Friday, November 2, 2018

Into the Truth Booth: MTV's 'Are You The One?' and me

If your perfect match was standing right in front of you, would you even know?

I have to admit a certain fondness for the MTV "dating" show Are You The One, whose finale is currently sitting on my DVR, waiting for a night when I can stand to get good and upset at my tv.

The show places 22 hot singles in your area in a house in a tropical setting and tells them one of the members of the opposite sex present* is their "Perfect Match" - that one special person they can spend the rest of their lives with, as ordained by apparently infallible matchmakers at MTV.

*(I have yet to see a reality dating show embrace a spectrum of genders - if you hear about one let me know)

I'm skeptical, for a number of reasons. The people they get for this show range from hot and dumb, to hot and catty, to hot and vapid, to hot and naive. Few if any of the contestants seem to have much "there" there so it's hard to determine, as a viewer, what distinguishes one potential match from another. There's puzzles, and then there's a jigsaw puzzle with all the pieces flipped over.

Contestants determine the identity of their perfect match by mingling, going on outings granted by the show's benevolent host Terrence J, hosting weekly paint orgies, becoming immediately attached to whomever crosses their path, then fucking around on that person and/or getting almost irrationally jealous when that person fucks around, in a setting where everyone is constantly grinding and making out. There are also the Beam Ceremony and the Truth Booth, which provide the only hints in this game of Human Mastermind.

It's frustrating to watch, because as I've said these young studs and studettes have so little going on that comprehending why two of them might be better for each other than others seems arbitrary or incomprehensible. It's also frustrating to watch people form intense attachments only to be torn apart, either by the capriciousness of their own human nature, or by the omnipotent overseers, as represented the Beams and the Booth. Extremely early on this season, one girl Bria seemed to be on the verge of a violent nervous breakdown when her would-be match Zak (whom she had known about a week or so) kissed, looked at, or breathed the same air as another woman. All too often, when the almighty Truth Booth reveals a passionate couple is not a match, the two participants decline to separate and get to know one of the other 10 potential matches, thus jeopardizing the group prize of 1 million dollars. It's all very combustible, which is of course why it's such exquisite bad TV.

Despite my continuous frustration, I can't stop watching. There is a sickness in me that absolutely feeds on being able to say out loud to my girlfriend, how terrible these people are and how none of them deserve love, (except Moe, who deserves the best) and to have her agree. We bond over our shared revulsion at reality show participants. It's our fave thing. There's agross smugness inside us, we two who have found a lasting love together, knowing better than these people, or the powers that be at work writing their fates with matchmaking algorithms.

I'm sure they are all fine people, earnestly trying to find love, despite the heavy scorn I heap on them here in this unread blog and in the comfort of my home. But the MTV Reality Show Format enables everyone, for at least a few moments, to come off like a real asshole, except for Moe, who is perfect.

Toward the end of the game, you will usually find the remaining participants (for those who find their match are whisked away to a Honeymoon suite elsewhere on the island) scrambling to remember who sat with whom which week when they reached X-number of beams, to try to use process of elimination to win the game. Shockingly, this has usually worked, and more seasons have won than not - successful in winning money if not love. Me, I decided to build an Excel grid to keep track of the results week after week so I could make an informed prediction, which I have locked away until after I have watched the show. It reminds me of problem-solving activities we used to do in Grade school. "Tim sits on Jessica's right, Moesha sits three seats over from Brian..."

This is actually why I am frustrated - The idea is they mingle and pair up, looking in their hearts and into the hearts of others to find true love. But this season's contestants stagnated to far too great a degree, constantly sitting with the same people at Beam ceremonies only to repeatedly get four out of 11 beams, thus giving me, the analytically-minded viewer, far too little data to go on. I swear I'm only in it for the algebra. But based on that, these dumdums don't deserve a million dollars or love.

You thought I was kidding... I was very much not.

Mel would also like me to register, I'm sure, her disappointment that they did away with games and competitions ("the best part!") in favour of a potentially rigged "fate button" to see who goes on a group date and is thus eligible for the Truth Booth. Which is another point where the players screw themselves over, often being handed clear indications of who they are meant to be with and ignoring it in favour of whomever else seems interesting.

All this to say, I will never forgive Brett for not going into the Truth Booth with Nutsa sooner and basically wrecking it for everybody.

I mentioned I am skeptical. The rate of victory is alarmingly high, especially among contestants who seriously didn't seem close to winning at the 11th hour. The tidiness of these victories makes me think this is all, in pro wrestling terms, a "work" (fake, for show, like most reality tv,) but that doesn't negate the watchability of this trainwreck. I'm also skeptical of the matchmakers themselves. The contestants often feel so interchangeable that it's hard to believe the matchmakers could distinguish enough to create informed pairings - after all, you're relying on a 20-something's ability to understand themselves, and others, and recognize what they might need in the long term. Zak, the drama addict, immediately gravitates toward the most high-strung person in the house, then draws others into his web just to stir the pot. Part of the entertainment factor is in watching these people diagnose their relationship problems, and then pretty much just lean into them.

If there were anything inherently perfect about these Perfect Matches, we probably wouldn't have all these reunion shows where none of the couples stay together and they end up just fucking whomever they were already fucking (or in some cases, someone else.) Things would truly work out. But its hard to believe anything more than a basically superficial relationship could result from this exercise. I can't realistically imagine any of these couples making it to their 30's, where they're the ones sitting down with a hastily thrown together chicken dinner, eating in front of the TV and heckling the next crop of reality freakshows before going to bed at a reasonable hour. Instead it says something about the role of circumstance, of love at first sight, of imprinting, or of wanting what's really not good for us. I do believe there are perfect matches for people, but rarely when you're a half formed 23-year-old on the club scene when there's 11 equally attractive potentials to somehow distinguish between or when it's all for the purpose of entertaining idiots like me.

I'll keep watching, of course. I say I'm skeptical, or frustrated, but I'm not really because that's what I've bought into and I'm glad to do so. I couch it in this language because I want to seem above it. But why be embarrassed that, in my free time, I enjoy this overly complex high-concept dating show that is really just an excuse to depict, for ten weeks or so, hot people doing dumb things to hurt each other? I work hard, and I've settled down. I deserve that much, right?

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