PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Average Joe: The Joes Strike Back

Elaine Hanson Cardenas

The final competition involved words and sentiment, shifting the advantage to Nathan, despite a tropical location that favored Rocky's fit physique.

Average Joe

Airtime: Tuesdays, 8pm ET
Subtitle: The Joes Strike Back
Network: NBC

On the finale of this summer's Average Joe, Nathan, a Joe who had undergone a makeover, won, reversing a two-year losing streak for the Joes. In the last scene, when Anna extolled Nathan's virtues, it was easy to forget that she had sent him packing in an earlier episode, pre-makeover. Maybe it was the teeth -- he got veneers.

On the most superficial level, we can infer from this fairytale that nice guys can occasionally win, that it's important to keep striving for our goals, even if they seem unattainable, that sometimes a second chance is all anyone needs, even that good can triumph over evil. I prefer an alternative reading, one that places Average Joe in skewed and provocative relation to other reality dating shows.

Average Joe differs from other entries in the genre not only because the contestants are ordinary, but because they are pitted against a team of hunks. It has the usual small talk and eliminations, but the story really depends on a competition between two teams, rather than individuals. Its elevation of the simple contest becomes comic, given the prosaic subject -- dating.

From the beginning of the six-episode series of The Joes Strike Back, the contest between the Joes and hunks was presented as a bizarre sort of epic battle. On the evening the hunks arrived, the Joes were gathered together, enjoying fireworks. The hunks came into view on jet-skis, dressed in tuxedoes. It was like watching the Saxons land in Britain. The hunks were big, confident and good-looking, dominating the landscape and the smaller Joes. Later, at the Average Joe mansion, the hunks rummaged through the rooms and threw the Joes' belongings out in the garden, taking over like an invading army.

From this point on, tests were set up to measure their manly worths, almost all requiring brute strength: a game of dodge ball, wrestling, and roller derby. Not surprisingly, the hunks won all of the physical challenges. The cameras shot from low angles, exaggerating their height, whereas the Joes were frequently shown prone on the floor after assaults by the hunks, moaning and rubbing their bruised shins. Chris Carson, a male model and body builder, bullied and threatened the Joes, jeering at them. The Joes only won when the hunks ceded an eating contest. While the hunks stood around them, the poor Joes sat slumped at the table, stains on their shirts, pizza sauce on their mouths.

Continuing the battle metaphor, the producers introduced a "secret weapon." Some of the rejected Joes got makeovers and second chances with Anna. Of the original 18 Joes, four were made over: Nathan, shy and overweight, with occluded teeth; Joshua, who looked like Jesus and jumped around antically; Nick, who performed magic tricks, to everyone's annoyance; and Dante, a heavy, hirsute waiter who challenged Carson to a fight. The makeovers were minimal -- counseling on clothing and hair styles, depilation, dental work, and a little guidance on behavior. The magician was told, for example, to stop doing magic, that it was "weird."

Altogether, the makeovers accounted for no more than 25 minutes of screen time over six weeks (eight hours), even though promotional spots focused on them as the key feature of the series. Still, they dramatized the series' promise of the Joes' "rebirth" and bad reading on Anna's part: when the made-over Joes reappeared before her, they had to sprint through a water sprinkler to stand before her. And she received them with appropriate surprise.

While the Joes were getting physical makeovers, the hunks -- at least as represented by Carson -- were undergoing emotional transformations. Originally, Carson cynically claimed that Anna was doing the show to launch her career, not "for the right reasons." But on their date to the vineyards, he became, by his own words, "a believer... a changed man." This transformation carried through to his final scene. Just before he boarded the bus, Carson pledged his support, like a liege warrior, to Arthur, his former nemesis and leader of the Joes.

The final competition between Rocky and Nathan involved words and sentiment, shifting the advantage to Nathan, despite a tropical location that favored Rocky's fit physique. Why Anna ultimately selected Nathan is a mystery. Perhaps she grew weary of Rocky's narcissism or wary of his history of infidelities, despite her obvious physical attraction to him. It seemed an unlikely ending, given her obvious preference for the hunks throughout the weeks. Rocky's wracking sobs in the back of the jeep as Anna and Nathan boarded the boat to sail into the sunset only added to the sense that the hunk -- smug, hard, presumptuous -- had met his just end.

On the surface, The Joes Strike Back was just another dating show. But a closer look beneath the surface reveals something more complex. The garbled metaphors, which mixed combat imagery, fairytales, and spiritual transformation, suggest a more intriguing perspective on dating and the mystery of finding "the one." Moreoever, Anna's decision raises some provocative questions about reality and reality television. We know that nearly everything in "real" life is actually a social construction. And, we understand that "reality" television is scripted. But, how much free choice does a contestant on a reality dating show have? Perhaps, like such contestants, when we think we are exercising free will, we are just living out scripts.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.


15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.


'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.