Dating shows & love filled woes: A firsthand look at the "First Dates" experience

Shooting a dating show is a lot more fun than it appears to be.

Reality shows aren’t always fiction. Sometimes there’s a bit of heart that goes into making them. Even still, there’s a reason they call it “magic.”

Two years ago, I applied to be a part of a new dating show – First Dates – that was to be produced by Ellen DeGeneres. I didn’t think I’d get it but, lo and behold, I got a call from one of the producers and scheduled a Skype interview with them.

We spoke for about half an hour as I sat under the lone lamp in my college apartment in Chattanooga, Tennessee. They told me to dress up and be well lit so I did what I was told. The producer and I talked about everything from why I was single to my favorite shows to what kind of women I like. At one point, I jokingly said I could sing and she asked me to drop a few verses. I went in with some Frank Sinatra and she said I did well. Never will I jokingly say I can sing; from now on, it’s all truth! Here I come The Voice!

Weeks would go by before I’d hear anything back. One day – maybe two months later – I was contacted and told that I’d be going to Chicago for the show. The timing was perfect. I’d just graduated college and needed a vacation (I’ve never been on a vacation because they are expensive and I could never afford one). I told my bosses I’d miss a few days of work in July, got a clean haircut, trimmed my goatee and headed off to the Chattanooga Airport. My tiny, miniscule plane (Chatt’s airport is small compared to everyone else) took off and flew us to North Carolina where we’d have to change planes for Chicago O’Hare.

A Meeting

By the time I’d landed in Chicago, the show would have a van waiting for me. Me! Like I’m some sort of movie man or something. The driver (a production assistant of course) and I would miss each other several times. It felt like a very bad Saturday Night Live sketch. He’d be on the bottom level pickup lane while I’d be up top. I’d run down to meet him only to find that he drove to the top again. That went for way too long and I will not divulge that information here (maybe 20 minutes). Finally, we were able to meet and he took me to my hotel. Street surrounding Chicago were buzzing as we drove down the highway, trying to find common ground. He was a Chicago native that wants to work in television; I want to work in television. We’re, like, soul sisters. He’d soon drop me off at my hotel in the heart of the city and turn around to pick up the other guys who were coming in.

After checking in, looking at how high my room was, and spotting pizza places at every corner of the street, I’d be picked up again to go to my pre-pre-date interview. It was at an elementary school of all places. Of course, the little buggers were gone for the summer so the production staff did some redecorating. Had I not inquired as to where I was, I would have not known that I was in a school. All of the kid’s dumb drawings were covered and the doors were regular human-sized height.

Look at these cows on the roof across the street from my hotel!

Pre-Pre

I was taken to a room where I could change clothes or get makeup done. Side note: the makeup girl told me I didn’t need much and basically said I was naturally handsome; that’s a win in my book. Another dater came in. He’d arrived before me but changed into a suit – shirt and tie included. It was a hot day. I don’t know why he did that. I felt comparatively worse dressed in my short sleeve anchor-themed button up and chino pants. But I’m young and dumb and full of compliments so I don’t need to look like a businessman all the time.

After a few minutes, they were ready for me. I didn’t have an agenda when I went into my interview. This one was going to be taped and surely used on the show. I was given a lavaliere mic to snake through my clothes and told where to sit. A giant, red heart sat behind me on a faux wood background. Black curtains were strewn over these bright, hulking lights that focused on my chair. A producer sat a little off to my left. He’d go on to ask me a lot of questions in our half an hour together. A cameraman rigged everything to focus on me. It felt oddly natural. Maybe I was born to be in front of the camera.

The producer would ask me about my life and what I did. We had lengthy discussions about “love” and what comes from it. At one point, I mentioned the Flash as my favorite hero and we spoke on that for way too long. But, come on, Flash is the best superhero. He can run perceive events that last less than an attosecond!

Back on track.

Periodically, a train would pass by and we’d have to stop talking. We’d be on a roll until interrupted by Thomas the Tank Engine. That was one of the few things that felt unnatural, the stopping and starting. It’s no one’s fault though. Suddenly my time was up. We’d gone over everything that we needed to for that day. The producers thanked me and I was taken back to my hotel.

Exploring (By) Myself

It was maybe 2 or 3 PM. I hadn’t eaten since I got off the plane that morning so I decided to check out one of the restaurants we didn’t have in the South. I took a walk to North Michigan Avenue – where all the freaking tourists hang out. There were clothing stores, food eateries, a movie theater, and homeless people up and down the block. I dug it. I stopped by the Under Armor store because I left my workout shirts sitting at home and I was not about to skip two days of working out. Then I hit up Shake Shack for the first time ever and walked back to the hotel.

I asked the hotel clerk what there was to do. She told me about plays, entertainment and the lake that was blocks away. I’d just go to a pizza joint and turn in early, excited as to what my date would be like the following day. What if I passed her on the street? What if she went to my school? What if she never showed and this is all an elaborate rouse to get my murdered or naked or murdered naked? (Side note: I thought they hid a camera in my hotel room and I never got naked outside of the bathroom. No one will see my dingle unless I give the go ahead).

The following morning, I woke up at my usual time, put on one of my nifty new (and expensive) shirts and jogged from the hotel to the lake front. Luckily, half of the city decided to do the same thing. Once I got to the lake, I spotted a massive swarm of people all running up and down the beach at 6:30 AM. At least I’m not the only crazy person. I ran back to the hotel after doing a trek down the beach front. The top floor had this pretty well stocked gym and a roof pool. You read that right: roof pool. That’s a pool on the ROOF. Man, what a time to be alive. After blasting my bod, I sat with my legs submerged for a while. I can’t remember the breakfast I had. Maybe it was hotel food. I do remember seeing this cute girl and hoping she was my date. That would make coming back to the hotel so much easier!

After an afternoon jaunt to Portillo’s (I say “jaunt” when the walk was 20 minutes. And I sat by a window sill looking at a big McDonald’s where a homeless man pestered anyone that walked by for money. A woman was basically trapped by him. She managed to escape. Good for her), I had to get ready for my date. I was told to be downstairs by 4 PM where my PA companion would pick me up and take me to the dating spot. We arrived at a condominium common room. The show turned that into their secondary headquarters where the PA’s would hang out (I didn’t see where the producers were). One of the PA’s and I played several games of ping pong until I was told to actually get ready for real this time. A producer told me that my date was nice and wonderful and a lover of all things science fiction. That cause a bit of pause in me because that was only a sixteenth of my personality. I’m so much more than “guy who thinks sci-fi is rad.” But I went along with it. (Side note: I was super sweaty from a). it being extremely hot as farts outside and b). my rousing games of ping pong. I sweat through the shirt I wore and ran off to the restroom to rectify it).


This Is Totally Not Awkward

Once outside, I was told what to do and what not to do. They lined us featured daters up because a camera would capture us as we walk down the sidewalk. We were seven deep of a mishmash of weirdos being paraded in, one by one, to this restaurant filled with blind dates. A sitting PA would send one person at a time like he was one of those green lights on a busy highway entrance. Prior to being sent outside, one of the producers informed me of what to do once I was at the restaurant. “Pull the door open; don’t push.” “If the maître d’ is not at his stand, don’t move. Wait for him to return.” Stuff like that.

I walked up to the door and what do I do? I freaking push like an idiot. After making an unnecessary joke about it and walking in, the maître d’ proved to not be at his stand. I scoped the scene. Even though they were hidden well, I spotted a few of the cameras. One of the waiters approached me with the biggest smile I’d ever seen. She asked me if I’d been seen yet. I told her – JOKINGLY – that I wasn’t supposed to talk to her and had to wait for the maître d’. She didn’t get it. But I soon explained the joke. Boy, she must’ve thought I was weird. The maître d’ would then greet me and take me to my date who was sitting at the bar. She was in fact nice and wonderful. And well dressed. I should not have worn blue pants and a pink button up shirt. I was grossly underdressed again. Oh well.

Let's Get Ready to Date!

We were sat at the middle table where we were greeted by our fantastic waiter. He had a weird name and I made jokes about it all night long (which he loved, guys). I can’t remember it. I want to say it was Schmidty or something of that nature. Anyway. My date and I would talk about all that we could. Sports, video games, “sci-fi stuff,” and growing up. She lived in a city outside of Chatt! It felt like a real blind date. You know, one that’s not being taped. When I was at the condominium holding cell, the producer said that should I have to use the restroom, I should call a friend for “help” on the date. I did have to pee but I did not want to have a restroom conversation. No one tells Chad White what to do!

The date was going along swimmingly until minimum three crew members came to pick up my date and take her to the back room. They said there was something wrong with her mic however, later that night, she informed me that they did nothing to her mic and told her to ask me why I was single. When she returned, she asked her question. I brushed it off and went on with whatever it is we were talking about. I cannot stress this enough: no one tells Chad White what to do!

"Magic!" (aka Post)

Our date ended and we were escorted outside by my maître d’ friend (Not before I turned to the couple behind us -- who were not featured daters – and told them “You’re doing a great job.” The look of horror on the woman’s face was worth the trip to Chicago). Once outside, we were given the choice of riding off in two separate cars, riding away together, or walking into the sunset. Naturally, we chose the latter because we didn’t want to imply that we were going to have sex nor did we want to say that we hated each other.

After “walking away,” we went on to our post-date interviews. The first set were done separately where we’d go through another 20 minutes of conversation with a producer and then he’d ask if I wanted to see her again. I said yes and they told me she said yes. Then we did a couple post-interview. That was fun. We jerked around for a few minutes then he asked if we want to see each other again. We both said yes. It’s the only nice thing to do.

But we were not done yet. It seems we were the only “successful” date that night out of the other few they featured. The network wanted to shoot promos. You know those 15 second SNL commercials you see online? That’s essentially what we did. They were very fun.

Post-post

After our date, we planned to hang out. The PA’s took us back to our respective hotels and we planned a night on the town. After changing and prepping, I went to North Avenue looking for her. She came and laid the biggest bomb on me: she was dating a guy.

I know, right?

The show took too long between the initial interview and the actual trip that she landed a dude in the two months that we waited. Bummer. I didn’t really speak the rest of the night as we took a walk down to the lake front where everyone and their mother was hanging out. I walked her back to her hotel, hugged her and took a long walk back to the hotel.

The Morning After

A second run on the lake front and gym session would lead to me leaving the hotel. The other daters were in the van this time and, boy, did they talk some real smack about their nights. It was pretty cool to see guys from every walk of life there. One was from New York; another from California. One guy even had the chance to come back because his date was so abysmal. I’m jealous. We all went our separate ways, doing the thing of promising to stay in contact (we didn’t) and left.

I flew back to Chattanooga still single, Chicago donuts, and with a new outlook on “love.” Admittedly, I didn’t expect to walk out of the whole experience with a marriage. But it would’ve been nice to have someone to talk to. All in all, I’d do it again and again if they let me. It’s loads better than whatever it is I do now. 

Chad White works in the 11Alive digital department and can be found on Twitter sometimes.

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