“So, you want us going on this reality show… and claim we’re married?”
“For now? Only for the show?”
Sheila nodded. He finally got it.
Tom shimmied. “Sexy!”
“You’ve got the wrong channel, bub.”
He continued, “So, nothing else? Isn’t pretending the same as lying? I thought fraud is a crime…”
“Things change. We can’t know the future.”
“What about intentions? You’re thinking we could be together?”
Tom shook his head. “I don’t know. This sounds awful… theoretical…”
Sheila made fists and set her jaw. “Hypothetical, then!”
Tom didn’t mention how beautiful she looked when angry.
“Why don’t you rope what’s his name into this?”
“Jim? We broke up.”
“Does he know…?”
Tom leaned in for a kiss.
Sheila pulled away. “What are you doing?”
“You want people to think we’re together. Shouldn’t we…?”
“You didn’t agree yet.”
“Oh, right. I thought this audition went both ways. I don’t know how you kiss.”
Sheila made a face and puckered. Tom kissed her and adopted the look of a judge weighing a figure skater’s performance.
“What’re you doing?”
“I give it a five. Technically perfect but lacked the requisite passion.”
“Give me a break.”
“Perhaps with practice…”
“I think you lack the requisite commitment… Next!”
“Alright, alright. So tell me again…”
Once again, Sheila explained the reality show on which she wanted them to compete. “Akin to the Newlywed Game, six couples play different domestic scenes. The audience judges which marriage seems strongest.”
“But we’re not married.”
“They won’t know that. Here, take my hand.”
Sheila held his hand in hers. She looked him in the eye and smiled demurely.
“I take thee, Tom, to have and to hold, yada, yada, yada and so forth and so on. See? Now we’re married.”
“You’ve been to weddings. Tell me I didn’t ace it.”
After a moment, he nodded. “Pretty close. Now I kiss the bride…”
“Did I hear you say theoretical? You mentioned intentions. We’ll treat each other well, right? We’ll see this through, right? Who knows what the future will bring?”
“Or words to that effect. It’s Biblical. Look it up.”
“You think anyone will believe…?”
“You think anyone cares? We just completed a more formal ceremony than most people shacking up out there.” Sheila waved her hand at the world in general.
“Only we’re not shacking up, or married, for that matter.”
“Such a stickler! Where’s your sense of adventure? I always knew you as a rebel and an upstart.” They looked at each other in silence. “Come on, man! Who knows what the future will bring? You up to the challenge?”
Tom shrugged and smiled. “If you’re going to put it that way…”
They went to the interview and made a good impression. Tom presented as thoughtful, shy and unassuming, Sheila as spunky. They made a beautiful couple. The idea of gaming the system did not come up. It was a game show. They were the gamers.
The assistant provided them a sheaf of papers and disclaimers to sign.
After scanning them for a minute, Tom balked. “This is a lot of legal gobbled-gook, Sheila. I don’t know…”
“What’s the matter? No one reads this stuff. You haven’t even started and I’m almost done. Let’s go.”
“I don’t think this is going to work.”
“Must you be so negative?”
“I’m not negative. I’m realistic. This is absurd.”
“It wouldn’t be, if you tried. You’re so oppositional.”
“What would you call your cheating?”
“I’m not cheating. We agreed on this.”
“Yes, but… look… I don’t know what they’re talking about here.”
Tom pointed to a questionable paragraph.
“Relax. If I come across anything I’m not sure of, I refer them to the ‘pre-nup’. Do you know any single people who even know what a pre-nup is?”
“Doubtful. What is it?”
“My point exactly. Finish up, I’m hungry.”
Tom’s insisted they strategize during dinner. Sheila questioned the point of planning for unforeseeable events.
Tom said, “Plans are useless, but planning is essential.”
He leaned in, “We don’t know what they’re gonna throw at us. But we need to be on the same page…”
“Sheila, I hardly know you. How can we sell being married if the simplest questions generate different answers?”
He listed his favorite brands of toiletries, food, clothing and leisure activities. Sheila yawned.
“You don’t care?”
“Why would I remember all that crap?”
“Because my wife would know such things. She shops and spends time with me?”
“So you know how I think. Not to buy me stuff.”
“You think knowing my brand of deodorant gives insight to my character?”
“I’ll give you a list… or a spreadsheet…”
“It’s a starting point. We don’t know what they’ll ask us…”
“Okay, how about fidelity? Jealousy? Do you cook? Clean? Mow the lawn? Banking? Who pays the bills?”
“Kids? How many?”
“Let’s be practical.”
“Okay… What else?”
They talked into the night.
Their first scene took place in a kitchen. They had no script. David, the Assistant Director, spoke to Sheila and separately to Tom.
He said, “Each couple will get six prompts, hypothetical scenes from their marriage to act out. Simply respond to each other as you would if it were real.”
He also told them, “No matter what, do not look into the two cameras. Oh, and be natural.”
Tom and Sheila weren’t allowed to compare notes before taping began. They had to respond as husband and wife while the technical crew recorded everything.
It was a challenge.
David yelled, “Action!”
Tom, sitting at the kitchen table, downed his coffee and stood. He moved toward the door.
Sheila said, “Where are you going?”
“Out. I’ll be back.”
“You’re not planning to cheat?”
Tom gave her an odd look. “No. I believe that’s your department.”
“Really? How about the time I caught you staring at that bimbo at the electronics store?”
“Uhm… She was demonstrating the equipment.”
“Oh, ho… Yeah, her equipment. I get it.”
“Wait. You’ve mistaken me for someone else. We’ve never gone to an electronics store.”
“Whatever store it was…”
“And when did this supposedly happen?”
“Uhm, two years ago.”
“We didn’t even meet until last year.”
David yelled, “Cut! Great! Moving on.”
That day, the production company ran them through a gauntlet of six stressful scenarios. By day’s end, they were physically and emotionally spent.
In the final scenario Tom comes home to find a candle light dinner. He soon discovers the electricity is disconnected. Why the electric bill isn’t paid turns a romantic evening much darker.
Exasperated, Tom blows out the candles leaving the set in darkness.
The Assistant Director yelled, “Cut! That’s a wrap!”
Tom drove Sheila home.
Sheila asked, “Are you hungry?”
“Starved, but I don’t have enough strength to chew. Maybe something with a straw?”
He pulled into a fast food drive-through and ordered milk shakes and fries. Parked in the lot, they ate in silence.
Tom’s straw slurped. “So, what do you think?”
Sheila stared at her fries. “We gave it our best shot.”
“Does Guinness have a record for changing clothes? I must have gotten close.”
“All part of the glamour…”
“And make-up? How do women do it? And why?”
“May mascara never darken your eyes, again.”
“I hope they got what they wanted. We crammed enough drama into that day for a lifetime.”
“If we were really married, I’d want a divorce.”
“That’s marriage? No offense, but wrestling alligators pays better.”
“Talk about working without a net…” She offered him her fries.
“No thanks… Some moments… things spun out of control.”
“Yeah, at one point… in the third scene? I thought you were going to ask what deodorant I use.”
“I considered it. I needed to borrow some.” They laughed.
She touched his hand. “You were great. Their set-ups were evil.”
“They wanted us at each other’s throats.”
“But no one got hurt.”
Tom sighed, “I hope I didn’t say anything…”
She chuckled, “You showed enormous self-restraint.”
“You were funny.”
“Hard to be funny when you’re drowning.”
“Let the producers laugh. We gave it our best.”
Tom dropped her home and slept for fifteen hours straight.
Sheila invited him to watch the show with her. He brought wine and she provided munchies.
Their first scene lasted about five minutes. It played back-to-back with other couples playing the same scenario. Two couples were especially terrible. Tom and Sheila laughed during their own segment. A lot.
The next week featured their second scene in the same format. Again, their scene became a guilty pleasure.
“That second couple doesn’t seem to care.”
“You mean the Woodens? I’m supposed to believe they’re married? Give me a break. Like they never met.”
“And the third… The Stiff family. Don’t let them stay together another night.”
“You, on the other hand.”
“You fought like your life depended on it, Sparky.”
And so it went, through all the scenes they played, to the end. Each week they toasted each other for their showing.
“Whatever happens, Sheila, you came up with the best lines.”
“And you are the best straight-man I could hope for.”
Billy, the producer, had explained the audience would vote each week. The cumulative totals would determine the winner.
The day after the last episode, Billy invited all the couples in for the results. There would be a party and prizes awarded.
Tom and Sheila arrived early. They were nervous. Sheila thought Couple #4 should win. Tom favored Couple #6 for having the most heart.
The room filled with couples and crew. Refreshments were served. People relaxed.
Billy tapped the microphone. “Everybody! Congratulations for your stellar performances in the challenging scenarios we set for you. We took you out of your comfort zones once or twice.”
Someone yelled, “Like all day!” This got universal laughter and applause.
Billy continued, “None of you are professional actors, so this whole project was quite a stretch. We learned a lot from you and hopefully you also learned from each other.”
“I hope there aren’t any divorces pending?”
Billy announced the winners. Third place went to Couple #4. They hugged and they went up to receive a check. Couple #6 got second place. Billy made comments after each announcement.
He introduced Sheila and Tom as the winners. Stunned, they walked up to receive their prize. Sheila dabbed tears away.
Billy said, “Honestly, I thought you were the biggest losers.” Everyone laughed. “From the word ‘Action!’ it was a dogfight. I doubted you’d make it through the day. I called para-medics to be on stand-bye.”
Again, everyone laughed.
“But no blood was spilled.” More laughter. “And, contrary to our instincts the audience loved you. Your fans believed any couple who could bicker and fight like you, would go the distance. I hope you do. Congratulations!”
To cheers and applause, Billy handed them their check. It became a grand night.
Driving home, they kept breaking into giggles at their good fortune.
“I never dreamed…”
“Of course you did. That’s how we got into this.”
“We made a great team.”
“Yes we do. We are excellent.”
“I didn’t want it to end.”
Tom pulled up to Sheila’s building.
“Me neither. Let’s not end it.”
“Let’s get married.”
They kissed and held each other.
Tom and Sheila eloped the next week. It only made sense to keep it on the down-low.