What if, after everything they had endured to find each other, Romeo and Juliet had not died, but instead discovered that hanging out wasn't as cool as they thought it would be? What if Tony and Maria had learned that their love couldn't really survive on the $200 that Tony had borrowed from Doc, and that Maria was still pretty pissed at him for stabbing her brother Bernardo? What if, a few weeks after running 20 Manhattan city blocks to declare his love to Sally, Harry had decided that actually, she did take too long to order her BLTs and he should probably marry Jewish anyway?
There is a reason we don't follow lovers too far into their time together. We need the illusion that love, once declared, is forever. Most heated passion doesn't survive the endless bogs of compromises, negotiations and clogged kitchen sinks of romantic partnership, and even if it did, who would want to know about it?
Everybody, that's who.
When last we left Zora and Evan, they were waltzing through an empty ballroom, united by the $1 million they had received as their reward for choosing love over money. Zora looked lovely, in a royal-blue dress and a curled, sprayed hairstyle straight out of a 1984 homecoming court. And Evan's hand, unconsciously stroking her back while accepting Paul the Butler's benedictions, gave reason to hope against hope that perhaps, just perhaps, this love was real. Wouldn't it be amazing if beneath Evan's crude, hulking, hot-tub cavorting but admittedly chiseled exterior, lurked a sensitive soul, a soul that could only be redeemed by the Love of a Good Woman? Not just any good woman, but a saint, in this case: Zora Andrich, darling of Lambertville, N.J., caretaker of the elderly, enemy to none and friend to all, a Breck girl for the new millennium.
But there were problems. That $1 million seemed as much a reward for helping propel Fox toward its biggest ratings coup ever, as it was for choosing love. For one, the two never really exhibited any kind of on-screen chemistry. A myriad of media sources, including People magazine, CNN and "Joe Millionaire's" own Web site message boards, have put forth fairly convincing arguments that the very poster children for the American dream never really liked each other that way at all.
Last night was supposed to give us a chance to find out "the truth" about Zora and Evan, with their first public appearance since the filming of the last episode. Surprisingly enough, our road to enlightenment was strewn with obstacles: from an unwelcome reunion with earlier castoffs Melissa and Alison, to feeble on-the-street interviews with real live folk ("What's a gold digger?" "Who'd you pick?" "Joe, we think you're hot!") to a particularly smug segment in which Paul the Butler amused himself at the expense of his shallow giggling wards: "It was a bit like being the responsible parent at a 15-year-old's slumber party," he smirked. Then, after about 712 ads for Fox's next reality series, "Married by America," we were treated to examples of witty banter between Paul and Evan, whom Paul described as a true "American bloke":
Paul: You know you don't drink red with fish, don't you?
Evan: Is this a trick question?
Aaah, those charming, thickheaded American blokes. On prime time or in the Oval Office, they may be frauds, but at least they're not snooty. (Just never forget which side of the hemisphere your Wonder Bread is buttered on, gentle Aussie friend.) Surprise Temptation Island host Mark Walberg shows up to gush during a final interview with Zora. When Evan finally made his choice, Walberg says, "You could almost hear America cheering."
Still, Walberg has no luck wresting any disclosures from Zora. At least none that we ever hear; you can't be sure how she really does answer the question "How was that night in the swimming pool?" but "It was amazing" sounds as if it's been spliced in.
Evan's final appearance does little to clear up the mystery. The camera lurches toward the entranceway, and Evan swaggers in. He sidles to the couch. They kiss, briefly, on the lips, and hug. "It's weird to see you," says Zora, apparently underwhelmed by love's fever, and they both turn to face the cameras with enviable, and perhaps practiced, aplomb. Evan's legendary evasiveness has apparently not gone rusty. He, too, gives us no real on-screen answers, asserting only that "now we'll get a chance to see if we can take the relationship further."
And that's it; the cameras roll over and we are left in the hands of Fox's other overproduced, overscripted, and suspiciously edited reality show -- the news. In that version, life is a darker fairy tale, one in which the battle between love and greed gives way to the battle between good and evil. The future is uncertain, the rumors of deception rampant. But never fear, fellow citizens. Take your cue from "Joe Millionaire," which Evan himself calls "the most wonderful show on television." In American fairy tales, the good guy always wins.