As you know from our weekly Bachelor/ette recaps, I'm no stranger to reality TV dating shows. Thanks to Hulu, I've been revisiting an old favorite, VH1's Flavor of Love. Season 1 of FoL aired in 2006, when I was a senior in high school, and it paved the way for a slew of highly entertaining spin-offs in the following years, including Rock of Love (with Bret Michaels), I Love New York (featuring Tiffany Pollard, a contestant on both seasons 1 and 2 of FoL), Charm School, and I Love Money, among others. But for me, Flavor of Love is the OG of binge-worthy TV dating competitions. Here are some of my thoughts upon re-watching a gaggle of women vie for the affection of Flavor Flav.
One thing I really love about FoL is that it doesn't take itself seriously. At all. While certain contestants do get wrapped up in the premise, the show really leans into its own ridiculousness. For one thing, the stark difference between Flavor Flav and say, one of ABC's Bachelor leads is pretty astounding. Sure, he's rich, but he's definitely not your average television hunk. He was 46 or 47 when season 1 aired, and most of the women competing for his love were in their early twenties. The show’s producers seem to be winking at us throughout, as if to say, "Yeah, we too know a hot 21-year-old dancer isn't going to marry this guy. But let's watch them attempt to make fried chicken because it'll be a shit show."
It doesn’t feel wrong or mean-spirited to laugh at Flav and the contestants because the show is asking us to. The editing, for example, gets pretty creative. One contestant, nicknamed Hottie, who famously fails the fried chicken challenge by microwaving an entire raw chicken has a little cha-ching sound play each time she blinks in her ITM interviews, a nod to her “gold digger” character on the show.
When the contestants meet Flav's mother, she misses one of their statements because she was distracted by a biscuit, and the camera does a dramatic zoom cut to a single biscuit on a plate. It's the type of editing that Bachelor in Paradise has started to lean into more and more, recognizing its own comedic value instead of trying to sell us so hard on everlasting love between near-strangers.
While there are plenty of Bachelor parallels, FoL heightens the absurdity of every trope. There are the women who "aren't here for the right reasons," the arguing over who gets the most one-on-one time, the rat, the insecure frontrunner, the overly confident other frontrunner, the way-too-aggressive woman, and the one is who so in love that she can't imagine her life without Flav in it. But while the Bachelor might show us some steamy kissing between the lead and a favorite contestant, FoL gives us a time-lapse makeout session while Flav and his date are at dinner, complete with waiters awkwardly bringing items to the table. The sped-up kissing looks SO WEIRD, and VH1 is sure to tell us that it lasted a total of 8 minutes and 27 seconds.
FoL is also much more overtly sexual than its ABC forefather, with women donning lingerie and waltzing into Flav's room at night to do who-knows-what and challenges designed specifically to arouse Flav. In one episode, the ladies compete to pique all five of Flav's senses (though he names six of them, citing both "touch" and "feel"). While blindfolded, Flav smells the women, tastes whichever part of their body they present to him, and liberally “feels” a body part of their choice. And yes, someone straight-up puts her boob in his hand, and I say: more power to her. And while The Bachelor pretends that bikini-clad competitors have some kind of good reason to be wearing almost nothing while running an obstacle course, Flav just directly tells us that the purpose of his hot tub challenge date, for example, is to see what all the women's bodies look like.
There’s also a lot more fighting between contestants. Like, a lot. It’s clear the contestants of this show are totally down for whatever and are pretty much not concerned at all with their television image. And that makes for some good TV. After all, it was this show that gave us the infamous spitting incident that went down in reality TV history.
The show also puts Flav in situations they know will make him look goofy as hell. One group date winner wins the prize of a "nice dinner" at his favorite spot, which turns out to be Red Lobster. The way Flav eats shellfish is truly hard on the eyes and therefore hilarious to see him doing next to a very dressed-up woman who definitely thought she was going on a Bachelor-style rooftop dinner date. Another evening sees Flav attempting to have one-hour individual dates with each of the remaining 8 contestants. He falls asleep on the neck of his 7th woman, snoring gently while she tries to wake him.
And while the Bachelor is a historically (and problematically) very white show, FoL features a racially diverse group of contestants and a black lead. There are a few times the audience hears the contestants address race with one another, and in these moments, the show felt very 2006 and very not 2019. For example, a white woman in the first episode notes that she was a little concerned because she didn't know how "ghetto" the other women would be. And another white woman says in an ITM that the other contestants had to teach her how to "black girl dance."
Everyone on the show seemed unbothered by these conversations and others like them, but the phrasing felt so out of the norm from what we hear on television today. And while the show sometimes plays too much into these moments and asks us to laugh at uncomfortable situations, I do think it's great to see a reality dating show that actually featured more than a couple of people of color (I mean, come on, Bachelor, you can do better), several of whom went on to have lucrative careers in the entertainment industry.
One of my favorite parts of Bachelor viewing is seeing the friendships and bonds that form out of it. I'm a sucker for women supporting other women. This behavior isn't what FoL calls our attention to the most, but it's there. When Goldie, a final four contestant returns to the house from an overnight date, Pumkin and Hoopz shriek with joy and tackle her into a hug because they’re so happy to see her. A Bachelor rose ceremony is always deadly serious with cuts to worried faces and dramatic music playing. But on FoL, all the women clap for each person who is called to receive a clock. This feels like a small moment, but it's one of the things that stood out to me the most on re-watching.
While many facets of FoL feel odd and sometimes even problematic by today's standards, re-watching it has overall been really enjoyable, and it's been a nice break from the Bachelor and Bachelorette, which take themselves very seriously. If you have Hulu, I highly recommend revisiting this gem. And maybe if enough of us do, we can petition VH1 to introduce a third version of this show with an aging musician at the helm. As Flav would say: You know what time it is.