TelevisionMade possible by

Throwback Thursday: The New Zealand dating show that set Suzanne Paul on the path to TV stardom

More than just a glimpse of what dating was like in bumbling, awkward, pre-internet New Zealand, this 1989 episode of Blind Date on NZ On Screen unwittingly introduced the nation to the woman who would go on to become our greatest ever TV saleswoman.

Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 11.40.13 AM

Before she had dropped a single bowling ball onto a bamboo fiber pillow, before she had dusted a single person’s face with thousands of tiny luminous spheres, Suzanne Paul (or Susan Barnes as she was called in 1989) made an incredibly saucy cameo on New Zealand’s short-lived version of Blind Date.

An early and very primitive precursor to The Bachelor, the show provided a perfect platform for Paul’s natural salesmanship. As one of three women competitors, her job here was to sell herself to an eligible bachelor called Gary from the other side of a heart-shaped wood partition.

Suzanne was contestant number two. “She enjoys Egyptian belly dancing, and one day would like to be a game show hostess,” a young and extremely hairsprayed Suzy Aiken summarised by way of introduction. On either side of her sat contestants one, Shelley (“would like to ride a camel in Egypt”), and three, Robyn (“enjoys designing knitwear and oil painting”).

Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 12.38.46 PM

“Who’s your ideal guy?” main host Dave Jamieson casually asked each woman. The other women gave bland, copybook answers. Suzanne Paul said – probably the first words she ever spoke on television – “I like someone who’s well-built… with a well-built wallet as well.” Jamieson reeled in shock. “Oooooh,” he gasped, “whatever happened to feminism?!”

In that moment a fire seemed to spark inside Suzanne Paul. Her answers to each subsequent question grew increasingly outrageous. The bachelor on the other side of the partition – a handsome man-of-few-words who “knows how to milk a cow, and also enjoys scuba diving” – didn’t want a bar of her.

Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 10.10.10 AM

“When you’re down,” he asked all three women, “what can a man do to lift your spirits?” Suzanne smiled coyly. “Oooh, well! I think, Gary, all a man would have to do would be to put his arms around me, give me a big hug… and of course a signed blank cheque!”

“What’s the worst place you’ve ever been sunburnt, and how did it happen?” Gary asked in a very pervy way. Again, a big saucy Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em “Oooh!” from Suzanne. “Well, Gary, the worst place I ever got sunburnt was on my bottom. I refuse to tell you how it happened, but maybe if you’re lucky you’ll find out for yourself.” Suzanne!

Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 12.43.42 PM

Gary ended up choosing the austere Robyn (her biggest turn off: “Punctuality, or should I say lack of it. My pet hate? Being kept waiting.”). Their prize was a trip for two to Honolulu. Two strangers who just met after Gary asked three weird questions, off to Hawaii on their first date.

What must that trip have been like. If it was anything like the experience of Jackie and Duncan – two previous Blind Daters who returned earlier in the show to provide an agonising postmortem of their unsuccessful date – then it was a weekend of pure misery.

“The date went really well,” Jackie lied unconvincingly. “I got picked up by the limo – on time – and then we went to pick up Duncan…” she droned. “I think he probably liked me.” They dined at a restaurant called ‘L’Enchante’ at the Regent. “What were your first impressions of Duncan?” Jamieson probed. “Mr Average,” Jackie replied brutally. “He wasn’t Tom Cruise.”

Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 11.31.46 AM

A “special Blind Date photographer” papped some shots of the pair’s terrible date. They look like two ghosts. “It looks like you had a great time!” hooted Jamieson, the most oblivious man in the world. “Are you going to see each other again?” “Not if I can help it,” replied Jackie. Ice cold.

It’s tempting to romanticise a world before online dating, Tinder, and The Bachelor rose ceremonies, but this episode of Blind Date paints an incredibly bleak picture of pre-internet life for single New Zealanders. Suzanne Paul gave Gary a glancing kiss on the cheek and collected a box of consolatory Cadbury chocolates on her way to making her own fortune as the nation’s undisputed Queen of Infomercials.


 

Throwback Thursday is brought to you by NZ On Screen, click here to see more from their Before They Were Famous collection.

Please note that the occasionally troublesome opinions expressed above are not those of our wonderful sponsors at NZ On Screen. 

The Spinoff Longform Fund is dedicated to facilitating investigative journalism. Our focus is on supporting in-depth reporting on important New Zealand stories. Your donation will help us sustain this most resource-intensive form of journalism, ensuring that the most complex and important stories still get told.