“I’m trying to figure out who should be jealous of whom here?” Regina’s date asked, his handsome features glowing. She thought about how she would answer this question as the cameras of Australia's largest reality television show zoomed in.
“What do you hope for in life?” the director asked.
“To be happy,” she said, smiling and looking straight ahead and not moving around in her chair as they had taught her.
Her mother had told her to always look her best, “We need to have men look at you the way your dad looks at Aussie football,” her mom had said on more than one occasion.
She had an odd journey to being a guest on Blind Date Done Deal. Last month, after an afternoon hiking, she had dinner with her best friend Courtney at her flat in Mosman. She thought Courtney was lucky to live with her boyfriend in this posh Sydney suburb of cafés, trophy dogs and designer fashion boutiques.
After a glass of Chardonnay, they got around to discussing Regina’s breakup with Jake. Perhaps she had been talking about it too much, as Courtney kept shifting the subject a bit too quickly the last few times they met.
“Forget that mean man,” Courtney said, playfully slapping her arm, “you need to move on, you don’t want to be alone forever. You are such a beautiful girl.”
“But I just don’t know how to get started,” Regina lamented, looking down at the table.
“Then you need to get out there girl,” Courtney said and held her breath, “I know just the thing. My cousin Beth is an assistant producer on Blind Date Done Deal. I’ll talk to her and get you in. And you are sooo photogenic.”
Courtney was more flattering than usual today. Regina felt a wave of irritation at realising she had probably being set up, but at the same time, she didn’t have much to lose except time thinking about Jake.
“I will give it a think,” Regina said, “now let's talk about something else,” as she refilled Courtney’s glass.
Three days later, she was waiting at a media company reception room in a plain looking office building in the commercial suburb of Artarmon with a dozen other candidates. Everyone was young and attractive. She pretended to look at her mobile, and exchanged glances out of the corner of her eye with a handsome guy on the other side of the room.
An older man with a beard walked out, and called out her name, “Regina?”
She lifted her hand.
He appeared to struggle a bit to smile, “It’s great to see you today,” he said glancing at his notes, “...Regina. I’m Gregory, come with me, I’ve heard so much about you from Beth.”
After they sat down in his office, he summed up her situation, “So you have broken up with your boyfriend nine months ago. Hmm… Keep an open mind, look forward! Being on Blind Date could really open up your future, that’s why you are here.”
She didn’t know quite know how to respond and simply nodded.
“I tell you what, I really like you. I’m picturing you having a great time with all of us,” he said as he kept glancing down at her photo in the binder that had her name on it.
“Me too,” she said, nodding. This all felt a bit too easy, but she admitted to herself she didn’t know how the media industry operated.
“Great! We will need you on location three hours before shooting next Friday. We will take care of all the rest.”
She was now on her first date since the breakup, or on a reality tv show as a contestant, she wasn’t sure which.
“Regina, will you do anything it takes?” the director asked, giving her a knowing look.
“Anything? I would not say anything. Who do you think I am?” she said, and laughed nervously.
The morning of taping, she woke early to take the train into the city from the far Western Sydney suburb of Parramatta. Her life as a designer meant living in a low rent part of the city. After exiting Kings Cross station, she walked down a backstreet in this party district of Sydney to the address she was given. She saw a sign for ‘Café Bistrot’.
Excited, she opened the door and walked inside and into a busy television set. The space was normally a formal restaurant, but for a few days a year, everything was moved to make space for the lighting and cameras and the equipment needed for shooting a television show from all the right angles.
After opening the door and standing inside confused, Gregory, the director she had interviewed with, rushed over.
“Regina, great to see you bright and early,” he said, slightly flustered, “my assistant Beth will get you to makeup.”
Thirty minutes later, with barely a second to introduce herself to Courtney's cousin Beth, she walked down the back alley, toward the same door to Café Bistrot, but this time wearing far heavier makeup. Cameras were rolling.
“Stand straighter, look excited!” Gregory shouted from behind all the other people standing by the cameras.
After the take, he shouted, “Let’s do it again.” And she had to do the same walk from the same spot to the same door.
“Makeup!” A voice shouted. Someone ran up to Regina and stuck brushes in her face again.
This was getting exhausting. She looked at Courtney’s cousin for help, but Beth tilted her head ever so slightly and raised her eyebrows and was looking off into the distance.
After the seventh take a complaint was forming in her mind, along the lines of ‘why can’t I just be myself?’ Just about when that complaint was to explode out of her mouth, the director announced, “Ok, and we’re done. You look great!” His face didn’t signal greatness, but at least it was over.
Beth walked over, “Did you get nervous in front of a camera? Of course you did. Everybody does.”
She was about to reply that she wasn’t nervous, just exhausted, but Beth began to lead her by the arm through the restaurant. She explained the sequence: First she would greet her date, Ian, at the bar, then after a drink, they would sit down at a table. A waiter would come over, and ask them “Is it your first time at the restaurant?” and her date would say the joke he had prepared, and she should laugh.
Beth told her Ian’s interests and hobbies. If their conversation slowed down, she could ask him questions about those. Otherwise, she should just be herself and relax. They’d keep filming for two hours and would cut out anything that didn’t work out, There was no need to worry.
“We’ll get you mic’d up in a minute,” Beth said, and then passed her to another person. While the female crew member clipped a mic into her bra, Regina watched Beth busily typing into her mobile.
“Quiet on set!” the director shouted to the crew.
Regina stood just inside the front door. Across the restaurant, she caught the first glimpse of her date, Ian. He looked slightly nervous at the bar, holding his drink.
All the crew members backed up a step.
Gregory shouted, “Background!’
The waiters started walking around, the extras at tables pretended to talk.
“Are you good at meeting people?” Gregory asked at the pre-date interview.
“My friends say I am,” she replied confidently.
After all her preparation, it was time. She walked in and confidently sashayed across the restaurant with style. She glided up to the bar next to Ian, as if he was an old friend.
“Helllloo there,” Beth said and smiled warmly.
“Nice to meet you! You look lovely,” Ian said, and unexpectedly presented a single red rose.
“That is very kind of you,” she said, accepting the flower. A traditional date would be a relief.
She looked at his cocktail and asked, “What are you drinking?”
“A gin & tonic. And what’s your poison?”
He ordered her glass of white wine, then asked her all the right questions, while also telling her a bit about himself. His explanation of how he tumbled into being on the show greatly helped her settle her nerves and made her forget about the cameras.
She became a bit giddy with how well this was going, “My mom would love you!” she said encouragingly.
With all the excitement and romance of the day, she started to feel maybe Ian could the one. But she remembered what Courtney said - with men there’s always a catch.
Ian excused himself and went to the bathroom. When he came back, he smiled awkwardly and asked a question, “How do you pronounce your name?”
Regina was confused. No one ever had a problem with how to pronounce her name. Oh no. That means…
“Do you see yourself as a forgiving person?” Gregory asked at the pre-date interview.
“It depends,” Regina replied.
Regina lifted a forkful of grilled Barramundi to her mouth. She savoured the flavour and pushed her sweet potato purée around on her plate with her fork.
She asked, “Ian. Just now, did you forget my name?”
He smiled, “Yes. Sorry about that.”
“You know, that’s not something women appreciate.” She felt her face blush as she recalled how well she thought the first part of the date had been going. How many other girls did Ian tell those same lines to without even knowing their names?
Beth suddenly rushed over in front of the cameras and asked her to go for a bit of a breather.
Once they were off set, Beth told her, “Regina you are doing great out there,” then said in a soothing voice, “Men. Sometimes we need to guide them, don’t we?” as she kept smiling and nodding.
“Maybe,” Regina said, giving in a little and thinking about her father.
“We are here now. So let's make the best of this?” Beth said, lifting her chin, “you could ask him about his hobbies, remember?”
“Are you a woman who stands up for yourself?” Gregory asked.
“I wouldn’t say I’m a feminist,” Regina said, “but I don’t take shit from anyone either.”
As soon as they sat down again, Ian asked, “What country are you from?”
“People don’t normally ask that question anymore,” Regina tilted her head to one side doubtfully, hoping at least to have a pleasant conversation. She was one quarter South Asian, and had gotten tired of being asked, and having the same conversation over and over about Pakistan while the blonde women she went to school with got to have easy conversations about football.
She decided to toss the ball into his field, “How many relationships have you been in?”
“2 serious ones, and about twenty… well, those ones don’t count..”
“So, test before you buy?”
“It was. But now, the pressure is on for me to have grand children.”
“Good for you! I am still focusing on my career,” she felt this was a real dealbreaker, this date was reaching a new low.
Ian shuffled around in his seat awkwardly and said, “Let's check out this menu,” before burying himself in the dinner choices even though they had already chosen.
The actor playing the waiter came over, and Ian ordered the chicken dish.
“A healthy choice,“ Regina said and remembered the questions she could ask, “and what sports do you play?”
Ian said, “I’m not …”
“Dieting?“, she completed his sentence and soldiered on, “but, tell me which team are you on?”
“I don’t play sports,” he said in a raised voice.
Regina took a gulp of her wine and fidgeted with her dress as Ian looked around at the other people in the restaurant.
The dinner plates were cleared after one of the most awkward dinners she could remember. It was confusing how poorly this was all going after such a good start. The waiter brought over their desserts.
“How perceptive are you?” Gregory asked.
“Very,” Regina said, watching him closely.
“They say… you are a good listener?” Regina asked, with the emphasis on the question mark at the end.
Ian let out a good-natured chuckle, “No, I’m more a talker than a listener.”
“Really?” she said, “well that’s nice, I get tired of talking sometimes.”
“So how about pets?” Ian asked, “I’ve been told that you are a fan.”
Now if was her turn to be confused. “Sorry, I am not really an animal person.”
Ian smirked at her, then raised his eyebrows, looked sideways at the director and Beth.
“Do you think.. There’s any chance, they are jealous of…us?”
“Oh my…”, she said, seeing it now, ”everything they told us about each other was a lie.”
They both sat dumbfounded.
Ian looked at her then said softly, “Let’s start over?”
“Lets,” Regina said, “So, what do you do for work, Ian?” asking in a playful tone as if on a first date. Beth had told Regina not to talk about work, it was ‘cliché.
Ian smiled, “Do you know those little capsules you put into a dishwasher?”
“I’m the brand manager for Perfecto capsules, responsible for everything from production to advertising. How about you?”
“I work for an industrial design studio. I design kitchen appliances.”
“That sounds fascinating,” he said, looking at her with genuine interest.
The next hour on-camera, Regina talked about the aesthetics of household appliance design. Ian happily answered probing questions about dishwashing. That hour wasn't included in the televised episode of Blind Date Done Deal, but Regina and Ian laughed about it for years afterwards, and about how jealousy had brought them together.
A month after filming, Regina’s blog post about her day on Blind Date Done Deal went viral. Gregory and Beth were shifted to directing late night cooking shows for the network’s home shopping channel. Regina and Courtney remain good friends. Lastly, Regina and Ian are planning on moving in together, and are looking for an apartment with a big kitchen.