It has been a long held dream of mine to be on a reality dating show (don’t judge :). I am not sure I can articulate why other than the idea of trying to find love while America watched seemed intriguing…which also led me to believe that anyone else willing to engage in the same adventure may indeed be just my match! SO when I saw an application for a new dating show, First Date produced by Ellen Degeneres on NBC, come across my Facebook feed, I knew I had to give it a try! And, as it turns out, last Friday this seemingly pie-in-the-sky dream became a high def reality (I was a bit nervous about how big my pores would look on my 56″ tv screen). *Cue wild applause*
The journey to having my first blind date ever televised on one of America’s most important broadcast stations actually started over 2 years ago. Here is a glimpse into how I got on the show, some of the “behind the scenes,” and some of my *actual thoughts* as the date was going down.
Chicago in July! On Instagram I wrote, “Making a quick stop in this iconic American city in route to Mexico and Guatemala.” After all the mission here was top secret.
My first night in Chicago I used my modest per diem to eat at my favorite Mexican restaurant on the planet, Frontera Grill (best margaritas ever!).
Unlike shows like ABC’s The Bachelor, First Dates is a “one and done.” So my total stay in the Windy City was barely 48 hours (they put me up at a super cute boutique hotel in downtown Chicago). That first evening I was supposed to do my pre-date interview, but as it turned out they called me to tell me I would do my pre-interview on date day. I still kept my blow-out appointment as a practice run :). That evening I got to play a little in the city and met some fun people who were quite intrigued about the reason for my short visit.
Because these dates are meant to be super authentic, just like the ones at home where you don’t have a microphone taped to your chest and where the restaurants don’t have multiple hidden cameras pointing at you with exceptional zoom functionality, we were only given general guidelines about what to wear or not wear (not white, which blew my first outfit idea right out of the water). We were also told to come with our hair and make-up done. They weren’t going to do it for us.
However, unlike a typical date, I did actually go shopping for this one. I bought two dresses from Diane Von Furstenberg, a bright pink one and a black one. After some thought, I decided it was enough to be documented for all of America to witness…so I stuck to the basic black versus a bit more “risky” pink.
The production itself was remarkable and bigger than I anticipated. Crew members in all black with CIA like ear pieces were darting around everywhere, and new faces seemed to be introducing themselves at every turn. I had my own producer, casting manager, hair and make-up touch-up artist, sound guy and interviewer. I even had assigned people to escort me from room to room. Literally a whole team for little me!
The *emotional* pre-interview lasted for about an hour but was distilled down to maybe 1 minute on the show! The interviewer did say I gave the best response as to why I wanted to meet someone through this bizarre medium (my words, not his). Alas, you will never see that.
On the show, there was no script or instructions beyond which door I needed to enter the restaurant. After walking in, I may have flirted a little with the sexy accented Maitre d’ (I figured I had to warm-up). Thank goodness for the heavy editing.
My date, Doug from Seattle, watching me flirt with the Maitre d’. Ha!
I was super anxious to see who Ellen Degeneres and her team would pick out for me. I thought with the entire nation at their fingertips, how could I go wrong! Little did I connect at that time that of course my date would also be from Seattle (the same pool I ALREADY chose from!). I guess it would be tough to go on a second date with a guy from Atlanta. *sigh*
Doug made a nice first impression. He was a bit older and shorter than I would have hoped, but he did let me chose the bottle of wine so that made up for it! We had the heirloom tomato appetizer (he loved gardening and wanted to try “Chicago tomatoes”), and we shared the surf and turf main dish!
Oh lord, that d*mn pre-interview segment. I had been worried about what elements they would extract (the interviewer literally wouldn’t let me leave until I talked about my divorce), and pretty much my worst nightmare came true. Even after taping finished I was sleepless for 3 nights. In my head this was my thing and in no way did I want to involve or hurt my ex – who I consider one of the BEST people on this planet. I even contacted my producer from Mexico City (my next stop after the Chicago adventure) to voice my concern. She told me not to worry, and after watching the first 6 episodes, I did lay my worry to rest. The show seemed pretty “surface” and light hearted. HOWEVER, they decided to use my episode to take the deep dive. Ugh. I literally fell into a puddle of tears watching this segment at my mini-viewing party. America knows a bit more than what it should about me (at least more than what is proper for a first date!!).
To quote Doug, I was “wicked funny,” which may or may not be true. BUT the one joke I know he appreciated and that got cut *sob* was about Chinese eggplant.
Like I noted before he loves to garden, so being a good date I decided to ask him a question about his passion. I forget now if Seattle was having an exceptionally warm or cold summer (we taped this in July of 2015), but it was one of the extremes. Given the unique growing climate, I asked him what he was able to grow well. To which he answered, “Chinese eggplant.”
I may have yawned a little in my head at that moment, but responded with, “Chinese eggplant?”
He said, “Yes, Chinese Eggplant. Do you know the difference between regular egglant and Chinese eggplant?”
Me, “It speaks Mandarin?”
I had texted my girlfriend, Katherine, during the date that he was a nice guy but lacked confidence, but the icing on the cake was when he said he felt like a “fraud” going out with me. Frankly it seemed a bit unconceivable that he would use that word. “Frog” would have made more sense to me…hence my need to repeat and annunciate the word to confirm.
This is the look after he had just told me how “polished and sophisticated” I was (to which I rolled my eyes if you watch closely…which proves clearly I am not so all the time) and how he gets “dirty” some times (at work) indicating he may not be the best fit into my world. Confused by the whole “confession,” I remember thinking, “I just wanted to see if we enjoyed a meal across from one another.” and “I’ll cross the “dirty” bridge should it come to that.” But as we all know now, there weren’t even blueprints drawn up for that bridge.
Notice how we were the LAST people to leave the restaurant. This is true of pretty much every date I go on! My ex used to say that I don’t like the evening to end..and it holds true even when the connection isn’t perfect. Right before this shot a member of the production staff followed me into the bathroom to tell me to wrap it up. We still had the post-date interview to do, and I am certain everyone wanted to go home!
Yes, Doug was nice and sweet, BUT what you didn’t see (and I write this for all the people on social media who thought he was the angel and I was the “snooty old blonde”) was his lack of appreciation in that moment for my words and my reason for not wanting a second date.
He fired back with, “Jen, I only wanted to go out again so we could talk about this experience.”
To which I responded, “I would be happy to meet for coffee if that is the case.”
Apparently not liking this response either his retort was, “Oh, so you just dumped me on national television!”
Being surprised by the entire exchange and this new side of him I was learning, I turned to him and said, “No, Doug, I just created a national platform for you to find someone better, and I am sure they will all be clamoring.”
Turns out they all didn’t have to come clamoring though because, per the updates at the end of the episode, he took my words to heart and is now happily dating. There you go.
Doug was a gentleman, but it was quite clear by the end of the night he really wanted nothing more to do with me (post-date interviews where you perceive yourself as getting “dumped on national television” aren’t necessarily conducive to lifelong friendships). We had to tape our good-bye twice (they forgot to do it the first “natural” time)…so this good-bye was more of a good riddance…
…and I was off to get packed for my super early flight to Mexico City in the morning.
How I still feel about being part of this special experience!
It was exhilarating and exhausting…kinda my favorite combination.
The First Date Restaurant, mk The Restaurant, is an actual dining destination in Chicago. They closed down for a month while production occurred just to feed us “first daters”. Check them out next time you head to this midwest city…just be warned that the cameras could still be hidden and filming!
They did ask me after we got done taping if I would be interested in being part of Season 2. I, of course, said YES, but that was nearly 19 months ago and about 50 first dates later (no reference to narrator Drew Barrymore’s movie here, truly:).
We will see if Hollywood comes calling a second time…
Here is a link to an on camera interview I did with local NBC’s affiliate King 5 Evening Magazine that aired 5 minutes before my episode!
Here is a link to an interview I did with local 425 Magazine prior to the airing of the episode.