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Inside the MN Episodes of ‘ElimiDATE,’ One of the Least Sexy Dating Shows of the ’00s

Second dates were rare but second viewings on YouTube are amazing Twin Cities time capsules.

“Dating in Minnesota… um, it’s… it’s OK,” a woman narrates as shots of downtown Minneapolis flash on the screen. “Most of the guys I meet kinda are dumb.” 

The year is no earlier than 2001 but no later than 2006. Alice, a twenty-something fashion editor who seems apathetic at best about the caliber of Minnesota men, is a contestant on ElimiDATE. Soon, she will embark on a three-part date with four guys. She’ll dump them, one at a time, until a single dude remains, her “winner.” The prize isn’t love or really lust; it’s really just the early aughts’ equivalent of a “swipe right” or a “do you like me yes/no” note from elementary school. 

Airing between September 17, 2001, and May 24, 2006, ElimiDATE came up in the cheapest, trashiest era of reality TV. Like a lot of popular programs at the time it was syndicated, produced and distributed by Dawn Syndicated Productions, Telepictures Productions, and later Warner Bros. Typically, it aired late night on network TV stations, around 11 p.m. in Minnesota.

It was especially popular with college-age kids and twenty-somethings, usually going up against reruns of feel-bad copaganda shows like COPS, the TMI voyeurism of Cheaters, or creepy Girls Gone Wild VHS infomercials. If you were internet savvy—or, let’s be real, if you even had fast enough internet back then—you could stream it for free via AOL's In2TV (basically YouTube before YouTube existed).

ElimiDATE was a nomadic show, popping up in major cities like NYC and L.A., as well as less obvious places, including Sacramento, Pittsburgh, Tahoe, Scottsdale, and Milwaukee. A good number of episodes were filmed here in the Twin Cities, giving us funny little time capsules of dating around the turn of the 21st century, replete with local landmarks (Lake Bde Maka Ska! The Gay 90’s! Mall of America!) and long-gone buildings, bars, and restaurants (RIP Midway Stadium). 

Oh, and there was some really bad fashion. As someone who has watched all of the Twin Cities eps I could find, I can safely say that frosted hair tips, bootcut jeans with rhinestones, and “fancy night out” tank tops had a vice grip on young Twin Citians—both men and women—of the era.

But back to Alice’s Ponderosa buffet-style date: The gang meets at Minneapolis’s Loring Park. There’s Chris, a proto-Yung Gravy MILF lover; Josh, a model/pizza delivery guy; Reed, whose bio card boasts that he once had a football scholarship; and Matt, a dude who lives out of his car and brought his own fog machine. Alice is gonna have to swipe right on one of these candidates, folks.

Fog time!

They make their way through downtown. They lawn bowl on the rooftop at Brit’s Pub, hit the dance floor at The Lounge, and share a round of drinks in a private booth. At each stop, Alice peels another guy from the group, while the men continue to talk shit to each other, make awkward passes at Alice, and fire up that fog machine like a leaf blower-sized Chekhov's gun.

“The fogging added a little ambiance at first,” says Alice, mid-date. “But then by the end of our dancing escapade I was coughing and choking and couldn’t breathe anymore.” 

In the end, there can only be one winner, and Alice chooses the guy with the fog machine. The last loser calls the winner “the kid with the gay pants,” takes a shot at the bar, tells the camera crew that he’ll “just be big pimpin’. Represent,” and walks off into the dark night.

And that is your typical ElimiDATE episode. A chaotic, kinda-sorta scripted reality dating show from the early ‘00s about people of drinking age trying to find… Love? Lust? Swipe-right validation? Fifteen minutes of fame? A little of all of those things, probably. Sometimes it was four guys and a girl, other eps had four girls and a guy. Aside from a hetero date at the Gay 90’s, there’s no queerness here; folks would have to wait until 2007’s A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila for some (kinda-sorta) bi representation. 

There were no prizes, no romance, and not many second dates. 

“That’s always the question I get, ‘Did you guys date?’” MOA episode winner Alanna Morales tells Racket today. “I’m like, ‘Were we supposed to?’ We all hung out for a couple hours after the show wrapped. We had some nachos or something. I think—if I remember correctly—he drove me home.” 

The people, settings, and outcomes were disposable. If the whirlwind romance of The Bachelor, which would air its first season within a year of ElimiDATE's debut, was the Christian Mingle of TV dating shows, ElimiDATE was the drunk guy hitting on you at a bar. It was a show about cringe, long before Gen-Z became obsessed with the concept, and not worrying about tomorrow’s hangover.

Eighteen years after going off the air, the show has been experiencing a revival. In 2013, someone created an ElimiDATE channel on YouTube, unearthing episodes long believed to be lost. Its subscription numbers are humble (18.1K), but many of its uploads have earned millions of views. The top three: “Hot Tub and a Show” (3.9M), “Tongues Flying Everywhere” (2.8M), “Shaved in All the Right Places” (1M). 

'ElimiDATE' romance!

Making Money Off Of Bad Blind Dates

Now that we know “what” is ElimiDATE, it’s time to consider “why” is ElimiDATE. The short answer is money. Ultimately, it was the perfect storm: It was a cheap production to film (contestants weren’t even paid for their time), local network affiliates were staying on the air 24-7 and needed to fill that extra airtime, and that ubiquitous Magic Bullet informercial could only fill so many slots. Shows like ElimiDATE also attracted all kinds of advertising, especially for date/hookups services. At the time, online dating was still considered shady—Match.com and OKCupid were just starting to gain traction. But people still used their phones as phones in the early ’00s, so hookup hotlines were very popular. Love Line, where singles would call to talk to other singles in the area on the phone, ran a spot pretty much every commercial break (their first shiller was a pre-fame Evangeline Lilly).

Like many syndicated reality programs of the era, ElimiDATE had a core crew that would be assigned a city, where they might hire local casting agencies, script writers (yes, reality shows have those), location scouts, and film crews. Often, casting suggestible singles just meant hitting up a popular watering hole in town. 

“I was working as a server/bartender at this place in downtown Minneapolis, the Lone Tree Annex, and all of the people I worked with were very attractive people,” says Margot Morario, whose episode included a trip to Valley Fair and a hanging out in a hot tub at a bar in Shakopee. “The ElimiDATE crew were in town and they came in and were like, ‘We hit the jackpot. Thank you.’ I think there were four of us that all ended up in episodes.”

Michelle Shyman, a filmmaker who worked as a PA on a handful of ElimiDATE episodes, recalled the casting process in a 2013 blog:

“Before the show shoots, and even while they’re recruiting contestants, the producers assign a character type to each woman. They recruit a couple of slim women and a couple of full-busted women. They’ll make sure to recruit varying hair colors. They’ll direct one of the contestants to behave like the sexy looking tramp; they’ll direct a second one to be the flirtatious girl next door; they’ll direct the third to be the vindictive bitch; and perhaps the fourth will be the crybaby or the peacemaker.”

Sometimes, the archetypes were very niche. 

“I was great with a bullwhip; I still am great with a bullwhip,” contestant Jonn Robinet says, remembering his audition. “It was just a funny little pastime. So they're like, ‘That's great! We’ll represent you as a bullwhip artist!’ And I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ I could barely watch it when the episode came out, just because of how they kind of, you know, added to the interview and how they represent you and stuff.”

Robinet wasn’t actually a professional bullwhip artist, of course; he was just a young dude attending video classes at MCTC and trying to land work in front of a camera. 

“I wasn't on the show to find love or to find a girlfriend or anything like that. I don't think anybody ever was,” says Robinet, an Osseo-based cinematographer who now runs his own production company. “I kind of felt that I was there to get some clout. We didn't have Facebook back then.” 

Being single wasn’t even a requirement (though, if you’ve watched the new season of Love Is Blind, you know it still might not be). Nor was dating experience. 

Morales, left, awaits her fate at MOA.

“My coworker’s boyfriend was working with this group, and he was like, ‘You should come and audition,’” recalls Morales, whose Mall of America date included stops at an arcade, a dollar store, and a swimsuit shop. “I was just like, ‘Whaaaat?! I’m dating someone!’ Everything was such a blur, but you go in and you sit with the producers, and they ask you all these questions like, ‘What do you like to do on a date?’ I’m like, 23 or 24. I didn’t know crap about the world and dating.”

The Filming Experience: Hot Tubs are Expected, but Not Guaranteed

“They come and pick you up at the buttcrack of dawn. They drove me from Coon Rapids to the Mall of America, which was a happening spot,” Morales laughs. “And somebody's assigned to you. I kept telling myself, ‘This isn't a real date.’”

It wasn’t a real date, but it was a show filled with real cringe. Robinet learned that the hard way, three pints in, when showrunners asked him to give his date a beer in a “unique way.”

“By this time I'm pretty toasty. We've been drinking constantly since like 11 a.m.,” he recalls. “So I made a pass for a kiss. And it was just the most horrible thing to watch, because she's just reeling back, but I'm still going in for the kiss. I immediately got cut from the first round.”

But that elimination actually led to the closest thing the show offered to a real prize: clout! Robinet sucked so hard in his Minneapolis episode that he received an ignominious invitation to return. A few months later, he found himself in Las Vegas for a very special “Hall of Shame” installment. This time, he made it all the way to the last date, but ultimately lost to a “super drunk” dude. 

“He was throwing up in the pool, and then he ran into the casino naked,” he remembers. “They were very close to shutting us down because of that. So they escorted him back to the hot tub. But after [I lost] we had fun. We just went out and partied and had fun.”

Iconic.

It was pretty obvious, even at the time, that producers and contestant handlers were feeding participants cheesy lines filled with double entendres, but sometimes an ad lib could make it onto the show. Milwaukee contestant Jon Godfrey told The Minnesota Daily in 2002: “One they really liked went like this: ‘I’m a peanut vendor at Miller Park. If I came around with my tray, what would you do with my nuts?’” 

Showrunners also liked to start things between contestants, to varying degrees of success. 

“Basically we each had our own chauffeur, and they would try to like, amp the women up against one another,” Morario says. “I thought it was kind of silly… Someone made fun of my swimsuit because it had fish on it. And I was just like, sure. They definitely wanted me to be meaner.”

The moms stare and judge.

Love is Dead: 20 Years After the Date

Less than a year into the series, ElimiDATE began facing tough competition. The Bachelor debuted in 2002, and it still continues to this day. MTV, dying to move on from its music video era, produced a wide variety of bad dating shows. There was Room Raiders, where prospective dates got to sift through a contestant’s bedroom; Parental Control, where families got to screen potential hookups for their kids; and Next, which was basically ElimiDATE… but on a bus. Other syndicated shows also watered down the potency of gameshow-style reality dating, which included Shipmates (dating on an ocean liner), The 5th Wheel (dating with an ex in the mix), and Excused (dating via a home security camera).

By mid-decade, dating shows were starting to shift from regular people cattle calls to vehicles for D-list celebs, MySpace stars, and other assorted has-beens (I Love New York, A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila, and Flavor of Love respectively). In 2006, executives announced that ElimiDATE, after a five-year run, would be canceled due to low ratings.

"It was an awesome show to work on as we were all pioneering this new thing called 'reality TV' and figuring it out as we went along," says cameraman Brian Tweedt, who filmed over 350 ElimiDATE episodes. "It had elements of documentary filmmaking and a crazy game show all turned into one... It was fun to film and fun to watch. The camera crew would even make side bets as to who would win. The loser had to buy beers after filming was done."

While no one seems to have found love on ElimiDATE, a few managed to parlay the experience into other jobs in front of or behind the camera. 

“After [ElimiDATE], it was kind of funny, because I got a job on HGTV as some hunky carpenter,” Robinet says. “Then I started doing actual DP work and video camera work. And here I am today still doing that.” 

“I wasn't trying to get print jobs or commercials,” says Morales, who was a bartender at the time and now works with grad students at a university. “But years later I saw [fellow contestant] Britney in a commercial and I was like, ‘Oh snap!’” 

“We're hot. Cool. Let's go. Ah, to be 21 again,” Morario says when asked about her feelings on the show many years later. “I mean, I didn't do anything bad, because I was was like, ‘Oh, this might actually be like, archived forever.’” 

Amazingly, she might have lucked out; her episode is one of the few I wasn’t able to unearth during my YouTube binge-athon.

“At this point [my experience on the show] is just a funny icebreaker,” she says. “But I have no proof!”

Ultimately, for Robinet, it’s just something goofy he did 20 years ago.

“It comes up in conversations; people just do not let me live it down,” he says, laughing. “Some people—especially younger people—think it's hilarious because like, I'm bald and I had so much hair back then. It embarrasses me as much now as it did then, but I'm getting older and it is what it is.”

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