If there are two things the thirteenth installment of The Fast & the Furious franchise taught us this summer, it’s that 1) People really enjoy watching bald men beating the shit out of bad guys while stopping mid-punch to say something quippy and 2) There will always be something new and shiny to blow up onscreen – and that includes relationships. Temptation Island doesn’t exactly fall into the Action movie category. Not one literal explosion occurred last season and nobody participated in a high-speed car chase over a rickety bridge like the boys who hail from Fast & Furious Land – soon to be a theme park attraction the moment Disney buys yet another studio! – but a shitload of emotional implosions did go down. Remember? Three couples broke up, two relative strangers got engaged, and the former long-term live-in girlfriend of the now-betrothed-to-another had her heart fileted on national television as she sat beside a motherfucking bonfire. Even while the girl’s tears were still streaming down her cheeks, it was clear the series would get renewed, and now it’s back with four new couples somehow willing to put themselves into catastrophic scenarios. So settle in, dear readers! It’s time to embark on season 2 of Temptation Island, where relationships will fail spectacularly under the hot Hawaiian sun if casting agents did their jobs properly. We can go ahead and call it Temptation Island 2: Too Fast, Too Furious, and Way Too Fucking Willing to Risk a Relationship Just So You Can Nab a Verified Twitter Account. I’ll be watching with popcorn and perhaps a chastity belt.
Before we are introduced to this season’s couples, I feel the need to confess: I am often a serious sucker for manipulative editing. Last season, I found myself boldly declaring that the only couple who actually managed to stay together would instead be the first to toss one another into a simmering volcano, but to be fair, the dominant emotion propelling their relationship sideways seemed to be undiluted hatred. My guess is the editors trotted out the bickering clips early to fool viewers, and I’ve decided to stick with that theory since the alternative is to question my own judgment. Anyhoo, as we meet the newest participants and I psychoanalyze them to within an inch of all of our lives, please remember that you have been warned to take my earliest bets with several grains (or bushels) of salt. And you should also probably know that I believe with my entire charred heart that there are 727,000,003 more effective ways to decide if you are with the right person than by dating strangers on television. I mean, I would trust a tarot card reader more than this process, but since these people have already committed and they’re currently stuck on a boat heading to the island, it’s time to get to know them in the ways production decided we should.
Ashley H. and Casey hail from Florida, and Ashley looks traumatized before the boat even docks. They met online and have a relationship where they laugh a lot, but after a year and a half of constantly being together, they’ve decided to test their relationship by introducing into it a gaggle of people whose job it is to get them to cheat. (Yeah, I’m sorry, but not one bit of me is willing to buy the voiceover at the beginning of the episode that claims the Singles’ main motivation for being on an island with men and women who are all in relationships is to find love. Please. They’re there for fun and a free vacation and to eventually sell shit on Instagram. If you’re really all about forever love, would your first step be to hook up with someone for whom you’re automatically a rebound?) Ashley has been cheated on in the past and she feels like maybe she’s not good enough for a guy to fully commit to her. She also struggles with making friends, at least according to her boyfriend. But regardless of Ashley’s social anxieties or the notion of being terrified of being cheated on, these two still packed for a show called Temptation Island and now they’re en route and pretending everything will turn out just fine.
Prediction #1: Everything will not turn out just fine and Casey will be the one left shocked when his has-a-hard-time-playing-easily-with-others girlfriend ends up getting on perfectly fucking dandy in his absence.
Our next couple is Ashley G. and Rick. They’ve been together for over four years. He cheated on her in the past, but now they’re together again and she’d like a ring on her finger pronto. Rick comes from a family that’s experienced divorce, which he says has caused him to fear commitment, but they have both convinced themselves and each other that heading to an island filled with vodka and barely dressed people of the opposite sex will offer them clarity. Before they leave, Ashley tells Rick that she will “act up” if she sees or hears about his lips touching any other girl’s lips and let’s face it: a sound byte like that is exactly why these two were picked to head into pretend paradise.
Kate and Dave are from New Jersey. Kate is crying as they travel to the island while Dave swears that he has no intention of leaving there without her. That reminds me! It’s time to light my weekly remembrance candle for the now fully doomed relationship of last season’s stars, Evan and Kaci. I’m pretty sure I recall Evan saying much the same thing Dave is saying to his girlfriend as they headed to the island – you know, right before Evan slept with someone else, declared his love for the new girl, and then justified his actions at a campfire where not even a marshmallow was offered as a bit of sugary solace. But back to Kate and Dave. Kate is six years older than Dave and she wants kids and for the relationship to progress more quickly than it’s been going. She also cheated on her now ex-husband and is therefore expecting karma to wallop her swiftly in the face, which is the same face Dave does not look at and say “I love you” because he thinks words are meaningless and it shows way more devotion to head out instead onto a dating show with a girlfriend who is losing water weight from all her tears.
Esonica (I like her name!) and Gavin are from Georgia and they’ve been together for a year and a half. They’re looking for clarity – and again, might I suggest instead either therapy or reading tea leaves?? – and Esonica is hoping Gavin will prove to her that she can trust him. They swear they will walk onto (and off of) that island as a united front, but the beauty of this show is that we are already meant to be calculating the odds of their destruction.
As the ship reaches the shore, Mark, our genial host, is there to greet the newest people he gets to torment. Mark looks good! And as paranoia and loss of control continue to grip the contestants like a fucking vice, Mark is sure to look even better in comparison. He brings them to a villa, asks how they’re feeling, and hears variations of the fact that all these couples are struggling with two issues:
Okay. I’m having a problem here. How does a person who expects his or her significant other to cheat feel like it’s a good idea to head to an island covered with attention seeking singles? How will communication be improved when you have to go a month without talking to your partner and instead you are told to survive on bits of edited footage provided by production that’s designed to make you question your partner’s fidelity while slowly driving you insane? This shit is like immersion therapy on speed, and I feel like every one of these participants truly needed a friend who should have stopped them from doing this, even if that meant drugging them and dragging them into a closet where they would be held for their own safety for just a little while – like a year, max. But since nobody bound and gagged them in the name of friendship, they stand on the veranda while Mark makes a toast about how he hopes they’ll all find the answers they’re seeking while a producer probably screams into Mark’s earpiece that maybe he should also make a toast to them losing any and all inhibitions because studies show ratings get higher the more moral compasses plummet.
After a tour of both villas, Mark tells the group to have a seat. It’s time to meet the Sirens! Kate looks ready to vomit, and not a bit of me can blame her. Gavin appears on the cusp of genuine shock and mutters things like “This is crazy.” Yes, Gavin. This is crazy. And just then the Singles are marched out into the darkness while tribal music blares and they’re revealed by a spotlight, because that’s just how produced and dramatic this show is. Twelve men and twelve women are revealed, and I’d bet one of my necessary organs that every member of each couple checked out their competition before they so much as glanced at those being offered their way. Right now, they’re all just running on adrenaline and pure fear. Me? I’m running on laughter, because this is the moment the Singles step forward and introduce themselves in a sassy and rather stupid way and those introductions are guaranteed to generate eye rolls from at least half of the couples glued to those chairs and from the viewers at home I’d actually choose to be friends with. Listen, I’m sure they are all nice people, but introducing yourself as a bartender who wants to mix it up is going to lead to some sort of reaction. My reaction (laughing hysterically) is slightly sweeter than the one Ashley H. has, because she just turns to the others and says, “Eww” – and that’s before the mix-it-up bartender winks FOR THE SECOND TIME. Meanwhile, two of the singles who are definitely only there for true love, laugh at the tears on Kate’s face because it’s funny to them that she’s so insecure about how they’re all battling to bang her boyfriend. Hooray for sisterhood! Then a man named Deac walks forward. Deac, whose name keeps getting underlined by my spellcheck, fancies himself a comedian, so he tells an utterly hilarious joke about how the only thing that will get between these couples will be his “deac.” Then he sticks out his tongue and makes a sound that indicates he thinks he’s just made some point really well and he saunters back in line, convinced he’s already a star.
Prediction #2: I will forever hate Deac and his deac.
Once the Singles leave, many offering coy waves or what they think are seductive bites of the lip, Mark informs the couples that they will be heading to separate villas for the night. Most of them are already crying and several are questioning what the fuck they are doing in a situation where they could very well be “playing with fire,” to which I scream at my television, “Half this show takes place next to an actual inferno! This isn’t a toying with matches kind of thing! This is tossing kerosene on purpose and then watching shit burn while you clutch an iPad and cameras point straight at your face to record your devastation!” Alas, these people are unable to hear my bellows of warning, and they probably signed a contract that prohibits them from leaving now anyway.
Once the girls leave, Gavin asks the rest of the guys if they’re scared, either of what they will do or of what their girlfriends might do. Casey is the only one to proclaim the he is 0% scared that Ashley will betray him, which means it’s a 99.99% certainty that Ashley will bang someone new in the next sixty hours. Lord, please don’t let it be Deac. I’ve already started chanting for his forever impotence, and I do hate to chant in vain.
The next morning, Mark greets the guys and tells them the girls are about to walk in. “Our girls?” they ask hopefully, but no. It’s time to bring in the single women who mumble about getting the boys drunk. Let me tell you: it does not appear that any of these single women are looking at these men like they’re potential soul mates. No, this is about winning the prize. Meanwhile, over at the girls’ villa, KB is flirting with Ashley G. before Jose drags her away and wraps his arms around her in the kitchen. The other Ashley is making easy conversation with a few of the boys and Esonica, rocking pigtails, looks cynically at Kareem as they sit outside. There’s no footage early in the party of Kate, so my guess is she’s screaming into a pillow in one of the upstairs bedrooms.
Back at the guys’ house, Toneata slips her hand onto Gavin’s thigh, Kari chats up David, and then Mark appears to break up this little party because it’s time for the boyfriends to go have a final dinner with their actual girlfriends. That sounds nice, right? Well, it would be if the host didn’t sit at the table alongside them and pose all kinds of questions that are designed to wedge doubt nugget-style into the mind of every person there. Responding to the question of whether any guy has yet to impress her, Ashley G. says KB announced he’s ready for marriage and children…you know, in the way her boyfriend is not. Of course, KB could just be saying such things because he realizes he’s speaking to a woman craving conventional commitment, but a stranger’s motives are really beside the point. As for Ashley H., her worst-case scenario is losing Casey to another woman. I empathize with that fear. I’m human; I have also feared losing someone I loved, but I still cannot for the life of me figure out why she is willingly walking into what could very well lead to her nightmarish scenario becoming a vivid reality.
“What if your partner missteps and falls in love here?” Mark asks the group, and Ashley G.’s response to Rick – “I’ll fuck you up” – is actually easier to watch than how the others sit there and silently weep. Could none of these couples have instead tried out for The Amazing Race? There’s mandatory togetherness and some trust exercises necessary for that show! Sure, there are probably fewer showers involved, but having your heart skewered in high definition probably would not be the likely outcome. Plus, there’s a cash prize!
Mark ends the meal by announcing, “This could be goodbye forever,” and the couples rush off to spend their last ten minutes together before they’re separated for a month and tempted by a bevvy of available singles and some producers who are intent on getting as much salacious material as they are able to legally gather.
Spoiler alert: not one of the last minute conversations is joyful. But really, how could they be ruled by anything besides emotional bedlam? The resentment of those who were talked into coming on this show feels so evident that viewers can almost taste it, snozberry-style.
“I just don’t want you to do anything crazy,” Ashley tells Rick, and these are basically the same words one part of every duo is saying to each other as the clock ticks down.
“I don’t think anyone is ever ready for this,” Ashley G. cries as her boyfriend and the rest of the men leave to go enjoy a month being single, and she is clearly correct. But now she’s stuck in a Hawaiian villa and so are the others, and there’s no way this season will end with all four couples happily reuniting with fewer trust issues now plaguing them. It might have actually been a far sweeter experience for these people to skip the sojourn to Temptation Island and instead drive Fast & Furious style over some rickety bridge. At least they’d maybe book themselves a sequel, not a very public breakup.
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