Married By The Media


Thank goodness, we can all finally get a good night’s sleep. Because Zora did not tell Evan to take a flying leap off the nearest bridge after she found out he clears more like $15,000 after taxes — not $15 mil. And Trista apparently has a thing for men in uniform who know how to handle a hose.

With the explosion of reality dating shows, it’s getting harder and harder to distinguish fact from fiction. After all, shouldn’t every single girl aspire to be the recipient of a 2.6-carat diamond ring, courtesy of a strapping bachelor she spent about 90 days with (interspersed with a couple dozen other companions)?

"Find your mate in 14 weeks. Certainly, dating does not go like that," says Eric Frajerman, a psychologist at Friends Hospital.

The reality is simple: So-called "reality" programming is a cash cow for network TV. As long as viewership increases, these shows will continue to multiply. And we have ourselves — or at least the general public — to thank.

Darva and Rick got it all started with Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire? — the first snowball in the avalanche of voyeuristic viewing.

Next came ABC’s The Bachelor. As 26 million viewers clung to their TVs, Helene Eksterowicz, from Gloucester City, N.J., got engaged to Aaron Buerge on the Nov. 20 episode.

So much for happily-ever-after: Prince Charming dumped his TV-land fianc�e, who now keeps the ring in a safe-deposit box — and, naturally, she’s writing a book on reality TV.

The show’s spin-off, The Bachelorette, attracted 20.4 million viewers for its two-hour finale as blonde Trista Rehn selected firefighter-cum-poet Ryan Sutter.

Not to be outdone by ABC, Fox stepped up to the plate with Joe Millionaire, whose viewership reached 42.6 million in the last 30 minutes of the show’s Feb. 17 finale — according to Nielsen ratings — making it the most watched entertainment program in the history of the 17-year-old network.

Four down (five, if you count Meet My Folks) and it’s nowhere near over, folks.

Next down the pike for Fox is Married by America, a show where the public will play matchmaker and decide whom they think two clueless strangers should marry — for real. Well, with the divorce rate in America being what it is, could Fox do any worse? The show debuts Monday.

NBC will unleash Who Wants to Marry My Mom?, a spin-off of the network’s successful Meet My Folks — where the lie detector is the centerpiece of the fun and suspense.

So what’s next? How to Marry a One-Legged Kleptomaniac?

"Nothing shocks people anymore," says Maria Mancini, a professional matchmaker with 12 years’ experience and clients in South Philly. "We have to see what people are doing on their dates now."

Based in Newtown, Maria Mancini Matchmaker, Inc., has satellite offices in Center City, King of Prussia and New Jersey. A six-month membership starts at $995.

Mancini, who interviews lots of singles (occupational hazard), thinks reality-dating shows do indeed reflect today’s dating scene.

"People are looking for perfection and will seek that any way they can," she says. "[These shows] just perpetuate the idea that there is somebody perfect out there for you and the lengths that people go through to find them. And I think it also perpetuates, ‘I’m going to meet a guy who is rich, good-looking and will take care of me.’ I would like to think that, entering the 21st century, we are beyond that."

While there is nothing wrong with striving for the best, Mancini cautions that singles should not approach dating with the same mindset as procuring material goods.

Much like the participants vying for Mr. or Ms. Right on reality dating shows, Mancini’s clients often approach her armed with a list of criteria for what they want in a mate. "That is fine if you’re buying a car or house, but these are people we are talking about," she says.

As far as reality TV raising the collective expectations of singles across America, Mancini says only time will tell. In her business, high expectations have always been an issue. "There still is a mentality out there that there is the perfect mate for me."

And while singles search for their soul mates, the rest of the nation gathers around the water cooler to discuss Evan, Zora, Trista … now household names.

Have our lives become so dull that we must live vicariously through the puppets of TV land?

"We have more interest in these people than we have about our own lives," says Frajerman, the psychologist. "We can talk about dating and relationships without having to talk about ourselves. It allows us to focus on something and someone else."

Escapism in the extreme, in other words.

"Dating is an extremely anxious situation," he says. "These shows allow us to laugh a little about these things that we are anxious about. They let you see what other people go through."

But is what we see the real deal?

"We see only what [the producers] want us to see. There is probably a lot of footage that is not glamorous," Frajerman notes.

These programs project a high level of fantasy — jetting off for a weekend in Corsica, steaming hot tubs adorned with candles and diamond rings the size of Chiclets, for example.

Surely, dating is more serious and much more difficult than these series lead their audiences to believe. But then, a little fantasy now and then can’t hurt — as long as you know what’s really real, says the psychologist.

"I don’t know that it’s necessarily unhealthy [viewing]. For a majority of people, it is an outlet for pleasure and they can distinguish that it is fantasy."

The real trend in dating? Meeting on the Internet.

"In the past, people met through friends or family members," Mancini says. "That doesn’t seem to work anymore."