KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A neon “APPLAUSE” sign flashes, and the studio audience obliges. Peyton Manning steps onto the stage. The cheering grows louder. He acknowledges his adoring fans, taps lightly on his microphone and turns to face the camera.
MANNING: Hello and welcome to a special 1-on-1 edition of … The Dating Game!
MANNING: Tonight’s show is brought to you by the fine folks at Nationwide. For those times when you must decide between an inflated auto insurance payment and your destitute grandmother’s quality of life: Nationwide!
*Applause reaches a fever pitch.*
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Sing the song!
*Manning grins and shakes his head.*
*Audience: “Sing! Sing! Sing! Sing!”*
*Manning rolls his eyes and agrees.*
*The audience grows quiet with anticipation.*
MANNING (singing): E-li’s ass is ON the BENCH …
*The crowd roars.*
*Camera zooms in on Manning’s face.*
MANNING: Alright, alright. It’s time to meet our bachelorette. She comes from old money, but not enough of it to cancel out the horrifying life decisions she’s been making for the better part of two decades. Long in the tooth and always short on third down, it’s … Tennessee Football!
*The audience offers polite applause.*
MANNING: Tell us, why are you here tonight?
TENNESSEE: Well, I just got out of a five-year relationship …
TENNESSEE: … And I’m looking for love again.
MANNING: Well, you’ve come to the right place! We’ve heard from several men who want to give love another chance, and we brought them here tonight!
MANNING: Our first bachelor is a man with a Super Bowl ring, a full head of hair and a soft spot for Rocky Top. He has his own film projector and enjoys “taking the top off the defense, man.” Here’s Jon!
*Tennessee giggles and appears utterly smitten.*
*Audience: “Gruden! Gruden! Gruden! Gruden! …”*
*Manning holds his hand to his earpiece and looks disappointed.*
MANNING: Wait! Hold on!
*He listens intently to his earpiece.*
MANNING: It turns out Jon couldn’t make it tonight. He has a multi-million dollar TV job, a family of five and really no reason to be here!
*Audience goes silent.*
*Tennessee is shocked.*
TENNESSEE: So … what now?
MANNING: I’m glad you asked!
TENNESSEE: Is Chip here?
TENNESSEE: What about Dan?
MANNING: Nooooo, no, no.
TENNESSEE: Well … OK …
MANNING: Ladies and gentlemen, our next bachelor is a bit of a fixer-upper. He left his college sweetheart in New Jersey for a new flame in Florida, and it blew up in his face. He’s been “working on himself” for a little while now and thinks it’s time to spin the wheel of love once more! Meet … Greg!
MANNING: Do you have anything to ask him?
TENNESSEE: You have a car, right? And an apartment?
GREG: Yeah. And kinda. Yeah.
TENNESSEE: Well … what the hell, you wanna do this?
*Audience boos lustily.*
MANNING: Whoa, whoa, people, it seems like our bachelorette has found love! What’s the de—
*Tennessee looks around, confused.*
MANNING: What are you trying to tell her?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Penn State!
*Audience: “Penn State! Penn State! Penn State! Penn State! …”*
*Tennessee can barely speak over the noise.*
TENNESSEE: Peyton, is it OK if I change my mind?
MANNING: That depends. Did your father sign the memorandum of understanding?
TENNESSEE: Oh, crap, yeah.
TENNESSEE: Wait, no, he didn’t.
*Security takes Greg away.*
MANNING: We’re running out of time here, folks! Let’s see who we have next. Ahh, yes. He’s a mullet-havin’, sunglasses-wearin’ picture of masculinity who keeps threatening to leave his wife of 12 years. And don’t forget: He’s 40! Please welcome … Mike!
MANNING: He’s a looker, isn’t he?
TENNESSEE: He’s hot.
MIKE: Can you do $8 million?
*Mike calls his wife.*
MIKE: Hey, they’re saying $8 million. Where’s my Lexus?
*Mike hangs up.*
MIKE: Next time, guys.
*Mike licks his pointer finger and thumb, then slicks back his mullet. He winks at the audience and pretends his pointer finger and thumb are a pistol. Then he pretends to fire the finger-and-thumb pistol at the audience. The audience laughs. Mike walks offstage.*
*Tennessee’s lower lip trembles.*
MANNING: Aww, don’t go cryin’ now! There’s still a man here for you!
TENNESSEE: There is?
MANNING: Sure! He’s a nice boy all the way from West Lafayette, Indiana. He heard you were still looking for love and he decided to stop by. Everybody: Let’s hear it for … Jeff!
TENNESSEE: This will make everyone happy, right?
TENNESSEE: Alright. Jeff, would you accept my offer of a steak dinner at the Lonesome Dove?
JEFF: That sounds great!
TENNESSEE: OK, just let me check in with my dad.
*Tennessee calls her father.*
*They have a quick, hushed conversation and then Tennessee hangs up.*
TENNESSEE: Hey, Jeff? My dad actually thinks we should go to Arby’s. Is that cool?
JEFF: Hell no. You said steak!
*Tennessee laughs nervously.*
TENNESSEE: Yeah, but I fig—
JEFF: You know what … I thought it might be worth it to give you a chance. But you act like you’re not a complete dumpster fire right now.
TENNESSEE: What are y—
JEFF: Don’t you get that? Everyone is laughing at you. Everyone! I’m sorry, but this is ridiculous. I never should have come here.
*The bachelorette breaks into loud, ugly sobs.*
*The audience remains silent, but is clearly entertained.*
MANNING: Welllllllll that didn’t go well!
*Funny sound effect.*
TENNESSEE: Do I … do I need to continue?
MANNING: Yes, you do. You have one very simple job, and that is to come to terms with a bachelor tonight.
TENNESSEE: Why is this so hard?
MANNING: I was going to ask you the same thing. Did you see how fast your sisters landed new men? Mississippi State needed, like, 5 minutes to get it done.
TENNESSEE: I’m special.
MANNING: Yes, you are.
*Crew member holds up cue card: “WRAP IT UP.”*
MANNING: Alright, Tennessee. We’ve got one last man in the building. You two actually have a history together.
*Tennessee looks around, confused.*
MANNING: That’s right. Your ex-husband. He promised you “forever” and then ditched you for his dream girl out West. It’s been a long road to humility, but he says he’s ready to face you again, so long as you call him “Mr. Freshwater.” He’s developed a shade of crimson from all the red flags surrounding him. Are you ready to say yes to destiny?
*The bachelor walks onstage and slides his sunglasses down his nose.*
*The audience goes wild.*
LANE: Hey, baby.
TENNESSEE: Thank God.
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