By David Goldberg
Days before the premiere of Logo’s all-gay Bachelor knockoff Finding Prince Charming, leaked photos and reviews revealed that the handsome suitor of the new series, Robert Sepulveda Jr., used to be a sex worker in Florida. The revelation electrified the Internet and threatened to invalidate the series’ alleged premise of grown gay men finding “serious” love. Stepping into the premiere in a bespoke suit, with action-figure abs and a laser-cut face, Sepulveda looks too good to be true—because, apparently, he is.
But perhaps the issue at stake with the Prince Charming scandal is not who Sepulveda once was, but who he is now pretending to be.
Finding Prince Charming throws 13 men into a Los Angeles mansion, where they drink and party and vie for the affection of one dreamy suitor—in this case, interior designer and self-proclaimed “activist” Sepulveda. A chipper Lance Bass—who seems happy to have the gig—hosts, leading the men on competitions and dates with the prince. Every episode ends with a warped version of The Bachelor’s Rose Ceremony, called a Black Tie Affair, in which Robert gives or takes away symbolic neckties from each of the suit-clad gentlemen.
This Black Tie Affair perfectly sums up the fundamental problem—and joke—of the show: after decades of hard-partying, open sexual expression, and reckless deviance, can gay male culture be zipped up and repackaged in a Hugo Boss three-piece suit? And just because we can get married, does that mean we should, merely for the sake of TV-ready legitimacy?
Of course, Finding Prince Charming’s obsession with mainstream respectability—nearly every date includes a conversation about the values of family and how the men want to have children—isn’t just the result of same-sex marriage legalization. Bass, the producers, and these merry men learned how to badly pretend to be normal from the Bachelor franchise, which repackages unemployed would-be actors with alcohol issues and severe emotional needs as royal gems who are ready for a lifelong commitment.
But when gathering up 13 hard-bodied, hot-blooded gay men in one house with plenty of alcohol and a hot tub, why didn’t the producers of Finding Prince Charming simply turn to The Bachelor’s sleazy spin-off, Bachelor in Paradise, for inspiration? Paradise changes the premise from multiple mates fighting for one partner to an all-out televised orgy. And while Robert is admittedly a knockout, so are many of the other men in the house—enough so that they don’t really need to focus their attention on him.
At a pool party in the first episode, the men wait with anxious anticipation for Robert to take his shirt off. When he finally unleashes his 3D six-pack, his suitors gasp and moan, somehow forgetting their own heaving pectorals and chiseled stomachs. While it’s entertaining to watch them play the monogamy game, it would be truly revolutionary to let gay men act on their desires with whomever they desire, rather than one seemingly presentable soul mate.
That said, I did find myself fully rapt during the first date of the show, in which Robert and perky platinum-blond Justin share a stirring embrace. Finding Prince Charming may be insipid, but at least it’s stimulating. Most of the contestants could be Prince Charmings in their own right, and seem to fit Robert’s desire for a “real man.” Some of the others, unfortunately, are lambs for the slaughter. And while Logo did make an effort to diversify its cast (so as not to depict its Bachelor as shallow), the fundamental rules of Grindr still apply. It may be a disappointment to see such shallowness in our gay reality-TV brethren, but it still beats watching straight people go at it.
Finding Prince Charming is entertaining, arousing, and silly fun. But it needs to come out of the closet. By forcing all the men of the house to worship Robert (a man with vague, inoffensive values), Finding Prince Charming puts the worst aspects of gay male culture on a pedestal by portraying the ideal gay man as nothing more than a simple sex doll. But if the show could let its participants be themselves—whether they be intellectual, serious, sleazy, or all of the above—it could produce some interesting dialogue, and even better sex.
I’d much prefer a Prince Charming with a provocative past and evolving ideas about love and commitment, rather than an innocuous puppet with a manufactured identity. Until that prince arrives, the contestants of Finding Prince Charming must settle for living a lie, albeit one that looks great in a suit.
Thursdays at 8 p.m. (CST) on Logo TV.