February 15, 1988 12:00 PM

Some people love game shows. Some people are wedded to the set whenever the programs are on. But perhaps no one in America can match the devotion to the genre displayed by John Schultz and Kathleen Van Diggelen. They met on a Love Connection date, were married on Hollywood Squares and have recently brought forth the first Love Connection baby. You might call them the quintessential game-show couple.

Some couple. John is loudmouthed and sarcastic, graceless and paunchy. Kathleen is serene and gentle, slender and pretty. They’re such a mismatch, in fact, that after pairing them up, Love Connection had second thoughts and rejected them as a TV twosome. But take a peek at the happy couple today. The yard of their modest San Diego home is verdant with peach and avocado trees. Inside, the fruits of domestic bliss include a refrigerator adorned with a Home Sweet Home oven mitt. John, 38, a civilian who runs an alcohol and drug prevention program for the Navy, sits in an easy chair and bellows to the bedroom. Having changed out of her nurse’s uniform, Kathleen, 33, enters, cradling baby Zachary and proffering an album of storybook game-show memories.

Their saga began in February 1985. Kathleen, who moved to San Diego from Chicago when she was 10, had only watched Love Connection twice when, on a whim, she decided to audition. Couples are matched through videotapes, then given $75 for one date and a shot at a televised appearance to discuss that date. Kathleen’s tape featured such pithy questions as, “Would you dance with a short man?”—which she answered, wittily, “Yes.” Kathleen admits she was terrible, and so she was stunned when the show called to declare, “We’ve got a date for you.”

They’d found her date in an El Cerrito bar one sultry Southwestern evening when all that recently divorced Chicago native John Schultz had in mind was a quiet margarita. Suddenly a girl popped up. “She goes, ‘Hi! I’m Eve! Would you mind answering a question?’ ” John says. “She asks, ‘What would your favorite woman be?’ I say, ‘A 3′ midget with a flat forehead, so I could rest my beer can on it.’ I figured if I was rude, she’d go away.” Instead, John also got the Love Connection call.

Ever the romantic, Schultz watched three 20-minute audition tapes, then chose the woman within easiest driving distance. Not that this was his only consideration in selecting Kathleen. At least, he allows, she didn’t look “like Bobo the Dogface.”

In true Love Connection style, John and Kathleen’s first date was long and miserable. “He told me to dress ‘cosmopolitan,’ and we ended up taking the train to Tijuana and going to a horse track,” Kathleen complains. “But what really got me was when he asked, ‘You don’t mind if I tan, do you?’ He changes into a pair of shorts and pulls out a bottle of tanning oil. I said, ‘You better not grease up my outfit.’ ” Yet the couple parted with a kiss and a promise to see each other again—even though that second date was against Love Connection rules.

They next met for a Padres game. “The seats were so high, I thought I’d get a nosebleed,” Kathleen chimes up. “Honey, that doesn’t matter,” counters John. “Love was in the stars.”

An appearance on Love Connection, however, wasn’t. During follow-up interviews, the show’s staff decided that Kathleen lacked the requisite sparkle. “They said, ‘John, she’s so flat, if you can’t rip her up on the set, we can’t use you,’ ” he recalls. John, however, couldn’t bring himself to insult Kathleen onscreen. “I said, ‘I can’t do that.’ ” So the show, which thrives on comic insults, wished them well—and said farewell.

Then one of the producers heard they were getting married and alerted Hollywood Squares. Suddenly that game show was offering “the gown, the tuxedo, the flowers,” says John, who held out until Hollywood Squares added a Caribbean honeymoon. “Hell,” he cried sentimentally, “I’ll marry a dog naked for that!”

He married first-time bride Kathleen, in full wedding attire, on Nov. 3, 1986, serving as a visual aid for Betty White. “Under California law, based on what you’ve just heard, are John and Kathleen now legally married?” host John Davidson asked. “I don’t even care,” sobbed White, who caught the bouquet. The judge had indeed said the right words, but Davidson did final honors, sliding into his most melodious voice to pronounce, “Under Section 4206 of the civil code, they are now Mr. and Mrs. John Schultz.”

Last July 9 the Schultzes embedded themselves even further into game-show lore. Their son, Zachary, became the first baby born to a Love Connection mated couple. (John has joint custody with his ex-wife of a son, Maximilian, 5.) Zachary’s christening is being postponed, says John, until “Davidson and White can be godparents.”

“A lot of people give us grief,” John says of his game-board courtship. “They say, ‘What’s next?’ I guess the only thing left is The Newlywed Game. And then there’s always Divorce Court.” No, he decides, reconsidering. “We’ll wait for Letterman. He has all those stupid pet tricks. Well, this is the stupidest human trick I’ve seen.”

—Written by Susan Toepfer, reported by Michael Alexander

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