When 'Chains Of Love' Become A Chain Of Fools

Marry a stranger? Sure. Cheat on your girlfriend? OK. Throw yourself at a guy from Texas named after a cheese? No problem. The short, raunchy history of reality TV has been something like a game of limbo: the lower you go, the more you win. Which is why next week's UPN debut of "Chains of Love" is a remarkable television feat. Not because it's the sleaziest yet, though a show that shackles a contestant to four members of the opposite sex is certainly lapping at the low-water mark set by "Temptation Island." No, what's amazing about "Chains" is that it's the first reality program dropped by a network on moral grounds before it ever aired.

At least NBC, which bought "Chains" last year only to ditch it before starting production, came to its senses. What's UPN's excuse for rushing to the show's rescue? Ratings, naturally. But the mini-network insists that the show isn't all that salacious. Sure, the five cuffed contestants eat, swim, sleep (but don't bathe) together for four days, all while manacled at the wrists and ankles. There's also plenty of sex talk and even some serial kissing that transpires as the "picker" decides which opposite-sex partner to kick off each day (the picker and the final partner can split up to $10,000). But kinky? "It's strength isn't being sexy," says UPN CEO Dean Valentine. "What's amazing is that it's incredibly intense. These people are kind of morphed together, and they have to deal with acceptance, rejection, fear, need. It's so emotional and stripped down. You almost feel like you're watching an est session."

Well, not exactly. "Chains" is tamer than you might expect. The show is produced by the folks behind "Blind Date," and snarkiness is the dominant tone here, too. UPN, which is airing the show at 8 p.m. EDT, does tamp down the titillation. Everyone stays dressed, even in the pool and the double-king-size bed. Most of the sexual content is confined to group discussions that aren't much racier than "Dawson's Creek." Still, even the contestants recognize that the show is inherently creepy. "I'm one of three women in a bed with a guy and I'm letting him touch me and then roll over and touch somebody else," Kerstin says in the premiere episode. "I feel like I'm going to come across as a tramp."

Which raises a question: what kind of person would go on a show like this? "I didn't think, oooh, kinkiness. I thought, how interesting to be on TV, meet new people--the challenge," says Jennifer Mosley, 24, a personal assistant who was one of the pickers. Mosley says the hardest part of the show was talking honestly about life and love to her four guys. The stuff she thought would be difficult, such as facing four strangers in her bed with morning breath and uncombed hair, wasn't that hard. "The guys were very nice," Mosley says. "They never said, 'You looked bad, Jenn'." Now let's see how she looks to the rest of America.