Excitable clock-wearing Public Enemy hype man Flavor Flav may have been the marquee name on VH1’s hugely popular “Celebreality” series Flavor of Love. But it’s doubtful the bonkers Bachelor parody of a reality show would have taken off without the diverse assortment of batshit-crazy women, going by such nicknames as Nibblz, Toasteee, Bootz, and Deelishis, who vied for the rapper’s affections each week. As a parting gift to readers disappointed that the 2006–08 ratings juggernaut got knocked out of the Reality Rumble bracket in the first round, Vulture spoke with Flavor of Love co-creator Mark Cronin and casting associate Douglas Howington to get behind-the-scenes intel on how the show’s many memorable and memorably named cast members found their way into our living rooms.
When you were casting for the first season, and there was no show on the air yet, how did you pitch the show to potential contestants?
Mark Cronin (co-creator and executive producer): We had a lot of fan contact from when he was on The Surreal Life and Strange Love, and we used anybody who had directly contacted us or even posted about him.
Douglas Howington (casting associate): We also did nightclub casting. There are cities most reality shows go to that tend to have more extroverted personalities, more loud people, more people hungry for an opportunity. New York. Sometimes Vegas. I know we went to Miami and Chicago. I believe we went to Dallas. Those cities tend to have eccentric people who are animated and it’s going to create awesome television.
Cronin: The angle we had [during the search] was that this guy was a hip-hop legend. We were looking for women who either knew who he was or were interested in getting involved with someone like him, whether it was because he was an artist, a legend, a millionaire — whichever it was.
Howington: It was great to see people come in and know Public Enemy, but also know the essence of Flav and what Flav does. He’s one of the most dynamic hype men of all time. So we were trying to find people who knew Flavor Flav and also wanted to be with Flav in a relationship.
Was that part hard? Finding girls who genuinely wanted to be with Flav?
Cronin: One of the biggest questions you always get is, “Well, come on. Could they really be into Flavor Flav?” Always, the answer to the question, “Were they really that into him?” is yes. When you take a group of people, take them away from their homes, take away their cell phones and television, and their phone calls are bugged — and there’s this one guy who shows up and decides whether you’ll get to eat a nice dinner tonight or whether you’re going to be in a limo with him — it’s like Stockholm Syndrome and they become very quickly caught up in it. You’ll actually even see that when somebody gets eliminated from one of these shows, they kind of snap out of it very quickly. Like they suddenly realize, What was I thinking?
Were there types of women you absolutely would not consider?
Cronin: The great thing about Flavor Flav was that he was completely open-minded about what kind of woman he would date. He’d been in love with a six-foot-two Danish woman; clearly he had a very open mind about race, shapes, sizes, attitudes, walks of life. So we could cast almost anybody.
How much say did he have in casting? Did Flavor Flav get to put his “Yeahhhh, boy-y-y-y” stamp of approval on the women?
Cronin: I’ll tell you a funny story. When we first went to Flav and said, “Flav, we’re gonna put in you in a house and there’s gonna be 20 women,” he said, “Aw, Mark, you know they’re never gonna pick me.” And I said, “Flavor, you don’t understand. You will be picking them.” But he did not review the casting tapes, no. We selected the girls, although I think when we were down to our finalists we had a meeting with Flav and we showed him tapes. He got very excited. We had found a big group of girls that could have a legitimate chance of making some connection with him. I swear to God, he was that open about this show. He was so in that place in his life.
Was anyone too crazy to be on Flavor of Love?
Howington: I really don’t think it was possible to be too crazy to be on Flavor of Love. We weren’t looking for people to come in with a clown costume and a big red nose and red shoes. Unless that’s what you do all the time. Unless you’re not just in the clown suit at three o’clock for this interview. If that’s you, that’s all good. If we just found a dope person who walks around in a clown suit all the time who wants to make love to Flavor Flav, that’s awesome.
Cronin: You want the person to be super outgoing and super off-the-cuff and super unfiltered. Those traits can often be associated with lots of problems and disorders and all kinds of things. It’s a very tricky thing. They always went through some kind of psychological screening. The biggest fear in those days was, in a competition elimination show, are the cast members stable enough to not be a harm to themselves if they lose, or a harm to others? Are they secure enough or stable enough in their own skin that if they get rejected that it’s not going to be a major life issue for them? That was really what the criteria was in those days. These days it’s even more stringent. They try to really predict behavior, which is pretty difficult.
After the show became a hit in its first season, was casting the second and third seasons easier or harder?
Howington: For the second season, it was women lined up around the corner for casting calls. In that way, it was not challenging at all. But it takes more time in the process to really weed out why this person is there. Because you can only fake the funk for so long. You can only act like you’re interested in Flavor Flav for so long. Eventually it’s going to come out that you’re just there for ulterior motives.
Cronin: In the second season, and the second season of all shows like this, you wonder why they want to get on the show. We try to do our shows with a high degree of honesty. If you put a bunch of people in who are just going through the motions, then you don’t see the real stakes, the real emotional involvement and investment from the cast. Which, of course, is not fun to watch.
You may have scored one of the greatest reality-show casting coups of all time when you found Tiffany Pollard, a.k.a. New York. How did you find her?
Howington: I didn’t find Tiffany. I would love to know who did. This is actually something two of my casting friends and I have talked about through the years: Who found Tiffany Pollard? I thought she was a great marketer of her talent — of her quote-unquote talent. Whatever it is, she was it. She was just a walking time bomb of awesomeness for reality TV.
Cronin: She was a reality-television genius. You could see why Flavor would really fall for her. And then with other women who were her competition, she was absolutely vicious.
Which contestants were your personal favorites?
Cronin: There’s some that still just make me shake my head, that I really just can’t figure out to this day. In the first season, we had this girl, Hottie. She was actually a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, which was where I went to college, and I just couldn’t believe it. Like, I was embarrassed for my school a little bit. She was such a piece of work. She really wanted to marry him and move into that mansion. She was not kidding. She was just real but real … crazy. One of my favorites.
How do you know for sure when you’ve found a candidate for the show? Was there a moment with each prospective contestant that made you think, We have to have this person?
Howington: I won’t say who it was, but one woman, I asked her, “What was the freakiest thing you’ve ever done?” She says, “A six-way.” I’m like, “I don’t think anyone has enough holes for that to happen.” I asked her to elaborate what a six-way was. She said hands are involved, and a mouth, and I was like, “Wow.” Because she wasn’t just talking like that trying to be on a TV show. It just made me feel, my God, if you answer these follow-up questions on your level of freakosity, you should be on a TV show. Because people are going to want to hear what is going to come out of your mouth.