In a former life filled with long lunches and spray tanning, I was a reality show casting director in Hollywood. I worked on some wildly popular prime-time hits as well as some pilots that never saw the light of day. I started my career at "Blind Date," back when MySpace was still a place for friends and Facebook was a twinkle in Mark Zuckerberg's eye, and I'd often turn to this "new online world" to search for contestants.
I had just started dabbling in online dating myself and navigated the virtual waters with ease. I'd post clever ads on Craigslist and flirt with guys on Friendster, all in the name of casting the show. But try as I might, I couldn't always rely on the Internet to find willing male participants -- I actually had to go out and meet men. In real life.
I was very shy. I'd sweat in the weirdest places when my nerves would kick in. So whether on the clock or not, I would always say I was "casting a show" when I'd approach good-looking men. That way, I'd never feel jilted if they declined my advances. But casting the shows taught me how to build my self-confidence and, frankly, helped me meet a lot of guys. Even an '80s teen icon
Sadly, most guys I encountered were of the typical vapid L.A. fare, leaving me to kiss a lot of bottom-feeding mouth breathers before I actually met a nice, normal, gainfully employed gent (a qualification both for myself and most of the shows I worked on). And this got me thinking -- what else did casting reality dating shows teach me about life and love?
Lesson 1: Guys Are Never As Tall As They Say They Are
Learned While Casting "Blind Date"
Since most relationships start with a poke these days, guys get way too much wiggle room to fudge their stature. Just like I'd say I was "athletic" instead of "big boned," most guys I picked up online turned out to be Oompa Loompas. It was even worse in reality TV. I'd spent countless days reading applications of men lying about their height. So I quickly devised a highly scientific method to figure out just how tall they really were: subtract three inches.
If he says he's 6 feet tall, he's really 5-foot-9. If he says he's 5-foot-8, he's really 5-foot-5. And if he actually puts 5-foot-6 on paper, he's never ridden a roller coaster in his life. At 6-foot-3 or above, though, he's telling the truth. At that height, you really can't lie in person.
We ladies aren't getting off easy either. If a girl says she's 130 lbs., she's at least 145 lbs. (on a good day.) Why? Because no skinny girl would ever admit that she's 130 lbs. -- she'd go 115, maybe 120. Other girls know they can't pull off a weight that low so they settle on 130 -- to them, this seems incredibly low compared to their reality. So no matter how heavy I got, I always weighed 130 lbs. on paper. Spanx and a nice pair of heels shaved off 10 lbs., and my propensity to put out of the first date always seemed to melt the rest away. Plus, a satiated guy rarely argues.
Lesson 2: A First Date Is Just Like a Reality Show Audition, Minus the Background Check
Learned While Casting "Foursome"
You'd think the guy auditioning would be the only one with the jitters, but I was always nervous too. Replace their application with a menu, and you might as well be at the Olive Garden on a first date. Sometimes, if the man sitting across from me was far too hot for his own good, I would stutter like an idiot and generally make a fool of myself -- very much like a first date. Other times, if he was a giant tool, I'd fake a phone call to get me out of there, much like I wished
I'd done on many first dates, but was too chicken.
During one memorable audition, a guy decided to take his pants off and sit bare-assed on a chair to show me just how comfortable he was getting naked on camera. Sure, it was for a Playboy Channel show, and I had already asked him to take his shirt off so I could make sure he was sporting a six pack, but still. Where's the foreplay?! He left nothing to the imagination and, once the footage of his "inchworm" got around, he ultimately blew his shot at being cast. We wanted "showers," not "growers."
I couldn't ever bring myself to tell him the reason we didn't cast him. And, much like dating, it become a dance of avoiding increasingly desperate phone calls so I didn't have to tell him that he didn't make the show. But unlike dating, these calls would happen every 15-20 minutes. For days.
Lesson 3: East Coast Guys Are Just West Coast Guys With Jobs.
Learned While Casting "The Bachelor"
Ever since Alex Michel -- the Bachelor with two first names -- I've been hooked on the show. So when I got the chance to cast season 10 of "The Bachelor," I jumped. It was my job to go out and recruit hot, successful guys for the show. But after casting airhead (but smoking-hot) L.A. guys for years, the task seemed daunting: "The Bachelor" actually had to be a real man, not just play one on TV.
I had to find the Holy Grail -- a tall, successful brainiac hunk who's somehow still willing to ruin his life on TV. I had trepidations to say the least, especially when I spotted just the ticket in his natural habitat: enjoying happy hour at a bar near Wall Street.
As I zeroed in on his chiseled good looks and Robert Pattinson hair, I knew there was no way he could be more than a model-actor. To my surprise, he was neither. He was -- wait for it -- a banker. I had to sit down for a minute. I was so trained by all those L.A. men who have never done, will do or plan to do anything more with their lives than make sure their gym memberships don't expire that I couldn't believe a real person could exist in the body of a total babe.
It became clear after one too many awkward silences that he could have used a little coiffing in the personality department, so he didn't make the show. But, ladies, he might still be out there roaming the streets looking for his bachelorette. I'm sure you'll figure a way to fill those pregnant pauses. His name was Tom. Tell him I said hi.
I often wondered why people would ever do a reality dating show. I understand why someone would want to win a million bucks, but for most of the shows I've cast, the main event was getting naked and crying. And people still jumped at the chance. I'm sure there were some underlying daddy issues at play, but I saw a lot of people come in who were totally normal. They really just wanted to be on TV.
What I do is not high art. I'm not staving off global warming or putting kids through college. But I am creating an outlet for people to shake what God gave 'em. (Full disclosure: I was on a reality show myself. I played a fashion victim
on Style Network's "How Do I Look?" Incestuous, I know, but I've done way worse.) Reality TV isn't making the world any better, but it sure is a good time. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go fill out an application for "The Bachelorette." And yes, I will be wearing Spanx.
Sarah Monson is a reality TV casting director who has been thrusting ordinary folks into the spotlight for years on shows like "Blind Date," "Survivor" and "The Bachelor." She is currently penning a memoir about this ridiculous career choice and how it totally helped her score dates. For more juicy insights, visit Reality Show Chick or follow her on Twitter.
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