Flavor of Love, a Bachelor-esque dating show that put Public Enemy hype man-turned-VH1 reality TV staple Flavor Flav in a house with 20 women vying for his affections, was possibly one of the most exploitive and jaw-dropping series to have hit the airwaves in the past decade. Racialicious described it as a "minstrel show," VH1 rightly came under fire for using it to stereotype black people (particularly women) into "ghetto roles" and it was so stunningly heaped in misogyny that I don't even know where to start with listing examples.
At the same time, Flavor of Love was also one of the most fascinatingly transparent and upfront reality shows to ever air. Unlike The Bachelor or The Bachelorette, Flavor of Love and its off-shoots (I Love New York, Rock of Love, Megan Wants a Millionaire, etc.) abandoned any pretense of idealized romance and — not that this is anyway heroic — were fairly upfront about the tropes they were forcing their contestants to emulate. In an episode of Flavor of Love, one contestant literally takes a shit on the stairs of the house they're staying in. On Rock of Love, a woman drinks a test tube shot out of another woman's vagina and on a different occasion (though possibly on the same episode), a contestant spends minutes barfing before heading directly to make out with an unwitting Bret Michaels. (To be fair, I'm not sure what part of that — vomiting or kissing Michaels on the mouth — is actually grosser.) It was revolting. It was shameful. It was fascinating.
These series — while entirely despicable — are what more mainstream, network dating shows would be if they were honest with themselves. Realizing that, I suppose it's not all that surprising that Flavor of Love co-creator Mark Cronin and casting associate Douglas Howington gave a rather stark and direct interview about the Flavor of Love casting process to Vulture's Rose Maura Lorre. The discussion, like the show itself, is both sad and captivating.
When asked about the challenges of finding women who actually want to be with Flav, Cronin replied:
One of the biggest questions you always get is, "Well, come on. Could they really be into Flavor Flav?" Always, the answer to the question, "Were they really that into him?" is yes. When you take a group of people, take them away from their homes, take away their cell phones and television, and their phone calls are bugged — and there's this one guy who shows up and decides whether you'll get to eat a nice dinner tonight or whether you're going to be in a limo with him — it's like Stockholm Syndrome and they become very quickly caught up in it. You'll actually even see that when somebody gets eliminated from one of these shows, they kind of snap out of it very quickly. Like they suddenly realize, What was I thinking?
Well, that sounds fucking awful. And unfortunately not unique to Flavor of Love. A former Bachelor contestant recently confirmed to my colleague Kate Dries that she and her cast mates aren't even allowed books for the duration of the shoot.
Here's Howington on whether or not it's possible to be "too crazy" to appear on Flavor of Love:
I really don't think it was possible to be too crazy to be on Flavor of Love. We weren't looking for people to come in with a clown costume and a big red nose and red shoes. Unless that's what you do all the time. Unless you're not just in the clown suit at three o'clock for this interview. If that's you, that's all good. If we just found a dope person who walks around in a clown suit all the time who wants to make love to Flavor Flav, that's awesome.
Cronin's thoughts on the same topic:
The biggest fear in those days was, in a competition elimination show, are the cast members stable enough to not be a harm to themselves if they lose, or a harm to others? Are they secure enough or stable enough in their own skin that if they get rejected that it's not going to be a major life issue for them? That was really what the criteria was in those days. These days it's even more stringent.
Well, a contestant on Megan Wants a Millionaire did turn out to be a legit murderer, so I guess it makes sense why they'd start being a little more careful.
Of course, no conversation about Flavor of Love would ever be complete without some discussion of breakout star Tiffany "New York" Pollard:
Howington: I didn't find Tiffany. I would love to know who did. This is actually something two of my casting friends and I have talked about through the years: Who found Tiffany Pollard? I thought she was a great marketer of her talent — of her quote-unquote talent. Whatever it is, she was it. She was just a walking time bomb of awesomeness for reality TV.
Cronin: She was a reality-television genius. You could see why Flavor would really fall for her. And then with other women who were her competition, she was absolutely vicious.
Do you ever look at our entertainment and wonder if we're actually living in The Hunger Games?