Group grope

"So, do they have a make-out bus?" I quiz feverishly (if not somewhat embarrassingly) to Tina, my girl on the side.

"No. That's "The Fifth Wheel" she corrects my daytime dating error.

Dammit. Here I am, sloshing around on a December Saturday night, trying to find some wayward tongue, like I do, and I want a make-out bus. Instead, I'll have to settle for the chirpier confines of The WB's "Elimidate," a recently ubiquitous phenomenon I cannot pretend to resist. The "Elimidate" folk have invaded the typically gay Saturday circuit at The Club with the bewitching premise of straight sexual selection. Very uninteresting, no?

Yes. Oh but there's a palatable pang of fascination for these safely salacious things in my day-drunk head that I'm not capable of concealing. Dating is silly, after all. And dating four people on one night — and making out with each of them — is gleefully reminiscent of Kirk Cameron attempting two prom dates on "Growing Pains." I soooo relate to this.

"Combining the most intriguing elements of the new wave of traditional dating strips," says the publicity, not justifying the use of "new wave" or "strips," "this all-new, half-hour dating comedy pits four suitors against one another for the hand of one lucky guy or girl."

"Lucky" is a fun word.

"In each half-hour episode of "Elimidate," viewers get to go along on the date and witness the action first hand," spins the spin. "They also get to hear the sometimes hilarious and often heartfelt comments of the players as they size up their competition and predict how they think they're doing and who they think will be the ultimate survivor."

So it's something like eating bugs out of a conch shell while a snake climbs up your ass, then. The best parts of "Survivor," "Fear Factor" and a Cinemax Saturday-night movie combined into a train wreck of 20-something distraction? Can I borrow your lipstick?

"These candidates, three of whom will be eliminated over the course of the game, need to outflirt, outsmart and outlast their competition using their wit, charm and sex appeal," reads the PR. "Their strategy should ultimately ensure that they're the one left standing when the dating dust has settled."

And here I must ponder the fantastic proposition of dating dust. Is that something you key up your nose, or some kind of talcum to keep your legs from rashing when they rub together? Regardless, I need some. Meet me in the bathroom.

""Elimidate" is shot in cities all across the country and every episode offers a regional look at survival of the fittest in the fickle world of dating," they footnote, as if any more justification is needed. You had me with "make out." "From seduction secrets of the south to the metropolitan moves of Manhattan to the casual romance of Southern California, "Elimidate" shows what happens when Cupid simultaneously shoots a competitive arrow into the heart of four players."

Secrets and moves aside, Elimidate is an engaging way to figure out that you're not the loser you think are. It could be worse. You could be Katie.

"Meet Katie," a show description begins. "She's a ballet dancer who might at first glance look dainty and fragile. But don't judge by appearances. This is one girl who's full of surprises! What kind of guy's for her? She says, "I definitely want a guy to fight for me. I definitely want him to stand out of the group." Sigmund Freud, analyze this.

Her prey?

Jeff, 24, loves to surf. "I would love to be a stay-home dad," he foams. "She brings home the bread, and I'll just take care of the kids."

Eric, 26, believes his hair is irresistible. "I'm a smart-ass," he asses, "and am willing to do anything."

Ben, 23, shaves his arms and legs. "My personality kind of matches the way I look," he pomades.

Bobby, who doesn't list his age (which means 30), likes to purr for women. "If there were a team of superheroes," he treehouses, "I would be the leader."

I can't write this stuff. Oh wait, I do.

But I'm here for personal involvement, like maybe a date for me, or to make out. A nervy approach to the milieu provides only mild observational candy. A blond guy with potentially gay hair is biting his nails on the final two princesses of his choreographed lust. First he makes out with the blonde, while the brunette rolls her eyes. Then he makes out with the brunette, while the busty blonde eyes the protrusions of the gay men surrounding her. A girl in all white is leering in the distance, already elimidated. I'm totally into it.

"Um, can you turn off your recording device?" snaps a producer to my right.

"But I'm with the paper."

Clearly there's a cover-up going on here. Much to my chagrin, "Elimidate" is completely staged! Producers offer directions to the lucky hopefuls on where to stand, when to make out and just how gay not to be. Each of the contestants already has professional representation. Effectively, what we're watching is an L.A. soft-porn tryout. I can't believe it!

With a tail tucked and a cocktail sunk, I waddle back to my own asshole boyfriend. I'm never dating again. You wanna make out?

Billy Manes writes for Orlando Weekly, where the full-length version of this feature appears. E-mail comments to [email protected]