The new sexed up reality show has 16 singles battling it out for the best mates and a cash prize
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Love Cruise
Credit: Love Cruise: Ray Mickshaw

It doesn’t take long for a signature moment to arise on Fox’s upcoming reality vehicle, ”Love Cruise.” Aboard the S.S. Mandalay, mere minutes after casting off from St. George’s, Grenada, it’s time for the first coupling of ”Cruise”’s 16 singles. The eight women wait in an expectant clutch while eight men stand across the main deck in a semicircle. At the signal from host Justin Gunn, the ladies stride over to claim the male of their choice for the journey’s first two days of companionship.

When the dust settles, a pair of forlorn looking dudes are left twisting in the wind, unchosen (while two of their hunkier peers balance a babe on each arm). A faint groan escapes from the crew of Bunim Murray Productions, the vérité pioneers behind MTV’s ”The Real World” and ”Road Rules.” After an uncomfortable silence, producer Kathy Wetherell looks over her shoulder at head honcho Jonathan Murray and cracks, ”This is great TV…if you’re a whore.” A few seconds later, she shakes her head, shrugging, ”I’m going to hell.”

Oh sure, but if the ability to provoke a healthy sense of sadistic, voyeuristic glee is crucial to any successful reality show (and it is), ”Love Cruise” could be poised to take the form to mortifying new heights — or depths. A brainstorm of Fox Television Entertainment chairman Sandy Grushow (who had the idea last summer during a shipboard vacation with his wife), the seven week series debuting early next year marries the winner take all gamesmanship of ”Survivor” to the agonized mating dances of ”Blind Date” by pitting seafaring singles against each other in the pursuit of true love — and a massive wad of cash.

”It was like ‘Melrose Place’ on the sea,” says Toni (Bunim Murray prefers to keep their contestants on a first name basis with the outside world), a 27 year old cast member and bartender from Chicago, two months after the production wrapped. ”There was drama, there was love, there was everything.” Coexecutive producer Bruce Toms has another analogy: ”It’s high school. You know, choosing a partner and being rejected — it’s a very prom kind of thing.”

That might be true — if proms were attended by half dressed, randy twentysomethings. Though press were allowed on board for only the first two days (and then only incognito in crew uniforms), this intrepid observer couldn’t help but overhear a barrage of salty talk, like the following exchange: She: ”Hey, are you going to grab my t– again?” He: ”If you put it in my hand…” Man overboard!

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