Can't Get a Date?? Sucks For You!
This week's AM New York column, on VH1's reality show Can't Get a Date ...
In lieu of writing ABOUT the article, I'm just pasting it below. Because I'm that lazy.
Can't Get a Date? Yes You Can!
May 22, 2006
Despite my embarrassing devotion to self-improvement and a fondness for makeovers that rivals Tyra Banks, I've always disliked dating-reformation shows.
The hosts tend to be irritating, obsequious and bland, while the so-called "relationship experts" seem more interested in looking good on camera, spewing one-size-fits-all clichés and touting their newest book (in bookstores now!).
In the end, the lost soul who moronically agreed to let television producers follow his or her abysmal dating life gets nothing more than a new haircut and some lame suggestions. Fantastic.
Um … no.
VH1’s new reality series, Can’t Get a Date, keeps the idea of transformation but chucks the annoying characters.
The host, kept anonymous during the show, is heard but not seen. Like the Voice of God, he guides the lovelorn subject exclusively from behind the camera. The ensuing dialogue is less Simon Cowell – pointlessly mean and utterly unhelpful – and more what your friends would say if they thought you could handle “the truth.”
That truth – along with an obligatory dose of hope – is what Can’t Get a Date is all about. In fact, the host begins the show by explaining that “the truth can be harsh, but dating doesn’t have to be.”
He then answers his own question, “Can’t get a date?” with a firm “Yes, you can.”
Like good makeover-cum-personal-growth TV, it’s all so comforting. The show taps into both our Obsession With Flaws and our need to be reassured that Flaws Can Be Fixed. Sure, you may be a train wreck – but if you let a reality show tell you how to clean up your act, you can find love, too!
Although the idea of helping “real people, with real trouble, needing real advice” (the self-described purpose of Can’t Get a Date) isn’t exactly an original one, the host’s blunt critiques make it refreshing.
That host, a former camera technician named Stefan Springman, also created and produced the show, his first. With an uncommonly melodious and authoritative voice, he counsels like a professional, but insists that he’s not a dating “expert” per se.
“I don’t believe there’s such a thing,” he told me. “I just try to tell it like it is.”
In one episode, he introduces Jim, a hapless poet who has remained dateless since moving to New York a year ago.
While poets are admittedly not #1 on the list of Most-Desired-Professions-for-a-Boyfriend, Springman insists that “Jim’s real problems have nothing to do with poetry.” With that, he matter-of-factly details a laundry list of said “real problems”:
5. lacks ambition
6. naked exhibitionist
7. Hello Kitty bedroom sheets
8. nasty toe fungus
“It’s enough to keep even a nice guy like Jim alone forever,” he concludes.
How’s that for unvarnished honesty?
“People make excuses for themselves,” Springman explained. “I shine a light on the truth.”
Indeed. Over the course of the show, he addresses each problem with a curt evaluation followed by a solution.
He deep-sixes Jim’s online self-portrait nudes, saying, “The naked photos are not helping you get a date,” and adding sternly for good measure, “Jim, your privacy borders are not well-defined.”
He cleans up Jim’s disaster of a bedroom, chiding him for the Hello Kitty bedspread and rank odor. “Jim, those are inappropriate sheets for a grown man. And it smells rancid in here.”
He takes him to a podiatrist. “Jim, what is wrong with your toes?” (FYI, they really ARE nasty.) He instructs Jim to delete the online list of girls he likes, dubbed his ‘Crush List’: “The crush list makes you look desperate. Detonate the crush list.”
He advises Jim to “leave a little mystery. You don’t want to just vomit your entire personality upfront.” And finally, he tells Jim in no uncertain terms to lose weight.
“What kind of shape are you in?” he asks. Jim, who is as good-natured as he is riddled with superficial flaws, responds with one of the funniest lines I’ve ever heard on Reality TV.
“Bad shape. The wrong shape. Not even ‘shape.’ It’s like more like … ‘shap.’”
In the end, Jim actually follows Springman’s no-BS advice. He concludes the half-hour episode (shot over three months) having lost 30 pounds, redone his bedroom, dealt with the foot fungus, removed naked internet photos – and, yes, gotten a date.
Of course, with a little outside perspective, a bit of common sense, and a team of reality show producers, most people’s relationship problems are easy to ‘solve,’ at least superficially.
Still, Jim seemed genuinely, gleefully, transformed. Sometimes all it takes is someone brazen enough to tell you the truth – and make you do something about it.
Perhaps Mr. Springman is a more of a dating expert than he realizes.
JULIA ALWAYS ENCOURAGES HONESTY – EXCEPT IF SHE’S ASKING WHETHER THOSE PANTS MAKE HER LOOK FAT. EMAIL JULIA@JULIAALLISON.COM