Editor’s note: Reporter Jennifer Niemela went undercover as a candidate in David Weinlick’s bride search to examine the selection process from the inside. This article reflects her experiences as she observed the event first-hand.
I’m a loser, baby.
Posing as a bridal candidate Saturday for a unique angle on a unique story, I entered a contest in jest to be the bride of University anthropology graduate student David Weinlick. Where else but at the Mall of America could I have participated in such a true piece of Americana — a wedding, which actually did take place, in which the bride is chosen democratically by the groom’s friends?
Alas, I was not chosen out of the 25 candidates for the title of Mrs. David Weinlick — that honor went to University pharmacy student Elizabeth Runze. Plus, I dropped out when it appeared I might have a legitimate chance of making the final five.
After more than 30 of Weinlick’s wedding “delegates” verbally prodded, interrogated and judged me, I tasted exactly what I didn’t want from my eternal partnership: an experimental dish that could easily spoil just as it’s being served.
Upon arriving at the mall’s rotunda, which was already swarming with incredulous onlookers and media at 9 a.m., I embarked on a process that was frighteningly similar to applying for a job. I gave a receptionist my vitals — name, address, etc. — and filled out a three-page questionnaire.
Afterward, security personnel let me into the roped-off “chapel”: about 100 folding chairs facing a stage above which hung on the elevator bank a banner proclaiming, “Congratulations Dave & ________.”
As I sat to compose answers to questions such as “What is your idea of a romantic evening?” and “What does commitment mean to you?” the media onslaught began. At least 15 reporters and camera operators attempted to interview or film me as I tried to sum up my alleged marriage ideologies in one- or two-line sentences on the romantically innocuous pastel blue questionnaire.
Most of the other candidates started trickling in around 11 a.m. as the crowds circling the four levels of the rotunda thickened. The potential brides were a diverse group: The ages ranged from about 22 to mid-50s; some were divorced, some never married, some had children.
The 60-some delegates circulated through the candidates, dodging cameras and reporters to ask and answer questions.
The most common question the delegates asked me was why I decided to enter a contest to marry someone I had never met before.
“I think this is completely preposterous, and I consider myself to be a completely preposterous person,” I quipped over and over again to delegates who either chortled or looked concerned.
The style of the interviews ranged from friendly conversation to suspicious interrogation. One of Weinlick’s friends recommended a book to me as we chatted amicably. Another accused me of not taking the marriage seriously after he stared silent and unblinking into my eyes for a full minute.
As the appointed voting time of 1:30 p.m. approached, the event took on a frantic pitch. Some delegates raced around to interview the last few candidates straggling in while others defended the seriousness of Weinlick’s endeavor to reporters, who were now at a one-to-one ratio with event participants.
Just before the voting began, I eliminated myself from the contest because I was afraid I might be voted into the top five. Then another candidate and I went outside to have a cigarette where we encountered the man of the hour already puffing away. Looking remarkably cool and collected, Weinlick espoused his soundbite-esque philosophy on his impending nuptials as he lit my cigarette.
He trusts his friends to make this decision for him, he said, adding that he considers himself lucky to have friends of high caliber.
As I walked back into the mall pondering his point, I heard my name yelled and was surprised to see my roommate running frantically up to me.
She had heard from another of our friends that I was covering this story and mistakenly thought I would go through with the marriage if I was selected. She had come to talk me out of it.
I walked back to the rotunda, now a journalist-spectator, where my roommate and I watched the festivities. Calmly watching Weinlick’s delegates line up to vote for his new bride, I realized Weinlick and I have at least one thing in common: good friends.