NBC Asks Couples to 'Race to the Altar'
By Kate O'Hare
LOS ANGELES (Zap2it.com) - Despite high divorce rates, romance rules on television.
Reality game shows tell stories of bachelors seeking true love, bachelorettes seeking true love, people saying they're seeking true love (when they may just be in it for fame or money) and people just plain looking to hook up.
The endless dance of dating and mating among the uncommonly pretty is undoubtedly financing the dreams of both network programmers and reality-show producers. But what about the participants' dreams?
That's the question behind the genre's most recent entry, NBC's "Race to the Altar," which premieres Wednesday, July 30.
Skipping the whole getting-to-know-you and love-me-love-me-not phases, "Race to the Altar" takes eight already engaged couples and puts them through a series of physical and non-physical competitions aimed at testing their relationship and ability to work with a team. One couple is eliminated each week, with the last couple standing receiving a glamorous dream wedding in the finale.
The host is Lisa Dergan, a model, golfer and sports broadcaster. The nuptials and all the steps leading up to them are in the hands of event planner and wedding expert Colin Cowie.
Born in Zambia and educated in South Africa, Cowie has lived in the U.S. since 1985. Cowie is the author of five books on style and entertaining, a contributing editor to InStyle magazine and the host of WE-Women's Entertainment's "Everyday Elegance With Colin Cowie."
"Let's put it this way," he says, "since I only do four weddings a year, somebody's going to get very lucky. In a lot of the reality shows, people are embarrassed or completely humiliated, but I think this is a reality show with a sense of style.
"Weddings today have become a great way for young couples to make a statement and say who they are and what they're about."
Along the way, couples compete for elements of the wedding, from rings and gowns to cakes and catering. Among the experts Cowie has assembled are wedding-gown designer Reem Acra, cake maker Polly Schoonmaker and chef Jeffrey Zakarian.
At press time, the competition had been completed, but the finale still lay ahead.
"Now we've done the race," Cowie says, "and I've got the altar ahead of me."
Getting to that altar won't be cheap. "The average wedding today in the United States is something between $18,000 and $20,000, depending where you're located," Cowie says. "The wedding today has become a very specialized arena. The bride is a marketer's target. She's a great consumer, and it's a very overcrowded market out there."
If the average wedding is pricey, Cowie's are over the top.
"Let's be honest," he says, "I really do four weddings a year. The average wedding I do is in excess of $1.5 million. [This wedding] is really the complete couture approach to designing a wedding. Everything is made to order, done specifically for these people.
"The winning couple gets me, my design experience and also has a host of the best vendors in the country available to work on their wedding. They will get the most gorgeous flowers, the finest silks and linens for their tables, the most beautiful silver, crystal, china and accoutrements.
"We'll get world-class entertainment for them. Veuve Clicquot is going to give us the biggest magnum of champagne they've made this century. They'll get the most incredible diamond rings, for both the bride and the groom.
"The gowns we had them select from range from $2,500 to $12,500. In addition to that, there's a really exotic, extraordinary honeymoon. This is a once-in-a-lifetime wedding for somebody."
Even if you're not one of the eight couples, Cowie says, there are still lessons to be learned.
"We're showing you how to keep your wedding young, how to keep it sexy. This is going to be a fun, groovy wedding with great entertainment. People will learn the most important thing I tell anyone: create the big picture.
"Once you can dream, you have a framework. Once you have a framework, it affects how you design. Then every creative decision, including how much money you're spending, will help you get somewhere.
"We show these things at many different price points. The best way to learn is to watch."
Also, says Cowie, you may actually be able to find the bride under the dress.
"In the past, the dress wore the bride. Now what's changed is the bride wears the dress. Because of the new trends and ideas, particularly for the wedding for 'Race to the Altar,' we don't have a bride that's completely overproduced. She doesn't have a veil and a tiara and everything. This is a modern approach.
"They used to look like desserts. If Diana didn't look good with puffy sleeves, I assure you, you're not going to look good with puffy sleeves."
Any couple that survives the rigors of "Race to the Altar" and is still on speaking terms, let alone ready to tie the knot, probably has a better-than-even chance of defying the odds against matrimonial bliss and longevity.
Be that as it may, once the happy newlyweds jet off for their honeymoon, it's not Cowie's problem anymore.
"I just get them down the aisle," he says. "They're on their own thereafter."