Everyone who's dipped a toe — or any other body part — into the dating pool knows it sometimes feels like it would be much easier if all parties dropped their carefully constructed facades and let it all hang out. Perhaps literally. The mad scientists behind Dating Naked, a new series on VH1, intend to test this theory by challenging would-be lovebirds to doff their dainties and seek out their soulmates.
In each episode, two brave souls in search of relationships are flown off to a tropical paradise retreat and treated to three whirlwind days of all-nude romance, during which they'll carefully evaluate the goodie baskets of three potential matches— including each other— before finally choosing from among their suitors and jiggling happily off into the sunset. As I sat down to recap the first episode, though, it was hard not to wonder if the contestants would be able to see the forest through the bushes.
Let's meet our players: Joe is an affable 24-year-old hunk of pure, grade-A Long Island beefcake who enjoys balloon hats and wants the world to know that his muscle-bound tough-guy exterior belies the romantic soul of a poet. (More on that poetry later.) At 19, Joe wed the love of his life only to have his matrimonial bliss peskily interrupted by an annulment just five months later. Now he's trying again." Dating Naked gives me a way to trust someone possibly again. I'm here for love. I don't want just beauty and looks now. There's no secrets. You see me, I see you. Boom."
With that, Wee Wee appears. Yes, her name is Wee Wee — not to be confused with the many blurred-out wee-wees that will later feature on the show. Wee Wee's 36, recently out of a 10-year relationship and hasn't had sex in a year.
According to host Amy Pafrath, Wee Wee and Joe are about to embark on a "radical dating experience" that will force them to expose their truest selves and separate the superficial aspects of finding a mate from the stuff that really matters. With that, Amy slinks back to her lair and the daters head off for the real business: getting naked on national television.
Joe is predictably worried about getting, "You know, a little excited," and plans to suppress any unseemly tingling in his loins by thinking about "elephants and monkeys." Also, by remembering to look Wee Wee in the eye. Rather than talking directly to her vagina, I guess? Now that's chivalry!
Wee Wee, on the other hand, is perfectly up for a quick game of peek-a-balls.
"I didn't even focus on the penis," she says upon the big reveal. "I just saw his testicles and I was like, uhhhh, now where do I look?"
But Dating Naked has a different kind of balls in mind for Wee Wee and Joe: they'll spend the day on Zorbing, the delightful sport where you roll around in a big plastic ball. "The awkward thing about getting into the Zorb is that you're butt-naked," Joe says, climbing in. "You're flopping around everywhere."
"This was a whole different blow job," Wee Wee muses as she inflates the contraption. As the Zorb rolls through the ocean, Joe's crotch-blur spins like a pinwheel while Wee Wee's eyes fill with little cartoon hearts.
With those athletics out of the way, the clothes go back on for dinner, and things get more intimate. Joe tells Wee Wee all about his failed marriage, his near-death experience with viral meningitis, and his desire for a picket fence, a dog, and a kid. The two agree that they feel like they've met before, and it's hard not to think they might be onto something. Maybe it was on the lost season of Jersey Shore?
Unfortunately, while romance is clearly brewing, Wee Wee's not going to break her year long dry spell quite yet — the pair retires separately to their quarters, knowing that a whole new crew of nudies is about to arrive.
The next day, Wee Wee is introduced to Jack for a day of nude art. While she's unimpressed by both his ghostly pallor and his sneakers, she starts to come around when he uses his apparently sizable dingaling as a paintbrush. Elsewhere on the island, Joe meets Jasmine, a comely Israeli temptress who is looking for "honesty, adventure, and sexiness."
"I think that I am sexy," Jasmine reveals. "It comes from the inside. I'm not playing games. I'm very comfortable with myself." Jasmine's thighs may be untouched by cellulite, but she has trouble written all over her.
That night, it's time for a little mixer, as Joe, Jack, Jasmine, and Wee Wee hang together, poolside. Joe and Jasmine play grab-ass while Wee Wee ignores Jack and seethes: "They're flirting and I'm like, 'Hello, I'm Wee Wee. What are you doing?' I thought Joe and I had a connection but now I'm second-guessing."
By the time the final dates roll around the next day, both Joe and Wee Wee seem too preoccupied to even check out the goods. Wee Wee suspects that her date, Justice, isn't "genuine" but by now it's clear she only has eyes for Joe. As for Justice, he's not feeling it either: "If I'm bringing filet mignon, you better bring some good mashed potatoes," he philosophizes. "Wee Wee just doesn't have the swag that can facilitate Justice."
Meanwhile, after some painful-looking body-boarding with pretty, easygoing Chrissy, Joe engages in some completely desultory love-games that like little more than an excuse to unleash his inner Emily Dickinson. (Emphasis on the — oh, never mind.) A sampling of his poetry:
You, the girl with beautiful eyes
Sitting here like I'm doing this on the fly.
When I first met you, I felt real shy
I don't know what to think now
But I'm sitting here and I'm feelin like a clown.
Chrissy bangs on a pair of bongos and tries not to laugh. With that, it's time to head to the villa for a final group date.
"Am I prepared for those people?" Chrissy asks.
"I thought you were gonna say 'penises,'" Joe says. A fair assumption!
Back at the ranch, the real drama unfolds as Jasmine reveals herself as an expert practitioner of reality TV villainy. It's unclear if she's actually interested in Joe; instead, her goal seems to be to take Wee Wee's last shred of self-esteem, grind it to a pulp, and hopefully earn herself a slot on Dating Naked: All-Star Edition in the process.
"Wee Wee didn't seem like a threat to me. I am very strong and confident. I am very pretty," Jasmine explains.
But all that confidence might backfire: when Joe spies Jasmine cavorting with Justice in the pool, he gets even by making out with a swoony Wee Wee. "Finally, he kissed me. You know when you kiss someone, like, instantly when your lips meet, you know if there's something there?"
Think again, Wee Wee! Two seconds later, Jasmine has Joe back in her thrall and is dragging his bare ass to the cabana for some naked sexy-time. Wee Wee, unamused, decides to interrupt their tête-à-tête. "What the fuck, dude?" she exclaims, bursting into the room. Then she remembers she's on a dating reality show and heads off to bed feeling deeply confused about the choice she'll soon have to make.
Things seem no clearer by the next day, when host Amy drags the whole crew to the dais for some naked decisions. Joe hems and haws and offer caveats, but ultimately ignores his own wee-wee — not to mention Jasmine's skyward-pointing nipples — and chooses a shocked Wee Wee. But is it too late? After all, Wee Wee seems tempted to get even with Joe for his dalliances by serving up Justice with the mashed potatoes he's been waiting for. But never fear: she chooses Joe, all wrongs are righted, and the happy pair heads off for a final day in nude paradise, leaving the audience with a definitive answer to the question that's been plaguing it. When you date naked, love wins out.
Watch Dating Naked Thursdays at 9/8c on VH1.
Bennett Madison is the author of several books for young people, including September Girls (HarperCollins 2013) and The Blonde of the Joke. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.