"They made me look like a real snobby bitch," said Adrianne Lear, a "Love Connection" contestant four years ago who said that her date was a nightmare but that she had not intended to attack the man on the air. "We had agreed to be nice," she said, "but I guess they have good couples and bad couples, and we were a bad couple. They gave me things to say I wouldn't have said, and made him feel bad, and I felt bad. I had no idea there was a script, and that I would have to be mean."
Psychologists say that because of the way the dates are presented as either perfect or horrible, and because of the attractiveness of most of the guests--many of whom are actors and actresses hoping for exposure and who become known on the "love-show circuit"--the shows could create in viewers unreasonable expectations about their own lives.
"These shows idealize the kind of person that is available out there," said Los Angeles-based clinical psychologist Murray I. Firestone. "They give rise to some unreal and ideal expectations. It also continues the ultimate fantasy, that there is that as yet unmet ideal mate for us, and that we can live happily ever after with a house in the suburbs."
For some of the contestants, however, the shows fill a need.
"It's difficult to meet guys in L.A.," said recent "Studs" winner Melissa Rapoza, 23, a San Diego native. "It's fast here, and very image-oriented. When you meet someone, at a club or wherever, you have one chance, 30 seconds, to hook someone. It's also hard to meet people my age to date. At 'Studs' they take the time to try and match you up with what you want."
"These shows reflect a certain desperation and loneliness in our society that a lot of people of all ages feel," said Dr. Saul Brown, director of psychiatry at Cedars Sinai Medical Center. "People turn to whatever methods they can to find relationships."
Do these programs ever engender true love connections? Former contestant coordinator Pringle, who is now a personal manager, said that "Love Connection" is responsible for upward of 15 marriages plus a slew of babies. Spokeswomen for "Personals" and "Studs" said that dozens of couples from those shows continue to date, while one couple who met on "Studs" has become engaged.
On the whole, however, these gossip and romance shows are meant to provide entertainment, both for viewers and participants.
"I did it for fun, and to be on TV so my mom could see me in Wisconsin," said former "Personals" contestant Lori Kathryn Holton, 21, who is still dating the man she met on the show.
"But it is very difficult to make connections with people in this society," she said. "For women, especially, it can be dangerous. If you're approached by someone, you can't respond, even as a friend, because you don't know who you're dealing with. Going on a show like this is a safer way to meet people."
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