by Jordan Carr
- Would you rather go home with a man who had a nose job, must have his nipples bitten during sex and wants to get married and have children now; or one who lives with two tigers and ten pit bulls, must have lights on during sex and built a bomb shelter for the apocalypse?
- Would you rather date someone who sleeps with his eyes open, whose job is his number one priority, and who lives with a former lover; or someone who talks during movies, whose mom comes before his girlfriends, and who’s a “3-minute man”?
- Would you rather date someone who slept with Anna Nicole Smith, is $500,000 in debt and dated a transsexual for two months; or someone who has never driven a car, has chronic halitosis, and has three kids by two baby mamas?
Or would you just say “screw it” and pick the more attractive one?
These questions are the heart of Baggage, the most compelling TV show nobody—and, really, we mean “nobody”—is watching.
Hosted by Jerry Springer, Baggage runs on the Game Show Network. It is as formulaic a show as there is on television. This is a bad thing and a good thing. It’s bad thing because formulas are predictable and not that exciting. It’s good thing because the formula is brilliant.
The show opens with Jerry Springer saying some variation of the following: “This is [primary contestant’s name] and he’s got a secret hidden inside this red bag. Was he engaged to three women at the same time? Did he leave his girlfriend for her niece? Or was he a male escort?”
There are other things you know will happen. Jerry will explain that the other three contestants have brought their small, medium and large baggage, each containing a secret—and of course, the bigger the bag, the bigger the baggage. The primary contestant will feign concern at a benign baggage (once a contestant responded to the baggage “I’ve never voted” by saying, “I’m big into civic duty”).
The DealBreaker round will occur, in which the primary contestant eliminates a contestant blindly by picking the most intolerable medium baggage. The show will introduce you to the term “medium baggage.” The contestants will stand by one of the three bags and then switch places. This happens in every single episode, but the fake audience noise is always set to “surprised gasp” anyway. Jerry will tell the eliminated contestant it’s time to pack up and go. The eliminated contestant will have a zinger ready.
There will be a segment on the couch, which is called The Hot Seat, which will be sponsored by a company that spies on potential dates. The rest of the episode will be sponsored by another dating company. The two remaining contestants will cattily argue with each other and explain their baggages. The time between the revelation of the second and third baggage will be interminable, taking two commercial breaks. Finally, the biggest baggage will be revealed, the two remaining contestants will make their final plea and the primary contestant will chose one who will then have the chance to judge him on his baggage.
At last, our attention is recalled to the first three possible baggages of our primary contestant. Only one is true, you see, and you find out at the end of the show which it is. Then the contestant explains away something like being engaged to three women with “I got caught up in the moment.”
One time a story began, “I’m at a karaoke bar, Fourth of July weekend…” and concluded with the baggage “I slept with two sisters on the same day.”
If they want to go home with this person, they say “I accept your baggage.” If they would prefer the consolation prize of a six-month subscription to an online dating site, they say, “You have too much baggage” and close the suitcase representing their baggage and shut the metaphorical clasps on their would-be relationship while also doing so on the literal suitcase.
The interesting happenings in an episode of Baggage are pretty much limited to the nine true baggages and two false ones, the people’s reactions to them and explanations of them. If you own a DVR, you need to watch no more than ten minutes of any episode.
But some of the baggages are the kind of magical thing that, the more you think about it, the more delightful they become.
I’m obsessed with death. I dated a serial killer (NB: this guy rejected a woman for having too-severe PMS). I have a webcam in my bathroom. I refuse to wear a condom. I date NBA players. I sleep with rats. I cheated on my ex with twin cousins. I’m bad in bed. I don’t believe in foreplay. I refuse to raise my kids in America. I’m a grandmother. I used cocaine frequently at Studio 54. I wear adult diapers. I lost my virginity in a threesome. I text during sex. My homeless brother lives in front of my house. I have been to 32 Donny Osmond concerts. I’m obsessed with “The Rock.” I buy panties at the 99-cent store. I pretend I’m famous to get laid. I dated a man in prison. My penis is crooked. I refuse to be on top. I’ve never said “I love you”…and I never will. I had a threesome with my girlfriends’ best friends. I take my cat to a pet psychic. I cheated on my boyfriend while he was in coma. I cheated on my boyfriend with his teammate.
As with all games, there are some strategies. If all you want to do is win, the best way to go is to have Baggages that aren’t really your fault. “I was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder” is a good one. If you have to have something embarrassing from your past, at least seem apologetic about it—if you worked as a male stripper, let her know that you’ve closed the book on that chapter of your life. One thing you should not do is reveal secrets that show how untrustworthy you are. Cheaters and thieves tend not to do especially well, so unless you have a really good excuse, keep that story about the time you faked infertility to break up with a boyfriend to yourself.
However, if you are confident that your charm and good looks will take you to victory and you want to do so on your own terms, there are a number of ways to go with this. If selected, you have the chance to start a relationship where your three most abhorrent behaviors are implicitly tolerated—who wouldn’t want that? So yes, let it be known that you want an open relationship, that you check your man’s text messages, that he can’t have any female friends, that you won’t be cuddling, that you won’t be faithful, that you’re a dead fish in the sack and/or that your girlfriend is not allowed to chew gum and must be fully waxed. As another aside, you’d be surprised how often the obsessive controlling types are able to come away the winners.
STATISTICAL ANALYSIS BREAK
Of the 38 episodes I was able to get my hands on, 27 resulted in a match. That’s a 71% success rate. That seems high—on the other hand, these are the people who are desperate enough to be on a dating show on the Game Show Network, and their only obligation is to go on a date. When men have had the chance to choose whether or not to accept a woman’s baggage, they have accepted it 14/17¹ times (82%), whereas when women have had the choice of whether or not to accept a man’s baggage, they accepted it only 13/21 times (62%). This drops to 12/20 if we discount the special Cougar-themed episode because, come on, as if any of these poor self-identified cougars were going to reject something, anything with a heartbeat under the age of 30.
Figuring out what works and what doesn’t is more art than science: one man was rejected for having been arrested eight times, whereas another was accepted even though he had been arrested 22 times.
The numbers do confirm a long-held scientific hypothesis though: men are willing to take a crazy but attractive woman 20% more often than women are willing to do the same. For example: a woman rejected a man who slept with his boss to get a promotion, but a man accepted a woman was abducted by aliens (twice). (Yes.) This disparity also forces one to consider the horrifying prospect that people are actually going on Baggage to find a long-term romantic partner.
Also, it’s very much possible that a lot of Baggage is faked.
JERRY SPRINGER’S BAGGAGE: I SLEPT WITH A PROSTITUTE
The host of Baggage is Jerry Springer. He could not care less about Baggage, and the show is all the better for it. Do you think the guy whose parents escaped Nazi Germany, whose political career was derailed because he paid a prostitute by personal check², who decided that his floundering political talk show would be improved by going to the violent hillbilly soap opera format, cares at all about some dating show? Surely he does not.
It’s still not really known how he ended up hosting the Jerry Springer Show, in its late format — remember, it was once a serious political talk show. Maybe having his political career ruined by a harmless encounter between consenting adults took any idealism out of him, maybe it was all the money, but Springer settled in as the well-paid host of a show he doesn’t watch.
That Jerry Springer does not get too worked up about the people on Baggage perhaps reflects that he’s made well over 3,600 episodes of his eponymous show where his job is to moderate over such sessions as “I’m Dating My Son’s Grandfather,” “Baby I Screwed Up,” and “You Took My Virginity!” Suddenly “I refuse to reciprocate oral sex” and “I’m a spokesman for an erection pill” look pretty benign.
Springer described Baggage as “a step up because the people here have teeth.”
But there is something Jerry Springer definitely does care about — you. More specifically, your opinion of him. A former Mayor of Cincinnati disgraced by a scandal, he went into television after a failed bid for the Democratic nomination for the governorship of Ohio.
Jerry Springer was once a man whose career depended on large groups of people liking him personally and having as few enemies as possible. In 2003 when he was considering running for one of Ohio’s Senate seats, a tour of the state quickly found that his 71% unfavorable rating-to that point the highest measured-would prove insurmountable.
Springer has made it clear he would jump at the chance to take a drastic pay cut for that one electoral victory that would wipe away twenty years of sleaze and bad reputation, or at the very least, allow him to command begrudging respect from the elites that have mocked him for so long.
But here he is hosting Baggage. One small stone on the path to respectability. Is this more effective than writing columns in Slate and hosting a lame show on CNN with Kathleen Parker? Probably not. But at this point, Springer must be resigned to the fact that he can never hold elected office, and with that resignation comes the calm that sets in when we give up on our dreams.
And that calm, non-judgmental indifference to other humans makes him the perfect host for a show about revealing embarrassing secrets! Baggage airs weeknights at 6:30. You can find episodes online here.
¹ One of three such rejections: “I put my cat before any man.” Sorry, cat ladies.
² In a 1980 campaign ad for the Ohio governorship, Springer said, “Some nine years ago I spent time with a woman I shouldn’t have and I paid her with a check. I wish I hadn’t done that.” Grammatically speaking, does “that” refer to the time spending or the check paying?
Jordan Carr is really getting into summer break.