#1. Obviously I am imagining my own entrance were I to ever be on Take Me Out. (This is what you do when you watch extended amounts of Take Me Out over a short period: you imagine yourself in there and wonder if you would flail or thrive). The entrance, for men, is key. The song choice has to say: hey, I’m fun. It has to say: this is what I’m about. It has to reflect you, as a person, as well as your musical tastes. In many ways, picking your entrance music for Take Me Out is a lot like picking your funeral music ahead of your death. In both cases you are descended, through a tightly confined space, into something that’s either heaven or hell. (In both cases mine is the entire nine-minute mix of Fuck Buttons' " Flight of the Feathered Serpent".) Then there is the dancing, which you must consider also: pointing, hip thrusting, eye contact with 30 women at once, all clapping on their own frequencies, all clapping out of time. You have been thrown to the lions and you must jig for their amusement in the hope that one of them pities and has sex with you. Alright ladies, you say, then: you’re all looking lovely this evening. My name’s Joel – and then I inhale, like I am announcing the arrival of a king, like I am telling the peasants salvation has come – and I’m from, CHESTERFIELD!
You know the noise. It goes like: byew. Again: byew. A little ripple: byew, byew, byew, byew, byew. You know the noise. Like a space laser, but not. Byew. The noise you hear is this: the noise you hear is 30 lights extinguishing at once.
#2. Take Me Out is a light entertainment TV show that very crucially pivots on the idea that, if horny enough, people will behave like absolute fucking cretins, on camera, for no pay. This is a premise Take Me Out repeatedly proves to be true. So you have lads with shaved chests doing back flips out of a lift. You have every single Missguided dress currently on sale in the UK being worn at once by a gamut of HD-eye-browed women. The light is pink, and purple, and red then white. Bring on the girls. There’s a new lad in the lift. Sometimes, Take Me Out zigs from "wholesome if horny Saturday night-lite" into something darker, with more of a hard-edged vibe: the horniness bleeds from the screen, there’s something in the air here, people pull animal faces like you think they’re about to fuck. Sometimes the Take Me Out mood is light and airy, and sometimes it’s a bit 3AM-in-the-basement-of-Berghain. Take Me Out is, deeply, not respectable. Many of these people are just seconds away from tearing their underwear off and splashing bodily juices onto the set floor. Sometimes it feels like a rugby game where everyone is naked and hungry for flesh. Like an orgy in a straight-to-video vampire film. Paddy McGuinness officiates, and I have to say: he does it well.
#3. One of the girls is doing kick-ups. This happens, sometimes, because Take Me Out presents you with so many female contestants in such a concentrated period of time that it’s hard to pull them out as distinct and individual personalities, so props and activities are sometimes necessary. So Paddy will crook one arm on their plinth and say: "So, Joanne," or whatever. He has heard she hula hoops, or something. Heard she likes to sing. What is your party trick, Joanne? Come out here at the front and do it in heels. Joanne can do kick-ups, and so is doing kick-ups. Later, a boy will come out saying he likes football. He used to play semi-professionally, he says. He goes every weekend to the game or watches it with the boys at the pub. He lives and breathes it, he says. Joanne's eyes light up. She keeps her light on throughout. This, Joanne thinks, is fate. He turns her light off first chance he gets and she looks really, really sad when he picks the towering blonde next to her.
#4. I am not an anthropologist, and in my day-to-day I am "this medical professional would like to study you for their PhD" levels of bad at interpreting people’s body language signals, but I think one cue the girls on Take Me Out give away is: when a boy comes down the lift who they like, their brains short-circuit and they can just no longer dance in time to a beat. Michael from Bath is coming down to Return of the Mac and Rebecca from Swansea is jigging from side-to-side like a windscreen wiper. Or: Katie from Dumfries is clapping three-four when the beat is four-four. Sometimes the girls just look at a man and their eyes widen and they scream. And like yes: you assume they are getting them quite pissed behind the scenes, unlimited Prosecco and vodka-crans sort of deal. But also: who screams? Who just screams?
#5. Types of girl, a list: fun one in hat; grumpy one in hat; fun one in glasses; Very Northern; ten years older than she looks; mad; Has Seen Some Shit And Is Harder Than You, Has A Hand Tattoo To Prove It; Dyed Her Hair Red Once And Now That Is Her Main Personality Thing; blonde, smiling, anonymous, thousands of teeth, hundreds of thousands of teeth. These are the only girls that exist.
#6. Types of boy, a list: professional rugby player; former professional rugby player; gymnast; Loves 2 Keep Fit; amateur magician; mad; Sells Things For A Living But Looks Fucking Awful In A Three-Piece Suit; boy w/ groomed beard who has tattoos; wide-shouldered lad who is convinced he can sing. These are the only boys that exist.
#7. My suggested Take Me Out retool is this: 30 blokes stand behind the plinths. (All of these blokes are what you’d call "quite hard"). Coming down the love lift? Another bloke. (This man, too, is q.h.) And then, for a while, the format stays more or less the same: the man at the centre reels off a list of his traits, his strengths, his desires, and the men behind plinths choose whether they want to match up with him. And then, at the end, finally, two men pair off: but instead of going to Tenerife and fingering each other, they strip to the waist and, in the centre of the studio, have a fight. I mean, they fucking deck each other. I call this format refresh, "Bloodbath".
#8. Here is one of Paddy’s jokes: a girl will say something slightly bizarre – "I just love hair, Paddy, I always have. I’ve kept all my hair from every haircut I’ve ever had," or something – and he will lean on her podium and look disappointedly to the floor and shake his head. And that is his joke. He does this, I would say, two times per episode.
#9. I am obviously thinking about whether I could replace Paddy McGuinness. (This is what you do when you watch extended amounts of Take Me Out over a short period: you imagine yourself in there and wonder if you would flail or thrive). I have decided that I could. I have decided that the perfect Take Me Out host – should Paddy McGuinness succumb to a fatal accident at a Take Me Out afterparty, slipping on a mess of Ann Summers own-brand lube and clonking his head on an ornate chocolate fountain that three Grimsby natives are all fucking in, somehow – I have decided the perfect replacement host is me. Think about it: McGuinness manages to effortlessly straddle this weird nether-zone of banter-matey with the lads, and sort of cheeky-older-sibling with the girls (a strange grey area: the deferent way some of the Flirty Thirty say "Paddy" falls somewhere uncomfortable between affection for a father or a lover), plus his physical dimensions are what tailors would describe as "monstrous". A lot of this is me. McGuinness is a curiously sexless presence in the Take Me Out fuckdome: he’s there to officiate, a sort of love referee, full of point-at-the-camera puns and knackered jokes about Fernando’s. He is northern and his eyes are, as best I can tell it, black like the devil’s are. When he dies I want first dibs on replacing him.
#10. I honestly don’t want to see the dates. I don’t care if any of them find love, is the thing. There have been seven weddings and three babies as a result of this show, and statistically I find that to be too low. We are ten seasons in. Per episode it is 30 women, minimum, matched per season w/ approximately 50 men. The success rate of this show – a show designed solely to help single people find love – is ridiculously low. You’d be better off putting them all in an office for a year, working mildly close to each other. More fucking would get done. It is arguable at this point that Take Me Out is anti-chemistry. I do not want to see two people in off-season holiday wardrobes be whipped by the wind in Tenerife before having some sort of grey picnic together where they silently clink plastic champagne flutes, sigh at the sun and say it’s been the best date of their life. Do they bang? "He lives in Scotland, I live in Essex." They do not bang. Do not show me this miserable sausage. I only want to watch the monster being made.
#11. How many times do you think one person can hear the sentence, "Good evening, ladies, you’re all looking lovely tonight" and still believe it? I think: two, absolute maximum. But they still say it, the boys. Every single boy. They still say it and pretend like it means anything.
#12. THE LOVE AT FIRST LIGHT TWIST INTRODUCED IN THE FOURTH SERIES RUINED THE FORMAT OF THE SHOW AND SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN MAINTAINED, I HATE IT WITH MY LIFE, THEY WILL NOT LEAVE THE COLD-LIGHT-OF-DAY SPLIT-SECOND PEN-AND-PAPER HORNINESS JUDGMENT ALONE
#13. Best bit of Take Me Out is watching the faces drop. A single-round of Take Me Out is like a tiny three-act play about the underlying disappointment of romantic love, told through 30 well-contoured faces. First, the boy comes down the lift, silent and perfect, dancing, hi-energy, slick, doing handstands, and the girls are rapt – gazing lovingly, or laughing alone, or staring like a lion might at a pile of steak. And then he says his name and reveals the exact size and shape of his provincial accent and they are immediately turned off.
Then the first round happens, which is the sizzle reel of the boy’s likes, dislikes, quirks and hobbies. Piece-by-piece the man reveals his true self to the women in front of him, tearing himself open in the most intimate way, and they respond by turning their lights off to him. "I love to keep fit." Byew. "I’ve got a weird phobia: I’m scared of cheese." Byew, byew. "I’ve got a twin brother – and he’s my best mate!" Byew, byew byew byew byew byew. Watch the faces: watch them sink from horny to deathly cold, as some skinny jeans lad from Inverness tells us that he likes a beer with the lads. A microcosm of what romantic love is: hot jets of intense attraction cooled like a sparkler plunged into sand when you learn literally anything about their personality at all. Take Me Out takes love and accelerates it at light speed. I suppose that’s why the attraction so often burns out before the couple has even got on the plane.
#14. Here’s a move you can do, when you’re on Take Me Out. I just thought of it. At the end, when the guy has to pick between two girls., and they're both screaming, like, "Pick me! Pick me!" and everyone in the audience is just losing their minds, here is the thing you do, which I just thought of, which has never been done before: run to the girl you’re going to pick. She’s going start thinking you’re running over to turn her light off, and she’s going to panic. "No," she’s saying. "No, no, please, no!" All her mates huddled around her podium, trying to stop you. And then: right at the last moment: zig instead of zag. Awkward cheek-kiss over a podium. Hurriedly whisper, "You’re going to Fernando’s." Run back the other way and turn the other girl’s light off while they both go mental. This is classic. I am the first person alive to think of it.
#15. Every single girl on Take Me Out has at least one "Live Laugh Love" trinket in their home and a 400-item deep ASOS wish list they never, ever look at. Every girl on Take Me Out is drawn like a magnet to department store MAC counters and has those wine glasses at home – you know the ones: opaque, plastic, white. Every single one of them has tried to raise money for charity by "doing a run". They all have cracked phone screens. Not one of them has an un-cracked phone screen.
#16. Every single lad on Take Me Out has at least one discreet banter tattoo on a non-visible flesh surface that means it won’t show up in his gym selfies. Every lad on Take Me Out supports Manchester United and thinks Conor McGregor is "god". Every lad on Take Me Out takes a quiet minute to himself on the anniversary of Paul Walker’s death. His favourite meal is "my mum’s roast". His second favourite meal is "my mum’s sausage and mash". Every lad on Take Me Out really, really – too much, if I’m honest – really, really loves his mother. He cannot cook a single meal for himself and will say as such during the "quite misogynist, actually" rant footage they will inevitably have to cut out of the resulting first date. "If we're going to happen, you're doing the cooking," says James from Leeds. "[30 minute redacted monologue about 'being alpha' that ends with the words "...and that's why I want to get cracking on with having babies"]"
#17. Would a gender-swapped Take Me Out work? What if they did it just once, as sort of a joke? I’m here to tell you that it would not work. Alright, so here’s Lindsay, 24, from Brighton, and she’s coming down the lift to Love Machine. "Hi boys," she says. "You’re all looking fit this evening!" Thirty lights still on. VT round where she explains she likes tall men, she loves a dance, she loves a night in with her girls, she loves her mum. Thirty lights still on. Stitch up round where her mate carefully explains that Lindsay regularly shits herself and rubs it down her legs. "Lindsay’s a great girl," her mate is saying. "But for this one thing: she regularly shits herself and rubs the shit down her legs like a dog might." Zooms in. "And I’m talking wet shit, boys." Thirty lights still on. "She does this, like, once every two days." Thirty lights are still on. The final round where Lindsay gets to choose a boy turns into some sort of animalistic horny set-to. Loads of hench blokes from Newquay rutting together like stags. Fights breaking out. Two bouncers per lad to keep things in check. Paddy, in the centre, grey-faced and beyond banter. Finally she picks some bloke with waxed eyebrows who lifts her entire body and carries her up the stairs, where she shits herself. They wave to the crowd. Next round a girl comes out with an ankle tag and starts telling them all about her GHB charges. Thirty lights still on. This repeats and repeats itself until the universe extinguishes beneath them. And never a single light goes red.
#18. What I don’t understand is how more of the Flirty Thirty don’t die on their way into the arena. Watch them clatter down the stairs like animals stampeding down a hill. Watch them march and lurch down the white, white stairs in towering heels. I do not understand how more of them don’t fall over. I don’t understand how more ankles don’t snap like Pocky. I don’t understand how the last girl hasn’t – at least once – tripped on the top step and barrelled down, through the other girls, scattering them like bowling pins. Instead, they pull the same six motions to the camera as they walk by it – air kiss, peace sign, tit shimmy, tilt down glasses and wink (they have to be wearing glasses for this one to work), salute and/or wave, pirouette – before the last two, the Anchor Girls, take an arm each of Paddy McGuinness and walk him down towards the Love Lift. It’s a very tightly choreographed ballet, studded throughout with the looming feeling of dread. It’s a very high stress intro to watch, for me. All I can think, whenever I see it, is: someone could die at any second now. Someone could snap their legs like two twigs.
#19. I suppose if we were to identify the "vibe" of Take Me Out, it would be "the nicest nightclub in a <100,000 population Midlands town". Not, like, a shit nightclub – nothing 1980s themed, or cheesy disco – but more velvet ropes closing off a table that it turns out nobody ends up sitting on, or where the fittest girl in your school goes to get off with lower league reserve team footballers. There is a toilet attendant, at this nightclub. A lot of the lads here have blazers and loafers without socks. The vibe is backed up by everything that makes TMO what it is: the music, the bandage dresses, the shaved chests, Paddy McGuinness staging a heart attack whenever someone does flanter, the audience-wide chant of "Oooh!" The entire atmosphere is very "£8 entry after 10PM".
This all sets the tone for the kind of """"love"""" people are on the show for, which is club love: not capital-L forever love, but a cheeky shag possibly standing up, possibly in a toilet cubicle but maybe not, and honestly what is wrong with that? It’s sort of funny that the show is dripped so heavily in the idea of romantic love – "Who’s gonna find love tonight?"; "Get together on the Isle of Fernando’s"; "Is this the start of a wonderful journey together?" – when it’s essentially just three-dimensional Tinder. But I suppose it’s a veneer beneath a veneer: the tasteful face of love, ITV primetime love, let’s not admit we’re going to do some hand stuff about this. I bet the end-of-season afterparties are absolutely fucking appalling.
#20. Why do we enjoy watching people – and I don’t want to say "fall in love", because nobody ever does on this show, and I don’t want to say "enjoy a first date", because that rarely happens either – but why do we like to watch people being horny at each other, on TV? I think maybe it’s a similar reason we like to watch people buy houses on Grand Designs: we get to live vicariously through people living a life that is beyond us. Think about when you’re in a relationship, when you get all settled and cosy on the sofa: you don’t miss it, do you, the spending 90 minutes to four hours getting ready to go out to somewhere called "Rascals" where you have to shout "SO WHERE ARE YOU FROM?" at someone mildly sexually viable to you who really would rather just talk to their friends. It’s sort of fun at the time, isn’t it, but also very fundamentally dreadful, and bad for your soul, and you forget that, in a relationship: you spend four consecutive holidays at "her parents' house in France" and get matching jumpers at Christmas and pose with your dog on Instagram, and think: wouldn’t it be good, again, the old thrill, to go and try and shag someone from a nightclub but actually strike out and go home, realising you’ve somehow spent £80 and you’re not really pissed, walking back instead of taking a taxi, slumping on the sofa to send out ‘u up?’ texts to literally everyone you’ve ever matched with on Tinder. Take Me Out synthesises the feeling of chirpsing someone who’s never truly going to shag you and makes it primetime Saturday night viewing. That’s what makes it watchable. It gives coupled-up normies a fleeting taste of the life they leave behind. Bite the old feeling like the sour taste of blood.
#21. Obviously I am imagining my talent section would be were I to ever be on Take Me Out. (This is what you do when you watch extended amounts of Take Me Out over a short period: you imagine yourself in there and wonder if you would flail or thrive). I have no viable talents that I could show off in a half-minute segment in front of 30 women who hate me. What can I do? I can write a sentence. What am I supposed to do, write a big sentence? On a whiteboard? While Paddy McGuinness gurns behind me with a pen? "Look how many comma stops he’s ignoring, girls!" Paddy’s saying. "Have you ever seen a sentence this needlessly long! He’s gonna do an en-dash in a minute!" Byew, byew byew, byew. Byew byew byew. Byew.
I think about what Paddy McGuinness will smell like when he hugs me (Paddy McGuinness offers conciliatory hugs to men deemed unworthy of love on national TV, and I would be one of them). I feel like he would smell like expensive aftershave and warm not-quite sweat and, faintly, crisps. Smoky Bacon crisps. He smells good, and familiar. He smells like a fine leather sofa someone left for a minute in a clean kitchen. I sob in his arms, in this fantasy, and he shushes me like I am his gigantic baby. The floor manager has asked the girls to file out for a minute while I process my emotions. "He’s not taking it well, ladies," the floor manager says. "Take 15 so you can all extricate yourself from your Spanx long enough to have a piss. We've got 12 more lads coming."
Take Me Out is the perfect pre-night out show and the perfect hangover show, too. It’s weirdly wholesome, because nobody really gets hurt. It’s sort of cheeky and bawdy and horny and wink-wink nudge-nudge, and Paddy McGuinness keeps doing the same joke over it, the same girls season after season with slightly different faces, more or less the same boys, but it’s very safe. The Isle of Fernando’s is there, unchanging. The set is there, deeply unchanging. Whatever happens to you, you know there is one constant in this unyielding life. That – somewhere, in a TV studio in north-west England – Paddy McGuinness and a Travelodge full of women are having a right old laugh. Byew, byew byew byew. They are laughing at you, you fucking loser. They are having way more fun than you will ever have in your life.