Are You the One? is back for another season, and if you thought there couldn’t possibly be enough people willing to brawl on national television while ostensibly searching for an MTV-sanctioned soul mate, well, you clearly have no idea how much pocket money can be earned shilling teas that will cause you to shit out your spleen on Instagram. But there’s no denying this show is poppy escapism, so let’s just go ahead and pretend. Let’s pretend the participants are truly invested in finding love and not in parlaying their appearances into careers in the Reality Arts. Let’s pretend being followed by cameras is totally conducive to forming healthy relationships. And let’s also pretend a few of these contestants will feel just a teensy bit of internal shame for what we’ll all eventually be exposed to when they stumble into a location actually named “The Boom-Boom Room.”
For those who have never seen the show, the premise is as follows: A bunch of singles show up in Hawaii and each is tasked with finding his or her expert-assigned match. If the entire group eventually matches correctly, they all share a cash prize. And since I’m entirely of the belief that some of my own dates should have ended with me being handed a sack of money just for surviving the evening, I approve of the fact that these kids have a chance to prosper.
Our cast is introduced to us through a lovely montage during which they curse one another out and punch walls while bright pink text appears onscreen describing each person’s most defined qualities. Shockingly, none of the words we see are things like erudite, self-aware, mentally stable, or unlikely to punch in someone’s face at the slightest provocation. No, we get competitive and intimidating, so I guess at least we can admit we’ve been warned.
Once they all run into the house and break open the first of many drinks they will consume, we find out Kayla is a hopeless romantic, Samantha is wildly independent – and she will shake her ass in a crowded kitchen on command – Lewis hides behind what he claims is humor, but it might be creepiness (he immediately points out the tits on one girl and the ass on another), and some girl named Nutsa who is just fine with being addressed as “Nut Sack.” Tevin likes to meditate and the focus of his meditation is about how he should cope with the tragic curse of being born handsome – Namaste! – and Kenya takes one look at him and decides she’s been passive long enough. (It’s been three minutes.) She grabs the guy, takes him into the confessional room, LICKS HIS FACE, and then the two start making out. In non-licking news, we also meet Jasmine. She has been coined “Perpetual Side Piece” by someone behind the scenes who clearly just landed himself a raise, but Jasmine wants her side piece days to be over because she has the same name as a Disney Princess, dammit, and she will find her Prince, so fucking help her.
The group gathers in the hot tub for formal introductions, which includes someone standing up and declaring himself awesome. When the party moves inside, we learn Bria – who is branded “Literally Obsessed” – has decided Zak’s the guy for her. Now, I don’t know anything about this Zak guy, but I’m concerned for him. See, Bria describes herself as “crazy,” and though I’d love to applaud her for her honesty and I’m not all that skilled at Math, I do know the answer to this equation: Crazy + Drunk x Attention Given By A Camera Crew = A Walking Terror Who Will Stalk You Until the Very End of Time. I guess Zak will just have to explain to the officer he eventually files the restraining order with that he couldn’t help falling for this girl. After all, he loves drama! And who wouldn’t get all tingly being told by some girl you met four hours ago that she will fuck you up if you stray? This is called romance, you guys.
I know…after such a meaningful love story just developed between Zak and Bria that was born out of something real and true and not just misguided physical attraction, you’d think there would be no residual hysteria, but Bria reads lips – of course she does – and she watches Zak’s mouth form words that herald another woman’s ass. She handles the entire situation very well. She storms off, explains to the one person who tries to comfort her that Zak is the walking epitome of why she doesn’t date white men, and then she decides to let her fists do the talking. She stalks back to the house, all the while screaming about swinging at Zak or one of the chicks he was ogling. But this display of insanity does not bother Zak in the least. He enjoys when girls threaten him with physical violence! He likes attention, and nobody doles out more attention than a deranged person.
Also: If you’re not already expecting Bria to star on the next seventeen seasons of The Challenge, you’re as insane as she is. Night one on this show is her fucking audition tape, and my guess is she totally knows it.
Also: Simply because Lewis busted out the sentence, “You ain’t his wife! Relax!” right to Bria’s face, I have decided he very well may be my soul mate. It’s all good, Lewis. I hide behind humor also. Still, please try not to comment on my tits in the first five minutes of our initial conversation. I’m a lady. I require at least eight minutes before we chat about my nipples.
In more normal news, Cam the Conservative and Kayla the Romantic bond in a swing, at least until Cam begins waxing poetic about Donald Trump and how he is doing such a wonderful job. Kayla, um, doesn’t agree – which means perhaps she’s my soul mate and I’m gonna have to break the bad news to Lewis that we’re over – but Cam is tolerant of her views and there are no TVs in that Hawaiian house anyway, so they can wait until they’re back in the real world for one of them to heave a remote control into a cable box when they fight over turning on FOX or MSNBC. Since a bipartisan meet-cute did not end in bloodshed, let’s head back to Bria and Zak! She informs him, menace dripping from her tongue, that she was born with the superpower of being able to hear everything, and that includes the murmurings done by men about asses. Then she straddles him and all is wonderful again.
Also: These two scare the shit out of me.
The host of the show arrives the next morning to tell them all how badly they suck at dating and to introduce the Fate Button. What is this Fate Button, you ask? Well, I’m actually not sure because it involves technology and gibberish that means absolutely nothing, but it ends with spinning pictures that then determine which four people go on the out-of-the-house date. Chosen this time are Zak, Tomas, Cali, and Maria, but there’s no real time to celebrate or even figure out who Maria is, because it’s time to cut back to Bria and she is pissed. She doesn’t know these females and nobody born with a uterus should even be allowed to share fucking air with her boyfriend of ONE WHOLE DAY. As for the date that should probably have come with bulletproof vests, they head out on a boat. Zak stares at Maria, Tomas is interested in Cali, and they all swim with dolphins in a setting made even more idyllic because we know what they’re going home to. And Lord only knows what will happen when they get there, because Zak tells Maria he’s not locked down with Bria and the two of them kiss – and I don’t know about you, but I’m going to miss the days Maria had a larynx. I’m quite sure Bria will soon yank it clear out of her body using only a rusty melon baller.
Back at the house, those left behind have two tasks: to decide which people on the date should go into the Truth Booth and to get to know one another better in the light of day. Tevin and Kenya sit on a rock and have a quiet and emotional conversation and they really hope they turn out to be actual matches; they feel a true connection. They won’t find out tonight, however, because first Zak admits to the entire group that he and Maria kissed and Bria’s head almost spins off. Then it’s revealed the two who are heading into the Truth Booth are Tomas and Maria. They’re both stunned and think there’s no way they could be a match and they’re completely right. But all this really means (you know, narratively speaking) is that this lack of match keeps Maria in the house with Bria and Zak and Bria is reacting to the news of their kiss with tears and by screaming at Zak, and if this guy thinks she’s going to become more normal over time, he will end up very disappointed.
Zak isn’t the only guy in the house getting action. Daniel tongues at least five girls in a single afternoon. He also giggles so lasciviously that it causes my insides to clench. Seriously. I think one of my ovaries stopped functioning during his final giggle. Oh! And one of the girls he smooches is Kenya and Tevin sees it.
When the first Ceremony begins, Terrence J greets the contestants, explains the rules, taunts them with the repercussions of a Blackout (if they don’t end up with any matches), and then he calls Zak up first to pick his potential match. Zak selects Bria; nobody has to die. Next up is Tevin and he announces that he knows about the kiss he stumbled upon earlier. Kenya apologizes for her actions and it’s enough for Tevin to choose her as his match. The rest of them then lock in their matches and the beams of light confirm that on this, their very first Ceremony, three of them are already matched correctly. Yes, a million dollars is in their sights and that’s a very good thing because therapy is not cheap and some of these people could seriously benefit from some heavy analysis.
After the Ceremony, Tevin and Kenya argue a bit so Tevin invites Jasmine into the pool so he can stick his tongue down her throat. She seems to enjoy it! Also is a good mood is Brett. He and Cali have been spending a lot of time together and things are progressing well. Shamoy and Maria are bonding. Lewis and Asia start hanging out – and I think I like Asia. She’s looking for someone smart. My hopes aren’t high that there’s a MENSA member hiding in that house, but I wish her luck anyway. As for the rest of the girls, they’re all terrified of Bria. A girl simply talking to Zak in the kitchen is something that causes her to pace back and forth like a caged animal and then head to the gym where she beats the living shit out of a punching bag. And when she finds out Zak and Morgan are talking in the confessional, she pounds on the door and announces, “I’m not here for that shit! I’m not here to look stupid!” Morgan is scared out of her mind, Zak is probably thrilled because he believes verbal abuse paired with threats of physical abuse means he’s really wanted, and Bria is doing nothing except proving she’s legitimately unbalanced and that she will one day have her very own spinoff show for which I hope the producers take out a ton of insurance.
Morgan eventually leaves the confessional room. Zak tries to leave also, but Bria demands that he stay so she can yell at him some more. The only things this latest chat illustrates is that Zak is as insane as she is because he doesn’t run fleeing into a volcano. He thinks her rage is fun. At some point, Bria pulls Morgan aside to cry at her and explain why she behaves so psychotically. She’s fully aware of exactly what she’s doing wrong and she wants to change. I hope she does, but I’m gonna crawl out on a limb here and say a house stocked with booze, scantily clad people, and a camera crew is probably not where a shitload of personal growth is going to occur.
Also: Nutsa has a crush on Zak, but she initially chooses not to pursue it because she doesn’t want to end up buried in a ravine.
And now it’s time for a luau! Kenya humps every single guy on the dance floor in so graphic a way that there’s a chance I got pregnant just watching it. Tevin takes it all in and decides he should just go for Jasmine. In retaliation – which is a very healthy way to live –Kenya pulls Lewis into some room where he declares her to be freaky. And then Nutsa pulls Zak over to dance and the two of them start kissing. The moment their lips touch, Lewis begs them to go somewhere private because of The Impending & Totally Predictable Wrath of Bria, and indeed, she barrels right over. She screams at Zak that he is a bitch, she needs to be held back by three people so she doesn’t smash in someone’s face, she cries in a heap in a corner of a closet, she bellows that she wants to leave the house, and she quivers with fury about a guy she’s known for about a minute and a half. All of it is sad to watch, but you know what’s even sadder? Knowing there’s an excellent chance Zak will dive right back into this pool of psychosis for more because being threatened makes him feel alive.
Nell Kalter teaches Film and Media at a school in New York. She is the author of the books THAT YEAR and STUDENT, both available on amazon.com in paperback and for your Kindle. Her Twitter is @nell_kalter