Whether it’s the “Cougar Den” skits on Saturday Night Live, or Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate, older women who prefer younger men have long been fodder for comedy. They’re portrayed at best as predatory, or at worst, desperate.
But now one “cougar” is turning the tables.
Stacey Anderson, a stunning, sophisticated 40-year-old real-estate agent from Scottsdale, Ariz., will have her pick of 20 eligible younger men during the eight-episode elimination dating show The Cougar, which airs Wednesdays beginning April 15 on TV Land.
The 20-something guys will have to succeed with challenges like remembering important facts about Anderson, coming up with a suitable romantic gesture, and going shopping for her. Eliminations will be based on their performance and, of course, her preference.
Adding a little it-takes-one-to-know-one flavor is host Vivica A. Fox, a 44-year-old hottie whose relationship with the much-younger rapper 50 Cent once made headlines.
Fox says the show reflects not only society’s evolving views on gender, but on age, going so far as to call it empowering.
The Independence Day and Kill Bill actress has followed that go-with-the-flow advice in recent years by branching out into the reality genre. She was the object of beauty on Glam God, and hoofed it with fellow celebrities on Dancing With the Stars.
After her Cougar duties, you can see her back on HBO this fall as Loretta Black, Larry David’s new love interest on Curb Your Enthusiasm.
You’ve called this show empowering to women. How does it accomplish that?
Vivica A. Fox: For a lot of people, heads don’t turn sometimes when you see an older man with a younger woman, but heads do turn when you see an older woman with a younger guy. And it’s just empowering to women to let them know that it’s OK. If you want to date somebody that’s younger, feel free. If you like them, go for it.
The term “cougar” has been used both negatively and positively. Why do you think it strikes such polarizing associations?
Because 40 has become the new 30 in a way. Women are looking better, taking better care of themselves, more independent, and so they’re empowered to do what they want to do. Negatively, people are like, “Still, you’re older.” I always try not to look at things negatively, because I believe you are as old as you feel, and that you can enjoy life, and just because you get older doesn’t mean life stops or that you stop being attractive or you stop wanting to date. I feel like when you’re older you have wisdom, and you know pretty much exactly you want and what’s going to work and what’s not going to work.
Is it the kind of thing where it started out as a negative term that was co-opted by the “cougars” themselves into something positive?
I don’t know if it was ever negative. When you think of it, a cougar is a beautiful animal. But I’m glad that it has changed. There’s a lot of girls that, when I first started acting, they’re all now turning 40 and like I said, they’re taking care of themselves, they look good, you know, and some of them are looking good as girls half our age or 10 years younger.
How is the show going to work? How will contestants be eliminated?
How they will be eliminated is through challenges. The challenges will be different things from how much do you remember about her, can you think of something romantic, going shopping for her, doing the different challenges to win her heart. The first night five go home, some nights one goes home, some nights two go home, some nights we surprise them.
But ultimately, she makes the choice?
It is her choice and her choice alone. Sometimes some of the guys didn’t win the challenges and they still stuck around, but inevitably you had to win a challenge.
Did your experience with “Glam God” make you want to jump back into reality TV?
It definitely helped, especially because I did Glam God, which was a show about challenges and things of that nature, so I was comfortable with the genre. And it just seems like right now, those are the kinds of shows that America really loves to watch. And I think they love to watch because it gives them an equal opportunity to feel like they have a chance at stardom or an opportunity that maybe they wouldn’t have had that before maybe only actors acted out that type of thing.
Did you have to overcome negative perceptions of reality TV?
I’m not that type of person. I don’t limit myself. If that’s what’s going on right now, I just go with the flow. I try not to be opinionated. Maybe I was a couple years ago when it all first came out and it was like, “Whoa, they’re taking all of our roles, what’s going on?” So I just go with the flow and I was like, “OK, if that’s what people are wanting to see and wanting to do right now, how do I fit in?” And how I fit in is as a host, which has been good for me, and enlightening for me, because now I can get up and I can host any type of show. And it helped, too, because in the past I’ve hosted award shows.
I’m sure you’ve met quite a few people you wouldn’t otherwise have met?
You better believe it. (laughs) It’s a trip. Me and the Cougar, we’ve already taped the show, we’re friends, and I just saw her this past weekend. And I’ve seen some of my other people from Glam God, so you’re right, you do get to make new friends from worlds that probably never would have crossed before.
How has it been fitting these reality gigs it in with all your other jobs?
The business has changed so much that I find you have to be versatile. There’s just so many more opportunities that are going on now, where people are becoming entrepreneurs and starting clothing lines and perfume. Things have just changed so much where you used to only do film or television. You only did what your gig was, and that’s changed, and I’m glad, because that way you don’t limit yourself.
What has the experience been like on “The Cougar”?
It was fun. I got to know and really like a lot of the guys, really nice guys, but sometimes I was happy when some of them got kicked to the curb. Then there were other times with some of them I was kind of like, “Awwww.” They really got into it and they liked her and she got to know them and sometimes it was really hard for her to say goodbye. There were other times she got kind of pissed that guys blew their opportunity. They would get comfortable or cocky just as human nature happens with people. They start taking things for granted, like, “I got this. Yeah, she’s digging me.” It’s like, “No. You got to work for her heart.” So hopefully it will also teach guys if they want to try to date someone older, what they can learn about what older women like and what they don’t like.
It’s pretty easy to tell who’s there for love and who’s there to be on TV, I imagine.
Oh yeah. Absolutely. They stick out like a sore thumb.
Where does this fit in the dating-elimination show spectrum? Is it closer to The Bachelor or Rock of Love?
It’s more like The Bachelor. The executive producers and creator of this show are exactly from The Bachelor, and that was one of the main reasons why I got involved with the show. The Bachelor is going on its thirteenth [season], so they’re a little bit classier.
You fit the over-40 category yourself. Did you do any looking while you’re on the show?
Well, baby, I enjoyed this. But you know it was hard work some days. Somebody’s gotta do it. I’d labor to work some days to look at guys with six-packs and things of that nature, but you know, it was just part of the job. There were some nice guys there, but I’m just enjoying being single for a while right now. But you’re right, I am a cougar. I’ve dated guys that are younger than me and I see nothing wrong with it, so in a way for me it was empowering, too. Like, “OK, cool. No one’s tripping over this.”
What do you think a “cougar” should look for in a man, besides age?
We don’t do sponsorship. Let’s start right there. We’re not taking care of anybody. We ain’t becoming no sugar mama. It’s OK if you got a little bit more than him because of course he’s younger because he hasn’t found his way yet. But to just make sure you find somebody for all of the right reasons, that you guys have a good time together, that he makes you smile, that you enjoy his company, and that you like him and you can see a future with him.
Are you happy with how “The Cougar” ended?
I really was. It was really classy, and really nice, and I honestly think she found true love. She did make the right choice, because there were a couple of those guys I was like, “Please don’t pick him. Oh my God, he gets on my nerves, I can’t stand him, he’s such a jerk.” But you know, different strokes for different folks. It wasn’t my choice.
You’re back on Curb Your Enthusiasm next season. What can you say about that?
The Blacks are back! Still giving Larry David a hard time, disturbing his world, making him go places that he probably never thought he would go before. Him and Loretta are officially a couple. There’s going to be even more surprises with the Blacks this season on Curb. People really love that! Can I tell you, I cannot believe the cult following that this show has. I mean, I go places now and, I’ve pretty much been a crossover due to my movies — Independence Day, you know, Kill Bill, things of that nature — but a whole different crowd with Curb. People really love it, they’re like “And I loved it at the end, when you gave it to Susie. That was great when you gave to her. She had it coming!” So, a whole new audience. But once again, didn’t limit myself.