Here it is, folks: the much anticipated return of Mark Norris, the lucky son of a bitch who won the date with Anna Nicole in the Season Two premiere. Inevitably, their love affair goes the way of all matchmaking reality show relationships: right in the toilet. Watching it unravel is far more enjoyable than the live and super-hyped competition was... for the home viewers, that is, and maybe not for our prize winner.
We kick things off nicely with the best cold opening the show has offered in ages, as Anna Nicole and Kimmie enjoy some girl talk and earlobe-licking. In a welcome change of pace, this is the first intro of the season that does not include Anna Nicole saying the F-word. Then there's a quick recap of Anna Nicole choosing Mark in her eligible bachelor competition. In an interview with E! News after the live broadcast, she expressed profound appreciation for the fact that Mark drives trucks, which seemed to be quite the turn-on for her. She also urged him to surprise her: "It's got to be a big, big, big surprise." And surprise her Mark does.
From the way Anna Nicole seemed so lovey-dovey toward Mark at the end of the live show, you'd figure they must have gone on their date right away, or even jumped in the sack that night. But she reveals they didn't go out until a month later, and even says she "almost forgot" about Mark! That's life in the Hollywood fast lane.
Cut to Anna Nicole getting dressed up for the date. Oh my God... she is squeezed into a white evening gown that is simply brain-meltingly gorgeous. The skintight satin fabric hugs the resplendent curves of her torso in all their feminine perfection. Along with the blue dress from Episode 1 and the leopard pants from Episode 9, this is one of the sexiest outfits she has ever worn on the show.
Thus attired, Anna Nicole greets Mark at the door and discovers his big surprise. "He brought an 18-wheeler to take me out on a date," Anna Nicole says in alarm. "An 18-wheeler." And we're not just talking about going downtown for dinner and a movie -- Mark intends to haul her to Laughlin, Nevada, about 280 miles away! Anna Nicole suddenly loses her former enthusiasm for the sexiness of trucks. She goes back inside and changes into a more suitable outfit of jeans and a midriff-baring top, which is nearly as hot as the white dress.
The attraction in Laughlin is a big rodeo that Mark hopes Anna Nicole will enjoy. This makes her first road trip on the show without Howard or Kim. Sugar Pie comes along, though, riding inside her customary travel bag. The long journey in the big rig is fairly miserable, and nowhere near as fun and outrageous as Mark must have figured it would be. Laughlin is a gambling town in the southern tip of Nevada, and the ride from L.A. would be close to five hours. It was already dark when Mark picked Anna Nicole up, so they must have been on the road until after midnight. No wonder she just wants to get some sleep. But the truck is way too bumpy and Mark is way too chatty for Anna Nicole to snooze for long. Several times she nearly dozes off before the rig's rough suspension shakes her wide awake. Mark apologizes for the rocky ride, and she finally asks him what the hell he was thinking when he took her out in such a cantankerous vehicle.
"I just thought it would be cool," he says, rather lamely. "I thought it'd be a good adventure for you. At least you can say you've ridden in one of these trucks."
Long pause. "I suuuure can," Anna Nicole hisses, ready to kick his ass.
Just when it seems the date couldn't get off to a worse start, Mark gets pulled over by the California Highway Patrol, for reasons that are not exactly clear. The trooper says Mark has got him "all confused" about something. When he asks what Mark is hauling, Mark answers, "Just Anna Nicole. Heh, heh."
After sorting out their run-in with the law, the weary truckers roll on into the Harrah's hotel and casino in Laughlin. Anna Nicole's mood lightens dramatically once she's out of the 18-wheeler and her butt can stop hurting. Mark and Anna Nicole check into a suite where they let Sugar Pie out and open a bottle of champagne.
Anna Nicole is enchanted with the romantic setting arranged in the bathroom, with a hot tub and rose petals strewn all around. "Isn't this quaint?" she gushes. What's hilarious is that this probably isn't one of her typical vocabulary blunders -- whereas an ordinary person would find such accommodations swank and luxurious, by her standards they are merely "quaint." She informs Mark that the hot tub may be available to him tomorrow night, if he's lucky: "That's for good boys. That's for very good boys." Then she mercilessly teases him about the mysterious distinction between good and bad boys. "I like bad boys and I like good boys. I like bad, bad boys."
As the couple sits on the bed and chats, Mark decides to take his shoes off. Anna Nicole disapprovingly says "Umm..." and recoils a bit, obviously not comfortable with his getting comfortable. Mark mentions that he's got a "cool outfit" to wear to the rodeo tomorrow, a remark that will come back to haunt him. He later gets into a serious discussion about having strength in yourself before you can be strong for others, and Anna Nicole gets up from the bed. "This conversation's way too deep for me," she protests. Mark is definitely not going to qualify as either a good boy or a bad boy tonight, and he gets sent off to his own room so she can go to bed. We see Mark at the elevator sighing. "Oh man," drinking champagne from the bottle to assuage his disappointment.
The next morning, Mark wheels a big breakfast to her room, decked out in his cowboy ensemble. Anna Nicole says she didn't sleep very well and kept waking up wondering where she was. Mark says the hotel is very nice and he's impressed with it, and Anna Nicole subtly rolls her eyes. Remember, she's accustomed to staying in 9,000-square-foot VIP suites when she travels, so this place must be about like a Motel 6 in her book. Mark mentions that Randy Travis is performing at the rodeo and hopes they might get to see him. Anna Nicole says, "God, I went to one of his concerts years and years ago in Texas, and he just bored the s**t out of me." Our buddy Mark must be feeling like he can't get anything right.
At the rodeo, Anna Nicole starts having a better time. The rodeo folk all seem to adore her. A rodeo clown cozies up with her, and some rodeo officials affectionately give her a hobby horse with a bull's head (a hobby bull?) and a pickle. I'm so happy that pickles have now become as much a part of her image in the popular consciousness as her big boobs and the old dude she married.
Anna Nicole wonders what Howard and Kimmie are doing back home without her, and we find out. Kim is taking advantage of her rare day off by sleeping late... in Mama's bed. God knows she deserves it! Meanwhile, Howard goes to visit his parents, Leon and Bea Stern. It's refreshing to see somebody besides Anna Nicole busting on Howard's sorry ass. Mom and Dad tell him the don't like his goatee, he's too skinny, he curses too much, and he needs to go to the dentist. Bea really lets Howard have it when she calls him a "pauper" and reveals that she and Leon have been financially supporting him until recently. Wow, she knows just where to embarrass a high-powered lawyer -- right in his wallet!
Back in Laughlin, Anna Nicole and Mark go meet some of the rodeo riders. A cowboy named Mike convinces Anna Nicole to ride horses with them. She saddles up and goes for a trot around the corral, while Mark gets left holding Sugar Pie and the hobby bull. Mike takes the opportunity to start flirting with Anna Nicole, big time.
"We'll never sit in that saddle again," Mike says reverently while Anna Nicole giggles. "We're gonna take it, put it in the house, and that's where Anna Nicole sat, and that's the last person that gets to sit there. She's got a great ass. No one else can tarnish that saddle."
As the ride continues, Mike gets bold enough to ask Anna Nicole about what kind of sex she likes, right in earshot of Mark. "You're a bad, bad boy," she tells Mike, and we know from last night how she feels about bad, bad boys. So does Mark.
Mike asks her what she thinks about cowboys, and she says she loves them. "What about this guy, with the f***in' bandana around his neck?"
Anna Nicole laughs. "Tryin' to be one? You mean the wannabe cowboy?" In his "cool Western gear," carrying a poodle around the corral, Mark looks completely emasculated.
"Can't bring a wannabe cowboy around real cowboys," Mike asserts. "That's never gonna work out. He should've known that."
And yes, he probably should have. But the damage is done. Anna Nicole wants to accept the cowboys' invitation to party with her that night, but she has to dump Mark first. She gently gives his the standard breakup spiel -- you're a wonderful guy, but I've met a bunch of cute cowboys I'd rather hang out with. Mark makes one last bid for having an intimate bond with her. "I could tell last night that I hit a couple of chords with you," he says, "and I think that you don't want anyone to get close to you."
As if on cue, a boisterous passerby interrupts Mark's tender plea by hollering, "Hey Anna baby! What's goin' on, girl?" She waves and smiles at the admirer instead of paying attention to Mark's analysis of her fear of intimacy. That moment says it all.
"I had to tell him that I met somebody else, and it broke my heart," Anna Nicole says afterward. "It was sad. He asked me was I coming home with him and I told him no." I stopped and wondered if she was going to call Howard and Kim to come and take her back to L.A., but then I remembered: duh, she can ride back home with the E! crew. Sometimes it's easy to forget the camera guys are always there and the stars of the show are never alone anywhere.
Mark takes the rejection like a man instead of crying about it or calling Anna Nicole a stupid whore or whatever, like you might see on so many reality dating shows. "Love is strange, you know," he says, "you can't force it, you can't buy it. It's either there or it's not."
Where did Mark screw up? Strike one was taking Anna Nicole for a long haul in his big rig. Strike two was being a poseur cowboy at a rodeo and letting Anna Nicole get anywhere near the real McCoys. But the biggie was strike three: trying too fast to get real and personal with Anna Nicole on an emotional level, instead of keeping it fun and superficial. It's becoming more apparent why she hasn't had sex in three years, or whatever it is now, even though legions of guys like myself stand willing to service her. She doesn't want to jump in the sack with just anyone, but she's terrified when a man tries to get close to her. All that "deep understanding of your personality" talk sends her running away like Pepe LePew's stench.
About a half dozen cowboys come to party that evening at Anna Nicole's hotel room, and that bad, bad boy Mike ends up in the hot tub with her. But did they just enjoy a soothing bubble bath together, or did they go for the full yippee-ki-ay amidst the rose petals? Nobody knows for sure but Sugar Pie, and she's not telling.