How do we love "Love Connection?" Let's count the ways.
1. We love it when contestants act all warm and snuggly.
2. We love it when they rant and rave like love-starved mutants.
The syndicated game show--a "Dating Game" clone with the added attraction of post-date bickering and leering by contestants--is in its fifth season and going strong. According to "Love Connection" reps, the show is beamed to 142 stations around the country, reaching an estimated 4 million viewers (in Orange County, it airs weekdays at 7 p.m. on KHJ-TV, Channel 9).
While "Love Connection" is just \o7 television\f7 to the rest of the country, we Southlanders use it as a very public kind of video dating service--all contestants, with the exception of a stray flight attendant or two, are selected from among the 75-100 calls the show receives daily from single Southern Californians.
What's the scoop on these matches made in Hollywood?
Sharon, a divorced mother of two, got talked into going on the show by her best friend.
"We used to watch it together every day after work," said the 41-year-old executive secretary from Westminster. "It was kind of a ritual. We'd come home from work, go for a run, then watch 'Love Connection.' "
In June, Sharon and her pal went to L.A. to fill out questionnaires and talk with representatives from the show, then back a second time to sit for videotaped interviews. "Love Connection" keeps more than 12,000 interview tapes on file from which "selector" contestants choose their dates ("selectees," in the parlance of the show).
"My friend was real nervous, but I got caught up in the silliness of the thing," Sharon said. "They tell you to act real flamboyant (for the videotaped interview) and they egg you on. I can't remember exactly what I said, but I know my answers were kind of \o7 out there.\f7 "
After the excitement of taping and a few days of fantasizing came months of silence. July, August, September--nothing. Then Sharon got the call. A tennis teacher from Toluca Lake had selected her tape, a show rep said. Was she still single and interested?
"By that time, I was seeing someone," Sharon recalled, "but I really wanted to follow through with this. I'd already taken a couple days off work to audition, so I figured I should at least get a date out of it. I told them to give the guy my number."
John, 44, called Sharon that evening.
"We talked for two hours, but we didn't make a date," she said. "He called a few more times, and every time he'd say these kind of complimentary but weird things, like how pretty I looked in my video and how it was destiny for us to meet. Bottom line was, he was real insecure."
Sharon and John finally made a date, and, as arranged, she met him at the tennis club where he worked. "He was much, much better looking than I had thought," she said. "He had a nice head of hair, blue eyes, good body. I expected him to be real geeky from the way he talked."
That was the good news. The bad news was that throughout their date--which included tennis, hiking, a tour of an art museum and cocktails at an Irish pub--Sharon was alternately bored or irritated by John.
The next day, when a show rep called to get her report on the date--so a script could be written for her next taping--Sharon said "some real mean things about John. It was a mediocre date, but let's face it--that doesn't make for much of a show. So they picked up on the negative things I said and focused on that.
"With hindsight," Sharon said, "I'm glad I went on the show, but I wouldn't have wasted my time if I had to do it over. John and I had absolutely nothing in common, and the situation is so stilted anyway. A guy asks you out, he has "X" amount of time with you, and he knows whatever he says or does will be discussed on national television a few weeks later. Kind of inhibits spontaneity, don't you think?"
Ronn, 25, thought so--and decided on a few moves to "make points with the audience."
"I sent flowers and balloons to her job right away," he said. "I knew no matter what happened on the date, I wanted to get the audience on my side."
Like Sharon, Ronn, a Santa Ana human resources manager, auditioned for "Love Connection" at the urging of a friend. "I was out there pressing in the singles scene and coming up empty," he said. "I figured ("Love Connection") couldn't be any worse than the other blind dates I've had--even if you don't have a good time, you pretend you do and just never call that person again."
No pretending was necessary when Ronn met Jeanetta, a 24-year-old single mom from San Bernardino that the "Love Connection" audience selected for him.
"We hit it off right away," he said. "We got along on the phone and when I picked her up, I said, 'Whoa!' She was much more beautiful than she looked on her tape."