Talent, top singles competitors, and hired help mingle onstage at the Lavalife Summer Lovin’ Festival.
Several months ago, the online dating site Lavalife announced a competition to crown one of its members “Canada’s Top Single.” From the Lavalife profiles that heeded the call to compete, a squad of celebrity judges chose fifteen men and fifteen women looking for love. Online votes whittled these down to a roster of ten—dubbed for the weekend as “the singles”—to be flown to Toronto for what Lavalife is calling its first annual “Summer Lovin’ Festival.” This three-day-long extravaganza of partying and product placement felt more or less like reality TV minus the TV. For better or for worse, Torontoist was there.
We might as well get it out of the way and say that, as one would expect, Summer Lovin’ was not big on subtlety. The corporate sponsorship presence was aggressive, ranging from swag bags filled with toothpaste and deodorant (get hygienic to get laid), to armies of attractive women pushing energy drinks and sickly sweet booze, to, at its most extreme, dancing, topless women body-painted with corporate logos and colourful swirls. What passed for entertainment included the likes of Canada’s self-described “sexiest comedian” (another way of putting this might be comedian with the most noticeable plastic surgery) Nicole Arbour abusing the crowd with non-sequiturs about sluts and penis size before contorting her way through a painful song and dance number. But these events were packed with people who had paid not-inexpensive ticket prices to be there, and we figured that if we could cut through some the more apparent trappings of the thing, we might uncover something about the culture of single life in Toronto this festival had tapped into.
Kim Hughes, Lavalife’s dating expert (official title) and one of the judges, says that the weekend was “about celebrating single life, whether you are looking to find your soulmate or just a weekend fling.” Here it was, the open secret, the elephant in the room: the thing that everyone at this party had in common was the very thing they were trying to get rid of. According to Lavalife, the single lifestyle is the attempt to not be single anymore; it’s a club where the criteria for membership is a commitment to trying to leave the club, whether for a night or a lifetime. About midway through Thursday’s opening event, the DJ, either in oblivion or in jest, put on “Eleanor Rigby,” and the crowd grew visibly awkward: “All the lonely people / Where do they all belong?”
We caught up with Zack Werner (of former Canadian Idol former fame), one of the judges who had selected the long list of thirty, to see what he thought about the nature of singledom. Werner isn’t the type who you interview—he’s the type who you catch up with. “You’re covering this shit?” he asked. “I hope you’re getting paid.” We asked him how much he was making. “Not enough.” Werner aired a few of his thoughts on dating in the age of the internet. Lavalife is great for his mom, he says, and people who are living their life on the straight and narrow. “Nobody here is looking for the cowboys and weirdos,” he tells us “There are other places on the internet for that.”
Werner repeatedly referred to his “celebrity” as though it were a physical thing rooted to his person. Kind of like a bunion. He seemed to view it as the source of a superpower-like instinct for judging the human character. “I meet a lot of people online because of my celebrity,” he tells us, “and I know when someone’s online persona matches up with who they are in person. In the singles we chose, I was looking for real people with real character. I know when someone is real.”
[ : When it was first published, this article contained information about Zack Werner that Torontoist has been unable to verify. As a result, we've removed one paragraph, which originally appeared here.]
Top singles competitors.
The irony is that in contrast to the pathetic wilt of second-string celebrity and the high gloss of overwrought corporate packaging both on display, the singles shipped into Toronto from across the country were, to use Werner’s vernacular, totally real people. They were mostly affable, and normal, and incredibly Canadian-seeming. They expressed discomfort at the requisite self-promotion and some unease with the corporate presence, but none was too fussed about it, and all were grateful for the good time.
The most real thing about them: all of them wanted the prize money. The truth is that in a competition for a title that has no real criteria or meaning, three days of fun is fine and well, but five thousand bones is better. The competitors almost invariably told us that if they won, they’d put the money towards paying off their student loan. Sure, they’d had a blast, it had happened so fast, but they had normal lives with normal financial burdens waiting for them back at home.
The final contest results came by way of an online vote that had prompted 400,000 visitors to add their say to the tally. But their say in what? If the tacit understanding of Lavalife’s Summer Lovin’ weekend was that the single lifestyle is about unburdening oneself of being single, then the criteria for the top single is essentially that they be the most dateable, the most likely to leave the fold for bigger and better things. Summer Lovin’ was offering high stakes as reward for a popularity contest writ large.
After results were announced, the singles returned to the VIP lounge, visibly deflated, to share rounds of shots from the open bar. “Of course I’m disappointed,” one of them tells us, “tomorrow’s just another Monday. I have to go to work.”
Top (male) single Liam McNamara doesn’t have plans that are so far different. He’s returning to Moncton, New Brunswick (where, by the way, Lavalife goes virtually unused—McNamara joined exclusively for the purposes of entering the competition), ready to knock a chunk off his student debt, but otherwise planning to return to the status quo. “I’m looking forward to going home to my family business and my cat,” he says.
Photos by Sonia Recchia/Pimentel.