I have a few very important thank-yous to start this week. First, thank you, rainy and icy weather, for making me stay home on Sunday afternoon. Second, thank you, FX, for only putting one episode of "American Crime Story: The People vs. OJ" out at a time so I couldn't binge-watch it.
And finally, thanks to a visionary friend who was forward-thinking enough to buy a bootleg copy of a program called "Looking for Love: Bachelorettes in Alaska" on Ebay back in the mid-aughts.
In other words, I watched a long gone, but not forgotten, reality show that aired on Fox in June 2002 on a DVD that had "Looking for Love" scribbled on it. And let me tell you, it was everything.
"Looking for Love: Bachelorettes in Alaska" is like a time capsule for 2002. So in case you were too busy a) listening to Nelly's "Hot in Herre," b) spending all your time writing in your LiveJournal on your brand-new iMac or c) catching up in the Enron scandal, let me fill you in on what was happening on TV.
Everyone was trying to get over the all-too-real images that had dominated the news in 2001 by diving deep into reality TV. Kelly Clarkson had just entered our lives thanks to the first season of "American Idol," ABC debuted a brand-new show called "The Bachelor" and the Osbourne family opened their doors to MTV cameras, paving the way for all future shows about weird, rich LA families (see also: anything involving a Kardashian).
Every channel was starting to get into the non-scripted world, but no one had figured out where the line was between entertainment and exploitation (examples: "Fear Factor," "Temptation Island," "The Anna Nicole Show") and it was AMAZING.
The premise of "Bachelorettes in Alaska" is pretty simple. Five big-city women with very late-'90s haircuts travel to the Last Frontier for their "last chance" at love with Alaska's overwhelming population of manly, eligible bachelors. Each woman selects one man to be her "Man on Ice." She then dates that dude while deciding if she wants to marry him.
Every episode, new men are introduced who participate in stupid competitions (ax throwing, wood chopping, etc.) to win the affections of the single ladies. Then the women go on a super Alaska-y date with the new guys and decide if they have a connection. Finally, through a painfully awkward elimination ceremony at Proposal Point (aka Alyeska Resort), the men plead their case on one knee and women decide who they will keep as their "Man on Ice."
If this sounds feminist, like the women have all the power in this situation, don't worry -- Fox gave each woman a "dowry" that has money deposited into it based on whether the men propose to the women, or if they win silly competitions.
When they aren't on forced dates, the cast hangs out in Cooper Landing drinking constantly. Which typically leads to some late-night bedroom action, all caught on their bedroom cameras and aired on network television. But because the people who were on reality TV in 2002 hadn't been watching reality TV their entire lives, they say and do stupid things without instinctively knowing the consequences. For example, after hooking up, one woman says, "I have done things that I vowed I would never do as far as physical intimacy is concerned. The worst part is my parents thinking I'm disrespecting myself."
My favorite storyline revolved around a guy named Tim. Tim decided the best thing to wear to Proposal Point in the middle of winter was a Seinfeld-esque puffy shirt under a button-down leather vest with denim cargo pants. He then tells his potential future wife that he wants to drink out of her shoe. This woman swiftly kicks him to the curb, and brings her new guy back to her room, where she uses the amazing pickup line "Look how dark it gets in here" to get him on her couch. Meanwhile, Tim says, "I guess we drink out of each other's shoes more in my circles" in a confessional.
"Bachelorettes in Alaska" also featured post-production interviews with a producer named Tracy Green, who divulges valuable information about how they gave contestants condoms as a risk-management measure and made them drink their alcoholic beverages out of coffee cups.
Since old network reality shows are shockingly hard to find, I have started this Change.org petition to get the Fox Broadcasting Co. to put "Looking for Love: Bachelorettes in Alaska" on the Internet.
Emily Fehrenbacher lives in Anchorage, where she reviews Alaska reality TV. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ETFBacher.