I crawled off a reformer and hobbled towards the corner of the room where the disinfectant is kept in two spray bottles beside a pile of clean white paper towels. It’s Pilates’ etiquette, you see, to wipe one’s sweat off the machine you were just draped across so the person who works out after you will have the pleasure of only reclining in sweat of her own. It’s been about a year that I’ve been attending this studio faithfully, and I’ve come to be friendly with the other regulars. We know certain things about each other now, the type of casual information you trot out as you lay panting beside one another in the early hours of a weekend morning or in the finally-blessedly-light-outside time of 6:00 PM. I know, for instance, who just had a birthday and whose kid is in his junior year of Art school. I know who recently cut all alcohol from her lifestyle and promptly dropped twenty pounds because apparently her favorite prior food group was vodka. I know which person’s hip hurts when the lunging happens. I know who just signed up for a nutritionist because she ate nine mini cupcakes last night and then exploded into a paroxysm of guilt that manifested into a hysteria of dietary planning. I know who never stops fucking moaning during every single exercise and I’m just guessing here, but I have come to think the reason such a thing occurs has to be because this woman’s imaginary (and perhaps her only) friend told her the class’ secret name is Porn With Pilates. I know that when we’re told right before class to grab the ring, the ball, and the dowel that we will all collectively heave a deep sigh because shit is about to burn.
There’s a easy familiarity we have going, so I wasn’t particularly surprised when one of the women met me near the door on our way out of class and asked if I’m involved with anyone at the moment.
“I’m actually dating like it’s my job,” I told her. “And my work is exhausting.”
It was a great first date – but then there are two ways to read that sentence.
Reading #1: Take it exactly as it is written! Add to it no inflection and excavate from it no extra meaning.
Reading #2: After a great first date, the dates that followed were, shall we say, slightly less stellar.
I’ll just make this easy on everyone: go with Reading #2 here, okay? Because it was a great first date – the kind generic pop songs are written about, the kind of songs we end up lip synching to in front of mirrors – but what followed was a weird cornucopia of a possibly-racist neighbor, a questionable lack of chivalry, mystery about things that never needed to be mysterious in the first place, an undercooked chicken, a too-large porch swing, and someone I love dearly recommending that I procure myself a shovel. So I guess what I’m saying here is that you should probably settle in.
Long before I heard the song American Pie – and way before a block of lyrics like helter skelter in a summer swelter would end up making any sort of real sense to me – my father told me the story of Buddy Holly’s death. Six foot four inches tall, towering over everyone with not just his height but with his fill-the-room essence, I had a hard time imagining my father ever crying, but I vividly recall sitting beside him when I was not yet six years old, the two of us on the black and white patterned sofa in our sunken den where the fires he built raged throughout the winter, and he described breaking down into racking sobs on the grey day when he was young and he heard that his hero was gone.
Don’t be jealous, but I’m sort of a scholar when it comes to slasher movies. I have read every single academic text written about the hemoglobin-spattered dirty subgenre of horror – there are far more than you’d think! – so I am quite well versed in the narrative and stylistic iconography particular to a collection of movies that all seem to end with a body count. I know slashers are set in isolated locations and that those locations are populated by a gaggle of nubile young adults who are ready and willing to sit on some faces. I know the viewer is meant to feel exactly nothing when most of the characters suddenly disappear because we haven’t invested in any of them in the slightest. I know there is usually one survivor – our resilient Final Girl – and we are meant to root for her because she seems decent and kind and because she’s the person about whom we’ve learned the most. And I know with the certainty of a person who has watched hundreds of these movies through a shield of shaking fingers covering my eyes that anything that transpires beside a fucking bonfire in the middle of the woods will only lead to terror.
We’re going back to basics, people. Temptation Island has just experienced its own mini version of The Purge and now only a few people remain: the original couples; the well-meaning host who guides the group through their bouts of scorching pain and then giggles as he collects his paycheck; and enough of a skeleton crew left behind to mic and film the participants so that every tear sliding down a cheek and every uneven heartbeat will be recorded for posterity. The Tempters were sent packing. My guess is Morgan is home trying on wedding dresses and swearing to her family that the guy she’s fully committed to is for real and not just dealing with either Rebound Syndrome or a psychotic break and he is so excited to come meet them – you know, after he officially ends his commitment to that other girl he was with for five years and once planned to marry. I figure Brittany is sitting in a lotus pose inside a yurt somewhere staring at Karl’s Instagram page without blinking and Katheryn is at a toy store buying a dolphin stuffed animal that she will name John and Val is pretending to be King of the World in front of his bathroom mirror while he shaves and Johnny is waiting for the official call from Kady telling him that she gave John the boot so Johnny can chivalrously rush to her side like a Real Man would. And I assume the producers are currently dancing a fucking jig beside a production van because all this has worked out even better than they even expected.
It’s not like I’m saying that karma will definitely manifest into a stomping-fire-breathing-snaggle-toothed monster who will gnaw Evan’s testicles off in one swift gulp as a means of achieving some form of retribution for the insultingly cavalier way he moved beyond his love for Kaci, but I would advise the guy to keep his eyes open and his ears peeled for signs of danger. Like, if I were Evan, I wouldn’t necessarily go walking underneath rickety ladders anytime soon. I wouldn’t meander alongside anything even slightly resembling a cliff. And I certainly would not return to Hawaii in the coming months with Morgan because I’m not so sure whichever Goddess controls shit like volcanic eruptions is about to spare a man who got over a five year relationship like other people get over a common cold.
I feel the need to inform you, dear reader, that the initial wager I so cavalierly threw down about which couples would destruct into heaping piles of shit before our very eyes and which couples would survive their time on Temptation Island and go limping off into the sunset has completely fallen to pieces. It’s hard to recall exactly what I said back then (and scrolling through my earlier recaps for clarity just seems like an awful lot of work), but I’m pretty sure I boldly bet that Kaci and Evan would remain solid and faithful and Shari and Javen were doomed. Yeah. I used the word “doomed” to describe those two, though to be fair, that was before I heard them refer to one another as “Baby Girl” and “My Love.” But c’mon! Who could have foreseen such a thing? Didn’t they appear miserable together? Who could have known then they would be even more miserable apart?! And who could have predicted that Evan would not only sleep with, but also fall hopelessly in love with one of his Tempters? Evan and Kaci seemed so solid! I’m wondering now if what we saw early on was simply intentionally misdirecting editing designed to make their commitment appear unbreakable. After all, doesn’t it make for far more explosive television when people we’re certain will behave end up turning into emotional heathens?
While I absolutely commend Kaci for the brilliant strategy she whipped out during the last Bonfire – refusing to open her eyes so she wouldn’t have to see footage that would likely cause her insides to feel as though they were sizzling – I think it’s important that we acknowledge right here and now that her plan will not work moving forward. I’m positive Kaci will want to continue to avert both her eyes and her mind from the truth, but these producers know exactly what they’re doing and they will not so much as pretend to entertain the notion that one of their contestants will manage to avoid all the hours of incendiary footage they’ve nabbed of her boyfriend. See, effectively skating around misery is not how reality television works. If Kaci refuses to watch what they stick in front of her face, fine. There’s another move here: play on a sense other than sight. I’m predicting the next thing Kaci will have thrown at her be a sound bite and it will be of Evan telling Morgan he loves her and such a thing will prove devastating. Hearing the synchronized moans of your boyfriend and some chick during probable sex is horrible. But hearing your boyfriend of five years declaring his love to a woman he’s only known for a few weeks? That’s takes “horrible” to another level entirely and that level is subterranean and it’s guarded by demons who have terrible breath and you’d probably have to slay them with a really pointy scythe just to escape and slaying demons is hard.
Where last we saw Evan, he was writhing beneath Morgan in a bed. And though he was insistent that they not have sex (and he took care to remind her the next morning that full-on fucking needs to be off the table – and off the bed…and off the floor…and out of the shower – for the foreseeable future), they are still very much behaving like two people in a legitimate relationship. There are consoling touches. There is full body cuddling. There is high-octane chemistry. But you know what also exists in the shadowy corners of Evan and Morgan’s world? AN ACTUAL GIRLFRIEND exists, and what nobody seems to be considering right now is the sheer avalanche of emotional baggage that will surely plague both Evan and Morgan if they actually end up together. It may be all spend-the-day-in-a-villa-and-do-not-even-think-about-your-bills-piling-up-or-your-girlfriend’s-family-watching-you-rub-your-hands-across-another-woman’s-ass fun now, but the real world will eventually rear its tear-streaked face and whatever decision Evan ends up making will surely devastate at least one woman.
I’m really not sure how much worse it can get for Kaci. It was her idea to bring her boyfriend on this show. It was her logic-over-emotion mindset that put this now-scorching plan into motion. And after only a few weeks, it is her boyfriend declaring his burgeoning feelings to another woman, even as the woman he has been with for five years has decided for sure that their relationship is very definitely worth saving. To move forward while literally being stuck in this horrible little experiment that’s being televised to the masses, Kaci either has to take her mind off what she now knows is going on by trying to lose herself in something that, at the very least, mimics infatuation, or she can remain focused on everything she very well may lose. Listen: I know Hawaii is beautiful and spending your days hacking pineapples off a bush must be kind of fun, but when your future is dying and you feel impotent in your present, how much fun can slicing into any kind of fucking fruit really be?