Cast your mind back to December, when Time's Person of the Year issue sported a mirrored cover honoring "You"—the You of YouTube, the Me of MySpace—for "seizing the reins of the global media." The magazine devoted a page to a 25-year-old named Tila Tequila, who had parlayed the distinction of being a popular denizen of MySpace into something like a career in showbiz. While Miss Tequila pursues numerous avenues of artistic expression—wearing bikinis while down on all fours, for example, and singing thuggishly aggressive come-ons in a twig-thin voice—her only demonstrable talent is for raw self-promotion, and Time politely wondered, "Does she represent the triumph of a new democratic starmaking medium or its crass exploitation for maximum personal gain?" Last night, the dating show A Shot at Love With Tila Tequila (MTV, Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET) arrived to offer a reply. "Crass exploitation," it giggled, continuing, "Duh!"
In a twist on all those stodgy televised courtship tournaments, A Shot at Love sets 16 men and 16 women in pursuit of the heroine's affections. Yes, Tila is proud to call herself bisexual. No, I'm not holding my breath in expectation that she'll win an award from GLAAD. But far be it from me to question the passions that stir Tila's heart and loins. I'll leave that to You, the collective author of Wikipedia and its ilk, who has coined the term "MySpace bisexual." The recreational lexicographers at UrbanDictionary.com bring the utmost delicacy to defining the term: "A girl who makes out with other slutty chicks at parties and then claims to be bisexual because it's trendy to say so and gets people's attention on myspace."
On Tuesday, the men—first up to bat and not yet filled in on the competing-with-lesbians angle—oozed into Tila's pleasure dome with many a barbarous hoot and hormonal wail. Some strutted, and some sprinted, and one turned a somersault, and another tried to scale the building. Each was identified by vocation, with Ryan named as an "oil executive," for instance, and Steven listed as a "club promoter." But the producers listed Lance as a "professional clown." Did they thus mean to imply that Rob is not a professional "wrestler"? That Michael B. is an amateur "pizza delivery guy"?
In the getting-to-know-you lightning round that followed, each of Tila's suitors presented the star with a token of his esteem. Greg, a fitness model, tendered massage oil. Eric, a bouncer, proffered a container of laundry detergent, a gag gift enabling him to draw attention to his "washboard abs." This was, of course, a superfluous gesture, as it could not possibly violate local standards of decency to simply remove one's shirt for no good reason. Domenico, a "server" from Milan, Italy, having tendered a plate of spaghetti with meatballs, helpfully placed one end of a noodle between Tila's heavily glossed lips in order to recreate the iconic smooch from Lady and the Tramp. I quickly grew fond of Domenico, a jolly little fellow who seems to have borrowed his Italian accent from Chico Marx. May his winking determination to make a spectacle of himself be rewarded with a production deal.
At the half-hour mark, five of the dudes were kicked to the curb whence they came, with Tila sending the losers into obscurity with the flabbiest dismissal line in recent memory: "Unfortunately? Your shot at love has ended." Goodbye, Greg. Farewell, Lance. The pizza boy was spared, despite his having overplayed the living-on-my-mom's-couch card.
Tila changed from a black low-cut gown into a spangle-dripping number to meet the ladies, who unfolded themselves from a vehicle that looked like a white limousine from some angles and a neon-trimmed personnel carrier from others. It will not suffice to class them as lipstick lesbians. The relevant cosmetic is body glitter, and the viewer came to the obvious realization that A Shot at Love will be a calamitous failure on its own terms if no two of the female contestants hook up on camera.
In many respects, Tila mixed and mingled with the women just as she had with the men: To make conversation, she traded single entendres. To get liquored up, everyone hoisted plastic party cups. She was, however, a smidgen more touchy-feely—leading Rebecca on a tour her tattoos, making out with Vanessa right in front of shy Ellie, and further making out with what's-her-name. We spent some quality time with Keasha, an interior designer from Tulsa, Okla., one of those TV naturals who can elaborate a whole life story in two minutes of screen time. Electrically strange, she looked like Parker Posey playing a reality-show contestant. Picture her in her minidress: one hand on an outthrust hip, the other cradling a serving of what she called "Jack Daniel's, straight up on the rocks." "I mean, hell-errr," Keasha drawled, an utterance connected with nothing. "Where's the pool?"
The women had not been required to bring Tila presents. Rather, each was instructed to choose a costume representing her deepest self and, thus attired, to prowl in the direction of the star, who was seated on a throne. Truant schoolgirl, naughty nurse, rubber-trousered kitty cat, and so on. Keasha donned a hard hat, strapped caution tape across her bosom, and called herself a sexy construction worker: "Excuse me, but could you help dust some sawdust off my toolbelt?"
The show-closing this-season-on-A-Shot-at-Love montage promises thrilling times ahead. Hook ups, screaming matches, catfights, ambulance rides, drunken sobbing, stripper-pole mishaps … The series would seem to have something for everyone with a taste for the new sleaze, an arena where sexual identity is nothing more or less than brand identity. Suit Yourself.