Night Crawler

The Dating Game

The Dating Game
Perhaps it's happened to you: Plagued by an early morning deadline, your mind evades rest, swirling and tumbling, folding in on itself like the sweaty bedclothes choking your feet. You read historical journals, hoping for the onset of catalepsy; you drink soothing tea and try to force yourself to think only dozy thoughts; you close your eyes and feign sleep, but the icy-blue digits of your bedside clock are impervious to your efforts, frozen forever at 12:28 a.m. Defeated, you trudge to the front of the house, where you find the living room door closed -- very odd, since you don't recall even having a living room door. Through the cracks around the door frame, flickering blue light, muffled laughter, and sweet-smelling smoke suggest an alternative to your night terrors. You open the door and your roommate looks up at you with happy, leisurely eyes.

"Whatcha doin'?" you ask.

"Mmmm, watching TV," says the roommate with a sheepish grin that implies a still guiltier pleasure. "It's called Blind Date."

Blind Date, a half-hour program that follows the hapless mating rituals of North American singles, has been in syndication since September and airs in the Bay Area on KBHK-TV Channel 44 Monday through Friday at 12:30 a.m. and on Sunday at 6 p.m. Among the show's slightly sadistic, pot-smoking fans it has been described as The Love Connection meets The Real World and Pop-Up Video, something of a palate cleanser for night owls who find The Jerry Springer Show too contrived. Two single people, presumably paired for compatibility, are brought together for a nine-hour date which is recorded by a film crew, distilled down to approximately six minutes, and commented upon by Blind Date's resident shrink Therapist Joe. There are moments of matchmaking bliss on Blind Date -- the wild and crazy cross-dressers who enjoy their first kiss in drag, the single parents who have been dating ever since their introduction, the hot-tubbing toe suckers -- but the odds of success are not much better than in life. With blind dates, awkward pauses, disastrous gaffes, and abject humiliation are almost par for the course; a full film crew and millions of viewers guarantees it.

On the weekend edition, Blind Date sets up return applicants whose previous dates went poorly. First date: The blond bombshell Elahna whose incessant squealing led her last blind date to compare her to a cartoon character, and Marcus, who was likened to a caveman for reasons other than his prominent neck tattoo. The potentially made-in-heaven match goes to Elahna's favorite restaurant, Chuck E. Cheese. Marcus gets drunk and rude. Elahna asks to be taken home. Marcus tells her to take a nap in the car and ape-walks behind her back. A tussle ensues in the middle of a crowded bar. Elahna rips Marcus' favorite shirt. At Elahna's apartment door, Marcus says he had a real fun time. Second date: Clayton and Chrissie. Unbeknownst to anyone, Clayton and Chrissie had had a one-night stand three years ago; Clayton never called. There is awkward silence filled with many humorous thought bubbles from Therapist Joe. Chrissie asks Clayton why he never called. He does a stand-up routine at a comedy club about it. They make out on camera at her house. She wants to date him again. He says he'll call.

So, who voluntarily subjects themselves to this sort of embarrassment?

I arrive at the Grosvenor Hotel on Pine Street where 20 or more female hopefuls are waiting apprehensively for their interviews. Casting coordinator Caroline Johnson, an enthusiastic blonde who got her start with the show doing an impromptu lap dance during her blind date, passes out an intensive four-page questionnaire that asks each applicant to describe herself as a car, list her turn-ons and role models, define love, and explain the circumstances of her last one-night stand. During the grueling wait, Johnson tries to keep the energy high as the applicants try to keep their lipstick from feathering. A color television blares in a corner, providing distraction as the women are individually called in to an adjoining room for on-camera questioning.

Among the potentials for the five San Francisco dates are 26-year-old Lydia Linker, an intern at Digital Video Magazine who is a self-proclaimed sucker for humiliation; Shanna Kingsley, lead singer for the Gun & Doll Show, who seized the opportunity to publicize her band and show up her boyfriend; 29-year-old Jill Smelser, a manager at Urban Outfitters who has no problem getting dates; 31-year-old comedienne Kelly West, who brought her 9-year-old son to the interview; 25-year-old Christy McCaffrey who applied on a dare; 34-year-old romance novelist Ruby Foster, who claims hopeless romanticism as her motivation; and Cyndi Popper, a 26-year-old from Los Gatos who works as an optician's assistant at a Marina boutique. Having seen the show, none of the women are worried about the potential for televised shame.

"It's amazing to me that people can act that ridiculous on camera," says Smelser. "Some of the guys are just complete asses, but I'll take it in stride. It's not like I'll never get another date if this one goes badly. I just look at it as an opportunity to meet someone I wouldn't normally. No big deal."

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