Together at last, together forever.
We’re tying a knot they never can sever.
I don’t need sunshine now to turn my skies to blue.
I don’t need anything but you.
This little ditty provides the grand finale in Annie, and, if all goes as planned, it may soon be an appropriate song for Mueller children. These stars of Who Wants to Marry My Dad? will, in three weeks, be choosing a new wife for their Daddy-Warbucks-bald and undeniably wealthy father, Don.
Of course, the Mueller kids are not orphans with orange hair and empty-circle eyes. Joe (26), Karla (25), Chris (22), and Heidi (21) are, instead, an unusually photogenic bunch hailing from the Cleveland, Ohio area. Their parents divorced amicably 13 years ago, and mom has been remarried for 10; now is apparently as good a time as any for dad to take a new wife. And so, the Muellers have decided, like so many families these days, to enact one of the most personal and important events of their lives on television.
Created by the gang who produced NBC’s Meet My Folks, Who Wants to Marry My Dad? changes the format, slightly. Here, the prospective brides are forced not only to impress their potential husband, but also his children. However, the road to the altar is treacherous, as the women are subject to the same truth serums and mind games that made Meet My Folks such a hit.
As if stuck in a warped variant of a prepubescent slumber party, the women are lodged in a dormitory-style bedroom at an unidentified Southern California mansion for three weeks. Here they spend their days devising ways to appear beautiful and interesting, their idyllic existence interrupted only by the whirl of the fax machine, which initiates another round of challenges, reminiscent of the schoolgirl favorite, “Truth or Dare.”
The fax commands that contestants undertake “embarrassing” tasks—like working the word “bald” into brunch conversation as often as possible—whereupon they are punished or rewarded. So, the four women who uttered “bald” the fewest number of times were forced to sit through a reading of their “dirty little secrets.” Here, Don and his children learn that one woman is so afraid of commitment that she hasn’t had a boyfriend in seven years. Another has had so much plastic surgery that her friends have nicknamed her “Mama Smurf.” And still another admits to stopping at the mall and buying a new outfit for her date when she didn’t like what he was wearing.
More successful contestants beam humbly as their philanthropic tendencies are revealed, namely, organizing anti-drug rallies and raising thousands of dollars for the homeless. One can almost read Don and the children’s minds as they listen: these ladies would be perfect candidates for president of the local PTA. Based on these revelations, Heidi, Karla, Joe, and Chris chose two women to sit for the lie detector. As two contestants discovered during the premiere episode, they can be dismissed for not being “classy” enough, or seeming “too aggressive.” (The “aggressive” stepmother-hopeful lost points with the kids when she wouldn’t give up her job as a pilot to answer phones for dad’s business.)
With all this going for it, why wouldn’t the show be popular (according to Nielsen’s, the first episode of Who Wants to Marry My Dad? was number one in its time period among adults 18-34)? And there’s more: a show within the show has the audience watching the Mueller children as they watch their father sweet-talk (and sometimes make out with) the women vying for his/their affections. The children label one contestant who initiates a kiss with their father as “too forward,” but remain silent as he makes the first move with other women.
The Mueller kids likely have a genuine interest in finding a “good” stepmother. And it’s obvious from several of their queries that they’re frequently more concerned that contestants meet their particular requirements than their dad’s. When they ask questions like, “If you marry our dad, will you let us move in with you guys?” and, “If you marry our dad, will you co-sign a car loan for me?” Heidi, Karla, Joe, and Chris pretty much reveal their own agenda.
In an interview with NBC.com posted on the show’s website, Don Mueller admits that his children sought to “come up with a ‘Stepford Wife,’ or whatever.” Don’s own preferences remain to be seen. But the “happily ever after” that’s dangled like a carrot for all those reality marriage show contestants—The Bachelor, Joe Millionaire, For Love or Money, The Bachelorette, the upcoming Race to the Altar—doesn’t seem a likely outcome here.