The New Playboy Club

Kathryn McGranahan

Pretend you’re on a dating show not because you want to be (unless you’ll get a book deal, that happens sometimes) but for ulterior motives, say as a government spy or as a budding sociologist with a thesis deadline. Argue with your not-too-gruff-to-cry spy boss or with your stern-but-hip professor that this is, in fact, the new Playboy Club and you’re Gloria Steinem. (Don’t mention the substantial cash prize that will help with your student loans.) Argue that the way major networks pit women against each other for the love of a man who clearly has commitment issues if he’s dating twelve women at once is essentially the same as stuffing women in restricting bunny suits to serve flirtatious cocktails, because either way these women are lowering themselves for male ego and so on. 

Not to be outdone, your professor will wave his/her spectacles around in elite excitement as they launch their own diatribe against patriarchy while pointing out flaws in your theory with as much academia terminology as possible. You will leave hopeful but confused. 

Your spy boss will just laugh.

Super-sociologist you will prepare extensively for your audition with interview answers like, “My last boyfriend died in a tragic snowmobile-wrestling competition … for the troops,” and, “I’m ready and willing to meet my soulmate,” and/or “I’m so scared to let my guard down.” You will practice crying on cue and smiling through your tears. You will get your hair straightened so you’re taken seriously. 

The audition will last long enough for you to supply a urine sample and tell them your fantasies. You will be tested for STDs and for lying about your age. 

The First Day of Filming

Now pretend you’re crowded into a mansion that looks like a model home with Wal-Mart art and Christmas lights. Ever the keen observer, you note the demographics: seven wear chunky necklaces, four are Southern, one is a redhead. Three have a Live Laugh Love tattoo. They are the alpha females. 

Prince Charming strolls out. Pretend his name is Chris or Matt or Brian and he’s 6’3, white, blonde, says he’s a “shipboat captain” who loves “travel and my mom.” You mentally add “and pornography.” Thanks to his tan skin and long blond hair, he looks like the jock villain of every surfer movie. He cannot or will not stop smiling.

The women cluster into their social stratification. The LiveLaughLovers are like planets in orbit around Chris/Matt/Brian. They cannot or will not stop smiling. The quietest women are ostracized to the pool or the bar as punishment for their lack of eagerness, i.e. social value. The women in the middle flow between the bar and the LiveLaughLove perimeter, hoping Chris/Matt/Brian notices them through the haze of beach waves and Britney Spears’ Fantasy fragrance. 

Everyone interviews in front of the water fountain next to the bar. Pretend to pretend like you’re not listening, even though you are, and so is everyone else. 

The Interviews

Cameraman: Ladies, what makes you special enough to be the Queen of Love?

You: What makes him special enough to be the King of Love?

Cameraman: What’s your name?

Kelsey is 23 and a dental assistant. Claire is 25 and loves Jesus. Sarah is 27 and interviews, “Every man wants a Southern belle. We can get down and dirty Saturday night and stir up a homecooked feast on Sunday.” Lara was a nerd in high school, which was very hard for her. Lauren is 27 and doesn’t like drama. Hayley is 24 and doesn’t like drama. Rhiannon is “guess!” and doesn’t like drama.

One woman, Renee from L.A., will have the best damaged flower routine. Her only smile is a brave one. She will have a wrist tattoo in Hebrew that is supposed to mean “eternity”, but the only Jewish woman there will whisper to you, “Um, that means juice.” 

The LiveLaughLovers are not amused by her. They display this with rumor spreading and cobra spitting.

Megan from Dallas leans over and says, “It’s like a fairytale, but real!”

The Ball

The ball takes place two hours later. You can’t imagine why—it’s 6:00—until you realize some women need two hours to change not just their clothes, but hair to match their clothes, eye shadow to match their strapless bras, and day bronzer into night bronzer. 

Lindsey from Tupelo starts hinting at her big secret. You, Rachel, and Heidi take bets on whether it’s a teen pregnancy, an unfinalized divorce, or the Big Kahuna: gender reassignment. You’re all wrong: she is a virgin.

Prince Charming makes his way to you. Pretend you say, “Hey” and “Later,” and then brush past for another drink. Prince Charming gives another producer the thumbs-up. Right in front of you. Like it’s a compliment.

By the end of the night, Megan is drunk and you have to put her on the couch. “I jusssht want to make shomeone happy” she slurs. Then she burps.  

Everyone else lines up according to cup size in the Throne Room, where Prince Charming says: “Every girl here is a Princess. But for three, the reign ends here.” You roll your eyes—princesses don’t even reign—which an editor will later splice in after Hayley says, “I’m not here to make friends.” 

You get the third tiara. Pretend he says, “You showed some real balls tonight, like a real queen. You impressed me.” You will be shocked, but not as shocked as the other girls. You will finally remember to smile, and he’ll say he’s enchanted, and you’ll have that icky feeling from high school when your boyfriend played a song he wrote ‘for you,’ then immediately tried to have sex. 

The After-Party

Pretend the women jump into the pool in their bra and panties amidst much encouragement. But they’re having fun, and you want to join them as they drunkenly bond over physical compliments. You almost get up until you see the producers toasting themselves. 

The other women splash and dive in their scarlet bras and periwinkle thongs and you realize they are the decorative fish swimming around the shiny fake treasure chest in the bottom of the tank. 

The redhead pulls Chris/Matt/Brian into the pool, and all the women begin swimming up to him or plotting against those in their way. Lara from Chicago starts taking her top off and “woohoo!”-ing all over the place. She later interviews, “I’m just a fun chick. I love living life to the fullest.” This pisses off the LiveLaughLovers, who think she’s mocking them. 

The Big Fight

Alpha LiveLaughLover confronts Lara with a glossy pink smile and a white bathrobe. Her Betas stand behind her as smug backup. “Soooo,” she drawls as she adjusts her microphone pack. “You’re from Chicaaaago?”

“Yep, Windy City.”

“Mmm, that’s great,” Alpha says in a way that is not great. “Does your top blow off a lot there too?”

Lara squints. “It’s not like you’re drinking virgin champagne.”

Alpha simpers. “Oh. Sweetie. It’s okay. Not everyone can handle themselves as well as a Southerner.”

Lara smirks. “Handle like when they started a war just to keep profiting from slavery?”

“Um, excuse me? Why even?” Alpha’s voice has risen to a dangerously high pitch. Her Betas are appropriately shocked and scandalized. 

“You guys are still throwing bitch fits over that dumbass flag!” Lara shouts with a wave of her tattooed arm. Her drink spills everywhere as a result, mostly on the Betas. they scream.

The producers wave over the big cameras.

Alpha: “You fucking bitch!”

Lara: “You hairy cunt!”

The LiveLaughLovers are once more shocked and scandalized. Alpha throws her champagne glass dramatically to the ground and declares, “It is not hairy; I’m a lady!” The glass does not shatter, because it is plastic. Alpha comes crashing down on it instead, causing her to slip and fall like cement. She snaps her legs closed and sniffles until Chris/Matt/Brian and a medic clear her to stand. You note how the female paramedic clears her, but Alpha looks to him for confirmation.

Fingers are waved. Faces are gotten into. Hair is pulled. Renee pushes someone else and she tipsily falls into the pool. (you. It was you.)

In the midst of the fighting, Rhiannon is caught kissing one of the bartenders. You’re happy for her, since he’s hot. However, one of the Live Laugh Lovers notices and screams, “She’s not here for the Right Reasons!” 

It’s a battle royale. The women unsheathe their nails and bully clubs, shouting for answers before they ask any questions. An assistant executive producer has to step in and calm everyone down. He shames everyone appropriately for not acting like ladies. The male bartenders smirk. All the women are sent to their room. (That’s right, room singular. It is called the Daffodil Room and it smells like hairspray farts.) 

The First Challenge

The next day, pretend everyone is hungover. This is bad because it’s also the first challenge, which is fitness-based because Chris/Matt/Brian is an avid “outdoor enthusiast”. Claire, who is very smug about not being hung over, loudly speculates how she’ll win. Rachel from Albuquerque, who is very hung over, is not having that shit. A fight almost breaks out, but Lara from Chicago grabs Rachel while Heidi from Providence pulls Claire back towards the kitchen. Claire prays for Rachel’s bitchiness.

Pretend you are filed into several imposing black SUVs and no one talks until you pull up to a dock with Christ/Matt/Brian waiting, shirtless. Tan and shirtless. Lean and shirtless. Smiling and shirtless.

“Ladies,” Chris/Matt/Brian beams, “love is like the ocean. It’s stormy one minute, and smooth sailing the next. It’s unpredictable.” He pauses here, staring into each woman’s soul. 

“But to navigate it, you must have a good partner.  So to see your teamwork skills, I’m going to split you into three teams for a sailing race. The team that crosses the finish line first gets dinner with me.” 

The women cheer (except for Whitney, who almost drowned during a college hazing ritual) and run towards the boats. You are on Team Orange. Claire has sailed many times, and nominates herself team captain. Heidi from Providence whispers, “Let’s push her in.” You whisper, “Go team.”

Since there are ten women, your team gets an extra person: Tessa from New Orleans. She says her dad owned a boat, and in fact, that boat was how they escaped Hurricane Katrina. Lindsey asks if she wants to sit this one out. “Nah, it’s fine,” Tessa says. “I think I’m the only one who knows what starboard side is.” But later, you’ll overhear her interviewing how she lost her house and family photos, and you will feel really shitty for judging her in your notes.

Thanks to Tessa, Team Orange wins the challenge. The girls jump around and cheer and Claire praises Jesus. Pretend you get into it too. Pretend it was really fun to try something new, to watch the sailboat crash through waves, and to WIN because you never got to play competitive sports in school what with being an alternative artist type. 

Prince Charming chuckles at the display of women cheering. He tells the camera, “You guys did so awesome. I’ll pick you up in two hours for a romantic dinner, just the five of us.”

The Dinner Date

“Surprise!” yells Chris/Matt/Brian. “Dinner will be served on your winning boat. You ladies look awesome.” 

It doesn’t take long for Chris/Matt/Brian and Tessa to start talking sailing, at which point she becomes a frontrunner. You don’t care—you’re starving—but Claire and Rachel are not impressed. During dessert, Rachel begins sniffling and goes to stand at the bow with her arms folded as she stares at the sea. 

She is two feet from the table.

Chris/Matt/Brian gives her a shoulder rub and asks her what’s wrong. She says, “You’re on a date with all of us. I don’t want to sound jealous and I hate drama, like, so much, but it’s like, what am I doing here? You know?”

Later, he will tell the camera how Rachel “really stepped it up” by “showing how much she cared” and her attachment was “kind of a turn on, not gonna lie.”

You will interview, “Have you ever had fresh crab? It is amazing.

Second Ball

Pretend Lindsay the Virgin asks Tessa, Whitney, and you whether she should confess her secret. There is a pause before Whitney answers in the affirmative, so Chris/Matt/Brian knows the real her. You feel the eyes of the camera push you to make a point: that her virginity is not exactly the ‘real’ her, that she shouldn’t be defined by the sex she does or does not have. 

She tells him anyway. He kisses her hand and thanks her for her honesty. She smiles in gratitude and interviews how chivalrous he was. 

When Lindsay the Virgin’s team loses the music challenge (“Write a Rap About Your Perfect Date”) she gets the blame as team captain. Chris/Matt/Brian blames her lack of musical talent on her lack of self-awareness, and interviews she seems “uncomfortable with herself. I need a queen who knows how to rule her world.” Lindsey is the third woman to go, and she sobs all the way out the door. 

The Date Cards

Sarah from Chattanooga gets the first solo date card, but Lauren from Orlando gets a steal card for having the same dog as Prince Charming (golden retriever). Sarah comes back from their horse-riding date crying about her fear of getting attached, so the date went well. 

Chris/Matt/Brian makes Renee rappel down a waterfall for his love. Of course Renee has a fear of heights, which can only be conquered by Chris/Matt/Brian rappelling with her. She interviews how strong Chris/Matt/Brian makes her feel, which is hard for her because she thinks she is falling for him, which she totally did not expect to happen when she signed up for a dating show called Queen of Love.

Heidi from Providence gets the next date card. They go hunting, which is a struggle for her because she’s anti-gun and pro-animal. She comes back very conflicted: she wants to stick to her principles, but she doesn’t want Chris/Matt/Brian to think she’s not here for the Right Reasons. She ends up shooting near a buck without hitting it. She interviews that she’s proud of herself for trying new things, but when she comes back to the mansion she calls her mom. She’s eliminated that night, which pisses you off.

Before your date, one of the producers pulled you aside and said, “You know, all these girls came here to find love. So far, I’m not sure you’re here for Matt/Chris/Brian. I think you’re here for fame.”

“Because everyone remembers the contestants from the last fourteen seasons.”

The producer squints. ‘I can make sure you don’t get any screen time.”

“Well—” you begin. 

“Or how about I cast you as the villain, hmm? Give you a secret boyfriend? Last season’s villain couldn’t even go shopping without someone getting in her face. America hated her. She wasn’t even that bad. She just made it easy.”

“But then I’d get more screen time.”

Your date goes a little better. Prince Charming teaches you how to surf, because he remembered you mentioning it the first night to Rachel from Albuquerque. Pretend you only wear body cameras with no microphones and it’s liberating. Pretend you didn’t realize how much you were holding back on the show. You’re attracted to him in spite of yourself. Pretend he’s the kind of surfer/slacker type you definitely dated in high school. 

Also pretend you haven’t been laid in a while, and it’s hard to masturbate in a giant shared bedroom. So, your judgment is compromised. 

Next Week on the Queen of Love

You take notes. After the first week, eliminations are constantly brought up by the producers. You also notice the other women increasingly talk in wall art cliches, like, “His face is what Forever looks like,” and “I want Forever to last, always,” and “Which STDs are forever?” 

Pretend you can see the strain of validating a group of women show on Chris/Matt/Brian’s face week to week. By the third week, every time a woman approaches him you see a flash of apprehension. No sooner does he sit down with Lara than Claire comes up to read a “romantic Bible passage” or Sarah comes up to ask what Rebecca said about her.

Once the union camera crews leave, everyone usually calms down and talks. Pretend you learn how Lara has spent four years putting herself through law school with two jobs, and hasn’t had time for a boyfriend, and now worries at 29 she’s getting too old for bad dates and mind games. Pretend Heidi was cheated on by her fiancé just a few months ago, and the guy told her it was all her fault because she didn’t want to try anal. Pretend Tessa has had such a long string of misfortunate dates she doesn’t know what else to do besides try something crazy like a reality show. Pretend Claire just wants to be a good wife and mother, and while she won’t say so, it’s obvious she is attracted to the men who have no interest in those things, like at all, but she has been told that being good will change them and so when they break up with her over a text she takes it as a personal failure. Pretend Rebecca’s mother is the kind of mom who pushes her daughters to be as feminine as possible, with nary a hair unbleached or a nail un-manicured. This explains why, even in no-camera zones like the bathrooms, Rebecca always acts like cameras are around, and consequently never relaxes. Pretend Whitney’s mother died when she was seven, and she grew up with a dad and two brothers who could not explain body types or why she wasn’t asked to prom. 

It becomes difficult to maintain the detached, clinical front required for a sociological experiment. 

Oh, you’ll want to say that this is ridiculous. That he hasn’t worked for any of these women’s affections and sincere if misguided emotions because the helicopter rides and private carnivals and chocolate baths and the unending, unrelenting pressure the producers apply to the women’s deepest insecurities do it for him.

But Then!

Things get interesting.

Pretend at the fifth elimination everyone accidentally wears a black cocktail dress. Pretend everyone laughs about it on their way out the door. Then the producers laugh about it when everyone files into the Court Room. Then someone brings out Chris/Matt/Brian, and he laughs so hard a tear comes to his eye. Then he calls in his makeup crew. Then someone writes a joke for Chris/Matt/Brian to say on camera. 

It comes down to Lauren from Orlando and Rebecca from Boston. Rebecca starts crying almost immediately. Pretend Chris/Matt/Brian doesn’t make it past, “Ladies, love the uniform,” before Rebecca bursts into sobs.

That is not the interesting part.

Tessa from New Orleans walks up to the altar where Chris/Matt/Brian stands. She looks him dead in the eye and says, “I don’t want to do this anymore.”

The other women are shocked. Shocked!

But so is Chris/Matt/Brian. In the wake of unscripted events, he drops the smile and says, “Wait, what the fuck? Why? I thought things were okay.”

“Yeah. They’re not,” Tessa says. “I knew this was a silly show, but I thought, fuck it, let’s try it. I’ve tried almost everything else. And I met you. And you’re awesome.”

She takes his hands in hers. “This show has nothing to do with love. It doesn’t cover first fights, first time we throw a party together, first road trip. It’s just a few dates and suddenly you’re meeting the parents and proposing? And then you break up and it’s in all the tabloids and people keep hassling you on Twitter and then you get asked to join a cast of reality rejects on some deserted island? Pass.”

Chris/Matt/Brian looks scared. It’s the first time he looks human and not like a Ken doll. “Wait, please, I like you too, you’re fucking awesome. If you stay, you’ll win, I’ll make sure.”

The executive producers look up from their phones.

Tessa stares at their intertwined hands, but she shakes her head. “No. No black woman has ever won any of these shows.”

“You’ll be the first one! You’ll be a trailblazer—”

“I don’t want to be a trailblazer like this! First black woman to climb Mount Everest without oxygen, awesome. First to win Queen of Love? I can’t bring that to my high school reunion.”

But Then Twice!

Pretend Chris/Matt/Brian watches her stride away, looking more rejected than any woman he has eliminated. Suddenly, he springs off the altar and runs through the double doors after her. 

Whitney is the first to head to the doors. She flings them open in time to watch Chris/Matt/Brian jump into the limo just as it pulls away from the curb. An executive producer pushes past you, yelling into his walkie-talkie about shutting the gates. Pretend Renee trips him. 

Everyone cheers when the limo glides past the wrought-iron gates. 

The women go back to the house and start drinking as they pack. Even Claire has a glass of sparkling wine. Pretend no one, not a producer, director, or set coordinator comes to check on you. Everyone ends up crammed into the heart-shaped hot tub and it’s just fun. 

But Then Thrice!

Pretend the next morning, you wake up to a helicopter landing. Pretend the producers are bringing in Steve/Mark/Ben, their (alleged) second choice for the season. 

“So you’re just switching guys on us mid-season?” you ask. “We’re just supposed to fall in love again in four weeks?”

“You did the first time,” says the executive producer in a way that challenges you to defy him. “Steve/Mark/Ben is a great guy, ladies. He’s a former baseball star who owns his own Chevrolet dealership in Gary, Indiana. Has anyone been to Gary? Great place.”

The crew leaves and the women sit there, hung over and stunned. Finally, Rebecca says, “Well … I guess we better start getting ready.”

You stare at her. “What?”

Rebecca inspects her manicure. “I don’t know, maybe it’s not fair to not give the new guy a chance. To be honest, I never liked Chris/Matt/Brian’s surfer thing.”

“You said that’s what you loved about him,” says the Alpha LiveLaughLover.

“Did you guys not hear Tessa,” you say a little too loudly. “This isn’t real dating. And now they’re calling in a backup? This show says it’s about true love and they’re just replacing one Ken doll for another!”

“Why are you talking about Barbies?” asks Rebecca.

You sigh and go upstairs and grab your bags. Pretend you don’t leave a good luck message in lipstick across the mirror like everyone else. Pretend you don’t hug the women goodbye even though you’d like to. 

Happily Ever After

Pretend a year passes. Pretend you’re on your way to yet another writer’s workshop and pull over for an energy drink. Pretend the tabloids report the weddings of Chris/Matt/Brian to Tessa from New Orleans and Steve/Mark/Ben to Sarah the Alpha LiveLaughLover.

Pretend you turn off your Twitter notifications.

 

Kathryn McGranahan goes by Katie but out of habit, not stylistic choice. This is her first piece of fiction to be published. She’s fresh meat. {Disclaimer: She’s fresh, but not pristine fresh. Eckleburg claims her, :). We promise we haven’t damaged her. She’s real good. You should read and publish her.}

Kathryn McGranahan

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