Dedeker Winston, the poly character on Fox's "Utopia" reality series
Heads up; the thing we feared would happen is gonna happen, starting tomorrow (Sunday Sept. 7) at 8 p.m. Eastern. But it could be interesting, because it turns out we have a would-be heroine in the fight. Can she outsmart the fight being rigged?
Earlier this summer, casting directors for a new Fox reality show came poking around the polywebs looking for someone to fill a precisely defined role. Wrote one:
I'm casting a documentary series on a major TV network that will air in the fall featuring 15 Americans from all different walks of life coming together to form a new society. They are still looking for the last cast member and this is who they would like:
1. A single woman in her 20s who is polyamorous.
2. They would like a woman who can break down the negative stereotypes about women and polyamory (for example: "a man who sleep with many is a stud, a woman is considered a slut").
3. There is compensation for being on the show.
4. This is a major network show with a lot of credibility and they are looking for the right person to fit this description, not an actress.
Another casting agent working the same assignment wrote,
Fox is specifically interested in a woman who strongly believes in plural marriage or celestial marriage and wants a platform to help dispel the misconceptions and educate our viewers on it.
In the Polyamory Leadership Network discussion that sprung up, the consensus was that Fox was designing Utopia to turn into Lord of the Flies — the purpose of a reality show is drama, not boring harmony — and that the rules of the setup would pit the characters against each other like rats in a shaken cage. Said Sarah Taub of the Network for a New Culture (with long experience building actual intentional community), "It’s hard enough for people with a shared vision and good community skills (communication, boundaries, emotional management skills, curiosity about others, functional group decision-making processes, etc.) to create a successful intentional community. With 15 random people, chosen by the producers for maximum drama … this show should be called “Hell” or “No Exit”, not “Utopia.” "
I floated the idea, only half jokingly, that someone with the right specs could apply for the slot, get accepted, stall signing as long as possible, then drop out just before camera time so the hot-polyamorist role would go unfilled.
Didn't happen. Instead they found Dedeker Winston, at right: a 26-year-old belly dancer and nude model from LA with the looks, body, and camera presence to drive prime-time ratings. But we may have lucked out — she seems to be smart, confident, articulate, and she really gets poly. Her smarts show pretty well in this interview with Cosmopolitan that just appeared (with that photo), but we see her more clearly on her own Multiamory podcast that she and two partners have begun producing, below:
Episode 1 of their podcast, the only one up so far, is damn good: Five Myths about Polyamory. It's 41 minutes long. Their summary of it:
The 5 myths:
1. Polyamory is just about sex.
2. If you found "the one" you wouldn't need to be polyamorous.
3. Polyamory is a way of avoiding all the hard work of a committed relationship.
4. Polyamory is only for people who don't get jealous.
5. One gender or group has an easier time being polyamorous. (Men, women, singles, couples, etc)
Thanks so much for checking us out. We hope you enjoy it!
Multiamory was created by Dedeker Winston, Emily Matlack, and Jase Lindgren
On their Multiamory site, she says that she is
"a strong advocate for polyamory and progressive thinking. She believes everyone should be able to live proudly and practically in alternative lifestyles, and is a public example and role-model for this way of living. You can see her on Fox's new show Utopia, where she is hoping to spread awareness of polyamory."
Here she tells more about her fit to the role in the show, and about her poly life and poly-awareness goals:
When I found out what they were looking for — it described me 100% to a T. They wanted someone who was polyamorous, someone who wanted to create a new society, who wanted to be a voice for kind of the next sexual revolution and the next emotional liberation, and that's completely my m.o. I couldn't not contact them, basically, when I saw that.
Here is a clip from a Utopia camera of her lounging in a hammock on the compound with two other cast members and explaining what poly means to her:
Her hashtag is #PolyandProud.
Fox is telling the public that Utopia is completely unscripted, that the 130 hidden and unhidden cameras merely observe, and that no production crew is onsite at any time.
Well, maybe not really. The show is a copy of the successful Dutch Utopia series that's being run by the same rules in the Netherlands, and I found something interesting. A person who claims to have been in on the Dutch Utopia told how the directors did the cage-rattling:
In the Dutch version, there is a room with a microphone where they can push a button and talk to the people 'behind the scenes', who are not on the terrain themselves. The viewers however don't get to see/hear these conversations. Originally this was [described as being] intended for when the participants really needed help (they can ask for a consult with a psychologist for example). But as the show progressed, it became clear that there was much more 'steering' going on in some situations than they wanted people to believe.
People are often called to this room, for all kinds of reasons (for example when [someone is] trying to cut down a tree that isn't allowed, or discussing things they don't want the viewers to know). Other times people come out of the room and start certain conversations or take certain actions (in order to continue some 'storyline' for example).
Hence it sometimes is unclear whether or not certain actions or ideas or what not are coming from the participants themselves or not. And having a room in which conversations take place that are not recorded/shown does not help that situation.
I hope Dedeker understood what she was walking into, and the rules she will have to work under (including, no doubt, a terrifying nondisclosure contract). When she is called into The Room, I hope she uses all her wits with the cage-shakers and can be strong with her "No." Even if it means getting vanished from the show and perhaps losing her accumulated pay. I admire her drive to represent us well, but it'll take all the smarts and character she can muster.
Here's the show's official site, including its profile of Dedeker with a video clip. Definitely prime time.
The show is getting heaps of advance publicity this weekend. For instance at Entertainment Weekly: Fox's 'Utopia' cast already naked, weird -- and drawing 1 million views (online views that is).
TV Guide: 6 Reasons Fox's Utopia Could Be Amazing (Or a Total Disaster).
From an article at Cinema Blend:
Fox's New Reality Show Utopia Already Seems Like A Disaster
Fox’s latest reality series, Utopia, hasn’t even premiered yet, but it’s already proven to have a slew of problems. On Tuesday, a 25-year-old contestant going by the name Hex had to be taken to the hospital due to a severe case of dehydration.... The news comes just days after fellow contestant Andrea Cox was kicked off the show due to sneaking in a smartphone and researching the other contestants....
Honestly, Fox has invested a lot in Utopia. Stars have been signed on to the show for 52 weeks of hard living in the wilderness, and casting is ongoing just in case there are cell phone or health issues (also, cast members can totally be kicked off the series). It’s only Day 5 of the drama and it’s looking like Fox might have more problems to navigate than the network may have expected. If you are interested in seeing Utopia turn into a disaster, you can tune in when the show premieres....
A bit of the show's official transcript from Day 8:
8:21 p.m. - Red confronts Amanda because The Utopia State of Freedom (aka Red and Dave) felt cheated that she only returned four bananas to them after they gave her six. She explains that her four large bananas equals the six tiny bananas they had originally given to her. Things escalate. Because of course they do.
8:22 p.m. - Amanda tells Dave [a black ex-con] he has an attitude. As you could imagine, this does not sit well. Dave rants about not caring about “any of y’all n******” in Utopia. Amanda walks away and moves to the main house, where she sighs to Mike, “This is not prison.” Meanwhile, Dave hisses that Amanda’s attitude will get her man hurt one day.
Get out the popcorn for tomorrow night. (It's a 2-hour opener. After that the show continues on Tuesdays and Fridays.)
|Dedeker kisses Emily, Jase, and her other boyfriend goodbye as she ships out for a year on the Utopia compound.|
Update Sunday night: Yup, the show was a dramafest. In the first three days in Utopia, we mostly see hotheads and ditzheads, a fight and a drunken near-assault on women, a well-meaning Pentecostal pastor out to convert and baptize everyone, heaps of shouting and, let's say, low emotional intelligence.... and complete cluelessness about managing their situation.
Dedeker had no part in any of the abundant craziness. So, she got practically no camera time in the two hours of the opening show. Except we do see that she is one of the skinny-dipping women.
The Los Angeles Times reports that the show had 4.6 million viewers, which it calls a "decent" kickoff. [later revised to 5.5 million]. Update: The show lost nearly half its audience from Episode 1 to 2, report various TV sites; one notes that the show will be canceled if ratings fall short of requirements. "Watching an adult throw a violent temper-tantrum and smash cans of food because he doesn’t get his way is a waste of the format. Everything about the show is top-notch, from the concept to the execution; only the casting has failed.... The decision to cast people for conflict instead of a genuine interest in forming a new society did turn some viewers off."
Writes Willa Paskin on Slate: "Through the first two episodes, five of the eight men assembled have violent physical outbursts. The female cast members avoid the trap of being portrayed as catty and vicious; as a result, they are granted no personalities at all, just a penchant for swimming naked."
Ratings declined further for Episode 3.
A New York Observer blogger's recap of Episode 1. Of Episode 2. Episode 3.