Playing It Straight

This programme is currently being repeated on one of the freeview channels.

The premise of the programme is that a single woman is sent to a ranch in Mexico I think with about a dozen men, half of whom are straight and half gay.  However, they are all “playing it straight” to try to romance the single woman and convince her that they are heterosexual.  She has to try to weed out the gay ones over time, until she eventually chooses one guy.  If he’s straight, she wins money.  If he’s gay and he has convincingly “played it straight”, he wins money.

So far, so bizarre.  To add a further element of surrealism, every so often a guy with a big sombrero and a banjo will come on and sing a little song about which guys may or may not be gay.

I remember watching this a few years ago and thinking at the time that this was a very strange premise for a programme.  The recent repeats have reminded me that it wasn’t all just some weird dream.  The programme makers are effectively encouraging these guys (at least some of whom probably had a period in their lives when they were “playing it straight” for real) to go back in the closet and suppress any sign of their sexuality.  For cash.  Also, in trying to suss out who is and is not gay, the woman is encouraged (by host June Sarpong – I told you it was surreal) to rely on every stereotype going.  A guy uses hand cream?  Gay.  A guy goes to the gym regularly? Gay.

Of course, the guys chosen to appear on the programme are the ones that are going to confuse the woman, so she is rubbish at identifying the gay ones.  I guess the programme makers might say that this makes an important social point that sexuality is not always obvious and you shouldn’t necessarily make assumptions about people.  Although, let’s face it – this woman is being obliged by the very nature of the game to make those assumptions.

This programme was first shown on Channel 4 – the most right-on of all the channels! – only a few years ago.  I don’t really remember there being any controversy at the time.  Maybe nobody watched it.  Maybe it’s just me – but I think that it’s a pretty messed-up idea for a programme.  Now I come to think of it, I think at around the same time there was a programme on Channel 4 where people competed for a cash prize by seeing who could stay awake the longest.  They started hallucinating and everything.  There was clearly a commissioning editor with some kind of personality disorder working for Channel 4 around this time!

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