Broken Hearts Club

Pop Quiz: Staci's a slutty-hot mid-20-something struggling to make it in Los Angeles. She's not the brightest in the bunch, but throw a semi-attractive male and some female competition in the fray, and her feistiness explodes on screen. She proceeds with some trash talk and inappropriate sexual innuendos. What popular TV show is she appearing on?

A. 5th Wheel

B. DisMissed

C. Change of Heart

Actually, she could be on all of them (not to mention Elimidate). It's the latest winning formula in the saga of dating game shows--a voyeuristic romp in L.A. with a competitive twist. Add a slightly creepy host and some pop-up balloon analysis and splice in contestant commentary. Voila! A frighteningly trashy but addictive mix of humor, libido and pure vulgarity.

These shows also seem to hit the pulse of pop culture, as the evolution of the dating game show continues to reflect larger societal trends. First came The Dating Game and other copycats--a relatively flaccid Q&A session where bachelors and bachelorettes would be interviewed and potentially chosen for a date. Then the O80s witnessed the popularity of Love Connection, which combined Dating Game-style selection (updated now to video interviews), audience interaction and post-date commentary.

Now, with shows like Jerry Springer and Survivor dominating airwaves, voyeurism and competition are in. Combined with the fail-safe smut value of watching people try to get it on, this new bunch of shows take us where no dating show ever has before--to the actual date. Also included for today's ADD audience are loads of editing effects and asides ^ la The Real World. What's next? Interactive After-party?

Until then, Recess has provided a quick reference guide to the latest wave of dating shows. We've viewed Oem, reviewed Oem and rated Oem for entertainment value (read "sex romps") on a scale of five hearts (in honor of Valentine's Day). And although these shows definitely live up to their tacky entertainment potential, they also make everyone feel better about their dating status. Single? Sit back and realize that you've never been desperate enough to allow Carrot Top to analyze your romantic endeavors. Attached? Hey, even if your mate's president of the Color Me Badd fan club, he's still gotta be a whole lot cooler than the contestants on these shows. Cling tightly!

So set the dial to your favorite syndication station and enjoy the latest pop fodder--and Happy Valentines Day!

The Fifth Wheel

The Fifth Wheel masterfully combines the fighting of DisMissed with the sheer awkwardness of Blind Date. After four contestants spend the afternoon socializing, a new person-the aptly named fifth wheel-is introduced. This contestant, often the most attractive woman, sends her competition into a cat-fighting frenzy over the one guy everyone seems to want. If you're lucky, at the end of the show, two or more of the contestants will make out in the "disco room" on the fifth wheel bus. Also, host Aisha Tyler of E!'s Talk Soup interjects many of the sharp criticisms viewers scream at the screen-and a few they miss.

-Meg Lawson


Elimidate, one of the newest additions to the world of dating shows, builds on the success of MTV's DisMissed by adding more of what the audience craves: rejection. The show features one dater who is pursued by four prospects. One suitor is "elimidated" in each round of play, until only a happy couple remains. The contestants spend the show vying for the attention of their would-be date, and trashing one another in Real World-style confessional side commentaries.

Though Elimidate offers quick rounds and numerous contestants, catering to an audience whose attention span grows shorter by the day, it's rare to see true chemistry between the harried participants-and isn't that what dating shows are all about? Deliver on the hookups and smackdown, Elimidate! Your attention-deficit disordered demographic is losing patience.

-Macy Parker

Blind Date

Ah, the one that started it all. Blind Date matches two crazy kids (in the institutional sense) and whirls them around for a variety of idiotic activities. ("We're gonna go dry-clean some sweaters! Then we'll churn some butter!"). The awkward pauses and otherwise asinine conversation banter are accented with annoying dialogue balloons and other supplementary analysis (I'm really sure the girl is thinking "What a turd.") All the contestants seem to be a bit "off"-as does the smarmy host, Roger Lodge. But hey, they basically promise some hot tub action every five episodes, so there's always a reason to tune in.

--Beth Iams


Three day cruise in paradise-great! Three day cruise in paradise with a blind date-not so great. Shipmates sends two complete strangers on a three-day cruise to see if the sparks fly-and mostly they don't, romantic or otherwise. Even the exotic locales on the show can't make up for the often bland, unattractive contestants. And the host, Chris Hardwick of MTV's Singled Out, proves that Jenny McCarthy really did provide all the excitement on his previous gig. But Shipmates can still occasionally hold its own, as when the show sent two people straight from their Springer appearance on a cruise to Canada. Maybe this "trailer park" niche market will be enough to save the show from an early death.

-Meg Lawson


Sandwiched between commercials for Enzyte (the new penis enhancing drug) and Bloussant (the latest pill for a breast boost), a little show called Rendez-View hits the airwaves. Effeminate host Greg Proops sits alongside Ellen Ladowsky as the two scrutinize a couple's first date. Two very B-list stars-people you've never, ever heard of and certainly won't recognize-join the hosts each episode to offer their opinions, too. The contestants' date is aired bit by bit while the four bash the couple's efforts. The dates seem to be purposefully mis-matched, and Rendez-View is probably the most ghetto-fabulous of the dating-show bunch. The contestants don't down Crystal in the back of a leather-interior Expedition-think two 40s in an '88 Astro Van. But therein lies the show's charm and appeal-if you think it's time to go slumming, Rendez-View is the place for you.

-Cary Hughes

Change of Heart

Only couples with the lowest moral standards can sex it out on Change of Heart. The scandal-making dating show sets up existing couples with new hos and beaus. Videoclips from the dates tell the story-sometimes there's a love-fest, but sometimes there's just a cold shower. Girls have the best commentary because they really get catty, while the guys tend to deflect by making dumb macho jokes. When one partner is naughty and the other is nice, the four-letter words fly across the stage. Each episode ends with a decision to "Stay Together" or have a "Change of Heart." It may be raunchy-but it sure as hell makes for great TV.

-Cary Hughes


Ever wonder what happens after blind dates see the light? The creators of the un-dating show Cheaters thought you might. Salacious and confrontational, Cheaters is a breakup-fest built on infidelity. "Contestants" are worried mates who suspect their partners are getting a little-or a lot-on the side. The show's producers investigate the infidels with a week of high-tech surveillance and present the results to the suspicious. And-shock!-the news is never good. Embittered or inconsolable, the duped get the chance to confront the cheaters with their side-dish flings. Prepare for a chorus of bleeps rivaled only by R2D2-the high tension, mascara-stream climax makes Jerry Springer look like community theater.

-Tim Perzyk


DisMissed, MTV's take on voyeuristic dating, sends two contestants out to win the heart of one date, creating a bitter lust triangle that's about as unpredictable as a stoplight. Competitors must vie for attention by cleverly psyching each other out and accentuating their best qualities to impress their would-be love. This usually means calling each other "skank" and taking their shirts off. One unique aspect of DisMissed is the timeout, an option to go one-on-one with the coveted guy or girl. This time usually consists of two total strangers making out. Eventually, the date must choose one and "dismiss" the other, leaving the audience fairly certain that a good thirty minutes of relationship cultivation will lead to a substantial and meaningful bond between two people who can't quite remember each other's name. Ah, love....

-David Walters


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