For today’s final entry in Game Show week I’m fast forwarding a few years to the halcyon days of 1996, known in my house (to me, at least) as the year my family got cable. Cable meant MTV, and MTV meant Real World, Spring Break, and Singled Out. Before I get into the show, I’d like to quickly cover something up top. I used to be a fairly big Chris Hardwick fan. I was a regular Nerdist listener for years and my wife and I saw him record his Comedy Central Stand Up Special at NYU in 2012. I also used to watch the Nerdist YouTube channel, and his bowling show was my favorite thing on there. A few years ago I’d had my fill of Hardwick’s INTENSE PERFORMATIVE FANDOM OF EVERY NERDY SUBCULTURE and stopped listening and watching, and then Chloe’s accusations came out. I won’t go into it, but suffice to say I believe her. I now refuse to engage with anything Hardwick is doing. I’m also not super jazzed about Jenny McCarthy’s anti-vax advocacy so this is going to be a fun one.
While we didn’t think of it in those terms at the time, it wouldn’t have been entirely unfair to call the show itself problematic in 1996, although a better descriptor is simply horny. The format of Singled Out was an expanded version of The Dating Game. 50 single men would be gathered onstage, and a blindfolded single woman would be led out by McCarthy. She would take a seat behind a wall with host Chris Hardwick, who would begin narrowing down the bachelors by first asking either/or questions of the woman. She would determine which of the descriptions she didn’t want to keep, and the bachelors who had identified themselves with that description would then be eliminated. The second phase involved the single woman asking questions directly to the competitors and sometimes having them engage in physical challenges in order to further narrow them down to a final three. The three bachelors left standing would then have to match the single woman’s answers to a final series of questions, and the first bachelor to match enough to make to to the final circle won a date with the single woman. Everything in this paragraph would then repeat with a single man and 50 eligible bachelorettes. There wasn’t a lot to it.
The rest of the cast…
Piano Boy Jon Ernst
Jon Ernst was the DJ/keyboard player for the show. He said little and wore the hell out of an ER era George Clooney Caesar cut. He went on to work as music supervisor on several MTV shows including The Hills and Laguna Beach, and owns ShowRrunner Music.
Jenny McCarthy’s replacement after she left the show to pursue other opportunities, Carmen Electra owned the late 1990s. Electra’s role on Singled Out was a lot less animated than McCarthy’s was. In addition to Singled Out, she appeared on Baywatch, in Good Burger, and in Playboy several times. I had a summer job in 1999 at the factory where my father worked, and one of the other employees, a good dude who was into hardcore punk, told me that his older brother took Electra to prom in Cincinnati. She and I are practically best friends.
Chris Hardwick’s Hair
Middle part skater cut. If there’s one thing about Chris Hardwick worth discussing it is this hairstyle, because this type of cut played a role in defining the mid-1990s. It was ubiquitous in my first few years of high school, and especially popular among the soccer team, of which I was member Freshman and Sophomore year. I had a lot of difficulty pulling this cut off during the year or so I attempted it because my part was very averse to going from a left to a middle part. Also, instead of draping my face the hair flattened and to keep it in place I sort of had to slick it straight down, kind of like Alfalfa or Millie from Freaks and Geeks.
What was bad about this show?
The contestants and groups of singles on the show were embarrassingly horny. The guys in particular were very grabby in that “it’s the 90s and we can get away with this” way. in a similar vein, dismissed bachelors were all about kissing up on the single woman contestant. Every interaction and question on the show was reduced to its lowest common denominator.
What’s worth salvaging from Singled Out?
Singled Out has anthropological value as a fashion snapshot of the mid to late 1990s. The gathering of the 50 singles and subsequent dismissals was like a fashion show featuring every trend from those years. The final three bachelors in an episode I watched while preparing this article consisted of a ponytail guy wearing a vest, a close cropped guy wearing insanely baggy khakis, and a human Fruitopia ad with Manic Panic hair. It was like a member of All-4-One standing with the lead singers of New Radicals and The Spin Doctors. It was gloriously 90s.
It was also a refreshingly honest show in several ways. 18-21 year olds are embarrassingly horny, so how else would they be expected to act, especially when they’re doing whatever they can to set themselves apart in a crowd of 50 people? The pick up lines on the show are pathetically bad, and that’s good. Most people aren’t funny or clever. Seeing somebody completely blank or drop some nonsensical innuendo when he or she has to say something memorable is honest. It’s good.
That’s Singled Out. For better or worse it had an impact on my teen years. Obviously there are bunches and bunches of game shows I didn’t cover this week, and you may have noticed a distinct lack of Nickelodeon coverage here and on the site as a whole. I’m definitely going to revisit game shows, and Nickelodeon is an unfortunate blind spot for me, mostly as a result of getting cable late so most of the beloved childhood shows of my era were too young for me. I’m going to cover as much as possible though.
Were you a fan of Singled Out? How would you have made yourself stand out? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter.