This week on "Chains of Love": Testosterone loading. It was one thing to promise four drunken gals chained to one drunken guy psychologically abusing one another in a hot tub for a piece of the UPN prize money.
That was the first episode of "Chains of Love." Guys will watch that. At home. In private. As long as there's nobody else around.
But the other way around?
This week, Stephanie, a "bee-yootiful writer and model," arrives at the breathtaking tract-mansion on the thirst-quenching Southern California coast, ready to link herself to four unknown suitors to whom she will be chained for four days.
In the show's miniprofile of her, Stephanie distinguishes herself from the rest of humanity by being "adventurous" and liking "to have fun."
As a vocation, she designs clothes because, well, she has "an innate ability to design clothes." Translation: She airbrushes her underwear.
Her suitors will compete for her prize money (a paltry fraction of the not-so-grand total of 10 grand) and whatever other favors Stephanie chooses to bestow upon them on their fourth and final night together. Each of the four youngsters has been chosen "to represent attributes that Stephanie has said she would like in a man."
These are, on the evidence of the show:
-- Intellectual dwarfism
-- Misogynistic narcissism
-- Acute alcoholism
-- Advanced cheeseballism
Jason, a New York University "cum laude graduate" who loves his clichés, quips: "There's always a bit of the scoundrel in every Southern gentleman."
And a large chunk of loser in every reality TV show contestant.
Allen, who could be the love child of Warren and Ned Beatty, says his strategy is "to be myself. And if they like it, they like it. If not, screw her."
Aside from mutilating his native tongue, Allen likes to work out. In fact, he'll "put that before everything." Perhaps this is why Allen's academic background and occupation are not mentioned. Another thing you should know about Allen: "I'm not going to treat you like a princess if you're being a bitch, you know?" Sure, son. Easy.
Next is a guy whose novel strategy is to be who he is. His name is Pete and he is a pro volleyball player as well as "a card, 24-7." Pete likes to party. He is, in fact, "a complete partyer!"
Don't believe us? Watch this! "What time is it, 9 in the morning?" he says, eyeing a beer. "I'm ready to go!"
Finally, there's Jack, a hirsute gentleman who toils as "an acting manager."
We think that is a strange way to introduce Jack. What happened to the full-time manager? Was he downsized? When are they going to take Jack off the trial period and give him the manager's job full time? But our questions are answered when we learn that Jack manages other actors. He gives them "advice." Here's a clip of Jack working the phone: "Yeah, did you see Page 5 today? Uh-huh. So do you want to live out in Los Angeles or what?"
We wish his clients the best of luck.
"I'm not going to be predictable," Jack adds. Which is what everybody says.
As we learned last week, the four guys must try to bribe their way into Stephanie's good graces. All four give her gifts. The two people who give the best gifts get the prime real estate -- they actually get to be linked to the girl.
Before Stephanie appears, the guys stand around and compare gifts. Jack, the man with the plan, got her a silver bracelet with a heart. "Like 'Chains of Love,'" he says. Very unpredictably.
Pete starts to talk about some kind of 3-foot doll, when he is cut off.
It's Stephanie calling from the terrace.
"A distant bell" soon summons the group into the ritual room. You remember the ritual room. We are reminded again that the fat expressionless man in black -- the Locksmith -- holds 10 grand in a little lunchbox and will appear at inopportune moments. When he does, Stephanie must set one of her boy toys free. Each time she does, she gives the newly released guy a piece of the money. The Locksmith's job is not unlike Vanna White's before she sued Pat Sajak and won the right to speak.
Then comes the voice of Madison Michele, who gives her Valley Girl version of a Richard Attenborough voice-over. The newly linked quintet, she tells us, "begins to explore the house and soon learns how awkward being chained can be."
At lunch, Stephanie is presented with a booklet telling her how she was rated (on video) by each of the four. The boys didn't know that Stephanie would be among the possible chain-mates, and are understandably dismayed to hear their own comments read aloud on UPN.
Jason, the honor student, gives Stephanie a four for looks. That's out of 10, adds Pete. "I don't need your help," snarls Jason, who usually dates more attractive women. "Your tape didn't look like you," he says to Stephanie quickly, trying to make amends.
Pete gives Stephanie an eight for looks and a nine for intelligence. Stephanie continues to read from the book: "And you completely and totally want to have sex with me."
Jack gives her sevens across the board. He said he thinks Stephanie is one-night-stand material, but that she could "grow on you, like Phoebe on 'Friends.'" The other boys in the fraternity take this as a dis, and start chortling wildly.
"It's cool," Jack protests. He has psyched himself into believing he can really talk himself out of this one. "Compared to Aniston!"
Allen gives Stephanie a five for both looks and intelligence. And a whopping score of three for "class" and "elegance." "It was the dress," he explains. "It was like a clown suit on the side. It was big and puffy."
Just like Allen's ego.
By now, the four guys are cackling wildly. This is exactly what we were worried about. The experiment has unexpectedly devolved into the worst kind of male-bonding hazing ritual. It's like Tailhook all over again. UPN must be mortified. Lunchtime on the first day, and already we have degenerated into an episode of "Beavis and Butt-head and Butt-head and Butt-head and Butt-head."
Stephanie maturely concludes that the boys are "all a bunch of children."
"Am I only allowed to get rid of one person? Oh, my God, you guys suck!"
We are saved by one of our favorite commercials! It's Mr. T telling us about collect calls. As we blearily await the return of the show, Mr. T's familiar refrain takes on a new, haunted meaning. "I pity the fool!"
Could he mean ...?
Then it's into the special van. The chain gang heads to a supermarket to stock up on supplies (alcohol). Following a madcap chained tour of Aisle 5, the anxious suitors must prepare dinner for their latter-day Penelope. Each of the five takes his or her turn dishing into the camera as the others wear headphones that prevent them from hearing what the others are saying.
Stephanie goes first.
The rundown of the scores after the first round seems to find Pete in the lead for being "the most mature" and for "not trying to put me down." Jack appears to be running second because his "intensity is the strongest." Allen takes the bronze with a dismissive "cocky" while Jason is lagging in last place, because of that four he gave her in looks.
"That hurts," Stephanie says.
Things progress cordially until the post-prandial Jacuzzi session. Everyone is drinking margaritas, but things aren't improving. Not only does Stephanie seem grossed out by most of the guys, none of them seems particularly interested in her.
Then somebody goes and suggests that Stephanie has been flatulent in the tub.
Stephanie doesn't think this is fun. The boys, by the looks of merriment on their faces, evidently disagree. As Pete, he of the 3-foot doll, calmly explains, "When you've had too much to drink, toilet humor is excellent." Stephanie is not convinced.
Then there is more of that weird time-lapsed sleeping -- and then, at long last, sharing.
Day 2, we learn, is going to be "when people start opening up and telling me what is going on in here." Stephanie points to her sports bra.
And what do you know, the boys open up like little rosebuds. We learn that Jason's parents were divorced after 25 years of marriage. Pete had a relationship go south after 10 years. "A lot of it was my fault," he says. (Maybe she didn't like fart jokes, either.)
Stephanie could not be more pleased. "We are all sensitive people," she explains. "We've all been hurt."
Allen makes a shocking confession: "I've built up a lot of defenses against women."
Next up, the obstacle course. It apparently is some kind of team-building exercise; it could be a leftover challenge from Fox's "Boot Camp" that UPN picked up on eBay.
The five have got to inflate a raft and run through some tires carrying the raft, all within seven minutes. Of course, there is no reward if they succeed, no punishment if they fail. But the challenge looks enough like something that would appear on "Survivor" to perhaps fool your average UPN viewer.
Those of us watching at home can just fill in the blanks that the folks at UPN have left. Did that writers strike already start?
But the challenge seems to be serving its purpose. The guys are all yelling at one another. Again, we're not sure why they're hurrying. But they are. And when they get there -- gong -- the Locksmith is waiting.
It's time to send someone home, and Stephanie picks Pete, the partyin'-all-the-time early front-runner. Everything was fine until they started drinking, she says. That's when Pete "got a little demonic, a little stupid and a little mean."
To reward his demonic tendencies, Stephanie gives him $66.06. Then she calls him boring.
The Locksmith drives Pete away, playing Morgan Freeman to Pete's Miss Daisy. The scene is proof that no matter how big you are, no matter how much black you're wearing, no matter how dark those sunglasses may be, it is absolutely impossible to look intimidating while driving a minivan.
As he is hauled away, Pete gets in a few last-minute jabs. "I had no interest in her, and there was no way to fake it."
Before long, the four of them are back in the van. Stephanie is drunk. Jack is, very unpredictably, licking her ear. Allen grabs her and kisses her. She's going to see this video in the morning. Every time she has a second cocktail, her friends are going to make her watch this video.
As Jack and Allen play tug of war with her face, Jason sits in the corner, cackling and swaying like some kind of deranged lunatic.
Later that evening, they talk about sex. Stephanie says she once dated a "fat guy," but takes umbrage when Jack asks her if she did him on top or on the bottom.
She chastises the boys for being "so low-class." Not long afterward, the four go ice-skating. In chains. Somehow, this turns into "the world's first game of strip hockey." We're guessing it's going to be the last.
In typical fashion, the rules are not explained. In fact, we doubt there are rules. UPN seems to be making everything else up as the show goes along; it's plain the producers will do whatever it takes to get these four people who are chained together stripped down to their skivvies.
There are scenes of hockey pucks sliding weakly into a single net. Clothes are being cut away with scissors by a referee. It's so high-class.
Indeed, within seconds, they're all in their underwear. Stephanie, of course, is wearing airbrushed panties.
But wait -- what's that ominous knocking?
Why, it's the Locksmith. And they're all in their underwear! Oh, this one must have sounded good when they dreamed it up around the writers table.
Stephanie launches into her second farewell speech of the day. "This person is very friendly and outgoing. This person had come between me and somebody else, which I thought was kind of unfair. So I've decided the person I am going to release is Jack."
After sending him marching with $1,500, Stephanie says she was turned off by his "lack of athleticism," which she discovered while they were ice-skating. We're guessing it was the lack of athleticism that she discovered while getting a good look at Jack in his underpants. Call it a hunch.
Jack is not gracious in defeat. "This girl's not a girl I'd date," he says. "Enjoy this," he says, addressing her in absentia. "This is the only time in life I think you will ever have this power. Once that money's gone, your days are over."
"I've got no clue what to think about this now," Allen says. Neither do we. It appears we are stuck with two guys who are chained to a girl they don't seem particularly interested in.
"That was really intense," Stephanie says. Yeah, hockey is a rough sport.
There is more of that weird time-lapsed sleeping.
Then it's date day. With Jason following behind on the longer chain, Allen and Stephanie get pampered. They are wrapped in towels, massaged, pedicured. Jason gets not so much as a magazine to pass the time with.
The spa date has become a sort of reality show fixture, has it not? "I'm connecting more to her than I thought I would when we started," Allen says. So has "connecting."
Allen admits that when he met Stephanie, he "had a lot of walls up." He was "a little insecure."
Jason knows he's in a bind. And when in a bind, reach for one of those trusty clichés. "It's the bottom of the ninth, two outs," he says. "I'm swinging for the bleachers." Well said.
Jason's date is a "romantic dinner" in cursive, followed by a walk on the beach. Do you like piña coladas? Soon, wine glasses are clinking. They make their way onto the carpeted dance floor, with Allen trying hard not to get tangled up. Stephanie is impressed that he "was able to take control and tell me what to do." She calls this "manly."
Jason reaches for another cliché. "I hit the long ball. We'll see if it stays fair or not."
Allen, meanwhile, has jacked up his chain and is trailing them by 2 feet, muttering.
The three of them are back at the mansion. "That kind of interaction is so elegant," she says. "It kind of reminds me of a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie." The one where they couldn't dance? Oh yeah, we missed that one.
Stephanie has some fun pitting the boys against each other. To her great dismay, fists don't fly.
Allen is resentful that Jason got the romantic dinner date. "You throw alcohol in it, it makes everything better," he says.
"Now I feel we can all go to Greece and hang out," Stephanie says. I think I saw that movie one night when my parents were out at the Kiwanis Club dinner. The movie was called "Summer Lovers," starring Peter Gallagher and Daryl Hannah. In fact, this online review sort of sums up our feelings about "Chains of Love":
"The story is pretty thin, and a few more shots could have made this an X-rated film, but the scenery and cinematography are wonderful, and there is not even the slightest hint of exploitation."
Our sentiments exactly.
But before we can head off to the isles, big, bad Locksmith makes another appearance. Jason is let go because he "was unable to understand me." Stephanie gives him $2,000 and sends him on his way.
Allen and Stephanie are back in a steamy hot tub, where Stephanie is lamenting the lack of chemistry between her and Jason. She and Allen have flowers in their ears. They're kissing.
Allen hopes that "tonight we have a close bonding like we have now."
Stephanie says that "to be just, in his arms, you know?" is something that she's looking forward to. And she means that with all her heart.
Then it's time for the weekly disturbing night-vision bedroom scene. There is more whispering, more shuffling under the blankets. The scene, which has become something of a weekly standard for "Chains," lacks some of last week's date-rape overtones, but it is still disturbing. Night vision was meant for the deserts of Kuwait. It was definitely not meant for the bedroom.
In the dark, they discuss their "connection." Day 4 begins with Stephanie reveling in the "beauty of being in his arms and feeling something special and warm and magical."
Now comes the moment of truth, or as Michele puts it, "her toughest choice." Stephanie must decide if she wants to cut Allen in on half of her money for the honor of pursuing a relationship with him. If she does, Allen can either take the money and run or take the money and stay.
The plot thins!
It's time for another monologue. "At first I thought your attitude and the conflict that we were sharing at the beginning of the week was going to prevent us from becoming closer," Stephanie says. "But in getting to know you, I feel that your playfulness and our connection has allowed me to come to the conclusion that, yes, I'd like to pursue a relationship with you."
As Allen -- who is bound by the "rules" not to reply -- bounds away to the courtyard to decide whether he will wait for her, he relishes his newfound power. "It felt really good that the power had shifted," he says. "Power, that's what I like."
But wait. What about the connection? Stephanie is nervous as she packs. She trusted Allen. Was that wise? A little voice tells her no, but when she reaches the courtyard, there he is, depriving the Locksmith of one last chauffeuring job.
Stephanie flings herself into the waiting arms of Allen. "Thank God!" she squeals. "You were scared!" he says, adding, "The pain is over." And it is, almost.
We are left with just one final image of the Locksmith looking longingly over the bluffs of Southern California and a footnote. After the show ended, Allen and Stephanie met for dinner on the very next night. The relationship lasted three days.