July 29, 2009 at 12:12 PM EDT

In much the same way that I can’t resist dipping into the blasted bowl of candy that sits on my colleague Annie Barrett‘s desk, I’m also a sucker for a good, old-fashioned (non VH1) reality dating show. (Once upon a time, I even endured that primetime special where Dr. Phil tried to set up a lovelorn Paula Abdul.) So I knew resistance was futile the first time I saw a promo for Fox’s More to Love and found myself tearing up shocked that a guy whose only six pack sits in his fridge was going to be the center of a reality show from Mike “The Bachelor” Fleiss.

Tonight, we met our self-proclaimed man of stature, Luke Conley, who revealed not only his age, height and weight (26, 6’3″, 330 lbs), but also his profession (real-estate investor), salary (“six-figure”) and favorite food/most effortless double entendre (“anything thick and juicy”). (Nice!) While Luke perhaps inspected (with his own mouth) the oral-hygiene habits of one too many of his lady suitors at the initial cocktail soiree, he came off as a genuinely charming, caring guy trying (most of the time) to be sensitive to the needs of 20 women who, like himself, would like to get past the notion that the most desirable selections at the Love Deli are always those where bone and sinew trump actual meat. (I know, I know…too much. I’ll dial back on the next metaphor.) And I’d say More to Love did a pretty decent job of making that case. Whereas recent seasons of Fleiss’ Bachelor franchise have been inundated with a few  too many hardbodies with Feta cheese in the brains and faces with all the softness of a slab of sheetrock, I’d argue the ladies of More to Love were, as a group, comelier, and many of ’em showed more personality in an hour than the average Bachelor combatant does in a season. After the jump, check out my list of the joyous, the heartbreaking, and (naturally) the downright infuriating:

Most Substantial Woman: In standard Mike Fleiss/reality dating show fashion, the “first out of the limo” slot was reserved for a smokin’ hottie (remember it was twelve-pack-sportin’ Kiptyn who took poll position in the recently concluded Bachelorette season). But blonde and busty Malissa had more than looks in her arsenal, and revealed that she was not only fluent in Spanish, but that she’d just returned from studying abroad in Paris. (Yeah, Luke’s “how do you say ‘kiss’ en Español come-on was too cheesy by half, but at least he didn’t tell Malissa he wanted to “study a broad” before trying to plant a kiss on her, right?) Let’s pause and give 10 points to a reality-dating duo who discussed actual specific interests during their first sit-down, instead of rambling on about “feelings” or resorting to reality TV contrivances like engaging in a “spontaneous” salsa dance (astandard Bachelor/Bachelorette device trotted out this evening byMaggie Gyllenhaal doppelganger Mandy).

Most Quotable Contestant: Goth girl Bonnie, who daydreams about bagging a man with her “wifey/mom skills” proved the resident comedienne (“The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. And his pants. Butyou go for the stomach first, because that’s what classy women do.”), and perhaps the resident troublemaker, too. I won’t lie: I chuckled heartily when she poured a glass of Haterade for Danielle after the latter woman dove into the pool in her evening gown: “Know what you probably wish you had in there? A swimsuit.” Oh snap!

Best Example of Sisterly Love: While we’re dishing Danielle’s Esther Williams moment, how sweet was it when Michelle and Natalia reassured the soggy bachelorette that she looked elegant, not ridiculous, swimming around in her evening gown. Naturally, the compliment was promptly followed by Danielle getting tangled up in her frock and flashing her pink panties. Which prompted further bonding between Michelle and Natalia, who high-fived over their mutual use of Spanx! (Again, note to producers: Conversational specifics trump bland platitudes and overused adjectives (“awesome,” “excited,” etc) every time.

Clumsiest Seduction (Successful Division): Anna asking Luke what kind of girl he likes to be with when he’s eating eat grilled meats, then scoring a kiss after basically acknowledging the pure ridiculousness of her question. (Too bad poor Lauren was sitting on Luke’s other side when the smooch went down!)

Clumsiest Seduction (Successful Division): Sandy bungling the crucial first impression by declaring her intention to teach Luke how to milk a cow.

Gone Too Soon Award: It broke my heart to see adorable, intelligent Michelle vow to buy the clothes that fit her now, rather than living her life with a constant eye on a weight-loss goal, and talk about self-discovery through travel, only to get cut at the end of the show. Note to this effervescent beauty: It’s going to happen eventually. But don’t stop enjoying the roller coaster just because the seat next to you is currently unoccupied, okay?

Contestant I’m Rooting For (to Find a Good Therapist): Did I get misty eyed when the lovely Melissa (not to be confused with Malissa) revealed she’d never been on a date, and that her worst fear is that any offer of an evening out with a guy would be tainted by the fear that he was setting her up as a cruel joke? Um, yeah, I did. Ditto for her confession that she just wants to meet a guy who’s “man enough to say ‘Gosh, I love that girl! I don’t care that other people look at her funny.'” But as much as I don’t want to see “Mel B” in tears again, I can’t help but think she has a lot more emotional growth and self-esteem repair ahead of her before she’s ready to settle down with anyone, let alone navigate the toxic waters of reality TV dating. Anyone else with me?

Most Depressing Chryon: Do we really need to put the words “plus size” in front of “model” when describing More to Love host Emme?

Worst Deviation from Bachelor Procedure: “Um, so what we’re gonna do is give a diamond promise ring to each of the 20 contestants, but then we’re gonna pull a stunt reminiscent of those groovy key parties from back in the day, and have all the ladies drop their rings in a bowl, and then have Luke return the rings to only the 15 women who advance to round two. Because every woman really appreciates that ‘giveth/taketh away’ vibe to be shoved down her throat by her (possilbly) future hubby. U to the G to the H.

Who’s with me in their immediate and definitive More to Love addiction? Is there any lady you’re rooting for already? Rooting against? And anyone want to go out on a limb and predict who you think WILL win Luke’s heart? I’m voting Heather, but mainly because her green, swirly dress was the best of the night!

More on ‘More to Love,’ reality dating:

Ken Tucker asks: Dating show or poundsploitation?

The summer of weighty TV: Are ‘Dance Your Ass Off,’ ‘Drop Dead Diva,’ et al a step forward or back?

‘The Bachelorette’ recap: Three’s a Crowd

‘The Bachelorette: After the Final Rose’: We live-blogged it!

Chris Harrison blogs ‘The Bachelorette’: ‘The Final Rose’ and ‘After the Final Rose’


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