There are those collective anxiety dreams a ton of us share. You know the ones I’m talking about, right? The nocturnal miseries I tend to experience on repeat are of having to run but not being able to move or searching for a classroom to go take some test I didn’t study for in a class I’ve cut for an entire semester. I’ve only had the delightful whoops-I-just-showed-up-in-public-naked dream once, but I do often awake knowing I’ve just been tormented through a final REM cycle because Dream Me ran into one or three of my exes when I was least expecting it – and when my hair looked like shit. Well, MTV has decided to take that last night terror and make it real on tonight’s Are You the One? while ostensibly still pretending that every hideous thing they are doing is all in our contestants’ very best interests.
The last ceremony ended with only two new beams of light and some very bizarre pairings since several of the once happy couples already crashed and burned spectacularly. A house meeting is in order! After yelling at one another for a while, Kenya proposes that they all start over tomorrow and get to know one another on a deeper level. I suppose such a statement means she will no longer randomly blow one of her housemates, though there is a school of thought that suggests that’s one way of learning at least something about someone, even if that “something” only involves information about girth. While the group swears to start fresh in the morning, Maria and Shamoy enter the Honeymoon Suite where there are fresh flowers on the bed and zero random chicks grinding in corners and what I wouldn’t give for this entire series to be about these two! Alas, there are still ten other matches that need to be discovered so it’s back to the Loony Bin where it’s a brand new day. Tomas and Brett sit on some couch and discuss how this retreat Terrence J announced would happen will be a positive thing. That statement alone is hilarious, but it’s nowhere near as funny as when Tomas actually gives credit for the idea to the host and not the producers. Um, Tomas? I’m quite sure Terrence J isn’t sitting around on some lounge chair under a palm tree plotting how to help any of you succeed. His job is to blow in, tell someone to press a button we’ve all agreed to pretend involves fate, pose pointed questions producers have instructed him to ask to create even more conflict, watch beams of light illuminate the sky, and then go back to his vacation, but it’s sweet – or fucking idiotic – that anyone thinks differently.
The retreat involves a bonfire, a yurt, a gazebo, and – obviously – available alcohol. Terrence J greets them, reminds them once again of how badly they suck at relationships, and then explains that to move forward, they need to address the past. And that’s when, with a huge and sickening smile, Terrence J announces their nightmares are about to become a reality because their exes are showing up! Most of the contestants look vaguely terrified and Asia sums up how very foolish this entire sadistic experiment is by saying, “You’re an ex for a reason. Stay an ex. I’m looking for my next.” Unfortunately, logic is not about to win here, not when there is humiliation that can occur in high-definition. Before the exes arrive, we learn about some of the shit that went down in those now-broken relationships. Samantha’s ex fucked two of her friends. Zak’s ex was disloyal as well. Kenya is nervous about seeing her ex, but Tevin takes her into a yurt for some deep breathing and to reiterate that the two of them are solid, which probably means Kenya will blow her ex later on that evening in that very yurt while Tevin stands outside and mutters to himself that everything between him and Kenya is still going great.
And here come the exes! First to arrive is Zak’s ex, Emily, and Lewis immediately decides the very best move is to locate Bria, point her gaze towards Emily – Lord, I hope Emily is wearing a bullet-proof thong under those shorts – and then Lewis plans to sit back and watch the carnage with a nice bowl of popcorn. Bria is located in the yurt and when she’s told about the first arrival, she bolts out the door like a legitimate lunatic to find Zak and Emily chatting in a hammock about whether either has slept with anyone since their breakup. Emily says she has not and so does Zak and let’s just say that I believe one of them. As Bria draws near, she howls loudly like a mental patient, points, and then shouts, “That’s her?! Ha!” This girl is an asshole, y’all. Still, after laughing in the girl’s face, she sits down and asks what Zak was like as a boyfriend and because Bria seemingly remains sane for twelve consecutive seconds and refrains from pulling Emily’s spleen out through one of her nostrils, Zak is impressed, even as Bria runs away laughing with a wreath of leaves around her neck when what she really requires is a straightjacket.
The next ex to show up is Tyler, Samantha’s ex, and she reacts with shock and with tears – which seems like a totally normal reaction. What’s entirely not normal is how Daniel immediately takes the guy aside to ask whether Samantha has always been sort of hard on the inside. Listen: this is a fair question, but it’s seriously fucked up that some guy you’ve never met pulls you to the side to inquire about some girl you used to love seconds after you’re finally seeing her again. I know the exes signed up for this, but it’s awkward as hell to watch. As for this Tyler guy, he intentionally calls Daniel “David,” announces he was prepared to clock whichever guy is currently feeling up his former love, tells him flat out that he doesn’t like him, and behaves like a general dickhead. Tyler? Would you maybe like to meet Bria? You two have so much in common, the most significant thing being that you both seriously suck.
Kenya’s guy shows up next. What do you know?! He looks just like Tevin! While I’m dying for each one to pull out half a medallion and discover they’re secretly related, what instead happens is that Kenya introduces Tevin as the guy she’s currently with and Daryl as the guy she’s still sort of in love with and you can see Tevin dying a bit inside. Tevin maintains his grace and sweetly tells Daryl it was very nice to have met him and then Kenya and Daryl go outside to talk. We can rejoin them in a mere moment, but first let’s go back to Zak and Emily. Zak thinks it’s horrible that Emily texted some guy to come over to her place at 2AM, but Emily reminds the guy that he willingly went on a dating show so pulling that card is kind of ridiculous. Zak’s reaction is to cry and tell her he’s done talking to her and I’m thinking the healthy relationship he was hoping to have with this girl will not ever happen because 1) He’s not able to communicate and 2) Bria will castrate him by dawn.
In a happier area of the relationship retreat, Daryl is calmly letting Kenya know he’s still in love with her and that she changed his life and she cries and the two hug and kiss for maybe a beat too long while Jasmine, The Perpetual Side Piece, smiles widely because maybe now she can have Tevin all to herself and continue that Side Piece marathon she’s got going on for herself. Before Jasmine can fully lower herself because doing so is her pattern, Ikaika shows up. He’s Kayla’s ex and she’s pretty calm when she sees him in a way that really makes me like her despite the fact that the guy she’s pursuing definitely has a MAGA hat. “So what do you want?” she asks her ex. “I’m just here to support you on your new journey in life,” he smarmily responds. I suppose he was cautioned by producers to not instead say he’s there because he was offered a free trip to Hawaii and the opportunity to have his face blasted across the airwaves.
As for Samantha and Tyler, things are taking a bad turn. Tyler asks if Samantha has been with anyone since she’s been on the show and she says she’s made out with one guy. This prompts her ex – the guy who slept with two of Samantha’s friends – to rise to his feet, remove the lei he was rocking around his neck, and throw it at her because how dare someone he’s refused to commit to move on? “You’re toxic!” she screams at him. “You’re like my own personal brand of fucking heroin, dude!” and I actually stopped typing for a second to applaud her for finally speaking her mind while realizing that this guy attempted to destroy her from the inside out. I hope she kicks this dirty blonde habit forever.
What’s that? You want to know what’s going on with Kenya? Well, she’s sitting on her ex’s lap near the bonfire! She lets Daryl know that Tevin wants to ask him some questions and he says that he will tell all sorts of lies, like how Kenya is crazy and she’ll slit his tires and I keep waiting for the lie he swore he’d tell to come out of his mouth because not a bit of me doubts Kenya has already slashed a few sets of tires in her lifetime.
Kayla has finally allowed herself to sit down with her ex and the things she says he did to her are horrific. He called her ugly and he abused her both verbally and emotionally. This is a man she says broke her, and I realize she’s on a reality show and she consented to allow producers the license to fuck around with her by signing that contract to participate in this televised experiment, but making her confront a man who damaged her this severely is crossing a line. And please don’t feed me any bullshit about how she’s finally achieving closure. She can get that closure on a therapist’s couch, not sitting on the ground communicating with her abuser while a camera lens is shoved into her face.
Now let’s head back to Kenya! She’s sitting on the arm of Daryl’s chair while Tevin’s chair arm remains ass-free and the rain is falling down while Tevin asks Daryl if Kenya had a wandering eye when the two of them were together because, since meeting Tevin, she’s been continuing to explore her other options in the house. “Nah,” says Daryl, and you can see Tevin’s face crumble and the light in his eyes dim as he realizes these two are still very into one another. Tevin seems like he’s a kind person. I hope he finds someone who’s right for him. And I also hope that person can sing – or, you know, lip synch – because I’m quite sure my life will never feel complete until Tevin starts his very own Milli Vanilli cover band.
As the sun goes down, Morgan’s ex shows up. Leon has a blonde ponytail and he and Morgan have no bad blood between them. Things are in fact so copasetic that he encourages her to pursue Zak and stop worrying about which of her arteries Bria will attempt to slice first. It’s too bad Ikaika is not more like Leon. It’s also too bad Ikaika is not fully human. A combination of toxic rage and misguided ego that was then thrown sloppily into an exterior that looks very much like an animated cartoon villain, Ikaika continues to berate Kayla for fun and then tosses a drink in Cam’s face. He’s a garbage person and I was thrilled to watch Tomas tackle him to the ground. I’m officially rooting for Kayla and Cam. Watching him console her with such sweetness, I can now officially say Cam is my very favorite Republican on television, so long as there’s no Family Ties rerun on because Alex P. Keaton will forever kick every Republican’s ass as far as I’m concerned.
Zak has finally achieved a bit of actual closure and he asks Morgan to hop into a hammock with him so he can tell her that he likes her. They kiss and Morgan announces she will no longer let Bria nor any of the personalities currently living inside of Bria’s head to keep her from pursuing this guy. Unfortunately, all the psychos inhabiting Bria’s psyche band together at once and Bria points at the hammock and announces that the coupling of Zak and Morgan is not okay. Morgan has lied to her and now Morgan better be on the lookout because Bria is still batshit crazy and she’s still coming for her.
Once the sky turns completely black, neon paint is whipped out for a tribal party that very much resembles a hallucinogenic nightmare scored by terrible music. As Kenya murmurs to Daryl about how much she loves him and Tevin’s soul crumbles into tiny bits of neon nothingness, Jasmine takes the opportunity to once again become someone’s second choice and the two of them go hook up in an outdoor shower while Tevin proclaims that Kenya is dead to him – at least until sunrise.
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