Lights, camera, weirdness. “Married at First Sight,” the Lifetime Channel reality TV show matching total strangers in unholy matrimony upon first meeting, shoots its brand of unreal magic through Feb. 5 at the ultra-exclusive Inn at Rancho Santa Fe.
Check it out. If they’ll let you. They threw me off the set for having the audacity to walk up the Inn’s primrose path, lingering for more than a passing moment.
Let me state for the impermanent record, I have lots of experience with reality TV and moviemaking in the form of covering said events, sometimes appearing within and writing about — not to coin a phrase — the good, the bad and the ugly of such interactions.
Growing up during the so-called Golden Age of Television, I went to several talk shows as a youth. I watched a young Larry King sometime in the Pleistocene Age interview Lauren Bacall, or maybe that was a Lauren Bacall impersonator, who knows.
Moving right along, I wrote about Strother Martin, he of “Cool Hand Luke” fame. In pure “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate,” fashion, he didn’t want to talk about his role as prison captain in that 1967 classic movie. Instead, he spoke obsessively about swimming and smoking marijuana.
Turned out Martin was on the University of Michigan swim and diving team, narrowly missing a berth on the U.S. Olympic Team. Also turned out his role as Arnold Stoner, the father of Tommy Chong‘s character Anthony on “Up in Smoke” was not by accident, but by design. Who knew?
Later, I made it to the front of the background of the camera. I was an extra on several “Emmanuelle” movies. Not in any “sex” scenes,” but mainly background as a derelict at seedy bars. The funnest take was watching them rig up a contraption that spewed fake piss on another extra laid out in the street.
My greatest role, if you can call it that, was on “Undercover Blues,” a highly forgettable film starring Dennis Quaid, Kathleen Turner and Stanley Tucci, directed by a well past his prime Herbert Ross. It received a whopping 37 percent critical rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Actually, I joked at the time the best aspect of the movie, which looked like a dog even in the fleeting moments pre-release on set, was its working title. They called it “Cloak and Diaper.” So, of course, in “Taxi Zum Klo” fashion, they changed the title to something less catchy. (More on taxis to the toilet later in this story. Stay tuned.)
Dave Chappelle was in it, but didn’t know who he was. My most starstruck moment was seeing comedian Larry Miller, who had just appeared as a Jerry nemesis as the doorman on Seinfeld, getting grub at the catering truck with Chappelle.
Didn’t have much in the way of boundaries back then. I bothered Ross for a while, jibber jabbering about camera angles or something. However, I was there mostly for the per diem pay plus surprisingly good catered meals and attractive actress mingling.
As such, I endeavored to make it through as many shooting days as possible. Mo’ money, mo’ catered meals, mo’ fun. First day on set, I learned he who hesitated was lost, but in a good way. Those not in the know fell for the second assistant director’s trick of the trade as he called out for volunteers to be in the scene.
They didn’t realize that as soon as you appeared in a scene, your movie days were done. They discharged background “actors” after that because extras only could — d’uh — appear once in the film.
When the casting call went out, the savvy extra, i.e. me, made himself scarce. I hid in portalets, behind bushes, whatever it took to get out of the scene’s way. This worked for several days. However, as it must for all, my time in the spotlight finally arrived.
Still not ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille, I was one of the few, the hardy, the loitering extras left when the second assistant director grabbed me, throwing me into the fray.
That wasn’t so bad an assignment, truthfully. They gave me a wonderful faux family. I was paired with a beautiful actress and 11-year-old girl. We walked around a zoo. The girl was a bit of an imp, it turned out. She handed me a small cardboard box she was carrying. It seemed to contain popcorn.
“Here, try some,” she said, smiling. Ah, movie magic and unsuspecting fool, I put some popcorn in my mouth. Ugh, immediate spit take. It was prop popcorn, some kind of styrofoam crap. Terrible. My fake family laughed and laughed and laughed. Good times.
Me and my family actually made the final cut. So, if you ever have the time and misplaced interest, check out the zoo scene in the film. We’re all there for a few seconds although the popcorn didn’t make it. I threw out the box in disgust before they hit the clapperboard on the subsequent scene they used.
As it happened, Dennis Quaid noticed, too. He started throwing kernels of his fake popcorn in the air, catching the fallen kernels in his mouth. Never missed a beat. Kind of impressive when it came to a sort of stupid human trick.
My cover had been burned. That didn’t faze me. I showed up the next day at the shoot, pretending not to realize I wasn’t supposed to return.
Several days of hiding in bathrooms when volunteers were called later, the second assistant director actually toured the bathroom, looking for stragglers no doubt. He noticed me, said the game was over. He didn’t remember the zoo scene, though, and threw me in a downtown crowd scene by a faux farmer’s market where some cars fake crashed in the background. Or vice-versa. Whatever.
Quaid saw me and remembered the face, I guess. As we apparently struggled through bad take after take, not my fault, he started making crazy faces at me, trying to make me laugh. This went on for quite a while before the first assistant director put a stop to it. Guess who got in trouble? Not the instigating star, d’uh. So, went my final day on the set.
After that, it was back to the story bored. I interviewed a few movie or movie, TV-adjacent people. Guess the most notable was some Bozo who claimed to be the actual Patch Adams, or something like that, in the Robin Williams movie of the same name. The original bailiff on the “Judge Judy” show wanted me to ghost write some kind of inspirational book he had in mind. That didn’t work out either.
My best pseudo experience with the biggest star was with Eddie Murphy, sort of. Working for the Sacramento Bee, I covered the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta out of the Elk Grove office. As it turned out, Murphy and Martin Lawrence were making “Life.” They used this very nice town I covered, Walnut Grove, as a stand-in for Tallahatchie County, Mississippi, for some reason.
I found out about the very hush-hush, closed set shoot from the local environmental services company. Somebody excitedly called the office, tipping us off about the shoot. Even better, he said we truly should check out Murphy’s portable toilet arrangement. Apparently, it was the most luxurious porta potty he ever had seen.
Who could resist such toilet humor. Calling to arrange an interview, the film’s public relations people said Murphy, and his portable toilet, were off-limits. Closed set, no publicity, get lost. This was like dangling raw meat in front of a pit bull.
The porta potty person eagerly gave up the shoot location. Grabbing my photographer, Andy Alfaro, we bee-lined to the set. Successfully evading movie security, we found the portable situation without much trouble.
Not only was it the most luxurious porta potty ever imaginable. It was the largest. The darn potty took up a giant trailer, the kind of trailer a family of four could inhabit with room left for overflow.
So amazing was the scene that, alas, we lingered too long. Andy got his shots. I took some notes. Albeit quickly, thank goodness. Murphy needed to use the facilities, also quite quickly by all appearances. Security showed up and showed off, clearing us away like so much refuse although we saw Eddie at a distance, with entourage, headed our way.
Apparently, Murphy couldn’t wait, and neither could we. Threatened with imminent arrest, kind of ironic considering the movie centered on a prison break, we departed the scene sans interview, much less full use of the facilities.
Speaking of crap, back to “Married at First Sight.” The show first aired on July 8, 2014. Now shooting its 15th Season, it pairs couples brought together by relationship experts. The couples never have met. That’s a good start.
They agree to marry, then, according to one of the valets at The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe, “hook up and have sex on a honeymoon at a fancy place like this one,” adding, “I’ve watched the show with my girlfriend. I couldn’t even stand to hang out with a person like that after just meeting them, much less marry them.”
Couples going through the motions supposedly live together for up to two months. Then, they “decide” whether to stay together or get “divorced.”
“Over the thirteen completed seasons of MAFS,” according to Wikipedia, “49 couples have been matched. 29 of them (59%) chose to stay married on Decision Day, out of which more than half have since divorced, filed for divorce, or announced their divorce. As of December 2021, this left only 12 couples married, making for a current overall success rate of 24%.”
Alrighty then, very lame. The show airs at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. Wednesdays on Lifetime. It’s ratings, hard to believe, are excellent.
The latest rated episode airing Jan. 26, 2022 pulled in 1.2 million viewers, ranking 9th out of 50 original cable shows, according to Show Buzz Daily. It’s second highest demographic is 18-49 year old females. Highest demo group? Viewers over the age of 50, by twice the numbers as the younger females. Salad days at final sight? Go figure.
Assuming investigative journalist mode, I made sure to shoot photos sub rosa before wandering into the shoot improper. A female production assistant immediately got into my grill, shouting, “The set is closed. Go away.”
Not a reach, I played dumb. “I’m going to the Inn for a drink. What’s a set?” She was not amused. A male production assistant, a bit nicer though, came up saying, “This is a private event. I’m sorry. You’ll have to leave.”
I hemmed and hawed a little while, but had no problem leaving such a dumb scene. However, after he repeated that private stuff a few more times, I broke character. “Look buddy, this is ‘Married at First Sight.’ Everybody knows that. I’m not a fool.”
Like the Monty Python “Argument Clinic” routine where the guy says I came here for a good argument and the other guy replies, no you came here for an argument, the production assistant started gaslighting. “What? I’m not calling you a fool,” yada yada.
That was enough fun for me. Go time, y’all. However, if you’re interested in this kind of pap, “Married at First Sight” shoots at The Inn through Friday, Feb. 5, according to sources. The Inn is at 5951 Linea Del Cielo, Rancho Santa Fe.