If Chrissy Teigen is the chief justice of Quibi, Keke Palmer and Joel Kim Booster are the matchmakers.
While cohosting a mini reboot of MTV’s risqué ‘90s dating show, “Singled Out,” the “Hustlers” actress and stand-up comedian have one job: to find a suitable “single” for their main “dater” in under 10 minutes. The tone of the show is that special reality TV brand of ridiculous, featuring cheesy come-ons, jaw-dropping deal-breakers and off-the-wall physical challenges.
But make no mistake: Palmer and Booster take their matchmaking duties very seriously.
“We wanted everyone to leave feeling good,” Booster said. “We didn’t cheat by any means, but Keke and I definitely had opinions. And we definitely wanted everyone to end up with someone that they could actually date.”
“Singled Out” adheres to a strict, if silly, formula comprising three phases. The first swiftly weeds out a vast majority of the eligible singles with disqualifying red flags tailored to each dater’s preferences; the second gives three finalists a chance to deliver pick-up lines they would send in an introductory DM (direct message) on social media; and the final round requires the last two suitors to show their affection by completing an outrageous task, from kissing creepy crawlies to racing sex toys down a ramp.
In theory, the dater is supposed to consider every performance before choosing a winner. But if Palmer were in the hot seat herself, she’d know her soulmate by the end of round two.
“I was always picking my person at that point because it was all about how they delivered their phrase,” she said. “Some people did it really shy. Some people did it really cool. And after that moment, I knew who I would pick.”
For the record, the Nickelodeon alumna prefers her singles “cool, calm and flirty”: “When the girls were doing the flirty vibe, I was like, ‘Yes, Mama!’ And when the guys were doing the cool-type vibe, I was like, ‘Yes, Papi!’”
On breaks, Booster and Palmer would confer about which singles they would select for themselves and, of course, for the dater. Because contestants spend the whole show facing away from their anonymous admirers, both hosts felt a responsibility to be their eyes and protectors.
“By the time we narrowed it down to three, I think Keke and I both had opinions based on what we knew,” Booster said. “Ultimately it was always their choice, but ... there was a couple of times when Keke and I would both be like, ‘Are you sure?’ We trusted and we respected the process, but there were definitely certain contestants where we all but said, ‘We think you’re making a mistake.’”
The emcees also had the advantage of knowing how each single was connected, in real life, to each dater — whether it be through a chance encounter, mutual friend or social media engagement.
“It was really fascinating and felt really honest to the way that I interact with people,” Booster said of the revival’s updated social media element. “You notice who’s responding to your Instagram stories, or you notice that your one hot coworker starts following you on Twitter. It’s those little interactions that we’re now having online.”
While Booster, 32, and Palmer, 26, both admitted to being too young at the time to keep up with their program’s MTV predecessor, neither seemed too concerned with staying faithful to the original — aside from matching the general upbeat and “goofy” spirit of previous hosts Chris Hardwick and Jenny McCarthy.
Despite their initial lack of familiarity with the ‘90s iteration, however, their youthfulness was an asset in terms of adapting the new show to be as modern and inclusive as possible, “creating an environment for our dater that feels judgment-free, fun and embracing.”
“If you really want to have fun, I’m gonna have fun with you. And if you’re really looking to find love, I’m gonna be right there with you too,” Palmer said. “We also let the dater drive the mood. Sometimes they get riskier, sometimes it’s a little bit more prudish. It’s whatever that person wants it to be, and I think my energy as a host is to make sure that we keep it as authentic as we can.”