The Choice debuts tonight on Fox at 9 p.m. Eastern.

Before the days of The Bachelor and his attendant weeping, rose-coveting devotees, dating shows were a lot less earnest. Marriage was never on the table on game show-style competitions like The Dating Game. At the most, you could hope for a fun date, and at the least, a few laughs and some television exposure. Trapping all the available contestants into a mansion—or MTV palace, or giant boat, or Bret Michael’s tour bus—makes for more narrative tension, but the show becomes more of a long-range strategy game than a spur-of-the-moment decision. Shows like Rock Of Love and Flavor Of Love and their dozens of spinoffs and spinoffs of spinoffs were the Risk of reality dating television. Contestants plotted and formed alliances, land wars were declared, and pieces of information were carefully hoarded. They weren’t really dating shows so much as courting shows.

Advertisement

Of course, MTV still had the deliciously trashy high-volume blind date television shows like Next and Blind Date pushed the boundaries of good taste in syndication, but it’s been a while since a show like The Dating Game has been on primetime. Enter The Choice, the second of Fox’s new dating game shows. The concept, like the title, is an unsubtle aping of NBC’s The Voice, complete with the four chairs that are turned away from the contestants. Four “eligible celebrity bachelors” must choose three dates based on the sound of the mystery competitors’ voice, and their 30-second pitch of their worthy qualities. Obligatory English-accented hostess Cat Deeley narrates the action as the bachelors whittle down their choices.

The concept is appealingly old school, and it’s nice that The Choice doesn’t take itself too seriously. It's refreshingly hokey, as far as these shows go. But the four bachelors—Jersey Shore’s Pauly D, soap-opera actor Jason Cook, skier/entrepreneur Jeremy Bloom, and don’t-call-me-“Lil’” Romeo—are mostly playing a guessing game about which girl is the hottest, voice or no. Shocking, right? Not that they can go really wrong—all of the girls are winning, pert, and bright-eyed in various strapless shifts. A brief survey of the phrases that caused a celebrity to pull their (ahem) love handle includes: “volleyball player,” “stripper pole,” “professional dancer,”  “dinner,” “serve you beer,” “Princess Jasmine from the South,” and “Italian.” One curvy young lass named Alyse gets such a reaction from the crowd with her hip wriggle that the men turn around before she even begins speaking. The descriptions usually include some reference to having both beauty and a booty, and their skills in dancing. All of the women got at least one of the judges to turn around, but for one unfortunate girl who described her superhero alter ego as “Katie Kickbutt” in a hyper-nasal voice. Note to future contestants: No one wants to hear about your roller-derby nickname.

In the second round, each of the men has to whittle down their pool to two people. This is where the show breaks down into chaos, since each bachelor has a 15-second window to have a conversation with each lady. It’s unclear who asks the questions, and the urgency of the thing makes it sound like an argument you’d have on parallel, opposite-running escalators. Jeremy goes for some weird questions, as when he asks one girl to “show us how you milk a cow,” and quizzes another on what the capital of Colorado is. Sexy! Jason comes off as helplessly charming. His conversation with lanky African-American beauty Nia goes as following: “Would you rather eat a bag of hot jalapeños or drink a beer with a cigarette in it?” Nia: “Um, jalapeños.” Jason: “Me too.” Nia: “I’m shy.” Jason: “Me too.” Pauly D’s questions are mostly about affirming his own ego, and what the best color is. Based on these warp-speed impressions, the men cut one competitor off their team.

Advertisement

How to select between the final two? I was hoping for battle rounds, but instead it’s just another question-and-answer session. Nia sneaks in a little of that old-fashioned winking humor into her response about a cure for a broken heart. “A little coffee with your cream,” she says, and giggles. But that’s about it for innuendo. Most of the other ladies answer with the enthusiasm and wide-eyed honesty of pageant contestants. Each of the men go off with their dates, content to spend some time alone with someone who they’ve spoken with for a total of 120 seconds. But that’s okay. The Choice isn’t something you need to follow religiously, but if you dip in once and a while, it’s worth a shot.

Stray observations:

  • Jason was clearly turned off when he asked Lisa her favorite country. “America, of course!” Also, “film geek, book nerd” is four words, not three, jerk.
  • I’m tuning in when Tyson Beckford sits in. Does he really need TV assistance to get a date? Doubtful.
  • The lineup for the Choice has about four times the number of men than women, but the women’s end is sure to be interesting.
  • Pauly D may have been cackling to himself the entire filming of the show. I hope so.

Advertisement