The five girls are lined up in front of a waterfall. They’re all wearing shorts or skirts, matched with a different colored top. A couple look like local girls, others clearly haole. A few are smiling widely and giggling. One tall blonde wearing high heels and a floppy, wide-brimmed hat begins posing like a fashion model.
“We just have to switch the green girl to a white shirt and we’d have the Reservoir Dogs cover,” says one of the cameramen.
Off to the side, show producers Alex Duda and Jill Mullikan-Bates congratulate themselves over the lineup.
“They’re cute!” they say to each other more than once. “She’s a sophisticate,” they say about Angie—the one in the hat. Janice—the girl in the turquoise blouse—is “spunky.” And so on.
The director yells “Action,” and the girls walk shoulder to shoulder for about 30 feet, towards a video camera held very close to the ground. They’re done in a few moments.
“Tell them to show some attitude!” Mullikan-Bates yells at Chris Lamson, the director.
The girls dutifully head back to the waterfall, turn around and do it again.
“This is the weirdest part,” Duda tells me. “For the show they’re supposed to forget the cameras are there, but here they have to play to it.”
The fourth take seems to go well, with Duda and Mullikan-Bates happy at the “attitude” the girls are showing. But Lamson asks the girls for one more take.
“One more time, ladies,” he says. “Camera trouble. Welcome to television.”
Reality television, to be precise. In mid-December, 2005, the crew of elimiDATE, which bills itself as “America’s Number One Dating Show,” filmed five episodes at the Ka`anapali Beach resorts. Using Maui residents recruited at various nightclubs throughout the island, the shows will air during television’s all-important May Sweeps month, when ratings are tabulated.
ElimiDATE, for those who haven’t stayed up until 1 a.m. to watch the program when it airs in Hawaii on KITV Channel 4, is one of the last dating reality shows still in syndication. In contrast to Blind Date, in which host Roger Lodge cracks wise as cameras film a couple going on a first date, elimiDATE is a host-less look at the conflict and confusion usually attractive people go through when deciding who to date.
A typical half-hour episode revolves around three guys or girls and a “picker” of the opposite sex. The show will include a mix of interviews, on-camera conversations and footage of activities like dancing, snorkeling, skydiving and—always, always—a jump in the hot tub. Nothing says Great Television better than shirtless studs and bikini hotties flirting in a hot tub.
Anyway, after each activity—and a commercial break—the picker will “cut” a member of the group. This goes on until at the end when he or she is left with, given the show’s limited choices, the best possible date.
“A lot of these kids are young,” says Duda, the show’s creator and executive producer. “[But] we’ve had people 60-plus years old. Those people are looking for something. Sometimes [participants] date for a week. We just try to make it funny.”
On Saturday, Dec. 17, 2005, Duda, Mullikan-Bates and the rest of the crew filmed a two-part episode—Show Number 5135—at the Westin Maui Resort in Ka`anapali. Camera crews and participants scattered throughout the resort, but everything was more or less being controlled from the hotel’s Ka’anapali Boardroom, which the producers had dubbed “Base Camp.” Allowed to watch the filming until the “first cut,” I arrive at 10 a.m.
The small room is crammed with production assistants, audio/video equipment, a guy checking “pre-interview” video for distortion or audio problems and coolers filled with water, Red Bull, soda, beef jerky, snacks. Sitting at the far wall silently eating crackers is a pretty brunette wearing a beige top and short white skirt.
Named Tiffany, she’s eating crackers because she’s apparently suffering from eating bad shellfish the night before. After a while a female production assistant named Alex (the fact that the crew contained two women named Alex didn’t seem to cause much consternation, at least for the few hours I was there) stops by and gives Tiffany some Pepto-Bismol.
A few yards down the hall, Duda and Mullikin-Bates, the show’s senior supervising producer, are relaxing on some stone steps, watching sunburned tourists walk past an elaborate pool. Arguably the program’s two most powerful crewmembers, they don’t seem to have anything to do at the moment.
“Did you know Vince Neil is sitting at the bar?” Mullikin-Bates asks me shortly after I arrive. “You can’t miss him—he’s the one with all the tattoos.”
I ask them what they look for when recruiting guys and girls to come on the show. “Universally appealing guys,” they say—charismatic, smart, likeable guys with the personality to “drive the date” and “get the girls to open up.”
As far as girls are concerned, “more than anything we look for personalities,” says Duda. “We want a mosaic of personalities. We don’t want four cheerleaders. It helps if they’re attractive but it’s not the only criteria.”
I tell them that I know Dan, a Lahaina surf instructor recruited to be a picker for the day’s episode.
“Tan Dan?” they say. Then they tell me that Dan’s in for a surprise: while he’s been told he’ll be the picker choosing from five girls, another guy named Ken has been told exactly the same thing. Neither Dan nor Ken will find out until they’re introduced to the girls, who incidentally know they’ll all be on a group date with two guys. Dan and Ken will have to decide amongst themselves which girls to cut.
ElimiDATE shot episodes on Maui five years ago, but this is the first time they’ll be using local residents on the show. Duda and Mullikin-Bates tell me they’re planning on filming the five girls and two guys using the Westin’s waterslide, then perhaps playing Frisbee or volleyball on the beach.
Finding suitable activities for show participants has always been a challenge. Duda and Mullikin-Bates say a previous episode in which the participants went skydiving was problematic—“They just jumped out of a plane together and now they have to cut someone,” says Duda. “We’re in the fifth season now. We’re trying to shake it up a bit.”
Filming in Phoenix, they organized a “Mr. Phoenix Pageant” for one show. They’re also planning an arc of shows called “Geek Week,” says Mullikin-Bates. “All the guy pickers are, you know, nerds,” she says. “It’s fulfilling a fantasy.”
“It’s a public service,” jokes Duda.
“We’re love brokers,” jokes Mullikan-Bates.
“Our themes come out of our people,” says Duda. “When the guy said he didn’t go to his prom, we said, ‘Let’s do that…’ It’s so cast-driven.
“We had one picker, he was so cute,” she continues. “I don’t know what was up, but halfway through he said he didn’t want to go on. Girls were putting suntan lotion on him, and he got uncomfortable and walked off—I know! The girls followed him. He went into the men’s room, and they were telling him, ‘Please come back.’ He runs and scales a 10-foot fence. We’d only shot one round. So we all went to a bar and found another guy. If something goes wrong, you turn it into television.”
A few minutes later show director Chris Lamson stops by the stairwell to tell Duda and Mullikin-Bates about Ken, a construction worker who moved to Maui from Pittsburgh two months earlier, who’ll serve as the other picker for the day’s show.
“He’s very excited to be on the show,” says Lamson. “He thinks all of his dreams are coming true.”
They all laugh. Then Lamson says they’re getting ready to film the “B-roll” (non-audio) footage of the girls at the waterfall, then walks off, leaving the three of us with still nothing to do at the stairwell. Duda and Mullikin-Bates tell me repeatedly that usual production delays never take this long, but where television shows are concerned, standing around and waiting is often the order of the day.
Duda, an Emmy-winning producer who helped create E! Network’s Talk Soup and Wild On programs, says she came up with the original elimiDATE idea five years ago while trying to figure out why a cheerleader she knew in high school was so popular with the guys.
“Every guy wanted her,” she says. “She had a power none of us could understand. She had good hair, but she was just a normal girl.”
Eventually we all get the word that they’re ready to shoot what will eventually be five takes of the show’s brief intro at the waterfall. I’m surprised to see Tiffany taking part, but she seems fine.
Later, back near the staircase where I first met Duda and Mullikin-Bates, Lamson has the girls line up for the all-important scenes where Dan and Ken meet the girls. A few yards off to one side, Dan is standing with Steve, his personal assistant for the day. Steve has him standing with his back to the girls.
“Okay, you want to know what’s really going to happen?” Steve asks Dan, who’s wearing jeans and a t-shirt. “We’ve matched you up with five post-op transsexuals.”
As Dan stands there laughing at Steve’s joke, throngs of hotel guests stand around watching Ken—clad in a black tank, black shorts, sneakers and beanie—gets introduced on camera to the five girls. After a few moments, Steve tells Dan it’s time for him to meet the girls.
Dan walks over, immediately notices Ken, and goes through the introduction motions. Duda and Mullikin-Bates, standing behind the cameras, are fascinated as the two guys—Dan the local “player” and Ken the recent transplant—awkwardly but politely take measure of each other.
After a few minutes Lamson has enough footage of seven beautiful people eyeballing each other and wraps the scene. It’s time to head to head to the swimming pool to prepare for the big waterslide scene—Lamson says the five girls and two guys will all ride down the waterslide, then the two guys will swim off to the side and “make the cut.”
Walking along the edge of the pool, one guest looks up at Ken. “That’s a big guy,” he says.
While waiting for the crew to get situated not far from the slide, someone hands Dan a release form to sign in case he’s injured going down the waterslide—an activity hundreds of Westin guests partake in every day.
“This is hilarious,” says Dan as a Maui County lifeguard tasked to follow the elimiDATE casts and crew throughout their island adventure looks on.
Lamson walks over and asks him how he feels about having to compete with a second picker.
“He’s a big guy,” Dan says more than once.
“You don’t have to fight him,” says Lamson.
The next scene is crucial. It shouldn’t take much more than a couple minutes of airtime, but it will show the five girls and two guys getting to know each other, as well as establish each participant’s personalities for the viewers at home. With hotel guests kept away by production assistants—most of which live locally and only worked for the show the week it shot on Maui—Lamson asks the cast to sit on lounge chairs in a U, with the guys at the base and girls on either side. As they sit down, Dan guides participant Jamie in, holding her hand lightly.
“He’s already working it!” Duda tells me happily.
The cameras start rolling. In a stilted, queasy way, the participants both try to get to know each other and try to show off for the TV audience at home.
“What did they feed you?” Dan asks of Ken. A few moments later, when he describes himself as “kind of a player,” the producers smile brightly.
“They’re so cute,” says Duda. “I love how different they are.”
The conversation is wild and uneven. “We can buy a pig and cook it in the ground,” says Ken. “I’ve seen ‘em do it.”
They talk about where they came from. At one point they mention Vegas.
“The only machine I won in Vegas was the ATM machine,” jokes Ken.
Lamson stops filming. The participants are talking easily enough now, but it’s not going anywhere. The producers tell the girls and pickers to think of what they really want to say because they’re running out of time.
“Sometimes the prettiest girl is cut in Round One and you can’t believe it,” Duda tells me. “It’s because she didn’t say anything. People forget that it’s a game and they just get into a conversation.”
They start filming again. Jamie, who’s leaning into the group in a way that shows off the substantial tattoo she has on her shoulder, says she’d like to have a few drinks before doing anything. That prompts Tiffany, who’d been mostly silent, to ask why she needs to do that. Somehow they end up joking about partying naked.
“People know me as ‘the entertainment,’” says Amanda.
Lamson starts interrupting, yelling out for this person or that person to say why they’re attractive.
“I’m trying to set up the cut,” he tells Duda.
“It’s hard because they’re such a big group,” Duda tells me.
This goes on and on. I begin wondering how much of this will end up in the episode. Lamson yells “Cut” and production assistants remove everyone’s microphone. Using boom mikes, they’ll now film the transition between the conversation and the waterslide—in other words, the part where the guys and girls strip on camera down to their swimsuits.
After Lamson tells everyone what they have to do and yells “Action,” someone says they want to jump in the water. Dan plays off that by saying he saw a waterslide nearby. Ken heartily agrees, says that they should all go, then he gets up and walks away from the group.
Lamson stops filming. They’re not set up to film the group walk away, and he repeats that he wants them to mention the waterslide, then get up and strip off their clothes. That’s it.
The cameras start rolling again. This time Jamie says they should go, then takes off her shirt. The rest strip, but Jamie is the only girl who drops her shorts.
As the participants are stripping on camera, Tiffany suddenly blurts out that she’s not going on the waterslide. The rest of the cast asks why, but she steadfastly insists she’s not going in the water.
Lamson tells the camera operators to stop filming. A crowd of producers and assistants gather around Tiffany, asking why she doesn’t want to go down the slide. The rest of the cast stands around for a while. One camera operator heads to the pool, where he’ll get in the water and film the guys and girls as they finish their ride down the slide.
Finally everyone agrees that Tiffany will just wait for the rest of the group at the edge of the pool. The afternoon sun starts burning, so Duda, Mullikin-Bates and I sip ice water at a poolside bar while the rest of the cast and crew get situated.
Finally it’s time to film the cast members slide into the pool. The lifeguard positions himself near the slide’s end, and they all start sliding down. As they gather at the bottom, the producers tell them to swim over to yet another nearby waterfall. The guys and girls—minus Tiffany—happily frolic under the pouring chlorinated water.
The producers go crazy over the shot, but the noise of the water makes it impossible to film. They talk about transferring the group to another, quieter pool and pretending it’s the same pool. Someone asks whether the Westin will just turn off the waterfall.
As everyone darts around trying to figure out how to film the sequence where Dan and Ken cut the first girl, Mullikin-Bates comes up to me. “Who do you think they’re going to cut?” she asks me.
“Tiffany,” I say without hesitation. “She didn’t go down the slide. She doesn’t want to continue.”
Mullikin-Bates nods. But I’m wrong: Tiffany cuts herself, saying she doesn’t feel good after eating bad shellfish the night before.
“It would have been nice to get a conference [between Dan and Ken],” Duda says after hearing the news. “We’ve had shows where both girls cut themselves at the end. You shoot 700 of these things, everything happens. [Tiffany] says she’s not feeling well, so that’s okay.”
The scene of Tiffany cutting herself is simple: with the rest of the cast floating in the pool, she walks to the edge, tells them she’s just not into it anymore and walks off. Lamson manages to film the scene in just two takes.
Photo courtesy Westin Maui Resort & Spa