Countdown to armagettin' some

On the next-to-last episode of "Joe Millionaire," two of the three babes put out (apparently), but one gets dumped anyway. Visigoths invade NYC -- news, pix at 11.

Published February 5, 2003 8:24PM (EST)

Last night was the second to last episode of "Joe Millionaire." Next week, Evan will choose his princess, and then he'll have to come clean. But first, he got to have one last night with each of his three finalists -- luxury outings in Nice, Corsica and Cannes. The evenings weren't dates exactly -- more like sleepovers. Much in the way that a guy might be expected to test-drive his favorite models before buying a new car, Evan got to take a spin with each of his finalists before spending the rest of his credibility.

After last week's tryst with Sarah on the chateau grounds, we approached this week's episode in the mood for raunch. Seeking heat. Instead, we got extra helpings of self-loathing, along with unimpeachable proof of the failure of the American education system.

"We waited until after the sun setted," beamed Melissa.

"He's not extraneously intellectual," observed Sarah.

Yet even a few flubs and malapropisms could not dampen our anticipation for the eagerly awaited overnights. After four episodes of foreplay, we were finally going to see Joe frolic under false pretenses. Isn't that what we were all waiting for? Yes. Had we thought about how we might feel in the morning? No. If we had, we might not have watched.

This is network TV, of course, which requires a certain amount of deciphering and interpretation when it comes to intercourse. Older viewers will recollect the sex codes of ancient cinema: A bedroom fades to black; a couple disappears, starry-eyed, behind a closing hotel door -- it all means the same thing. These people have gone all the way. On "Joe Millionaire" it also meant that:

1. Sarah puts out. Which should be no surprise to anyone who witnessed her tussle with Evan last week, or saw the still photos from her fetish/bondage film career on the Smoking Gun (Web site) last Wednesday.

2. Zora does not put out. Though she did kiss Evan in the pool, and allow herself to be seen in a bikini. Zora is, of course, way ahead of the game. In the morning after she bussed him in the pool, Zora informed Evan that she had a dream that he is really two people -- himself, and a man named John. Zora has shown that she is not only a sphinx, but a witch.

3. Melissa does put out. First, she purred on his lap after a dinner in which the depth of conversation was inversely proportional to the depth of her plunging neckline. (Even Evan asked her to kindly tuck herself back into her dress at one point.) Then, as Evan sat passively next to her, Melissa rested her hand on his inner thigh. "I'll make this easy for you," she promised, before they headed to the bedroom.

Earlier, we'd heard her explain in overdub that, "I didn't want him to think of me as a little sister." (Little Melissa, let it be remembered, is short, null, and five years younger than the other two women. She has been outclassed from the beginning -- no match for Zora's composure or Sarah's over-the-top cattiness.)

And Melissa had genuine cause for concern. C-cups or no, she is a pale beta girl to Sarah's alpha bitch. Sure, she giggled nastily about the other contestants, but never for a moment did we think she could be Sarah's equal. Indeed, for her weakness, blankness and the most godawful squeaky voice since Betty Boop got off crystal meth, "Joe Millionaire" viewers have reviled her almost unanimously for a month now.

If life were like high school, and it is, Melissa would be the hot little freshman who would do anything -- anything -- to fit in with the older, cooler kids. Women viewers, I am sure, have thought, "Why is he keeping her around?" Men, of course, have known exactly why. It is the same reason, they knew, that she couldn't stay until the end.

But before Evan's inevitable goodbye to the sullied wannabe, we were treated to a highly produced epiphany: After his three dates, Evan has a crisis of conscience. Tossing and turning in bed, alone (and presumably sated), he faces the awful truth of the lie he's living.

"I'm not a millionaire! These girls think I'm a millionaire!"

We hear these profundities as the camera captures Evan's distress in gritty black-and-white. It's the real part of the reality show -- get it? No time to set up the boom lights or stage anything, just that one infrared light bulb that has suddenly appeared above Evan's head. As expected, it's dim.

Evan calls the producer up to his room. "I've never ever lied to get a woman to bed before, and now I'm doing it in front of all of bleeping America," he says. (At this point, the line between truth and falsehood is irreparably blurred, but it sort of doesn't matter if we believe him or not.)

"But Evan," the producer reminds him "this is your chance to find out if the girls like you for who you really are, OK?"

Evan's conscience is magically soothed, and the next day he predictably jilts Melissa. When asked what he liked about her, Evan said she was fun, and she was curvy. Now, in a burst of unprecedented -- and surely unintentional -- perspicacity and eloquence, Evan adds, "I mean she's cute, but there's just something not there."

But there is. Melissa is all there in her exit interview, a young woman -- younger than the others, perhaps neither bright nor interesting but nonetheless no more deserving of ridicule than you or I -- who was never a match for the others. There she is, crying on national television -- after putting out on national television,

Of course, we say, she deserved it. She went on the show, it was her fault. I would never deny it. But the fact that we watched her is a necessary part of her humiliation. And we laughed. As she pouted, and squeaked, and giggled, we laughed.

Now she's done giggling. "Evan was never anything but nice to me," she says, her voice breaking. "He made me feel safe."

Yeah, there is something there, and we all recognize it. We recognize it, realize its value and squirm on the couch as it is snuffed out on national TV.

By Sheerly Avni

Sheerly Avni is a freelance writer living in Oakland.

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