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USA's "Strip Poker" shows to what depths cable TV will go to compete against the big networks.



Welcome to 'Strip Poker,' the game show where beauty — and often intellect — is only skin deep. 'Strip Poker' is a tantalizing battle of the sexes, as two hot guys and two sexy girls struggle to answer questions they should know about the opposite sex — and if they get them wrong, lose their clothes in the process."

That's the way the USA network describes its 11 p.m. Monday-through-Friday offering.

Tantalized? If so, wrench the cap off of another long-neck with your teeth and settle in for an exciting half-hour of television.

Scandalized? Don't be. It's nowhere near as sexy as it sounds. You'll see just as much in the park on a hot summer afternoon.

Or maybe, like me, you're just impressed at the lengths to which cable TV will go to counter-program against the big broadcast networks. And at how cheaply a half-hour program can be produced.

USA couldn't be paying all that much for the show's host, Graham Elwood. He's a stand-up comic with a minor reputation on the West Coast, and this is his biggest gig so far. He has perfected a good leer, though.

Ditto for the co-host, Jennifer Cole, who's done some minor commercial work but no important TV to date. You might call her the Vanna White of "Strip Poker": She's the one who handles the oversized playing cards the game is based on.

The set is nothing special. It looks like it's made of cardboard and could be stored in a steamer trunk between tapings.

The contestants don't get to win much money, either. The top prize is around $1,000. Lest you think taking off your clothes on cable TV is worth more than that, go back and read paragraph one. These people will never found their own dot-coms. Most of them probably couldn't even spell Internet.

So what kind of people take their clothes off in front of a lot of other people for a shot at a minor prize? My best guess would be narcissists. The guys all have pecs of steel and look like they work out four hours a day. The women contestants are all top-heavy and have an air about them that suggests that sixth grade was a struggle. The contestants — the men and the women, both — have that Herb Tarlek look, with the kind of faces that grow more and more attractive as closing time at the singles bar draws nigh.

And to make things even worse — or maybe better — the contestants are layered as if they're ready for an arctic winter — with shirts over tank tops and pants over shorts over more shorts, or dresses over blouses over sports bras and skirts over shorts over bikinis over more bikinis. Nobody, no-how, ever gets buck nekkid. No way. After all, this is cable-network TV.

"Strip Poker" is not strip poker. What it is, is striptease.