Parody Show ‘Zoom Bachelor’ Is A Silicon Valley Experiment In Entertainment—And Matchmaking | #facebookdating | #tinder | #pof

At 38, Sheel Mohnot would seem to have everything. He has his own VC firm, Better Tomorrow Ventures, and even a bit of internet fame after an acquaintanceship with Hollywood manager Scooter Braun landed him a recent cameo in a Justin Bieber-Ariana Grande music video.

Mohnot, however, has been consistently foiled over the years in his pursuit of one thing: love. He remains very much single—despite a recent marathon on the dating apps. “The first couple weeks of shelter in place, I was swiping like a mad man and getting a ton of matches, more than usual,” he says. “I went on a bunch of Zoom dates. None them were blowing me away.”

He’ll get another shot at finding his heart’s desire this Saturday when he appears on Zoom Bachelor. The livestream show, which uses Zoom to assemble the cast and Twitch to broadcast, parodies ABC’s reality series The Bachelor. Its intentions remain true to the original: A group of women will vie for Mohnot’s affections over a series of competitions. Zoom Bachelor is a follow up to Zoom Bachelorette, another livestream show with a similar premise put on in April by the same creators. That would be Maria Shen, a VC and partner at Electric Capital, and Jean Yang, the founder of Akita Software, a San Francisco-based startup.

“Quarantine is the new normal,” says Shen, 29. For Zoom Bachelor, “we have a contestant who’s been sheltered with her hamster this entire time. That’s just her now.”

“She was single before [quarantine], and her pet hamster was her best friend. She’s single now—and her hamster’s still her best friend,” explains Yang, 33. “She’s looking for a human companion.”

Yeah, Zoom Bachelor is mostly done for laughs, but like Zoom Bachelorette, there is a philanthropic goal to it, too. Shen and Yang began fundraising in the lead up to Zoom Bachelor and already have accumulated over $70,000 for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. They’ll continue fundraising, PBS-style, during Zoom Bachelor’s two-part livestream airing August 8 and 15 at 6 p.m., drawing funds from the young, moneyed techies who tuned in for the previous show. (Zoom Bachelorette originally had a $2,000 goal and ended with $40,000.) These streams add up to a zany Silicon Valley experiment in dating and entertainment, an instructive example of how quarantine has changed our ideas about these core elements of life. For the foreseeable future, it’s become clear that technology and distance will play much bigger roles in our pursuit of both—much more than we might’ve ever imagined. Or ever thought we wanted.

This Bachelor stream series begins with a plot twist that only the Quarantine Era could manufacture. Shen and Yang have never met in person.

A mutual friend introduced them in lockdown after realizing Shen and Yang had started the same lockdown side hustle: spending free time at home running digital matchmaking services for their friends—and soon for friends of friends and those friends’ friends. Shen runs a gamified service, aping Netflix’s Love is Blind with anonymous, audio-only dates ­where contestants are forbidden to give out identifying details. Yang, by contrast, leaves nothing to chance. She screens and interviews her participants, and when suggesting a match, compiles digital dossiers—links to Instagram accounts, LinkedIn profiles—for people to study their dates ahead of time. At one point, Yang says, her JeanDate.com had a 600-person waiting list.

After being introduced, Shen and Yang met for a Zoom coffee and brainstormed the idea for Bachelorette-type show they could put together and use to raise money. They convinced yet another mutual friend, Katia Ameri, the founder of Mirra, a direct-to-consumer skincare startup, to be the bachelorette.

Mohnot was one of the dozen bachelors who would compete for her. In keeping with the original TV show, he and the others faced challenges: at-home haircuts and meals cooked to impress Ameri. Mohnot did not win the night. Instead, the champion was Ro Trivedi, a former Uber executive and the current CEO and founder of Pietra, an online jewelry marketplace. To Shen and Yang, this made a lot of sense. Ameri had said she liked a guy “with a little bit of a bad boy vibe,” says Shen.

There’s nothing bad boyish at all about Mohnot. But as comments in the show’s Twitch feed showed, he had won over the evening’s audience. This group included Cindy Gallup, the former advertising mogul; Michael Coates, the founder of Altitude Networks, a cloud startup; and Alex Stamos, Facebook’s former chief security officer and an “OG hacker,” Yang explains.

It didn’t take a lot of convincing for Mohnot, a Pittsburgh native who attended Carnegie Mellon and the University of Michigan, to accept his star role on Zoom Bachelor. “It’s a fun thing to do,” he shrugs. Shen and Yang put him through an intensive questionnaire before casting the 12 women for the show, including Veronica Kwiatkowski—a.k.a. hamster girl—who is a stand-up comedian. (For his part, Mohnot says he’s looking for someone who wants “an interesting, adventurous life” and approaches dating with the “possibility of finding love.”)

Zoom Bachelorette took place over three hours on one night. Shen and Yang have yielded to audience feedback that this seemed a little long to sit through. So they decided Mohnot will do Zoom Bachelor in 90-minute chunks over two Saturdays. Shen and Yang won’t reveal what challenges lie ahead for the contestants, allowing their amateur stream to morph on the fly as it needs.

Even if Mohnot’s soulmate is not one of the women assembled for this show, perhaps she’s in the audience. After Zoom Bachelorette, he had several women slide into his DMs, praising his “winsome” attitude and “upbeat energy.” One message captured his attention enough for him to arrange a virtual date. “She was cool,” he says. “But it wasn’t a fit.” Such is love in 2020.




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