Act like this and talk like that

So I have completed my two-day tour-of-duty as an elimiDATE production assistant. I come out of this experience a little wiser, a little hardened, a little disillusioned, a little bit country, and a little bit rock-n-roll. I made up those last two.

Though “production assistant” was my official title, me and my compatriots were known euphemistically as “buddies.” Really, though, we were glorified babysitters. Our task was simple — to pick up and transport to the set one of the “guests” of the show and sit with them between takes to ensure that they don’t (A) speak to the other guests or (B) accidentally overhear the plans that the evil overlords of elimiDATE have in store for them.

I’m sincere about that too. The producers of elimiDATE — a team of immoral troublemakers who poke, prod, and otherwise tell the guests what to say and do — have less soul than Don Simmons. This is not an opinion I would have held 48 hours ago, before experiencing elimiDATE firsthand, nor is it even an opinion I would have held 24 hours ago with a single show under my belt. But it is an opinion that I hold now and it will be the lasting mark left on me by this particular adventure in broadcasting. Indeed, elimiDATE is evil. Pure, unadulterated evil. Just how did I come to possess this knowledge? Read on — if you dare!

* * *

First, let me take you back to before the beginning.

Last Friday, before I joined the show, my friend Pat had spent a day working as an elimiDATE P.A. After his day on the job, he regaled me with tales from the elimiDATE set. According to Pat, his Friday guest — the lone guy “picker” amid four hungry women — executed a freak-out that would have made Jerry Maguire proud. Because, you see, when it came time for the guy to make his final selection between the two girls he had just coerced into making out with each other, they decided to turn the tables and eliminate him. This set him off on a Tourette’s-like tangent of vile profanity, name calling, and rampant accusations, the only one of which is fit to print in these pages being, “You ruin lives!”

Pat and I had quite a chuckle about this at the time, and we theorized that elimiDATE would not be able to top that craziness. We were wrong, in a way.

* * *

Monday morning, I woke up and set about picking up my first guest, a semi-pro football player named Chris Trump. He lived in Noblesville with his 30-year old ex-girlfriend and her kid. He proudly wore a college football championship ring and even more proudly spoke of overcoming a career-ending injury to keep playing “for the love of the game.”

Beneath his macho exterior, Trump was a real nice guy. When he spoke of them, you could tell he truly cared about his girlfriend and, most of all, her kid. But the world had a template for Trump to live up to, and live up to it he would, albeit a little reluctantly.

As I said, Trump was a nice guy. But the producers of elimiDATE had another personality picked out for Chris: the drunk asshole. They would accept no substitutes.

And so, I sat and watched while they fed drink after drink to Trump and gave him tips on making fun of the dorkier contestants. “Go after his hair,” they would say. “It looks like a floor mat!” Being an athlete, Trump responded well to the coaching.

We saw the writing on the wall for Trump with the first elimination. A super-odd geeky guy who claimed to be a filing cabinet-dwelling pacifist ninja and have an internet girlfriend was not cut. Instead a jock who was not all that dissimilar to Trump was the first to get the ax. After that it was only a matter of time.

When Trump finally did get cut at the end of Round Two, I saw tears in the halfback’s eyes. Maybe I’m wrong about that, but certainly if I were him I probably would have felt a little down about losing out to the kind of guys that were left in.

The producers had advised Trump that he was going to be cut and that he should “make a scene.” When the ax fell, he effected some rowdiness, but as Trump rapidly put back the last of his shots, he seemed more sad than angry. In his post-show interview, he talked of never really being one to make fun of dorks. On the air, I’m sure it will just sound like more smack-talk, but I could read between the lines.

I loaded him into his limo and he was whisked away with little more than a belly full of free drinks and a guilty conscience. One day later, that’s pretty much all I’d have too.

* * *

My guest for Day Two was named Christian. Chris Trump, my guest from the prior day, had told me a little about Christian, on account of Trump’s mother working at the same hospital as Christian. According to Trump, Christian was a nice guy, but real inexperienced with the ladies and a bit of a dork.

So when I pulled up to Christian’s house, his reputation preceded him. And yet I was not prepared for the reality of the situation. After I knocked on the door, Christian stepped outside — tall, polite, a little gawky, and very gregarious. All in all, the very image of a fine, upstanding young man. He held in his hand a single white rose. Not for me, of course. For the girl.

Following right after Christian was his platinum-haired mother, whose bewildered continence suggested Vicodin and Diane Ladd.

“Where?” she asked. “Where is the other car?”

I was confused. “Oh, the limo takes him home. I just pick him up.”

“No, no,” she mumbled, looking around. “There was another car… a convertible.”

That’s when it clicked: The day before, I had picked up Chris Trump in a convertible. When I picked up Christian, I was driving a sedan. I realized instantly that she must have called the producers to ask what kind of car she should expect to pick up her 27 year-old son. My head filled with images of her micro-managing every detail of his life.

“Oh,” I said. “I drove the convertible yesterday. Today I have this car,” I explained as I quickly loaded Christian in and sped away.

The ride from Carmel to the Rathskeller was a pretty long one, but making conversation with Christian was relatively painless for one simple reason: Christian had the exact same interests that I had as a nine year-old: magic tricks, Ed Grimley, bad impersonations of 80s political figures — you name it. All I had to do was tap into my inner child.

After arriving at Indianapolis’s oldest and most-haunted restaurant, it became apparent to me that Christian was going to be the punchline to this elimiDATE episode. He wasn’t allowed to look at the other guests before the “meet and greet” (and unlike Trump he actually followed those directions to the letter), but I was able to size up the competition freely: a drag-racer nicknamed Elvis for his shellacked pompadour, a Scott Stapp look-alike sensitive crooner, and a standard-issue frat slob. All three looked like they’d seen a fair amount of action in their respective days. The girl was a majorly slutty-looking lingerie model. I suddenly understood the meaning of the phrase “lamb to the slaughter.”

I suppose I should tell you a little more about Christian. As I already mentioned, he’s a 27 year-old man-child who lives with an overbearing mother. And while a “normal” person might feel some shame at this, to a pure soul like Christian it doesn’t even faze him or dim his wide, warm grim. Christian told me his goal in life was to appear on a reality TV show. His second goal in life was to not be eliminated in the first round of said TV show. Things weren’t looking so good for goal number two.

The meet-and-greet almost went down without incident. However, Christian’s rose was upstaged by a larger, wrapped rose of the same hue from the Stapp-alike. Before I could console Christian, the producers suggested he get a card trick ready for Round One.

“Do you think it’ll work?” he asked with a hopeful grin on his innocent face, meaning Would it win the girl’s affection? The producers said yes. Who was I to disagree?

As you might imagine, Christian’s card trick was the object of much derision from the other guys, as was his overall appearance, demeanor, and all details that emerged about his life. From the sidelines, the producers directed the guests toward the aspects of Christian’s life that were most embarrassing — his virginity, for example provided plenty of “ammunition”, as the producers called it.

And yet Round One ended with the elimination of Stapp, not Christian. Stapp, the girl said, had been too quiet, meaning he hadn’t been boisterous enough in savaging the savant. I suspect the producers wanted the torture to continue.

After lunch, during which Christian recapped for me all the jokes from Caddyshack II in a mock Jackie Mason voice, it was time to move to the Kameleon for Round Two. After soliciting some advice from me as to which belt to wear, Christian changed into his club gear, which looked suspiciously like the sort of outfit that most people would wear to church.

Before the round got under way, the producers asked to see some more of Christian’s magic tricks. Now I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a nervous magician before, but when they’re trembling with anxiety, slight of hand goes right out the window. At the behest of the producers, Christian fumbled through three tricks: a fairly decent rope trick that was also fairly obvious, a card trick marred by the fact that he dropped the cards and exposed the trick, and a bra-from-nowhere stunt that would have been embarrassingly bad even if he hadn’t telegraphed the conclusion. He asked me which I thought was best. Rather than advise him to save face and skip the magic, I told him to do the rope trick. In retrospect, I should have used a bit of that rope to strangle myself.

During the filming of Round Two, I was shunted off to the side of the bar, reunited with my friend Pat, who was in charge of the frat slob. “Buddies” weren’t allowed to order real drinks but we were supposed to make the empty bar look lively and full, so we were encouraged to order fake drinks. Overwhelmed by the oppressive meanness of our collective endeavor, I hunched over the bar and cradled my fake cranberry-vodka like a real fake alcoholic. Over my shoulder, I could hear them tearing Christian to shreds as his rope trick failed to impress the lingerie model. As the producers stood off-camera holding up insult cue-cards reading “virginity”, Elvis and Frat Slob switched gears before the girl finally suggested a round of body shots. I turned away and instructed the bartender to bring me her strongest fake drink.

Christian did the body shot like a trooper. Still, he was cut at the end of the round. The girl said she was looking for someone who knew how to party, but I think the real story is that the producers had gotten enough rise out of watching Christian obliviously grin his way through another round of everyone laughing at him. Ever the optimist, in his exit interview, Christian continued to play along with whatever instructions the producers had for him, including cutting a Robin Leech-voiced promo in which he sized himself up to his competitors while, elsewhere, they took turns simulating cunnilingus on the dance floor.

As we waited for the limo to come take Christian home, I felt dirty. I was glad it was raining, maybe it would cleanse me of my sins.

“Christian,” I said, “Keep that rope on you, man. Because when people see this show they’re gonna remember you, not which of those two jerks won. People are gonna come up to you and say, ‘Hey, you’re the guy from elimiDATE — do a magic trick for me.’ And, hey man, you met your goals: you were on TV and you made it past the first round.”

Christian smiled wide once again. “Not just TV,” he said, beaming. “National TV.”

I watched Christian’s limo pull away and I felt ashamed. As I walked to my car, I realized that Pat’s guest from Friday, the one who flipped out and accused the producers of ruining lives… I realized that guy was right.