While all tuning in were curious to see if he found a successful match, poker players who watched were additionally interested to see how their favorite card game would be characterized.
There have been several instances of professional poker players turning up on non-poker reality television, the most notable being Jean Robert-Bellande’s turn on Survivor: China (in 2007), Annie Duke’s season-long run on Celebrity Apprentice (in 2009), and Tiffany Michelle and Maria Ho competing in The Amazing Race (also in 2009).
On all of those shows, the players found themselves engaged in competitions for which their poker-playing backgrounds were shown to be relevant.
Indeed, in each case the shows presented the players as drawing upon various poker-related skills -- e.g., reading opponents, weighing odds, risk-taking -- when engaged in the show’s particular contest.
The Millionaire Matchmaker is something different, however. Rather than pit contestants against one another, the show focuses on the efforts of a professional matchmaker, Patti Stanger, as she seeks to help her rich clients find romance.
The Millionaire Matchmaker debuted in early 2008 on the Bravo network, home to numerous popular reality TV shows like Project Runway, Top Chef, and The Real Housewives of... series.
The show has proven a hit among Bravo’s target market as well, identified by industry insiders as mostly consisting of 25-54 year olds who are “upscale” and educated, with the typical audience generally consisting of more women than men.
Will Kid Poker Find a Match?
Negreanu’s appearance on the show came in the first episode of Season 6, titled “Wounded Wally and the Mama’s Boy.” Like other episodes, this one featured Stanger trying to find mates for two single wealthy people, with crosscutting back and forth between the two stories happening throughout the hour-long program.
Negreanu was identified early on as the “Wounded Wally” of the title thanks to his introductory story of having had his heart broken before. Meanwhile, the other bachelor, Brian Holloway II, was the yacht-owning “Mama’s Boy” who had inherited his millions.
As it turned out, in this other “match” made by the show’s producers between Negreanu and Holloway, Negreanu came off quite well, with Stanger and her partners finding his personality much more winning than that of Holloway, especially early on. And perhaps as a result, most viewers were likely initially pushed toward liking the poker player more than the “Richie Rich” character.
The show’s format consists of interviews with the millionaire singles, a mixer from which potential dates are chosen, then a first date with the final selection.
Interestingly, there was only occasional reference to Negreanu’s poker playing throughout the show, and none of the usual judgments about the dangers of gambling one tends to encounter whenever poker pops up in mainstream contexts.
We see Negreanu playing a home game early on, part of a montage that includes him playing video games and his golf simulator, all of which might reinforce ideas of macho-like bachelorhood.
Meanwhile we hear Negreanu describing himself both as a vegan and as somewhat vulnerable when it comes to relationships, making him appear more complicated -- and perhaps more amiable -- to viewers previously unfamiliar with him.
As part of that opening introductory segment, the matchmaker arranges a meeting between Negreanu and an astrologer. Serious poker players who know Negreanu -- and who tend to trust mathematical certainties over other, less than concrete “systems” -- were probably unsurprised to hear his “You gotta be kidding me” response to the idea.
That said, the astrologer does seem to offer ideas about relationships that appear useful to Negreanu, and from there he and Holloway attend the mixer to find their potential mates.
Poker and Negreanu Both Come Off Well
We do see Negreanu fielding questions from the women about his profession, e.g., “Do you drink when you play?” But there and in the short meetings Negreanu has with two women afterward, there’s little explicit attention placed on his being a poker player.
Negreanu ultimately selects the charming Lindsay, and the latter part of the show follows them on their date in Las Vegas. I’ll avoid spoilers for those wanting to watch themselves, although I will mention that Negreanu does bring a deck of cards to dinner and some good-natured gambling between the pair ensues.
Poker players who have been watching Negreanu play on television for the last decade are already familiar with his penchant for table talk and the ease with which he engages others while enjoying poker’s social aspect. Those qualities all translated well to his appearance on The Millionaire Matchmaker, and I imagine most viewers -- including non-poker players/fans -- found themselves pulling for the match between Negreanu and Lindsay to succeed.
Those of us familiar with Negreanu also know he’s proven a great ambassador for poker over the years as well. While The Millionaire Matchmaker didn’t really challenge the idea of being a professional poker player with potentially negative judgments, Negreanu nonetheless represented poker pros well once again.
If anything, Negreanu’s success at poker was presented on the show as having been well earned -- the result of genuine work and not a lucky card here and there.
In fact, it appears the message of the show regarding romance is something similar. Luck may play a role in finding someone, but it takes work for a relationship to be successful.