, I knew I didn’t want them recording me non-stop. This also didn’t sit well with the producers, who told me to knock it off. I always turned the mic back on when it was time to film, but they were pissed they couldn’t get a candid moment on tape.)
(Oh, and one more aside: I wanted to get Cindy alone for a moment and apologize to her. Yes, I had initially gone in wanting to make the “worst of” reel, but Cindy was kind, and even though I wasn’t attracted to her, I didn’t want to hurt her feelings and/or start a fight with her just for the fun of the camera. I had been hoping to end up with someone on the same page as me. Sadly, that didn’t happen.)
Our time at the bar was a disaster.
By this point, the producers had been needling me for several hours, and I didn’t get what they were going for until it was too late.
Now, I’m fully responsible for my own temperament and actions, but I can also be the “victim” of questionable editing. All the badgering the producers did? Not on tape. Me finally losing my temper and going on a mini-rant about how I hated everyone and everything? Absolutely on tape. Again, I’m responsible for me, and I lost my cool. It is what it is, and I can’t fault them for wanting to get something dramatic on tape, because drama is inherently more interesting than two people talking.
(Plus, be careful what you wish for. I’d wanted to end up on the “worst of” reel, after all.)
After drinks, it was time for the confessional, our post-date thoughts. They put me in a production van and drove me 100 feet from the setup so they could film Cindy first.
The minutes ticked by slowly. Five. Ten. Fifteen. Twenty.
The production assistants started complaining.
“What’s taking so long?” they asked one another in exasperation. “This usually takes five minutes, tops.”
They started radioing base camp; can we come back yet?
Twenty-five minutes. Thirty.
Somewhere around forty-five minutes later, we were allowed to return. It was time for me to film my confessional, and that’s where I learned what took so long.
The producers didn’t want honest answers, they wanted very specific ones.
“Would you like to see her again?” they asked me.
“Maybe?” I waffled.
I didn’t want to, and I had a girlfriend… but I didn’t want to hurt Cindy’s feelings.
“OK, we’re gonna need you to show more enthusiasm for her…”
This went on forever, until once again I capitulated. Did I want to see her again? Of course! I was madly in love with her. She’s my soulmate. I’d marry her tomorrow if I could. Jesus, just let me go home…
When they finally got what they wanted, it was all over.
“We’ll let you know when it airs,” they promised.
Of the entire day, that’s the one lie I didn’t appreciate.
Sure, I get the treating people like disposable garbage in order to get what you want out of them. It’s TV, you do what you gotta do. But they never told me when the show aired, which is bullpoop.
“Not Blind Date” wasn’t on CBS every Friday at 8 PM, no. It was syndicated, meaning it aired at random times, on random channels.
Weeks (or months) after filming, I started hearing from friends, “Hey! I saw you on Not Blind Date!”
It would be years before someone finally threw a blurry copy on YouTube and I was able to have a laugh at the disaster.
(Since removed, by the way. Otherwise, I’d link it for your amusement.)
I never got my moment alone with Cindy, so on the van ride back to my car, I asked how to get in touch with her. I didn’t tell them I wanted to apologize for everything, but that’s what was on my mind.
“She liked you, dude,” the dickhead producer who’d needled me all day said between sentences where he bragged about having worked on The Osbournes. “You should absolutely call her. Call the production office tomorrow and they’ll give you her number.”
I did just that, and the person on the other line explained, “Cindy said she didn’t want you to have her number.”
On our episode, it shows Cindy proclaiming she never wants to speak to me again, and me as the lovestruck puppy who thinks he’s found his soulmate.
The joke was on me, and deservedly so.
Well, if you’re out there, Cindy: sorry. My, as they say, bad.
Anyway, the moral of the story is: reality TV isn’t real in the slightest.
Watch it for fun, but know that you’re seeing hyper-edited, non-realistic Hollywood fakery.
That was fact, but I also write fiction. Interested? Take a look at my latest book.