Playing It Straight is the latest reality TV monster starting soon and everybody’s appalled, but the final product isn’t quite as horrendous as expected.
The premise is sickening. Rebecca is a single woman sent to an Aussie outback homestead to pick a partner from 12 hunks, ?a The Bachelorette. The twist (or is that, sashay?) is more than half of the guys are gay. If she picks a straight guy she wins a new boyfriend (well, whatever) and $200,000, but if she accidentally picks a gay guy the queen gets all the cash.
It’s wrong for so many reasons. For starters the baddies in reality TV are always those who pretend to be what they are not (think UK Big Brother’s Nasty Nick), and here it’s the gay men who are duplicitous, greedy and manipulative. The framing of the show as a dating event rather than a game (like Survivor), with Rebecca as the romantic heroine, only heightens the perception of real betrayal.
And, like There’s Something About Miriam, it leaves a bad taste because it suggests an uglier reality. In Miriam it was violence against transsexuals; here it’s women who find themselves married to gay men.
The big question -“ is it homophobic? -“ is more problematic. For example, when the guys are told there are secret fags in their ranks, Ben goes for a walk, seemingly very upset. The guys neither sympathise nor condemn, but suggest he might actually be gay and is actually performing homophobia.
It’s not necessarily even homophobic for perpetuating stereotypes of gayness, because the show wouldn’t be interesting if it were that easy to guess. The willingness of straight men to smarten up their appearance (see Queer Eye) further muddies the waters, moving Rebecca to ask, exasperated, How can you tell who’s gay? Really! (Her instincts in episode one, at least, are rotten.)
It’s a mess with an ugly premise, but now that reality TV is a legitimate genre with its own aesthetic criteria, one is compelled to report that PIS is pretty watchable.
When Rebecca ejects contestants, they give their final soliloquy in an outdoor toilet, dubbed The Outhouse. Remaining contestants get to reflect on the evictees to camera, while standing alone inside The Closet. The dog is called Gaydar. We’ve only ourselves to blame for these little flourishes.
Playing It Straight screens on Channel 7 in early September.