• Tahlia and Nathan - Undressed (SBS)Source: SBS
Culture writer Ben Pobjie is a modern gentleman who tries to keep an appropriate gaze. But even he's not entirely sure how he'd handle the confronting nature of Undressed.
Ben Pobjie

11 Jan 2017 - 4:32 PM  UPDATED 20 Jan 2017 - 5:02 PM

It’s amazing how hilarious everything seems when you’re meeting a potential romantic partner for the first time. Or, put another way, it’s amazing how utterly non-hilarious everything seems, yet somehow you get overwhelmed with the irresistible urge to laugh at everything. The first episode of Undressed was such a powerful reminder of how much of our lives are spent in awkward laughter. If you added all the awkward giggles and guffaws of a lifespan up, you’d probably have a really interesting trivia fact, like the ones about how much of your life is spent sleeping or brushing your hair, or how many spiders we’ve all eaten without knowing it.

 I’ve always been acutely conscious of averting my gaze from any part of a woman that she might possibly not want any gaze to alight on

Meeting someone new is a lot like eating a spider: you find it hard to talk, your stomach heaves, and you’re not sure whether to vomit or pass out. Undressed couples, of course, are in a slightly unique situation: meeting a stranger in front of a TV audience wearing only your underwear could be said to be a high-pressure scenario – I’ve always been acutely conscious of averting my gaze from any part of a woman that she might possibly not want any gaze to alight on, and I imagine that challenge would only increase in difficulty when she’s stripped down to a bra and pants. But I reckon there’d be advantages to this sort of meeting: at least the mutual desire of both parties for a romantic connection is clearly understood; the complex conversational tap dance of trying to begin a relationship while never explicitly letting on that you want to begin a relationship need not be conducted. And these couples – the poetically-paired Cam and Pam, and the drop-dead gorgeous Nathan and Tahlia – show that in a way, the problem of gaze-averting might even be reduced on such an occasion. I guess when you’ve signed up for the underwear-only blind date, it’s kind of taken as read that you’ll be checking each other out.

Or maybe I’m wrong – I have a history of being wrong when it comes to knowing how to conduct male-female interactions. I don’t know whether it’s a chronic problem among the general male population, but even when my days of trying to woo women came to an end, I found myself intensely conscious, when meeting any woman, of the need to avoid even the slightest hint that I might be trying to woo her. Which to be fair is kind of what I would do even when I was trying to woo her. God relationships are complicated. Talking to someone in your underpants for half an hour and then tapping a button on an iPad seems like a pretty efficient way of simplifying the whole process really.

But when you watch people going through that process – far braver people, I fear, than I could ever be – it’s incredible how familiar this totally alien circumstance looks. It all comes down to that laughter: that nervous, terrified, achingly human laughter. Something in your brain tells you this is too tense, and something else in your brain says laughter is good for easing tension. And so you laugh. You laugh at seeing the other person from across the room. You laugh when they tell you their name. You laugh when you tell them what you do for a living. You laugh when you tell each other how weird it all seems. And you laugh, obviously, when you’re undressing each other, because what else are you going to do? Hum a jolly tune? Heavy breathing? Nothing you’re laughing at is funny, but there are a million noises a human being can make, and most of them are extremely high-risk when you’re on a date – even a TV one – so laughter is the safest option. You just have to hope they’re laughing for the same reason as you, and that sometime in the not-too-distant future, you’ll be laughing for real together, at something that’s actually funny. Most of all you’ll hope to be able to make them laugh – and not just at what you look like with your clothes off. In Undressed chapter one, one couple clearly reaches that point, the other couple maybe less so – but hopefully, however it ends up for them, they’ll all be able to laugh about it one day. I know that after all my romantic failures of youth, I’m probably no more than four or five decades away from finding it all amusing. There’ll be a lot of spiders passing the tonsils between now and then.

Undressed airs Monday 16 January at 9.30pm on SBS. Watch the first episode, featuring Pam & Cam, and Nathan & Tahlia streaming on SBS On Demand:

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