Playing it Straight -- Fox's new reality series set on a dude ranch in Elko, Nevada -- premiered two weeks ago and asked the question: can a single cowgirl tell the difference between gay and straight cowboys? A college student from Appleton, Wisconsin, Jackie was up to the challenge, but after three "straight" eliminations, perhaps she roped herself a steer bigger than she can handle. "I don't think I have a good gaydar, because I'm not really one to judge others," she says. "From being in the student life and diversity and groups, you just learn everyone is the same."
Despite taking on a role where men intentionally deceive and objectify her, Jackie's campus activities are surprisingly feminist. She is the chairperson for women's issues in her school's student senate; she actively participates in groups like P.A.V.E. (Promote Awareness Victim Empowerment) and College Feminists and she belongs to an inter-varsity Christian Organization. "[The show] speaks volumes for women," Jackie explains. "We're sort of sometimes being looked at stereotypically as the small woman, staying at home, not working. We're trying to change that and also the stereotypes of gay men and straight men."
Her job for now, however, is to find the very same stereotypes she spends her life outside the classroom trying to debunk. Each of the events in the show is designed to expose the more effeminate characteristics of the bachelors. From "Dude Roping" -- where the men themselves become the cattle -- to breakfasts in bed, all 14 men are trying to woo Jackie's heart and prove their heterosexuality. "I really don't think that they were trying to deceive me, because I think their personalities really came out in the show," Jackie asserts. "But as far as keeping their sexual preference hidden, it was a little frustrating." But with the current onslaught of reality television ranging from The Apprentice to Joe Millionaire, one cannot help but wonder if even the straight men had Jackie or the million-dollar prize in mind.
Her time at the Sizzling Saddles Ranch was spent surrounded by two things: cameras and lies. The gay guys weren't the only ones trying to pull the wool over Jackie's eyes throughout the course of the show. She found that when she asked the men who they thought were gay and who they thought were straight, she would get conflicting accounts. "Some would lead me to believe that someone was gay," Jackie explains. "And another person would lead me to believe that the same person was straight. It was really confusing."
Jackie doesn't doubt the sincerity of reality television. "I think it's a serious part of our history," she says. "A lot of people are drawn to the true characters coming out in TV, and it's incredible how so many people can be in touch with everything that's going on."
While she is unwilling to share some of her political views, she does believe that shows like Playing it Straight will have an impact on the nation's views of homosexuality.
Whether the show will impact our nation's views on homosexuality, whether it will break down women or gay stereotypes, or even whether a gay man will end up stealing Jackie's heart -- and a million dollars -- is all still up for grabs. As for Jackie, she's headed back to school in Wisconsin, and maybe off to the next round of auditions for American Idol.