More outings than a tourist information kiosk.
You can say what you like about reality TV, but every so often, it really does deliver the goods. Last night’s finale of Playing It Straight was one such occasion – I’ve not seen an episode of TV, scripted or otherwise, that was quite so well-crafted or suspenseful in quite some time. I’m inclined to put this down to the casting, because goddammit, I cared. I know it’s not exactly uncommon for me to get overinvested in reality shows (I’ve cried at so many Amazing Race winners crossing the finish line that I’ve pretty much lost count), but when it came down to it, I liked all four of the guys in the final, and the knowledge that at least one of them (confirmed by Jameela at the start of the episode) had definitely been lying to Cara all along – and had therefore also been lying to me, the viewer – had the potential to be absolutely devastating.
I’ve mentioned before how I’ve found Cara really likeable throughout the series, and I think last night was the perfect example of that. While I can’t pretend I wasn’t curious about who was gay and who was straight, more than anything I just wanted her to win. She’d played such a solid game across the run that I would’ve been gutted for her if she’d fallen at the last hurdle. She had a great everywoman quality about her – she laughed and joked with the boys and clearly appreciated the fact that this is ultimately a silly show and that picking the wrong guy at the end would hardly be the end of the world, but at the same time we also saw her feeling vulnerable, since having an unspecified number of men pretending to be sexually attracted to you for money and/or televised entertainment over a period of several weeks has got to seriously fuck with your head. For the most part she kept it together, but you could see her visibly trembling when she made those final decisions. I think it wasn’t just that she wanted the money, she just didn’t want to be embarrassed, and more than anything, she didn’t want to be wrong. And I didn’t want her to be either. Her reaction to the final reveal was wonderful: a mixture of sheer relief as well as a tiny hint of satisfaction at having played the game well. While a statement like “yes! I’m so fucking clever!” might not go down well on many other reality shows, especially not coming from a woman, in this case I defy anyone to say she hadn’t entirely earned the right to make that statement. So, in conclusion: well-played, Cara. I salute you.
So, let’s take those four final guys, in order of elimination:
Danny: Knowing that Cara had to choose one guy to eliminate before the final date, I actually thought Danny was the safest out of all them. He was the one who, if my blog hits are anything to go by, most fans of the show seemed to think was definitely straight and the obvious choice for the winner. I’d personally assumed Dean, or an outside possibility of Sam, getting cut at this point, but considering the fact that Jameela had handed Cara a number of envelopes with the boys’ dates or fates concealed within them, the last one being a one-way ticket back to the UK, and Danny was holding envelope number four, made me wonder if we were in for a surprise.
And we were: Danny was going home, and he was gay. Across the whole series, his was probably the most successful of the “hiding in plain sight” strategy – not bothering to hide the slightly camper aspects of his personality but simply shrugging them off and acting like they were no big deal. He had a lot of people fooled, including me – and all three of the other guys, apparently, judging by their reactions. This was probably my favourite moment in the whole episode – obviously Dean, as the other member of that particular bromance, was a tad shocked, but the sheer look of amazement on Sven’s face was an absolute picture. Whether it was genuine or all part of his strategy is something you can debate until the cows come home, but it was definitely a highlight.
Sam: I think Sam was ultimately done in by the same pitfall that took out David much earlier on in the series – spotting that Cara seemed to trust him, getting carried away and completely overplaying his hand. He was probably the most enigmatic of the four finalists, the one who could most conceivably have gone either way – I’d had him down as gay in my predictions, but I’d still been wavering…until they went on their date to the butterfly park. There was something a little bit sinister about his behaviour there, but my mind was made up as soon as he delivered his little speech about how “this is the start of something nice” and how he hoped they could still be friends whatever the final outcome. That, to me, rang all kinds of guilty-conscience alarm bells, and by the look of it, it did the same for Cara.
I was pleased when Cara called him first at the final ceremony because it seemed unlikely she was going to pick the first guy she called up – and when she confirmed that she was asking him to leave and the time came for him to reveal his sexuality, it seemed pretty clear that he was very uncomfortable – hardly surprising, since she’d pointed out on several occasions prior to this that if he’d been lying to her, she was going to “punch him in the face”. He confirmed that he was gay, and got probably the frostiest reception of any eliminated contestant, as Cara rather mutedly instructed him to “just get out”. I can understand this: she really did seem to have got genuinely close to him, and getting told that it had all been a gameplan must have really cut deep. Ultimately Sam’s got to bear the brunt of the blame for that one – after all, the object of the game is to make Cara believe you’re straight, there’s nothing in the rules that suggests she actually needs to believe you fancy her, as was borne out by Sven’s strategy – and I think it was a little harsh of him to take it as far as he did. His elimination is why I’m disappointed we don’t get the Bravo-style live reunion shows to finish off a series in this country – the one unanswered question from the finale that’s still playing on my mind is whether Cara forgave him in the end, and if so, how long it took. They were very sweet together and I’d like to think they could salvage something of their friendship, but I wouldn’t blame her if she’s still pretty pissed off with him.
Sven: Well, several of my friends called this one, but he hoodwinked me completely – it was only his reaction when he realised he hadn’t won that made me think he might’ve been gay after all. I think he played an absolute blinder of a game – he deployed all sorts of tactics that maximised his camera time while never really giving anyone much of a reason to question his sexuality, and his professions of heterosexuality always struck me as a lot more assured than some of the others. But he was gay all along, and even Cara openly admitted that she came very close to picking him as the winner. I’d love to know how much of the personality he showed on the show was genuinely his, and how much was a persona that he was adopting to seem more heterosexual, but either way, I feel like Sven was the standout star of the show. Certainly, I’ve got masses of blog hits today from people searching his name and ending up here. (I find it bizarre that searching for Sven’s Twitter brings up this blog, but not Sven’s actual Twitter account. Not that I’m complaining, because my blog hits are through the roof today. In fact: Sven twitter Sven twitter Sven twitter. Might as well make the most of it while it lasts.)
The other interesting part of his elimination was finally getting to see that moment that had been teased in the “coming up” montages at several points in the series: Cara crying “you fucking lying bastard! Fuck off!” As always, context is everything, and rather than being something she screamed in a fit of rage, it turned out to be something she shouted with amusement, having already established that the guy she’d picked was straight. It was interesting how, despite having had every bit as much of a well-honed strategy as Sam did, Sven didn’t anger Cara nearly as much in the process. I wonder how much of this was down to timing (i.e. Cara still not knowing whether she’d won or not when Sam was eliminated) and how much was down to the fact that Sven never actually pretended to fancy her. Again, it would’ve been a great question for the reunion show. Seriously, can there be a reunion? Can I host it?
Dean: And probably the biggest shock reveal of the entire series: Dean is straight. I mean, who saw that one coming? It was a lovely moment, though – the way he held onto that “but…” for just enough to really make Cara think she’d made the wrong call, only to admit that there was no “but” and he was straight. I think he was as surprised that he’d won as most of the viewers were, but I liked that it all basically came down to the final date that they’d shared, and Cara just having had a really strong feeling that he was being honest with her – and that paying off, literally.
The other thing that I enjoyed about the reveal that Dean was straight was that he’d probably made the most on-camera slip-ups (that was saw, anyway) of all the boys: referring to himself as “one of the gays” instead of “one of the straight guys”, to name just one. At first this seemed like an obvious clanger from someone who was struggling to keep up the pretence, but it would appear that these moments were just genuine slips from someone who was apparently a bit flustered under the pressure of the show in general, but not trying to actually hide anything. That make me like him a lot more in retrospect than I probably did during the series itself, and now I kind of want to go back and rewatch the whole thing just to see all of his camp little mannerisms in a completely new light. Bless.
So, that’s that, then. A surprisingly brilliant end to a surprisingly brilliant series. I don’t know if there are any plans for another one – sadly, I suspect probably not – but I genuinely hope they’re at least considering it. Especially since my gaydar let me down so terribly in this one, and I need a chance to redeem myself.