Joe Millionaire 2: Is the Scene Set For Failure?

By K. Lingreen

When you think of men who symbolize America, men whom you’d send overseas as representations of what it means to be an American, who comes to mind? How about George Washington and Ben Franklin? Sure, they’ve made great contributions to American history, but would you cast them on a reality dating show? Probably not. You might not want to picture either of these guys canoodling in a hot tub with bikini-clad women. Well, if you’re like Joe Millionaire 2’s Anique, Lenny Kravitz and Keanu Reeves represent the perfect American men; she’s hoping the mystery man whom she will soon be dating looks like one of these two. Sorry, Anique. You’re in for a surprise. A surprise wearing a large cowboy hat.

In this second installment of Joe Millionaire, we are presented with the ultimate culture clash. There is a group of fourteen European women who seem to base their knowledge of Americans wholly on what they have seen on television and in the movies. And the movies they’re watching are apparently bad cowboy movies where people say stuff like, “Howdy, pardner.” We also have David Smith, our “Joe,” who is testing out the dating waters in Europe since American women “just aren’t doing it for him.” The linking of such disparate mindsets seems to set up failure more than any other reality dating show. Plus there’s the whole matter of the eighty million dollar lie, which might put a wrinkle in even the best relationship.

We’re struck by how contrived reality television really is as this episode unfolds; we see the formula of “let’s take people who would never encounter each other in real life, throw them together, and see what happens.” On other reality dating shows, people are tortured about sustaining relationships across state lines. How will any relationship formed on this show survive across an ocean? People who are so different are being tossed together, with little preparation for any of the parties involved. I wonder if any of the participants actually think they’ll get anything more than a vacation, some fun, and some exposure on this show. There stakes are low — do we actually believe that a lasting romantic bond can be formed on this show?

Everything about this first episode is a bold show of untruthfulness: we start with an image of happy Evan and Zora from last season. We see her glistening ring, and we see the two kiss happily. We see no mention that they don’t speak to each other any more. Then the words “They Said We Couldn’t Do It Again. They Were Wrong” are projected on the screen. Fox is boldly declaring that they were able to pull a trick on unsuspecting women. Then we get the opening credits, which seem more like the credits to a drama or soap opera; they end with a shot of our cowboy, with the words “and David Smith as Joe.” These words set up David as playing a role, something that’s been created for our amusement.

The producers have chosen a cliché of the American man. David Smith has many of the physical attributes the European women on the show describe an American man as having, before they even meet him. David is blond, wears the complete cowboy uniform, and is muscular (which we see through several gratuitous shirtless shots. Especially entertaining is the shot where David is shirtless, while wearing his cowboy hat. He then proceeds to put on a shirt. Of course; we all put on shirts after hats). David calls people “sir,” and, like any good representation of an American, has perfectly straight gleaming white teeth (because if orthodontics don’t say America, I don’t know what does. Well, besides apple pie and spare ribs, as one of the women points out, after she hears that David is from Texas). And to top it all off, our false millionaire’s last name is Smith. The producers have chosen a cliché American, a cowboy right out of the movies. Too bad that he’s not actually a cowboy.

The term cowboy might still apply, but I’d categorize David Smith more as a rodeo performer. “Real” cowboys actually own land and tend to animals. Stadiums full of people don’t come to watch real cowboys brand their cows or bale the hay on their ranches. So it seems our cowboy falls into the category of entertainer, which is only a baby step away from actor. Could this show possibly be a stepping-stone toward a Hollywood career for our cowboy? How earnest is David Smith about finding love in Europe?

We first encounter David at home in Texas, where we get glimpses of his life. David says that women who hang around rodeos are called “buckle bunnies” (relating, I suppose, to the gargantuan belt buckles which are apparently part of standard rodeo attire) and they just “don’t really do it” for him. Then he says, “I like a more feminine woman. So maybe one of these European girls will be more to my liking.” Wow. Let’s see if David can ever get a date in America again after that statement. And if he doesn’t want rodeo groupies, maybe he could go out in America without, oh, say that giant cowboy hat, and see if he can attract some non-buckle bunny women.

Once David arrives in Italy, he is given a crash course in European history and culture (pertaining only to the countries his dates hail from), presented by Paul the butler. Apparently butlers are also trained as fifth grade geography teachers and can stand in front of a large map, point to several countries, and teach their student how to say “hello” in five European languages.

The high point of this episode is when the host, Samantha, tells the women that their Prince Charming is “a real American cowboy” before the women meet David. The women are appalled. One woman says she pictures “a redneck riding a horse.” Horror is evident on the faces of the women and there are several gasps of anguish. Images of Lenny and Keanu are quickly dissolving, only to be replaced by an image of Jeff Foxworthy.

After the hideous revelation of their Prince Charming’s occupation, the women clutch themselves in disgust, as if they were just told that their man was an escaped axe murderer. What’s so bad about a cowboy? Is it the whole eating beans out of a can in front of a fire image? Does it just scream poverty? But then Samantha tells the women that the cowboy has inherited eighty million dollars and the room erupts with joy. Suddenly the whole cowboy thing is cool. Very cool. Like Keanu Reeves cool. Champagne bottles are uncorked and merry partying ensues. The women collectively hum what sounds like the theme to Dallas. Someone shouts out, “Howdy, pardner!” Several other women do a buckle-kneed shuffle dance, which, apparently is some sort of cowgirl dance. Someone shouts “Yee haw!”

We go to an interview of Alessia, who somehow has a shirt with the word “Cowgirl” printed on it. She points to her chest and declares, “I love cowboys because I’m a cowgirl.” Right. If you have a t-shirt that declares you’re something, then yeah, you’re totally whatever noun is printed across your chest. And where’d she get that shirt? Incidentally, Alessia’s profession is listed as “Bartender/Actress.” It’s good to know that American reality show contestants don’t have monopoly on the bartender-slash-actress category. So see, Americans and Europeans really aren’t that different; the whole bartender-slash-actress thing is universal.

The women are shown later sitting by the pool and discussing what a cowboy actually is. No one seems to really know. The women toss around descriptions of ranches and rodeo shows and one woman declares that she wants to go live on David’s ranch and eat ranch dressing. How totally American. And to confirm that all their information about America is garnered from television shows and movies, one of the women says, “What is a rodeo?” and another responds, “Haven’t you seen Charlie’s Angels?”

So the scene is set for deceit and duplicitousness. The clichés are already out in full force, and the grounds have been set for misunderstandings. A true love connection most likely won’t happen, but we’ll get to watch these people fumble through cultural barriers and get mired deeper and deeper in lies. And we’ll eat it up, like apple pie and spare ribs, because we’re Americans and we just love this kind of stuff.


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