Dopes on a rope

Episode 1: Andy, a guy who has issues with women, is chained to four babes. Welcome to reality TV, UPN style.


Anthony YorkCarina Chocano
April 18, 2001 8:11PM (UTC)

It's sad when you realize how accelerated our culture has become. It's gotten so we can't even stop to smell the reality shows anymore.

Have you noticed? They get shorter and shorter and more pungent. And the stories just seem to fly by. Fly by. Whoops, did I miss something?

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In a blatant attempt to curry favor with the television establishment, Jon de Mol -- you remember Jon de Mol, the nice Dutchman who brought us "Big Brother," six days a week for three months, and we can't believe we watched the whole thing -- brings us the rather abbreviated "Chains of Love." This time, he's cramming an entire season's worth of senseless violence into a single hour.

Get ready for turbosluts in chains!

Not that we're excited, mind you, although the previews did taunt us with finger sucking. We've just been on this beat for way too long. We've become jaded. Hardened. Cynical. Mean.

Repetitive. Formulaic. Lazy. Bitter. Kind of flabby. We've spawned countless imitators who egregiously rip off our repetitive, formulaic, lazy, flabby, sleazy style.

In short, we can relate to "Chains of Love."

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So let's start with a couple of quotes, just to get in the mood:

"Man is born free but is everywhere in chains." -- Rousseau

"Man is born free, but is chained to a group of women for four days in a Southern California McMansion." -- UPN

You could be forgiven for being skeptical about this new reality show -- though, increasingly with these shows, reality seems like the wrong adjective to use. In reality, how often do you get placed in a mansion and shackled to four members of the opposite sex until a 300-pound executioner magically appears, signaling it's time for you to ditch one of them?

Maybe not that often. But if you did.

The deal is this: Four girls and one guy are chained together and placed in a "luxury home" containing a "gourmet kitchen," two swimming pools and, of course, a "custom-built bed for five."

In other words, San Diego.

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Over four days, the primary chainee (this week it's a guy, but it can be a woman, with four corresponding male chainettes) gets to know his partners. Then, from time to time, he has to make a big decision:

At various points in the program, "The Locksmith" -- the impassive big guy, dressed all in black -- appears, and when he does, one of the women or men must be set free. On UPN, release from a Panhellenic chain gang is a bad thing.

A final twist is that the primary chainee has a cache of 10 grand. Each ejected person gets some cash. At the end of each show, he decides how much he and the last chainette get; he also gets to announce whether he's going to pursue a relationship with the survivor.

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None of this, incidentally, is explained intelligently or clearly on the show. We just pick it up as we go along. We're also not sure how far the chain shtick goes. UPN's been coy about how the players handle the niceties of personal hygiene on the show.

We know what you're thinking: OK, so the premise lacks some of the primal appeal of "Survivor," back when "Survivor" still had some primal appeal. This is more like some bizarre pledge-week icebreaker gone horribly, horribly wrong. But we've been promised finger sucking. So we will wait.

The show begins in traditional Miss America fashion, with a beauty shot of the calm and tranquil California coastline. A voice, which we will soon learn belongs to "Madison Michele" ("Mr., uh, Michele?" "Yes?" "It's a girl!" "A girl! I'll call her Madison!" "Madison?" "Yes, after my dear, departed mother in Shanghai!")

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The calm is soon shattered by a shot of party people having all kinds of ostentatious "fun."

And then we meet him.

Andy, a "Hollywood stuntman" with the I.Q. of a watermelon. Stuntman, we learn, likes to do "cliché-ish guy stuff." You know, like being chained to four women. Andy also enjoys playing the guitar and camping and coining adjectives to make up for his lack of vocabulary. Doesn't he look hot in his brown-leather bomber jacket? Doesn't he look cool on his bike?

Well, no.

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But Andy likes women who can A) tell him what they want and B) are spontaneous. So at least he's complex.

Each of the women, we are told, represents attributes that Andy says appeal to him. There's:

Kerstin (pronounced "Kirsten"): "a dancer, all very PG," who has yet to learn how to spell her name. (Andy wishes he were "bungee jumping right" now. Kerstin likes "extreme" anything. Andy is an "extreme" moron. This could work.)

Nicki: an Australian bodybuilder who says she's dated women before. (Andy says he likes them "petite." So does Nicki, possibly.)

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Vanessa: an "outspoken intellectual" (here, we cough up a lung) who admits she's "kind of a pain in the ass." (Andy likes ass. This could work.)

Amy: a "confident professional." She's in "sales." (Say no more.)

The five meet and engage in a heartfelt group hug. "We're going to be very close, very soon," Andy says.

And as we've already seen, there's going to be finger sucking.

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But first, let's see what kind of treats the girls have chosen to entertain Andy on his ride to the house. There are cookies:

"I gotta tell ya, I'm not a huge cookie fan."

Chocolate-covered strawberries:

"Look, they're wearing little tuxedos!"

A candy bar:

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[Chewing noises]

And we forget what else, but who really cares?

The five then join the show's hostess, "Madison Michele" (The Realest Name in Reality!), in the "ritual room," where the chaining ceremony will begin. It's everything you'd expect a ritual room to be -- candles, red velvet curtains and, of course, chains. In fact, we know of a place with a little room just like it not 25 miles outside of Vegas. But that's another story. In case UPN's interested.

In the ritual room we meet the Locksmith, an obese, silent type in wraparound shades. He makes a big gong sound when he comes. We figure out early on this guy won't be saying much. When he appears, Andy must release one of the girls, and decide how much of the $10,000 -- his $10,000 -- he wants to give her.

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Because their treats were the best treats, Kerstin and Amy get the "privilege" of being chained next to Andy. Vanessa and Nicki are on the outs. Nicki's eyes bug out. She plays to win, see. Or it could be the steroids. Stuntman notes that "being chained is a real team-building experience."

One of their first tasks as a team is to make sandwiches while chained. There's some really great innuendo about touching tomatoes.

Before long, the five are sitting at a table eating cold cuts. Turns out each of the women was shown a tape of five guys before the show, and asked to comment on each one. One of those guys was the Stuntman, and now he gets to see what they said about him.

Amy said he was "perfect." Vanessa said he was "physically only cute." (It's amazing what you can tell from a videotape.) Nicki said Andy was "hot" and "very sexy." Stuntman is pleased. Then he reads Kerstin's comments: "In 10 years he'll be living in the Hamptons with a minivan."

Sure. Delivering Alec Baldwin's dry cleaning.

Stuntman has obviously been told by the folks at UPN to make some good television. Instead, he ends up illustrating why stuntmen aren't allowed to talk in most movies. Speaking candidly to the camera, he says when he hears Kerstin's comments, "My feelings were injured."

Unfortunately, it's just a flesh wound, because soon Stuntman is insulting his teammates behind their backs while they wear protective ear coverings.

The only person he's not getting the "competing thing" from is Amy, though she is his "third favorite in terms of attractiveness."

Vanessa, he notes, is competing in "her own intelligent way" and "likes to hear herself talk."

It's also "fairly see-through" that Nicki is "trying a little too hard" because "she's made several insecure comments." She also has several insecure muscles -- but oops -- so does he.

Back to the cold cuts. Andy asks who has been jealous in relationships before. It doesn't take long for Andy to start alienating his shackle mates.

Vanessa says she's been jealous after a relationship, but never during.

Andy says, "Wow, you are the first girl I've ever heard say that."

"Well, I'm No. 2," Amy sniffs. "Because I'm the same way."

"I would love to be married," Vanessa continues.

"Me too!" Kerstin coos, as though Vanessa has just produced the most adorable kitty.

"I would love to find someone I'm just ecstatic with and spend the rest of my life with them," Vanessa says.

"Me too!" meows Kerstin. (Must we continue to honor this infernal spelling all night?)

"I would love it!" says Vanessa, trying to hear herself talk over the din of girls competing for the attention of an extra who lights himself on fire on a regular basis.

"Totally!" someone pipes in. Maybe the insecure Nicki?

But Vanessa also thinks that "it doesn't, like, always, like, happen" and that "you really truly need to be OK on your own as a human being."

"Wow," Andy says. "That's the most truthful thing to come out of you all night."

The drum machine kicks in, and it's a catfight! Well, sort of. Vanessa says she is "the most truthful and honest person you can have."

Andy tells Vanessa not to get so defensive. We can already tell that Andy has quite a way with women.

"It's not defensiveness; you're just pissing me off," she says.

Vanessa seems to have decided to keep her dignity. That is a bad strategy. Andy holds the cards on this show.

The keys, we mean. In a way, "Chains of Love" is a little like the Joe Dante section of the movie version of "Twilight Zone" -- the one with the little kid with supernatural powers whose family is terrified of him.

Amy can see what's going on. "Vanessa's got a lot of built-up anger," she says later, "and it's going to help my case."

Andy then suggests they rip off all their clothes and get in the hot tub. Soon the five are cavorting in water -- do they have a choice? -- and pretending to have fun. And they are wearing bathing suits.

It's not clear how they got their clothes off -- and their bathing suits on -- over the chains.

Finally, it's bedtime.

"They're all fun people to be with," Andy says, apparently forgetting that we've been watching the whole time.

In the morning, after a night of tossing and turning, Kerstin takes some time to reflect. "We're all so different. But Andy likes all of us a lot."

Yoo-hoo! Lady! Hello! We can see you!

Amy thinks Vanessa and Nicki are jealous because she and Kerstin (Kyrstyn? Keirstein? Kierstene?) are on the inside. They get to be next to Andy and touch him.

Andy, meanwhile, notes that he'll "probably never" have the chance to sleep with four women again in his life.

Have we mentioned that Andy has the personality of a ferret? After this airs, he'll probably never have the chance to sleep with one woman again in his life.

Somebody, mercifully, cuts to a commercial.

While Andy is showering (we're told, deflatingly, that everybody gets alone time in the bathroom), the girls are treated to a videotaped message from Andy's mom. She is shown in front of a brick wall, stroking a cat à la "Goldfinger."

The girls all melt, just like they're supposed to. This is riveting stuff. Mom says that Andy's ideal girl will have to be "very independent" and "know her own mind." She also reminds the girls that Andy knows what he wants, always gets what he wants and will argue a point 'til the cows take off.

OK, maybe not in so many words, but we get the message. Thanks, Mom.

Later, as the specially designed minivan takes the crew out to lunch, the girls -- who have never heard of subtext -- let Andy know what they've seen.

And ... what's that ... is Andy crying? No wonder. We saw something like this in a movie starring Katharine Hepburn and Montgomery Clift once. And let's just say things didn't turn out very well for young Elizabeth Taylor. Big boobs or no big boobs.

Can we please just get to the finger sucking?

The posse shuffles into a seafood restaurant. The woman behind the counter looks a little confused. What, like she's never seen five people chained together and tailed by television cameras before?

Andy wants Vanessa to swallow an oyster -- you know, for "team building."

Vanessa, who knows from subtext, doesn't want to "swallow" anything of Andy's, his "oysters" included. But she does eventually, capturing on her face as she does the exact same expression we've had on our face since the show began.

Then, he appears. Yup. It's that dour, reserved fellow, the Locksmith. The girls all look at Vanessa. Then they hug and pretend to be sad. Stuntman is overcome with emotion. He looks like he's going to cry again. Mercifully we cut to another commercial.

And what a commercial! During the intermission we are exposed to a plug for "Special Unit 2" starring a gnome-crime fighter who has a penchant for knocking off convenience stores. Now that's TV.

Afterward "Madison" "Michele" reemerges to give us a quick recap and remind us that the girls are "each unique in their own way."

Andy drops the bomb. The person he's going to "release" is Vanessa. Why? "She's not going to let them go where they need to go." Now, not only is everyone an actor, everyone is also a licensed therapist.

Andy must decide how much to give Vanessa. He slides her $500 because he feels "really bad" and another C-note so she can "go to a bookstore to find a book to learn to release some control."

Vanessa, of course, is shocked and affronted.

She takes the cash.

As Vanessa is driven away, she says the Stuntman's speech is "the shittiest thing anyone's ever said to me in my life."

Stuntman and the three remaining women head to "a luxurious yacht," where the group plays a sort of fortune-cookie truth or dare. Nicki's toast to "complete and utter honesty" almost busts some glasses. Frankly, she seems a little wigged out.

Each of the women will open a cookie that will have a two-sided fortune -- she must either answer the question on one side of the fortune or perform the action on the other side. What will those crazy UPN writers think of next?

Kerstin's fortune gives her the choice of dipping Stuntman's fingers in sauce or faking an orgasm. By now, not even finger sucking can save us.

Nicki the bodybuilder has to rub her hands all over Stuntman's body. Afterward, Kerstin casually mentions that it makes her feel like a tramp when Andy rolls over in bed and touches someone else after touching her. We wonder how long she's felt this way.

Amy says she's felt jealous from the beginning -- because she wants to win. Nicki chimes in, saying she's felt jealous, too, because she doesn't like being second to anyone.

Again, Stuntman starts picking fights. He zeroes in on Nicki. "I wish you would've woken up and said, 'Yeah, I do have some low self-esteem,'" he says.

"Why would I say that?" asks Nicki.

"I'm just saying what I see."

If Nicki weren't in shackles, she probably would have kicked his ass.

The Locksmith appears again. The good news is that we're another step closer to the end. The bad news is that Andy feels the need to give a little monologue every time he votes a girl off.

"I'm at a new stage in my life. [Insert Freud joke here.] I feel it's not my job to take on the caretaker."

True, he'll be doing enough gardening when he gets to the Hamptons in 10 years.

Stuntman gives Nicki the boot because she's got "low self-esteem." Well, how would you feel if you were chained to a condescending, hostile moron for two days?

He gives her 800 clams for being "great, though."

"Just keep going in the direction you're going." Away from me, in other words.

"I feel her confidence is low, and here I am giving her a shot," he explains later. "I'm looking for someone who's more independent than I've ever been with before."

Stuntman says he sympathizes with the women "100 percent." It's hard to imagine that's possible. Then again, he does have to live with himself 24-7-365.

The three remaining linkees are once again taking off clothes in a pool. Then, it's bedtime again.

"That's going to be a really interesting dynamic," Stuntman says. "It should be pretty fun."

Somehow, we doubt it.

Day 3 is date day. "Madison" greets them at the breakfast table. Amy and Kerstin each get their own date with Stuntman. Whoever is not on the date at the time lags behind on a longer chain, and is not allowed to speak. "If it's not your date," the Chen-emulator explains, "you can't participate. You'll be a third wheel." We're learning so much about dignity on this show. And about "confident professionals."

Kerstin is up first, and the happy couple -- and Amy -- head to a museum. Obviously not his choice. He tells Kerstin that she's making weak choices to win him over. "You can up the ante with me or not," he tells her. It seems to be some kind of a threat.

Kerstin wants to know what in the hell Stuntman is talking about.

"I'm not going to give you that," he says.

Amy, smirking a few feet away, gloats that Kerstin is just arguing and not doing anything to win him over.

Kerstin primly says their relationship can't go any further until they're alone.

We are then exposed to another round of Stuntman, pop psychologist. "I think you're the kind of girl who's going to want to get married," he says.

Please, oh please, someone send in the Locksmith.

"That's interesting," Kerstin sniffs.

"No, I don't think it's that interesting. I think it's pretty boring."

God, he's cute.

On the ride home, Stuntman accuses Amy of being insensitive to his plight: "I'm getting frustrated with the fact that this is a hard decision for me to make. I don't feel that you're getting that. That makes me feel rejected."

He makes her cry. Andy slips into sensitive-guy mode. "I feel bad. I care about you. I do." Again, we find this hard to believe.

Exhibit A, the following exchange:

Amy: "I don't know why you push me so hard."

Stuntman: "It's painful for me to push this hard."

Back home, Madison explains in a voice-over that their sudden bout of twitching means they are "burning off some stress by dancing." Andy says that given "where he is in his life right now" (chained to some girls on UPN), "Amy might fit that better." Because "Amy is willing to go places that Kerstin is not."

We think he may be talking about something dirty.

So, during a candlelit dinner date, Amy decides that every item of food on the table represents something about her. Rice is a staple of life. So something down to earth would be that she's never ever cheated on anyone. Blackened catfish represents "a spicy dish."

She demonstrates "spiciness." These two seem like a good match.

They start making out, while Kerstin, still attached, quietly picks at her food. Still, nobody seems to understand the Stuntman's pain. He's been chained to four women for four days, and been given $10,000 to dispense with as he wishes.

He gets to humiliate the women at will because they all want the money, and the satisfaction of "winning," whatever that could possibly mean.

The boy has had a rough go of it. And he has no appetite for food right now.

"I feel like I'm ridden with guilt," he says. "Someone's going to get hurt and I hate that." Stuntman looks like he's going to cry again. Job has nothing on this guy. But, he reassures Amy, "no matter how things work out, I have faith that this is something."

Finally, the fat guy shows up to bring this particular inter-station-break fiasco to an end. But first, Stuntman gives each of the women "10 seconds to tell me why you should stay here with me."

You want them to unload on him -- salvage what's left of their dignity and demand to be unshackled. Not a chance. They both make it clear they are ready to put out.

Amy says she wants to "continue their conversation" and to "pursue something later, maybe."

(It occurs to us that she could have probably made a lot more than two grand with a discreet Web page without having her mother watching. But maybe she's into that.)

Kerstin says, "I do think we made a connection or a bond, as you would say. And I'd love to spend the last day with you."

"As sick as this makes me feel," Stuntman says -- we're with him -- "I have to go with my heart."

Or, he could go with another organ.

Yup. Amy ("third favorite in attractiveness") gets the boot. Andy forks over $1,200, but makes up for it by weeping. "That last moment with her was very nice."

The minute Amy's out the door Kerstin dresses down Andy for making her sit there and watch him tongue Amy.

The Stuntman immediately upbraids her for making him feel bad.

So now it's over, right? We can all go home? Apparently not. There's only two of them left, but for some reason the show isn't ending. There are still 10 minutes left. Time for one more fight in the hot tub. "You made it 10 times harder than it was," Stuntman tells Kerstin. She's getting up to leave. But where can she go? She's chained to the guy!

"She needs to understand that I needed to go where I went with Amy on that date."

Riiiight.

Then comes perhaps the most disturbing scene in the entire show. There is movement under the blankets. There is whispering. But there is also a microphone.

When Kerstin refuses to "touch" him --

A: Are you trying to touch me?
K: No.

-- Stuntman goes in for the kill. He cycles through all the lines you've been told about, but never thought guys actually used on women.

A: We need to have fun in this house. We may never see each other again.
K: I'm getting tired.
A: Hey, be nice to me.
K: I'm nice to you. You're still in control here.
A: Not really.
K: After the conversation we just had, you're afraid of me rejecting you?

Gross.

Gross!

But in the morning all is forgiven.

Out of nowhere, Michele Madison -- sorry, Madison Michele -- reappears to explain the show's elaborate denouement. Stuntman must decide if he wants a relationship with Kerstin. (She "totally" would. "He's a great guy.")

If he does, he must give up half the remaining money. Kerstin can then either take the money and run, or wait for him in the courtyard.

This ending has all the tension of a wet noodle.

"I think you're wonderful," Stuntman says to Kerstin, "but because of the stage I'm in, I don't believe that my bond is strong enough."

But he does decide to give her $2,000. "I think you're wonderful," he explains. Will someone please get this guy a thesaurus?

As Kerstin is shuttled away, there's actually some genuine excitement. "I think he's kind of a dick," she says of Andy.

It's the most exciting thing that's happened all night. Our mind races with new questions. Can you say "dick" on network television? Is UPN even a network?

Stuntman explains that the four days of being chained to four women has really been "an emotional roller coaster." We, too, are feeling more than a bit nauseated.

There is a coda: A week after Stuntman takes off with most of the cash, he attempts to call Kerstin. Several times. She hangs up.

There is more: He attempts to call Amy.

Amy is not interested.

We are not told whether, at that point, he calls his mother.

If he does, we suggest she take the cash upfront.

Back to the "Boot Camp" home page

Back to the "Survivor 2" home page

Back to the "Temptation Island" home page

Back to "The Mole" home page


Anthony York

Anthony York is Salon's Washington correspondent.

MORE FROM Anthony York

Carina Chocano

Carina Chocano writes about TV for Salon. She is the author of "Do You Love Me or Am I Just Paranoid?" (Villard).

MORE FROM Carina Chocano

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