Next! Multiple Choice on MTV

May 23, 2007

In the latest crop of MTV dating shows, NEXT is a fabulously trashy late-afternoon hit, involving one “dater,” five contestants, and a bus. The “dater” goes on several dates, while the other contestants hang out together on the bus. The “dater” can “NEXT” a contestant at any point, and each contestant gets a dollar for every minute he or she manages to stick it out. If the “dater” likes someone well enough to propose a second date, it’s now upto the contestant whether to accept the offer or just take the cash. 

Of course, like all dating and most reality shows, what happens in each episode is orchestrated by the producers, and all the painful puns and “quips” are obviously scripted. But I remember watching NEXT when it first came on the air, and I actually think the show has evolved into something different from the original intent. The dater is the one who’s supposed to be able to act out his or her fantasies, making the contestants do ridiculous things, like strip down to speedos or ride around on camels. But actually the dating part of the show is never as interesting as the other aspects: the camaraderie between contestants on the bus, the malicious delight of rejecting someone, and the opportunity to be as shallow as you can be. NEXT doesn’t even pretend to be about setting successful couples up; the dating show has become an art and end in itself. A cash prize and a date are now interchangeable.

These days, most episodes follow a certain pattern. The “dater” will move quickly through the first few contestants, usually taking the opportunity to “NEXT” at least one of them on-sight, in as nasty a manner as possible. The instantly-NEXTed contestant doesn’t really mind, though; he or she will yell back a retort (“I wanted a real man anyway!” “You are a slut!” etc.) and hop back on the bus. 

It’s also now a tradition for the contestants on the bus to develop their own relationships, joking around, making fun of each other and the “dater,” sharing dirty jokes and sex stories, and–in the best cases–making out with one another. This happens on both straight and gay episodes of NEXT. Most contestants end up being NEXTed, after all, so it makes sense for them to forge connections with one another, rather than with the “dater.” It’s not uncommon for the last contestant to be invited back by the “dater” and, instead of accepting a second date, to “take the money and run,” out of solidarity with his or her previously scorned bus-mates. 

So the show begins with this premise of endless choice. As in the real world, time and money are always factors. You shouldn’t have to waste time on a bad blind date, and NEXT gives you the opportunity to move efficiently through your options. Because you have to make your decisions quickly, you’re encouraged to act on the most superficial of factors. I once saw a “dater” take a girl to a tanning salon, and, when she came out not quite bronzed enough for his taste, he NEXTed her right then. (It’s one of the quirks of the show that the contestant has to stay in whatever humiliating garb the “dater” made him or her put on, so this girl returned to the bus in a towel.)

But now, more often than not, the tables are turned on the “dater,” who usually gets rejected by the end of the episode–after all, who wouldn’t take $120 over a second date with some tacky kid from SoCal? It’s exploitation all around, and the contestants turn out to have multiple choices as well–they have each other. 


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