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.
(I also know to expect to see a sequel in less time than it would take a rational person to sputter “Why in the name of all that is holy would anyone head to that island willingly? You can become an Instagram sponsor of some waist cincher that doesn’t actually work by appearing on The Bachelor for only two episodes or by getting adopted by a set of parents who are willing to shill out half a million dollars to a university that pretends to believe you’re a crew star because you shoved one picture of yourself straddling a rowing machine into your application! You do not have to shlep your significant other to their televised doom to become temporarily famous anymore! This is America, for fuck’s sake!”)
Now that we’re about to reach the very end of the season, I see no other way of looking at Temptation Island as anything other than a terrifying but rather predictable slasher film. The show has followed most of the conventions of the genre, though it’s been sweat dotting the faces of those involved instead of blood. The “characters” we couldn’t have cared less about were knocked off one by one and we barely realized they were gone. We’ve witnessed a bunch of (metaphorical) death scenes, we’ve seen footage of morons writhing beneath sheets, we’re aware a new installment of this show is coming soon to a cable box near you, and we also recognize quite clearly who the Very Bad Man is on the island. But we also know that the majority of the horror in scenarios such as these comes near the end, so before we can arrive at the actual slaughter, we must first trudge through the slicing and dicing of John’s heart, which I see as an amuse bouche for us to nibble on before the main course massacre. We will eventually arrive at The Implosion of Evan & Kaci, but you’ve got yourself some time to prepare, so feel free to carb up or to assemble stacks of tissues around you like a fort or to toss on your newly-bedazzled I Hate Evan sleeveless tee while you take the kind of deep meditative breaths Brittany would probably recommend because we’ve got ourselves some time to, um, kill.
And speaking of symbolic killings, where last we left them, John and Kady were sitting on tree stumps beside a blazing fire and John was explaining to Kady how badly it hurt him to hear her question his potential as a father. His eloquence under pressure was lovely, so of course Kady did the only thing she possibly could in such a situation: she looked him straight in the eye and told him that he makes her uterus want to go on strike. Even the host of the show had to quickly reconstruct his features so it wouldn’t appear that he was in utter shock and then he had to inform this once devoted couple that they need to make a decision about their future. Hasn’t that decision already kind of been made? Is there any fucking chance John would choose to continue living with a woman who has publicly questioned his virility and his ability to adequately be a father? And listen: I am all for being honest and speaking my mind, but there had to be a more compassionate way for Kady to communicate her concerns without betraying her own belief system in the process, right? She had three weeks (well, three years and three weeks) to figure out how to assemble words into some variation of a sentence that wouldn’t cause John – a man she has said is kind and sweet and loving – to feel like he was croaking inside. This is what she came up with? I mean, I get that there are no books permitted on that island, but could production maybe have provided just one fucking thesaurus for all of them to share so Kady could have maybe chosen some different words to communicate her fears? Couldn’t she just tell him that he’ll never be the dictator she craves or that Johnny’s dick is bigger or that she’s loved her time away from the real world so completely that she’s nominated herself to participate in the next biosphere project and you can only go underground if you’re single? Couldn’t she embrace her truth without destroying the guy?
John is far more a restrained person than I. He does not even attempt to rip Kady’s spleen out of her body with the fractured pieces of sticks resting underneath his feet! He instead tells her that he loves her, he wants the best for her (“Same,” she responds) and though he did have a connection with Katheryn, he’s not about to hop from one relationship to the next. John is leaving that island alone. As for Kady, she’s also leaving single. She lets John know that she still loves him and she hopes they will have a dignified existence going forward as they rip apart the life they once built together, but they both maintain that they have no regrets for coming on this show because they were able to stop a future barreling train from careening out of control, which I think is a more lyrical way of saying that now they don’t have to worry about an errant sperm hightailing it to one of Kady’s eggs, thus creating a child with a father who will never even attempt to teach that kid how to salute.
With John and Kady’s story complete, the editors blessedly give us a palate cleanser for a second or two. Yes, Shari and Javen’s relationship – the one I pronounced “fucking doomed” during the first episode – is the only one to survive this vacation to the emotional underworld. Both are excited to reunite, both feel they have grown during the process, and neither has spent so much as one second on that island shoving a hand down the pants of a stranger. They are in a good place. But Evan and Kaci are in a place even uglier than the shirt Evan’s wearing. Now, I don’t much go for making fun of appearances on these shows, not when there is so much horrific human behavior that needs to be commented on, but this particular shirt looks like a bowl of vanilla ice cream melted on the sofa my mother bought during the late eighties, the one she will still swear today was peach and not a hideous shade of orange. Anyhoo, the guy’s shirt really doesn’t matter much. What matters is that he’s about to ditch his girlfriend of almost a decade while she sits beside him on a fucking log in front of a camera crew because he feels a simmering chemistry with Morgan. What matters is that these two seemed to have a genuine friendship and not just a romantic relationship for a long time and now all of it is about to be over. What matters is that the producers and the editors of this show have still not shown us a single cut of a single episode that in any way explains what it is about Morgan that has caused Evan to shift the entire trajectory of his life. What matters is how I actually want there to be some reason to explain the pull this girl has on Evan and I want that explanation to involve a word other than “chemistry” because, at this point, all we’ve really seen is Evan staring at Morgan while saying scintillating variations of sentences like “Girl, you’re trouble” and “Girl, I think I’m falling in love with you” and “Girl, please don’t vomit all over your brand new sectional.” Wait – the vomit sentence was me talking to myself while watching this pile of fucking garbage masquerading as personal growth. And making everything even worse than the chunkiest of vomit hitting my lovely dark silver sectional is the fact that just as Evan reached his moment of clarity and decided to end his relationship, Kaci reached a very different conclusion and realized she wants to be with the guy forever.
It’s looking like forever ends today.
I initially expected that Shari and Javen would reunite first and declare their undying devotion to one another. Even though they’ve both come off as rather boring on this show – which is kind of a compliment – we would watch them kiss and think, “That’s sweet. Now bring on the fucking destruction.” But since Kaci and Evan are the next duo to meet at the Bonfire, I guess the creators of this show are attempting to craft some narrative that hauling a loved one to an isolated location, plying them with attractive people who crave camera time more than they crave oxygen, and allowing them to stare at an iPad every few days so their blood pressure will go shooting through the stratosphere while their ego plummets until it can only be measured in a subterranean manner is actually a really good way to strengthen a relationship. And should you be one of those simple people mulling over the idea of maybe applying for season two of this show, perhaps you should watch this next segment on a loop before you make your final decision.
As someone tasked with recapping this show, I think it’s important to note that I don’t think Evan is relishing the notion of hurting Kaci for even a nanosecond. I also don’t think it’s odd for him to feel more excited by someone he’s been sleeping with for less than a month than the woman he’s been undressing next to for almost ten years. Excitement can fade, emotions can shift, and the typical male perhaps doesn’t want to stay with a woman accustomed to calling him on his shit. I get all of that. But that understanding is as far as I’m willing to go for a guy about to gut a woman on camera. Because Evan, you see, has no regrets. He has given his heart to a woman whom we have seen do exactly nothing except stare at him with wide eyes and a smile. Kaci, however, is still hoping beyond hope that the two of them can return home and resume their relationship with a clean slate, an act that could never actually happen unless one or both of them contracts spontaneous amnesia. It’s a sweet thought, but there is really no way to have witnessed all that Kaci has witnessed and then move along swimmingly in that same relationship. She’s trying her hardest to convince herself a healthy reconciliation is possible, but the rest of us know their fireside reunion is bound to be so much of a bloodbath that I can almost swear the mosquitoes buzzing in the background sound a little bit like the revving of a chainsaw.
Kaci’s ill-advised-and-clearly-assembled-through-a-tsunami-of-emotion plan is to tell Evan how badly he’s hurt her and then inform him of all he will be losing if he says goodbye. Evan’s plan is to gut Kaci in the quickest way possible so he can get to whatever hotel Morgan’s chilling out in and then call her “Girl” six zillion more times. What I’m saying here is that the plans these two have are not really matching up.
Kaci arrives first and she looks like she could collapse with fright at any time. Evan shows up next and consolingly claps his hand on her trembling knee. And Mark, realizing he has to get all this done before Kaci faints, tells her she is the person who will get to speak first. Summoning her courage, Kaci says many things – that the Bonfire footage she saw was hard to watch, that they seemed so strong a couple when they first arrived – but the only thing that really resonates is when she tells Evan, “You threw our whole life away for some random girl. You’re a piece of shit scumbag and you really broke my heart.” I know this woman still wants to be with Evan after saying such things, but I’m also not going to deny that I stood up and cheered when she strung those particular words together. She ends her speech by telling him how in love with him she still is, how sorry she is for placing all those ultimatums on him, and Evan in turn looks miserable at how badly he’s hurt her. But then he begins speaking and it all goes a little something like this: He went on the show to prove he had the fortitude to resist temptation, and sure, he wasn’t able to do that, but it wasn’t a light temptation that he and his dick fell into. No, what he experienced on that island was clarity and it told him that he should open his heart to another person.
Also: Evan’s nickname for Kaci is apparently “My Little Bird,” and sure, I suppose I could make fun of such a thing, but being that one of my boyfriends and I called each other “Mushball,” I don’t really have so much as a mushy leg to stand on here. The first time he calls her the bird thing at the Bonfire she looks relieved; there’s an indication of intimacy. But the second time he calls her that – right after he tells her he’s about to move on from the life they built together – she interrupts and tells him not to call her that before her tear-filled eyes search for a rock or perhaps a pointy stick that she can quickly thrust directly into his scrotum so he can, maybe just for a moment, feel the same agony she’s been feeling for three weeks.
By the time Mark tells them it’s time to decide if they want to leave together, leave alone, or leave with someone else, the silly slasher film I thought I was watching turns instead into some torture porn type shit. Listening to Kaci say human things like “I want to go home and see what we can fix” and “This is our life” feels very much like how I felt when I watched that girl in Saw 2 land face-first in a vat of hypodermic needles and then proceed to get stabbed by about sixteen of those pointy suckers every single time she tried to stand or move. There is nothing but torture being shown to us right now. Kaci is tortured because the axis of her entire world has just shifted sideways – and it appears to be staying in that position. Evan is tortured because causing Kaci pain hurts him, but he will not go back on what he told Morgan he’d do. And me, dear reader? I’m being tortured because I understand that relationships sometimes end yet I still feel that I have been left entirely clueless about what it is that Evan sees in Morgan, and for that I blame the editors and the producers of this show. But the torture I’m experiencing is not exactly paramount. What is important is that Kaci announces she’s committed to Evan, to their relationship, to their history, to their fucking dogs, to proving that she can be the person Evan wants her to be, and Evan announces that he’s committed to Morgan.
At some point during this hideous circular discussion, Evan and Kaci seem to slip into a conversation conducted entirely in code about the ways in which Kaci hasn’t been there for him and the casual viewer watching this relationship implode whilst eating some nice chips and dip doesn’t really have any idea of what it is he’s complaining about or what it is that she’s promising him. And just when you think you can’t possibly take one more second of this confusing misery, Kaci begins begging him to stay with her. Evan shuts her down quickly because the guy with a soul filled with self-proclaimed demons now fully believes that a woman he basically met yesterday will be the one person in the whole wide world who will fully accept him and that she is capable of loving him in a way Kaci cannot. Is he right? Who the fuck knows. I’d never profess to say the guy doesn’t deserve happiness and I think he is ready to move beyond his long-term girlfriend, but there has to be a another way for all of this to end besides through shock and massive humiliation.
Mark truly impressed me during this finale – like, I’m so impressed by the host’s calming nature that I’m going on record to say that he totally deserves to fully survive this slasher film – and he tries to touch Kaci consolingly as she stalks away, but the girl is walking abject fury right now. She is a whirling cyclone of disbelief and cyclones do not enjoy being touched because a simple conciliatory gesture is not going to do a single thing to make anything right for her right now. She turns around once, informs Evan again that he’s making a mistake, and I’m left wondering how all of this somehow devolved into Evan deciding it was Kaci who had wronged him when he was the one feeling up some girl since the fourth day he landed on that island.
“He threw our whole life away for someone he doesn’t even know,” Kaci tells the unfortunate producer sitting in the SUV with her, and I’d like to once again recommend to anyone so much as contemplating whether or not to appear in the sequel to The Temptation Island Massacre to watch this scene twice and then book an appointment with a licensed therapist instead. Meanwhile, the Bonfire is still raging and Evan is illustrating some remorse for hurting the woman he has long considered his best friend, but he makes sure to add that he has no real regrets for his actions because he has finally found someone who – at least in this sort of rarified and totally constructed universe – accepts him unconditionally. And speaking of Morgan, she is just down that path over there! Evan flees to her, the one girl who understands him, and there Morgan waits until they can fling themselves into one another’s arms and whisper words of devotion while telling themselves that the unconditional love they feel for one another – the one that hasn’t had to endure any conditions thus far besides that pesky girlfriend who needed to be ditched – will indeed burn as eternal as the Temptation Island Bonfire, the one they don’t realize is being extinguished at this very moment by some low-level P.A.
Also: The intensity with which Evan looks at Morgan makes me feel fucking nauseated because it strikes me as more about consumption than about devotion.
Also: Should these two actually make it down the aisle, I’ll send them a lovely gift. I don’t want to spoil the surprise right now, but I’m deciding between three options: a mirror so Evan can stare instead at himself for a while and see how creepy it looks, a gold-bound thesaurus so he can find something other than “Girl” to call the supposed love of his life, or maybe a nice gravy boat because Thanksgiving is something even piece of shit scumbags celebrate.
Also: There’s really no way to look at this relationship as anything other than two people who really enjoy fucking one another. And if anyone including the happy couple disagrees with me, they can first blame the editors for only including footage in which the two of them constantly climb on and attempt to ravage one another before going back to listen to Evan’s sound bytes in the car wherein his entire focus seems to be on how charged their chemistry is and not at all about how well their lives and their goals and their morals and their hopes and their dreams line up.
And now that those two are off and banging at some hotel paid for by other people, it’s time to reunite Shari and Javen, the characters who left the slasher film premise behind and instead cast themselves in a sweet little romance picture. Javen greets her with a barrage of compliments and Shari is as reserved as she’s been so far, but they tell each other how much they feel they’ve each grown and how much they value one another. Javen explains that he met some wonderful people, but not a single one made him feel anything like what he feels for her. “I’m leaving here with you, Baby Girl!” he declares – but this show would like us to believe for a second that Shari may not fully be on board with the Baby Girl Plan. See, she’s grown a great deal. She wants them to each have their own lives. And just as Javen’s face falls a fraction of an inch in maybe-despair, Shari tells him that she wants to leave with him! She wants him to have female friends! She wants a guy friend or three for herself! And this couple, the one whose demise I so casually called, turns out to be the only couple to leave that island without possibly requiring an immediate prescription for some mood stabilizers.
Also: Javen and Shari get engaged!
Also: The company that provided the lovely ring gets an even lovelier product placement!
Also: I’m totally buying these two a blender!
Now, it would seem that a happy ending such as this one just went and fucked up my Temptation-Island-is-like-a-slasher-film analogy, but if you aren’t still waiting for the jump scare that’s coming up, you need to go watch (in this order) The Strangers, Friday the 13th (the original!), and The Ring. Because though the official island journey is now complete, those making this show know what we want, so let’s head into the epilogue and make sure you’re prepared to be seriously disturbed.
Six months later, and Shari and Javen are planning their wedding. They hope to get married before the end of the year and I think these two will not only make it down the aisle, but I also think they might really be happy.
Not particularly happy is John. When he and Kady returned to Texas, he was (still!) willing to give her another shot and, according to him, she was reciprocating those emotions. Or she was acting lovey dovey until the day came when she informed John that Johnny had bought her a flight to New York so would John please take care of her pets while she went and got nailed by a chiropractor on the east coast? That was the moment when John finally had enough and Kady is now fully out of both his house and his life. Kady, settled in her own apartment and rocking a brand new set of extensions, dated Johnny for a little while, but the distance complicated things so they decided to just stay friends. As for whether she has any regrets about anything she’s said or done, well, the answer to that is no. And it appears she’s currently single, so if any men out there are looking forward to the day when they can become a Dictator/Father, maybe go ahead and give Kady a call.
Karl is back in Chicago and his reappearance on this show gave me my first full-on wracking belly laugh that I’ve had in ages, so thanks, Karl! See, Karl is making music now and his lyrics are all about not giving in to temptation. That said, he looks good, he’s moved out, and he’s moving on with his life. Nicole is also back in Chicago. She’s about to buy her first home, she’s doing really well, and she’s still in touch with Tyler.
But we all really want to hear from Kaci and Evan, so the first thing to know about Kaci is that she’s now a brunette. The second thing to know about Kaci is that she chokes up when swearing that Evan’s absence in her life is a true blessing, so take from that what you will. Evan has been in touch with her. Our compassionate prince sent her an emotion-chocked DM that stated, “I’m sorry for the way things have shaken out.” Aww. (And yes, “aww” translates into “Man, does this guy fucking suck or what?”) Evan returned from the island, picked up his dog – who is perfectly named “Ghost,” – gathered his collection of sleeveless tank tops, and hightailed it to Morgan’s lovely apartment in Washington, D.C. so rest assured, sweet readers, that we now have yet another selfish prick residing in our nation’s capital.
As for Morgan’s family, they seem very sweet and supportive and they arrive at the restaurant soon after Evan proposes. Yup, Evan and Morgan are now engaged, something I predicted would happen a month ago and something that was then confirmed when some guy who was at the restaurant that same night leaked photos of the proposal on Twitter – you know, the proposal that, according to this witness, was performed several times so the cameras could get it just right.
Morgan’s hand, now half-covered by a pear-shaped diamond, is one of the last images we see during season one of Temptation Island and the image sort of reminds me of Carrie’s hand, the one that comes shooting out of the grave at the end of Carrie, providing a great jump scare and leaving the audience with a mental hangover. But may these two wind up happy. May they never sign up for a season of Marriage Boot Camp. May they never ask whomever Kady ends up procreating with to babysit. And may the groom in this equation treat his new true love with far more fucking decency than he did his last true love.
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