A very long time ago, someone in the position to tell us what to do decided that we should document the burgeoning phenomenon of reality TV. One show led to another led to another led to UPN. Ars longa, vita brevis.
Now we can't get the smell off our clothes.
Tonight, "Chains of Love" is mercifully laid to rest -- but not before its final John gets laid first. John is the "star" of this, the final, episode of "Chains of Love," and he wants us to know that he's not like all the other contestants. In fact, a few days ago, his "acting public relations assistant" dropped us a line reminding us that "unlike many of the other previous cast members, John is a [sic] Ivy League-educated corporate lawyer and executive. Sharing his perspective might be of interest to the higher caliber readers that Salon reaches."
We caution our higher-caliber readers that in the world of reality TV the words "Ivy League" are used somewhat loosely. Tonight, John is chained to four illiterate model/fortune hunters who represent the "attributes" John says he most admires in a woman. The first is sex.
On the "Chains" Web site, John says, apparently in all seriousness, that he has had sex with two ("yes, two") sets of twins and engaged in wild group sex on a boat outing. He doesn't say whether money changed hands during any of these antics.
Anyway, he seems to have a potential soul mate in Natalie, a blond who describes herself as a "sweet and sensual" girl from "a little, small town." Natalie (a "Miller girl" by trade, according to the show's Web site) complains that she is often unfairly stereotyped. In trying to communicate that people often think of her as stupid, she mistakenly makes the international sign for "I'm insane," adding, "People assume that you don't have your wits about you." Fighting the stereotype, Natalie says she likes a guy with a nice butt, "firm and very squeezable," and shares that she hasn't had sex in "a long time."
"For them to have a bit of depth and a bit of intelligence is kind of a nice thing," Ivy League John says. And UPN has just the answer: Kim, a "cultured Kiwi" (a model-bartender), who likes "someone who has an understanding of the world." (Later, Kim will be unable to name the vice president of the United States.)
Because John enjoys "gorgeous and funny" women, UPN has procured Danielle, a "poised painter" with a manic sheen and blue eyes that are a little too piercing, who thinks other women have a problem with her "for some reason." And finally, because John "sort of likes women who have a bit of ethnicity in them," there is "exotic perfectionist" Jeannie, who is, coincidentally, a model, too! This way Kim will have someone to talk to.
Jeannie believes that being Asian makes her "stand out"; we believe it may have more to do with the generous amount of premium Dow Corning product she has had installed in each breast.
After the "chaining ceremony," the five cute degenerates head out for their first outing, to a bar called "The Rock Bottom." John reads from a notebook in which the girls have described their first impressions of one another, a game we know from experience will lead to no good. Kim, Danielle and Natalie have all panned Jeannie, whose face falls progressively further into her beer.
"I should just brush it off," Jeannie says. "I'm used to it." Jeannie can't stand people who judge others. "That's God's department, not ours." John agrees: "The other girls all came across as judgmental, so they each lost a notch."
Back at the house, each member of the group has a chance to share her innermost feelings with Madison Michele, our hostess with the mostest. Michele, whose real name, we suspect, is Michele Madison, is a sometime VH1 VJ and -- coincidence of coincidences -- a model, too! What do you suppose is the probability of three women randomly chosen only for their TV-hosting abilities or game-show-playing skills turning out to be actual models?
Jeannie, whose voice has not stopped shaking since the "Rock Bottom" incident, tells the camera that she's still upset, "because I go through this all the time." Danielle, poised racist, says that she knew right away that Jeannie wasn't competition because "she's Oriental, for one!"
John senses a cattiness that "makes this really fun, to be honest."
For him, maybe. But we have to watch. Later, as the group makes dinner, Danielle monopolizes the conversation -- easy to do when conversing with houseplants -- with her saucy sexual anecdotes, one of them involving a threesome with two brothers. Kim, the cool one, bides her time. Natalie and Jeannie chafe. All they can do is stew and wait until the Food and Drug Administration approves personality implants.
After dinner, the ladies don bikinis and everyone heads for the hot tub to "get to know each other better." This mainly involves showing one another their tiny butt and groin tattoos. John then launches into the tough questions.
"Have you ever been naked in front of strangers?"
"I had always had the desire," says Natalie, "just one time, to strip in a nightclub."
"I respect that!" John says, his lips curling under like snapped roller blinds.
"When was the last time you cried?" he asks.
"I cry all the time!" Jeannie cries. "The last time I cried was today because you guys said bad things about me."
"You know what? I knew that was gonna happen!" says Ivy League John.
"I think, with Jeannie," John says later, "there's some issues there that I'm kind of trying to get my arms around."
Jeannie squeezes her issues together in unconscious sympathy.
"I'm a perfectionist!" Jeannie says, becoming agitated. "No matter what, I have to get everything perfect!" Whatever it is she's talking about -- and she's babbling incoherently now -- it's making her cry.
Danielle flashes the camera a big smile: "I think Jeannie's emotionally unstable at this point in her life." But Natalie is touched by Jeannie's words. ("Blah blah blah perfect! I mean, 'cause see, a lot of people complain, right? Blah blah perfect!") Natalie knows exactly what she means; tears are rolling down her face.
"I feel that there's something connecting Jeannie and I between our pasts," Natalie says later. "There's something to be found that's not totally fulfilled. I don't know if it's her upbringing or what, but there's definitely a big connection between Jeannie and I."
Minutes later, Natalie is licking the side of John's mouth. John is as surprised as we are. We are even more surprised when, after all four girls -- including Jeannie -- predict she will be the first to go, John fixes the camera with an earnest gaze and extols their "good connection."
The Locksmith, whose career, we suspect, will be tarnished more by "Chains of Love" than Madison Michele's, arrives in the morning toting a blaring alarm clock. Time for John to unchain one of his fellow contestants, or "free a babe," as we think of it.
He unchains Danielle. "This person is interesting and creative, but has also shown a manipulative side and has been a bit too aggressive in wanting my attention, and spoke over the other women a little too much," he says.
He gives her $500 to join a dating service and get drunk. It's unclear what made John get so vicious toward the group's only nonmodel -- we're guessing she shut him down after lights out.
"I was glad to get rid of her because she was ruining everything."
Meanwhile, Danielle weeps in the limo. "I don't understand why women call me a bitch," she says to the back of the Locksmith's head. "I'm extremely nice." Well, there are two brothers in the world who think so.
John's first question to the remaining three: "What would you say if a guy bought you $1,000 worth of clothes on the second date?" (Translation: Are you guys hos?) The unanimous answer: "Uh ... thank you?"
"If you like a guy and he happens to be rich," says Jeannie, suddenly in a folksy mood, "more power to ya!"
John is deeply disappointed in all three of them. He would never date a woman for her money -- unless she was a model.
The four little pigs then board a yacht, where John's fond memories of his onboard orgy are not shared, at least on camera. Instead, he springs a pop quiz on his chain-mates, who are looking serious and scholarly in their shades.
What follows next is indeed compelling television.
"Which weighs more, a pound of feathers or a pound of bricks?"
Easy! Natalie knows this one! She writes, "Bricks!" Duh.
"It's a pound of everything," Kim explains.
"Who is the vice president of the United States?"
There are cries of dismay all around! We didn't realize it was going to be hard!
"How many inches are there in a yard?"
"I use metric!" Kim yells.
At this point, UPN is not bothering to show us the answers.
"Who is the author of 'War and Peace'?"
No clue all around.
Jeannie believes, confidently, that there are four months with 28 days in them.
Later, Natalie gazes at the camera. "I think all three of us felt uneducated in certain subjects because he's a very intelligent person."
"Jeannie has emerged by a hair!" John announces, adding later: "They all sort of missed a bunch of questions that you'd want people to know."
"Oops," says Kim, the cultured Kiwi. "Call me dumb."
We don't have to.
Continuing the tradition of bringing people down, Jeannie becomes seasick. UPN delicately follows her to the bathroom and plays sick noises. Not long afterward, the Locksmith is shuttled to the side of the yacht on a motorized vessel of some sort. Bye-bye, Jeannie.
Later, back in the hot tub, Natalie tells the others she likes a little "smack on the ass." John and Kim agreeably spank her. "Sweet little innocent Natalie," he reflects later, "is not sweet little innocent Natalie. I think we've all learned that."
"Whether that means I'm going to take her home to meet my mother [otherwise known as his "acting personal assistant"], I'm not sure," John chortles. And we realize that there's nothing more attractive than a chortling corporate attorney who separates women into mother-meeting and non-mother-meeting groups.
The thing is, John wants it all. "This is clearly an apples and oranges situation. And so I need to decide which I prefer."
Take the oranges, John. You're already skeezy; you don't want to get scurvy.
The next morning, after John admits to being intrigued by Kim's approach-avoidance maneuvers, Kim reveals that she's only in the game to win. If John wanted to "pursue a relationship" with her, she'd have to decline.
We can't imagine what he doesn't have that she'd want, except personality, charm, kindness and class.
Meanwhile, Natalie would pursue a relationship with a passing breeze.
Finally, it's time for the "dates." John and Kim go on a "picnic" with Natalie trailing behind them on the chain, eating her own lunch. After a play-by-play of their four-day relationship -- an untold delight for viewers who've just seen it all unfold -- they kiss.
Natalie's date will consist of that old "Chains" standby, the "intimate dinner" complete with "sensual desserts." Sensual desserts are desserts that are fed to blindfolded half-wits who can develop feelings for corporate attorneys who would agree to appear on UPN.
"You have to guess, like, very specifically what this is," John says, feeding her fruit.
"Strawberry dipped in chocolate," says Natalie authoritatively.
"Now you have to guess," she says, feeding him her tongue.
Romance is in the air, and Natalie knows exactly what needs to be said.
"So how about we do body shots?"
Oh, goodness, what an awkward, inopportune time for the Locksmith to appear!
Natalie's 10-second plea for clemency: "I think it's the perfect opportunity for us to take a hot tub together alone."
Kim's: "I'm the one."
But John never "connected" with Kim "romantically," so Kim is banished -- along with $1,000 for acting lessons, "because you never really had me convinced that you had a real interest in me."
Natalie throws her arms around John and thanks him. After a brief pep talk in which he confirms their "connection" -- something about her background and her nonaffiliation with Gucci -- she's wrapping her legs around him in the hot tub, topless.
"John's someone I would definitely date," she says in voice-over. The position she's in would seem to suggest a four-letter verb other than "date," but models, we've found, speak in a language all their own.
Says John, "Natalie and I have similar backgrounds, and you combine that with chocolate-covered bananas in the mouth, and there's no way I'm going to say no to that."
Ah, yes, the chocolate-covered banana in the mouth. As Freud once said, sometimes a chocolate-covered banana in the mouth is just a chocolate-covered banana in the mouth.
But probably not in John's case.
Then the infrared lights, the familiar rustling of the sheets, Natalie murmuring, "John, you're a really great kisser."
Nat, you're a really big sucker.
Next morning, John is smiling so wide you could fork-split his face.
"I was surprised last night when John showed me his sexual side," Natalie says. We've never heard it called that before, but we can't really say we're surprised.
We are surprised, however, when John -- after feigning reluctance to unchain Barbie -- tells her that although they "connected on a physical level," what he's looking for in a serious relationship is "maybe someone who's a little further along and a little more experienced and someone I could connect with more on an intellectual level."
He was apparently concerned when Natalie said the capital of California was "the beach."
"So I'm choosing not to pursue a relationship with you," he concludes.
He gives her three grand for her services.
And then the coda, superimposed on a poignant shot of the lonely, pensive Locksmith -- who we've noticed has put on some weight lately; we think it must be depression: "Days later, John invited Natalie over to apologize for cutting her loose ..."
(In some cultures, this is known as a "booty call.")
"He apologized, they fooled around and he cut her loose again."
So it wasn't the happiest ending -- but at least it's over.
-- Carina Chocano