Dating in the dark

Beer goggles non-requisite for "Dating in the Dark."

“Inside this secluded house, a most unusual dating experiment is about to take place…”

Intrigued? You should be. If the James Bond-esque music brooding behind this voice over didn’t have your heightened attention, then this reality show’s title will: “Dating in the Dark.”

Everything about this show –– which ran on ABC for two seasons in 2009 and 2010 –– is experimental. What’s the crux of the other 99.9 percent of reality dating shows? Looks. So, what do you do to be different? Throw the playbook on appearances out the window and test the age-old statement: “Love is blind.”

Can two people build an attraction based on personality alone? As one contestant noted, “I need to change what I’m used to –– which is just picking the hottest girl I see.”

Three single men and three single women are placed in separate rooms of the same house so that they have no chance of seeing the other sex, (besides, for the women, the rather likeable and surprisingly not sleazy host). The only place they interact is in the pitch-black darkness of a completely light-sealed room, where we get to watch them, almost like scientists, thanks to some fancy black and white infrared cameras. “They’re not looking at your boobs; they actually have to listen to you!” chirruped one of the ladies.

It’s an interesting selection of specimens. Here, we have a lot of people around that 30-year milestone with dubious-sounding occupations, like “Vitamin Store Owner,” “Motivational Speaker,” “SAT Tutor” and “Chippendales Dancer.” That said, they all come across as open, honest and easy-going, treating the show as just as much of an experiment as the director and the viewers do. There is no cash prize, and no elimination (just rejection). And there’s a certain camaraderie among the participants; they’re tossed in this together, and when they first enter the dark room, they must rely on one another to guide them to their seats. The men enter with their hands on one another’s shoulders, laughing nervously. It’s a relief from the passive-aggressive cutthroat quality of many other dating shows.

First there’s a group date for some casual banter, after which they can specify people for individual “dates” –– these entail sitting on an oversized beanbag and feeling around like naked mole rats (those are blind, right?) for affirmation of the other person’s presence, or maybe to access the musculature of his face. But mostly, they talk; they try to… connect. As a covert observer, it all seems very casual, and pretty awkward, too. The rawness and realness is refreshing, however. Neither the show nor the participants put on airs or are manipulated for greater appeal.

Thrown in between these dark room dates, the host shares some of the women’s items with the men, and vice versa –– for example, their shirts or suitcases or toiletries. One man smelled a dress and concluded, “I feel like I’d be compatible with her.” Might I add that he was “a big fan of pheromones”?

In the individual dates, things can heat up. I mean, this is the dark. People end up kissing people they’ve never set eyes on. Hence: “I have no idea what I just kissed. I just hope I don’t have this guy who looks like Shrek.” A professional sketch artist even comes in to visually create the people that participants have been envisioning in their minds.

And before you know it, the 40 minutes are coming to an abrupt end. Pairs stand across from each other in the dark, and a glowing overhead light slowly reveals one person at a time. This way, no one can see the other’s reaction. Which, for some people’s egos, is a very good thing.

Afterwards, they return to their respective portion of the house and try to assess their emotions. “Oh no…” one woman moaned. “He’s not at all what I expected him to look like.” On the other end, her match was fist pumping while shouting, “She’s cute! She’s cute!”

If you want to feel uncomfortable, watch the ending scenes, in which each pair reconvenes on the balcony: a person waiting in vulnerable anticipation, unsure whether his physical appearance matches up to his personality. A rejected male, watching the girl leave the house, comments, “All that stuff that we really really connected on in the room –– was that knocked out of the water just because of the way I looked?” Sorry, bud. Truth hurts. Dating hurts. And the ineluctable importance of appearances hurts.

“It’s a test of character –– of theirs, and also my own. How will I feel if I get rejected when the lights go on?”

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