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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Lee

Reality Star for a Day!

Updated: Aug 22, 2023

Ahh! I’ve been forced to remain silent about this for so long but now I can finally share the big news: I’m a Reality TV Star!

Well, okay not really. I was selected as a cast member of the latest season of Virtually Dating, which is a Facebook web series. That’s right, I was about to go on a blind date set in virtual reality. I was in the studio with my date, he was right there next to me… but we couldn’t see each other… only our avatars in a virtual reality world!

It was a really crazy experience! Shooting began back in March, when I came in to do ‘pre-date interviews’ which was just me talking in front of the camera about my single life and struggles with dating. The production crew was really excited that I’m a gamer, and kept telling me that they had a really special and unique date planned for me!

I didn’t know what that meant, really. All I knew about the show was the episodes from over a year ago that they had up on their Facebook page, with people virtually dancing at a bar and then getting turned into a penguin or something.

Several weeks later, I get an email asking which avatar I wanted to be. My virtual date was not going to be at a bar at all. Instead of scanning my body and turning the real me into a virtual avatar, I was going to be a character. This is when I was starting to realize that they were building a custom scenario for my date. The production crew sent me several images of pre-made avatars. I went with “The Countess” because I thought she looked cool and witchy, like Bayonetta.

Fast forward to May, I was finally scheduled to go on the virtual reality date! The call time was for 7AM! Who can be charming and attractive and camera ready at that time of day? My anxiety was through the roof! But I got my Uber nice and early and made it to the studio in Brooklyn on time.

The size of the studio and the number of crew members on set had quadrupled for the shoot! I was taken to a green room area, which also had a camera set up in it for more ‘interviews,’ where I would get my makeup touched up and put on my MOTION CAPTURE SUIT!!

The motion capture suit is as awkward and horrifying as it sounds. They gave me a smaller size than I expected, to which I protested! They insisted that the suit had to be skin-tight. Having flashbacks to my experience as a cosplayer, I decided to just go with it and try to have fun, even if I wasn’t so sure about how I looked lol!

I tried to think about how lots of famous actors had to wear motion capture suits in order to portray some of my favorite geeky characters in movies and TV shows. Benedict Cumberbatch as Smeagol comes to mind… Now I get to try it out for myself!

The motion capture suit is very tight and covered in a velcro-friendly material. The suit is actually a top and pants, which made it slightly more comfortable than the bodysuits I’ve worn for cosplay purposes! The little X’s with white dots on them are stuck on at various joints and body parts. Between the motion capture suit and the wireless microphones, you kind of have to lose your inhibition and stop caring that random people are sticking things to you throughout the day lol!

I realized that wearing the motion capture suit meant that this virtual date was going to be using better technology than the VR that was happening in Season 1 of Virtually Dating. I was going to have a real legit virtual reality experience! I was starting to wake up get excited about my date!

The crew escorted me to the main studio where the date would be taking place. It was a huge space! There was a wall set up so that I wouldn’t accidentally see my date in real life before the ‘big reveal’ moment which was planned for the end of the shoot. The director had me do some motion capture configuration poses to calibrate their systems, and then they stuck me in another side room to wait until it was finally time for the date.

The crew put me in a small room just outside the main studio, in a sort of backstage supply closet. There were drawers filled with the little X’s with dots on them. Motion capture suits of all sizes were hanging in a makeshift closet. There were assorted props around the room as well, and I spied a stash of ‘weapons’ too.

Not gonna lie, I totally picked up that mallet and swung it around a bit while I was waiting. I thought, “How cool! I want a weapon! That would be so fun! I wonder what other kinds of VR activities they do at this studio…”

I was waiting in there for a while. It was pretty nerve-wracking. Lots of time to sit and wonder what the hell I was doing with my life, and how crazy was I for agreeing to do this in the first place…??

After about a half hour of waiting, it was finally time. I had to cover my eyes as I walked through the studio – they really didn’t want me to see the guy from my date before the right moment! I got to my mark on the stage and they put the bulky VR helmet on me. It was huge and heavy. There was a little earpiece they had us wear that was connected to the director, so he could talk us through any confusion during the experience. Then finally, the screen turned on in the headset and the date was STARTING!

We began in a white room. My date, named Matt, appeared as this tall, brawny soldier looking guy with some kind of panther head helmet. I thought he looked like something from Monster Hunter. It was really cool! There was a mirror in the white room, where I could see that I was in fact the Countess, a petite skinny red-headed witch lady. We had some small talk, and Matt was really friendly and easy to chat with, which made the experience a lot more fun.

The directors guided us to walk through the frame and enter the REAL environment for our date. We stepped into an environment that looked like it was straight out of Mordor from Lord of the Rings! The animation was really nicely done. We were on what felt like the top of a stone castle, next to a volcano. It was clear that this was going to be no ordinary date!

After we got acclimated to our new surroundings, a wizard appeared and had us answer a riddle. We were terrible. We had to try multiple times. They asked us THREE riddles and we couldn’t figure them out. I’m sure my friends would be very ashamed of me lol! But eventually Matt figured one out and we were given a reward – SWORDS!!

I was so excited! Having seen the weapons in the storage room, I was pumped to be able to play with one. It was a little hazardous, since we started swinging the swords around and neither of us could actually see what we were doing… but it was so much fun to play with the VR sword! Personally, I would have preferred the mallet but it’s okay. This VR date was going to be like a video game and I was in my happy place!

Next, we turned around to move forward through the castle and we were met with a puzzle. Finally, something that I was good at! A tiled floor in front of us gave way to hot lava beneath… but certain tiles were safe. I pointed out the pattern posted on the stone wall to guide us to the right squares. Walking around with accuracy in VR is a little difficult, I have to admit! Even knowing that I couldn’t REALLY fall through anything and touch hot lava, I was scared to misstep! VR is crazy like that. You know the environment is fake, but the adrenaline sure feels real!

Once we made it through the lava tile puzzle, we were confronted with our next challenge: AN OGRE ATTACK! We wielded our swords and began to stab at our virtual foe, but I did kind of hold back because I felt bad for the actor on the receiving end! I didn’t know if they had any padding or armor on to protect themselves so I was trying to be a little careful. Since I was being timid, Matt took it upon himself to do the dramatic final blow to defeat the ogre at the end.

Fighting an ogre gets your blood pumping, for sure. We had made it to the other side of the castle rooftop, overlooking the vast volcano landscape. It was almost romantic, if you’re into nerdy stuff like I am! We took a moment to enjoy the view before noticing that there was a small stone bridge to cross to reach a new part of the castle. Another nerve-wracking VR moment, where I honestly got a little dizzy when I looked down. But I made it across!

In the final chamber, we were met with the wizard once again. We had to choose a treasure chest to finish our quest. One of the chests came to life to attack us (quite similar to Kid Icarus, in my opinion!) but we got our fake gold in the end!

It was a really fun date. I wish I could go on more dates in VR like that! It should totally be ‘a thing.’ After the quest was complete, we stood behind the wall and waited for the big reveal! When I saw Matt in real life, he looked nothing like I had expected. He probably thought the same about me! But we definitely had clicked during the date so we decided to get a little snack together afterward and let the camera crews follow us. It was a little silly, because the part of Brooklyn that we were in was not exactly a scenic neighborhood you want to stroll around in… but we made it work.

Afterwards we took the subway back to Penn Station together. He was going out of town and I had to head back home, so we said our goodbyes and that was that! I’ve seen him a few more times since, but I think we are better as friends.

My single life continues on!

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