MAD DOG: Confessing a Guilty Pleasure

We all have our guilty pleasures. These are the secret things we indulge ourselves in, usually sneaking them when no one's around, overdoing it when we do, and -- for god's sake! -- never letting on that we do it. It's easy to spot a guilty pleasure because it lives up to its name. If you enjoy it and don't feel bad while fighting the impulse, caving in to the impulse, and beating yourself up afterward, then it just doesn't qualify.

Most guilty pleasures are pretty innocuous. Some people sneak chocolate, others read Harlequin Romances slipped inside the cover of the Oxford English Dictionary. I watch "Change of Heart." This is the syndicated TV show where two couples who have been seeing each other for between three months and a year go out on dates with other people, supposedly to test their relationship though in fact it's to sell more toilet paper. Then they go on national TV where host Chris Jagger smirks and mugs while they and their dates tell about having a big night out on the town while their now rather insignificant-feeling other gets defensive, makes rude comments, and wonders how in the hell they ever got talked into this. At the end they each make a decision about whether to stay together or slink into a hole and commit suicide. Just kidding. The other alternative is to have a change of heart, otherwise they would have named the show "Slink Into a Hole and Commit Suicide."

As guilty pleasures go this one's not bad. It won't make me fat, I won't get zits, I won't grow hair on my palms, and I don't have to remember how to spell Van Damme when I'm at the video store. In fact, the only problem I have with it is it's on late so sometimes I fall asleep in the middle of it and wake up at 3:00 am wondering if the couple stayed together or had a change of heart. Luckily I don't wonder for long.

When I first saw the show I hated it. Watching it was too much like being with friends who are having an argument -- you just want to cover your ears and hum ABBA songs real loud so you don't have to hear them. This works like a charm, not because your humming covers up their fighting, but because ABBA always clears the room so the next thing you know you have peace, quiet, and solitude again.

But somewhere along the line I got drawn into the show. It's like slowing down to watch a car accident only better because there's no blood (at least until after the taping, but we don't have to witness that), I don't have to try to remember what number to call to reach 911, and I don't have to feel bad because I didn't stop to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, though to be honest there have been a few women on the show I wouldn't mind giving it to. Of course, my luck being what it is they always decided to stay together.

I'm not sure what the attraction is. It might be a fascination with wondering why two people would do this in the first place. After all, we all know nothing strengthens a relationship more than going out with a total stranger, then telling your partner that this person is better looking, has a nicer body, is wittier, isn't cheap, is more romantic, kisses better, and, oh, you get the idea. Then again, the attraction could be from wondering why, if they were going to do something like this, they'd do it on national TV. Of course it's a good thing people do or we wouldn't have Oprah, Ricki Lake, Jerry Springer, or all those people standing outside the Today show studio grinning and holding up signs that say "I'm from Missouri and I'm going to reinforce all the stereotypes you have of us." Come to think of it, maybe this isn't such a good thing.

But chances are the real reason I like the show is the element of surprise. Somehow these people went out on a blind date, knew their partner was going out on a blind date, yet they still manage to be shocked when they hear their partner had a good time. The most commonly heard phrases on the show are: "But that's our favorite restaurant!", "You mean you kissed on the first date?", and "What do you mean we're not getting paid?" I guess in the back of their minds they figured there was no way their partner could have fun with anyone other than them. That's assuming they were using their mind at all.

Watching "Change of Heart" qualifies as a bona fide guilty pleasure since I enjoy it, I feel like I shouldn't, and until now I hadn't told anyone I do it. Kind of like sex is for Catholics. And while this confession should have the 12-step effect of making me feel better -- "I'm Mad Dog and I like a really insipid TV show" -- it doesn't. Maybe that's because I watch so little TV -- Really! I'm serious! -- that I feel I should be watching something on PBS, the Discovery Channel, or the Learning Channel. But the truth is I spend most of my TV time switching back and forth between the Weather Channel and the Prevue Channel hoping to catch the 5-Day Forecast or find out what's on now. Somehow I never see either one.

So I'll continue with my guilty pleasure, at least until either I tire of it or they run out of people who want to come on TV, bicker like children who are jealous because the other got a new book bag, then smile at the end and declare that the person they just spent a half hour slagging is actually the ideal mate for them. Something tells me I'll tire of it long before that happens.

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