This isn't usually my type of thing. I always scoffed at The Bachelor, Love Island, reality TV in general. I held myself to higher standards than that, turning instead to classic literature and film adaptations of Jane Austen romances. But no matter how much someone tries to avoid cheesy relationships, I believe that there is always something that tugs you back to that childhood wish for true love.
I did it as a dare. My friends were over, drinking, playing F***, Marry, Kill, joking, throwing board game pieces around, and someone dared me to go on the new show, "Not Looking". It seemed to be a typical romance pairing reality TV show. Of course I wouldn't have typically said yes. But that day, I was looking for trouble. My boyfriend of three years had recently stepped out on me, literally, packing his bags in the night and leaving a letter behind that called me "stuck up" and "old fashioned," professing he could no longer stand to be around me. I wanted to say "screw him," and have said it many times. I always embraced a healthy dose of confidence and self admiration and felt no embarrassment about it whatsoever. But on my mountainous island I began to felt alone, and afraid of where to begin a new relationship.
Maybe this ridiculous charade would be somewhere to start. To put my pretention in its place and let me finally settle down in the suburbs somewhere.
My friends put in a submission for me. Out of thousands, I never felt that it would be accepted, but the producers reached out, saying that they had been looking for someone from my area of the country and with my demographics. (Tall, brunette, and pale?)
They threw in a dose of irony with the title "Not Looking". That was the twist in the concept--we would be wearing blindfolds throughout the contest and not judging people based on their looks. Which, in all honesty, would be very difficult for me.
When I arrived on set in New Mexico, each contestant lived in a private cottage, windows barred from the others.
The first day, I got dressed and walked outside to the meeting place that they had texted to us. I was blindfolded upon leaving my house--well, not merely blindfolded, but a padlocked mask was placed over my head.
"Welcome to 'Not Looking'", boomed a female voice, amplified above us. "You are here to find true love, minus any stereotypes and preconceptions about looks, weight, and ethnicity. Throughout the next month, you will engage in a series of activities with the other contestants, true 'blind dates,'" she said with a laugh, "and will pick your true match at the end. For your first activity, we will be simply introducing ourselves. Be as honest as possible."
As honest as possible? What was honest about finding your 'true match' on live TV?
"Now we will introduce our contestants. First up is William, an attorney from Maine. William likes to go to concerts and read books. Then there is Richard, an accountant from Montana. Richard enjoys hiking and creative writing. Sean is from Florida and is a graduate student at Florida State University, where he studies biology. Next up, Hannah from New Orleans. Hannah is a teacher at an elementary school in Connecticut. Then, we have Adriana (that's me!), an administrator at a private high school in New Hampshire. She enjoys classic literature and art. Lastly, Marina from California, who is a financial analyst with a passion for sailing."
I had a premonition to avoid the man from Florida, due to a long list of stereotypes and news articles. But I could deal with a literary accountant.
It was time to mingle--extremely awkwardly--there was the need to impress a very wide audience and also the need to at least attempt to make a genuine connection.
We were able to navigate with guides leading us and explaining our surroundings to us. That is how I knew that Florida Man was the first person to make a move: "Hi, how are you? And WHO are you as well?" he jokingly asked.
"As well as I can be in this head jail," I replied in a muffled tone of voice. "I am Adriana, the book nerd".
"I am Sean, the science nerd," he replied.
"Ah, yes, at Florida State?" I asked.
"Yes, I study marine biology. I am currently in my first year of a PhD program where I will focus on shellfish."
"How shellfish of you," I joked.
"Ha ha. And you work at a school?"
"Yes, I work in admissions at a private high school. I read a lot of applications and I get to judge a lot of spoiled rich kids. It's great."
"You should not spoil kids," he remarked.
"No...I do suppose you should not..."
"I will continue to do my rounds," he remarked.
Classic Florida Man.
Next up was William, who liked books--could be promising.
"Excuse me," announced a monotone male voice.
"Nice to meet you, my name is William. What is your name."
"I am Adriana, how are you?"
"I am well. It is nice outside."
Suddenly, a body bumped against me--a female voice whispered harshly:
"Something isn't right here. I started to feel really suffocated in this mask. I have asthma and I asked if I could go somewhere private to take it off. But the guards said that I could not take it off at any point until the show was over. It's barred to my head and I cannot remove it at all. They were creepily insistent".
Of course something wasn't right here, that is what we had signed up for. But I had also been afraid about my inability to remove my mask, and began to felt suffocated.
"I think that's what is expected of this program, but I will stick together with you in case anything gets extra weird," I said.
"Seems like they already are," she said. "I asked Richard if he had published any creative writing and he said that he had published a short story in a small local magazine called 'The Old Man and the Sea' that did not get much publicity...Uh, I believe that is called plagiarism?"
A heat blazed on both of us. "Remember, you are being filmed," a firm voice stated behind us.
I knew this had been a bad idea but it had seemed like harmless, jokingly bad. Now it felt dangerously bad.
With all the strength I could muster, I ripped the cloth part in the back of the mask off and twisted it around so I could see through.
And what was in front of me:
A skinny, shaking blonde woman.
And a masked woman speaking lovingly to a large, silver speaker.
There were two more speaking mechanical contraptions on wheels next to her.
Officials and production employees rushed towards me, but I ran as far as I could, looking forward into the desert and never back.
Turns out, looks do matter.