By Kati Johnston
How far we've come! Just a few years ago TV's dating/reality genre was dominated by shows such as "Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire" and now, apparently, the dating pool has become so diluted it's come down to "Farmer Wants a Wife." In between there have been some doozies among the floozies (see "Rock of Love With Bret Michaels"). Thankfully, some things have remained constant: candidates sabotaging each other; daters and datees making out on cue; couples "conversating" about their inane jobs at Kinko's (a particularly captivating episode of "Elimidate"); and, most importantly, allowing the entire world to watch a process that in utter privacy can be painful at best. It would be pointless to pick the 10 best dating shows because they're all dreadful, but some are more delicious and skanky than others. So here are our nominees, past and present, for the worst reality-TV dating shows. Ever. "Next!"
"Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?," FOX (2000)
This one had it all: a bevy of bone-headed beauties, led by chosen bride Darva Conger (whose name became its own Letterman punch line, a la Joey Buttafuoco), women who made no secret of their gold-digging designs and a rich guy too much of a loser to find a date on his own. Groom Rick Rockwell turned out to have had domestic violence disputes in his past, his house was cruddy, Darva didn't even like him and, once she sobered up, she confessed all she really wanted was that free trip to Vegas. Sure, wouldn't you? Still, it made for terrific train-wreck TV. Darva's gone on to do nude pictorials and celebrity-boxing stints, and Rockwell, thankfully, seems to have crawled back into his cave. But thanks for the memories.
Newlywed Game," ABC (1966-74)
The mean streak embedded in this show was its addictive component. Each member of four couples, all married less than a year, was asked questions about his/her spouse, which mostly inquired about evil mothers-in-law and sex. The answers often made the couples and the audience squirm, and it wasn't a good show until one of the wives bonked her husband on the head with the answer card. All this for a new washer and dryer set. The show, hosted by Bo-o-o-o-ob Eubanks, famously led to dozens of divorces and a lot of questions by little kids ("Mommy, what's an amorous activity?").
Bachelor," ABC (2002-present)
Is it that hope springs eternal, or is the fame just too tempting? From where we sit, all the bachelors have seemed like self-involved, loser megalomaniacs -- even that nice real prince. If only there were some real mystery about who these guys would pick. Big surprise: It's always a blonde with enormous ... smiles. Important note: The only real lasting dating-show relationship that comes to mind is Trista and Ryan Sutter, of "The Bachelorette," who last year welcomed the birth of their first child. End credits.
"Flavor of Love," VH1 (2006-present)
Seriously, if poor Flavor Flav hasn't found love by now, it's probably time to hang up the clock. But what a ride -- three seasons of bleeped expletives, crazy random nicknames, catfights, women peeing on the rug ... While this show itself was a spin-off of "Strange Love" (remember Brigitte Nielsen?), "Flavor" has become its own franchise, with "I Love New York" and "Flavor of Love Girls: Charm School" as the spin-offs so far. And women everywhere now realize that nothing says love like a custom-made mouth grille. Back at ya.
"A Shot at Love With Tila Tequila," MTV (2007-present)
The Internet model, born Thien Thanh Thi Nguyen, is every teen boy's fantasy -- and so is the premise of the show. Because Tila is an avowed bisexual, both men and comely women vie for her heart (and makeout sessions). The girl-on-girl action alone drove most of its ratings, though it's a little hard to see where it will end up -- can our girl Tila be happy with just one Mr. (or Ms.) Right?
"Temptation Island," FOX
Let's see: Be faithful to the longtime partner I adore, or get more camera time if I mix it up with someone else's guy? What to do, what to do? Coupling shows don't get much slimier than this. And have you noticed, nearly all the contestants really look like they need an alcohol intervention? Well, that can wait until the show's over, right?
"Next," MTV (2005-present)
There's nothing like a little on-screen humiliation, especially with post-date dishing on both sides. A great guilty pleasure, this show follows young comelies around as they line up to win the heart of other young comelies. If their first date goes well, they get a second date. If not, in the immortal words of Heidi Klum, zey are out, auf Wiedersehen, and the next hopeful hops out of the bus. It's like rats using a pellet dispenser but with (slightly) better dialogue.
"Laguna Beach," MTV
OK, this isn't a dating show per se, but the only thing these spoiled kids do is hook up, break up, lust after someone else's squeeze, wail and moan over a lost squeeze, then find someone else the next week. Remember the golden days: baby-faced Talan gets engaged to Paris Hilton sidekick Kimberly Stewart. Then, faster than you can say "Daddy's Little Girl Loves Disco," the deal's off and neither party claims to even remember the other. The sequel, "The Hills," is just as juicy (who really thinks Heidi and Spencer are for real?) and Lauren Conrad is a celeb in her own right, juggling boys and photo ops. Ah, love.
Littlest Groom," FOX (2004)
Never ask FOX, "How low can you go?" because it will always surpass your expectations. "The Littlest Groom," featuring a dwarf dating both other little people and women of normal height, threatened to launch a new subset of special-needs dating shows, and public outcry pulled it from the airwaves. But just think of what could have been: "Who Wants to Marry Siamese Twins?," "Amputee Love," "Keep the Bag on Your Head!" ...
Dating Game," ABC (1965-86)
The granddaddy of them all, this show featured contestants who weren't prepped within an inch of their lives like those nowadays. Thus, when a guy picked "bachelorette No. 2," sight unseen, and then was introduced to her alongside the others, there were dozens of cases where a chooser's face just fell, right there on camera, when he realized who he wished he could have picked. Some celebs participated, including Michael Cole of "Mod Squad," keeping the Tiger Beat demo happy. Once free love kicked in, though, by the end of the '60s, the dating show seemed quaint. If only the producers could have gazed a few decades into the future.
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Kati Johnston is a freelance writer. She watches the occasional reality-dating show but only as research for writing assignments.
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