Monday, September 08, 2003

Less Talk, More Hair Pulling

Here's the deal: loads of hot young women are thrown onto a Caribbean island with the task of seducing four men. The goal? To become the “Seductress of the Summer.” The girls must avoid the weekly elimination cut by engaging in arduous eyelash batting and giggling, and, of course, by promising undying devotion to each man.

Sounds like another tasteless American reality show, right?

Close. It’s Opération séduction, the TF1 summer series loosely based on a fabulously tasteless American show called Love Cruise. Those of you more cultured souls may have missed the August 24th finale, but it’s a shame, as you also missed the chance to observe a fascinating sociological phenomenon. (Here’s a clue: It’s not the degradation of bikini-clad women.)

No, this phenomenon is, quite simply, that French reality TV is plagued by an overabundance of speech. Talk talk talk, feelings, feelings, feelings. Where’s the action?

And no program best epitomizes this than Opération séduction, the show that, in better, more sullied hands, could have been a masterpiece.

So let me get you up to speed: As Opération séduction entered its final episode, four young, fetching things were vying for the attention of the bachelors. Here’s the run-down on the finalists:

Carole—The smoldering brunette; not the sharpest knife in the drawer

Claire—The easygoing blonde; owner of 37 pairs of thong underwear

Marjorie—The beautiful nut case who spends the entire series crying and smoking

Candy—I’m not kidding, this really is her name.

This would seem to add up to a dynamo show, n’est-ce pas? Ah, but it’s à la franςaise, which means that instead of showing racy footage and cat fights, the two-hour finale is instead structured around a group interview during which the host asks the participants to explain their emotions.

And if that weren’t bad or civilized enough, Opération séduction makes use of a popular European technique not often employed by American reality shows: audience voting. Not only do the four girls have to seduce the men, but they also have to seduce the public. In other words, the girls have to be tastefully seductive—after all, getting down and dirty in the covers will not win you votes from the grandmother contingent. This also means that the girls are sickeningly nice on the season finale, doing their best to avoid insulting the boys or each other.

So, when the host instructs the girls to point out the boys’ wrongdoings, Carole tells one of the boys that she was kind of, sort of, maybe hurt when he called her superficial. She then immediately softens that barely-there blow by winking her eyes three times, lifting her left shoulder up towards her ear, giggling, and smiling big for the camera. (This gesture is so often repeated during the show that it becomes known as “the Carole.”)

Soon after, images flash across the screen of the girls during their childhood—yes, yes, that’s what the public wants to see! The Séductrice and her teething ring! We also get a glimpse of Carole’s bedroom—a somewhat disturbing collection of spiky S&M high heels and Winnie the Pooh stuffed animals. And then let’s not forget the interviews with the girls’ families, during which each relative tries to convince the public that their girl has always been a great seductress:

“[Carole] was never the top star at school, but from an early age she seduced everyone—her professors, the other students,” says Carole’s mother. Her grandmother concurs. On stage, Carole’s eyes fill with tears of joy.

Not one to be upstaged, Candy also bursts into tears as she listens to her mother explain how proud she is of her daughter’s beauty and seduction skills. This is the same woman, mind you, who looked upon her newborn daughter years ago and immediately thought to gift her with a name only destined for porn stars.

Later, the presenter prods Marjorie and Claire to explain a mini-spat the two shared in a previous episode. Instead of dishing the goods, the two girls look at each other, think of the number of votes needed to win, and embrace in a meaningful hug.

It’s all very sweet and civilized, but frankly, France’s Parliamentary Channel has offered more exciting drama and repartée than this.

Lest you think Opération seduction is an exception to the rule, take a look at the handful of recent French reality shows that have all suffered from a lack of cattiness and scandal: Le Bachelor: L’homme celibataire, Big Brother, and Nice People (they really weren’t kidding about the title).

My sole consolation is L’Ile de la tentation (Temptation Island), which is completely free of audience polls and feel-good interviews. And while I missed the most recent episode, a reliable source tells me that one couple who went to the island to test their fidelity to each other has already broken up! That’s what I like to hear! Now all that’s left is for the girl to come out as a lesbian and the guy to try to get with her sister….I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

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