Theater. Reality. Babes.


My name is Mike, and I watch Studs.

I know, I know. Studs is not exactly high art. Basically, two California dudes go on blind dates with three California babes. Then they go on television and tell the grimy details to an all-too-affable, all-too-Armani-clad host named Mark DeCarlo, who is basically Steve Gutenberg plus three or four buckets of oozing primordial slime. One lucky couple--occasionally, two or no lucky couples--gets to continue its romance on an all-expense-paid dream date.

This ridiculous soap opera of a game show is repeated five times a week. And I'm an addict.

Not because I can't get a date myself. (That's a totally unrelated matter.) I watch this Love Connection From Hell religiously because nothing else on TV--not the nightly news, not the cops-and-robbers shoot'em-ups, not even ESPN--can compete with Studs when it comes to drama.

And I think I know why. Studs thrives because of its constant tension between artlessly contrived theatricality and brutal reality. (Or maybe it's just the hot babes. But I don't think so.)


On the one hand, Studs is about real life. The contestants really are the judo instructors, students and bartenders they say they are. They really did go on dates, to sushi bars, dance clubs and football games. Some really did hate each other. ("He talked my ear off all night long.") Some really did screw each other. ("We topped off the date with a 10-hour mattress marathon.")

When you watch Studs, you get public glimpses of private emotions. A slightly rotund guy named M.L. (He says it stands for "Much Love") winces as he is mercilessly compared to the Pillsbury Doughboy. Cheryl, Nancy and Kim are simultaneously horrified that Dan has no idea which of them said he "started kissing my lips and worked his way down." Morris ecstatically hugs Joanna after they win a date to Catalina Island. Laurie fights back tears. She picked Morris, too.

Sure, the emotional warfare appeals to our voyeurism, but it also reminds us about us. We're all afraid of rejection, yet starved for affection. We all take part in the battle of the sexes, the survival of the fittest (prettiest, coolest, sexiest, nicest, blondest), the politics of the morning after. We all like to talk about our social lives, our love lives, our sex lives.

But we don't usually do it on television. The contestants on Studs do, and we're never allowed to forget it. Studs is TV, cheesy TV, with writers and commercial breaks and a live studio audience. The contestants pose, perform, play up their 30 minutes of fame. The discourse--if you can call observations like "He had a rocket in his pocket" discourse--takes on a strangely fictional aura.

After every episode of Studs, the contestants all gather at center stage and hug each other. We watch the ritual for a moment--then the rap beat begins to blast, the credits begin to roll and DeCarlo walks in front of the camera, spouting some nonsense about the evening's spectacle. The huggers remain in the background, barely visible. When the cameras cease to roll, Laurie will probably kick Morris where it counts.

That's what Studs is all about. The artificial chafes against the real. All of which chafes against some seriously bodacious bodies.

I'm quitting tomorrow. I swear.