The experiment – you know, the one you’d only participate in if your entire existence was predicated on craving the kind of fleeting faux fame that Fiji water girl just experienced – is now fully in swing over on Temptation Island. The couples have been split apart, the Tempters are calculating exactly what they need to do in order to snag the maximum amount of camera time without having to resort to either murder or actually developing a talent, and Javen is releasing deep sighs of relief into his pillow because every second of every day is no longer scored by the sound of Shari’s annoyed sighs. Oh – and two Tempters are rocking necklaces that may as well be fashioned out of rotting forbidden fruit.
Quick thought here on Kady and John’s choice to anoint certain Tempters off-limits: since all that silly necklace does is prohibit the wearer from going on an actual date but does not in any way preclude the person from hanging out (literally) all day and all night at the house, won’t that sort of distinction result in making what I’ve decided to call The Verboten Tempters even more, um, tempting? Still, Kady and John are new to this (and by “this” I mean “embracing public humiliation and possible heartbreak for profit”) so they’re bound to make some mistakes. And speaking of mistakes, let’s head into episode two!
In case anyone out there is keeping track of My Favorite Things, my favorite portion of the credit sequence is when “You’re not gonna tempt me” is heard for the fifth or sixth time as a man’s groin comes walking towards the screen in extreme close-up, but let’s go ahead and pretend this show is far deeper than its credit sequence, okay? (Yes, I’m talking to you. You must fucking PRETEND. I refuse to live in a mental fantasy world alone.) Anyway, the women are being transported to their temporary island home and the mood in their SUV is grim. They are just starting to realize that being separated from the supposed loves of their lives – who will undoubtedly be offered tequila and vagina ‘round the clock in their absence – might turn out to be kind of a big deal. Now listen: I am a human being. I’m even one of those human beings born with that sweet little quality called empathy. I do not find any of the “contestants” on this show particularly loathsome and I do not believe any of them deserve to be punished by, say, having to be the next person to whom Danielle Staub from The Real Housewives of New Jersey gets engaged. But I’m kind of finding it hard to actively root for people who chose to throw themselves into a Hawaiian den of iniquity and I declare right fucking now that I will only find it harder to care should any of them so much as utter some bullshit rationale like “Being tested while cameras are in our faces will make us so much stronger.” This entire experience is not about finding strength; it is about pseudo fame, the participants know it, and the fact that they’re feeling anxious right now just proves that they probably should have known better.
When they finally arrive at their villa, the male Tempters are lounging by the pool and the girls could not appear any less excited to see them. Some may argue their lack of excitement is because they’re still thinking about saying goodbye to their boyfriends, but I think it’s because these women have never had to see so many terrible tattoos in one place at one time before. That sort of sight could put anyone into a shitty mood. But the girls’ lack of enthusiasm makes the barber from Brooklyn feel sad. Nobody is excited to see him! The girls don’t even show enthusiasm when says he wants to spread love from his little body! (FYI: that sound you thought you heard in the distance after the barber uttered that particular sentence? That was me bashing my head into a wall in the hopes that vomity statements that include words like “spread” and “little body” would get erased from my head on impact. It did not work.) While the women would probably prefer to crawl into bed and contemplate if they made the right choice to trade in the relative boredom that comes with relationship security for a little media attention, they decide to throw on sweats and chat with the Tempters by the pool. A few of the guys already have minor crushes, like James from Delaware. He thinks Shari might be the girl for him. I guess he is attracted to withering glances and abject misery.
Over at the guy’s house, Off-Limits Kathryn is bragging to John (He Who Shall Remain Forbidden) that she’s the forbidden fruit. Her distinction, however, may not end up mattering all that much. Yeah, John thinks Kathryn’s attractive, but she’s coming on so strong that he’s finding himself far less interested in her than she thinks he is. As for Evan, he’s only interested in natural beauties, meaning Kathryn and her fake lashes do not make the cut. Brittany is Evan’s type. She smiles at him serenely while those not deemed “natural beauties” die a little bit inside.
The next morning our host appears to greet the Tempters and those being tempted. I thought the couples wouldn’t actually see each other until the end of the series, but nope – they are all together again so they can watch each other pick dates because total emotional frailty is a very important part of this healthy journey. Karl is up first. He selects Sheldon while standing right in front of his girlfriend. John chooses Hannah. Kady – John’s actual girlfriend – appears less annoyed by watching the whole thing go down than Kathryn does. Even though John is not permitted to select Kathryn for a date, it seems to bother her that John wouldn’t sooner stay back at the villa and sort Tupperware so he can be near the not-so-natural beauty. Javen, looking utterly terrified to be doing any of this in front of Shari, selects Kayla, a very pretty and smiley girl whose expression contrasts just a bit too perfectly with Shari’s gloom. Evan picks Brittany and Kaci – who is so calm and centered about this entire process that it almost scares me – approves. She appreciates that Evan didn’t choose one of the cattier girls. Then it’s time for the girls to pick dates in front of their boyfriends and cause the hearts of the ones they love most to wither away and die! This show is fun. Shari looks like she’s walking the plank when she picks James. (You’d think Javen would be feeling pangs of jealousy here, but the only thing he exhibits is genuine concern for James because the guy has absolutely no idea what he’s in for.) Kaci chooses Carlos. Carlos has nice dimples. (That’s pretty much all I can say about Carlos at this point.) Nicole selects Tyler and Kady picks Johnny, a move her boyfriend totally saw coming because Kady is craving explicit testosterone in her life and Johnny is covered in tattoos, he’s rocking a tank top that shows off his muscles, and he ostensibly has a penis hidden in his shorts. People have gotten together for worse reasons.
The emotional annihilation of the afternoon now complete, it’s time for the girls to continue to bond with their Tempters back at the house. Kaci explains to a cute guy wearing glasses that she wants her own sleeve of tattoos. Kady confides to Wynn that it’s a drawback that John is from the city and not from the country – and that right there is a sentence I have never personally said. If this show is reinforcing anything (besides the importance of shutting your partner down but quick when he suggests the two of you go on a show called Temptation Island), it’s that we all have very different ideals and values. Kady is white and the guy she’s talking to is African American. When asked, she admits she’s never dated or been attracted to an African American before, but she is really enjoying their conversation. It’s a nice moment. Had it not been followed by Shari freezing out the man she picked for her own date, I’d almost feel toasty inside.
While the mood is dignified and calm at the girls’ villa, things are raging at the guys’ house. “We’re here for love!” slur three of the female Tempters, and yes, I rolled my eyes at their idiotic declaration so hard that I almost fell over. Then everyone takes a bunch of shots while Brittany wistfully fantasizes about the amazing future she will hopefully share with a man who currently has a girlfriend and still decided to go on a dating show.
Also: Tempter Cathlene finally nabs herself a moment on camera and she takes the opportunity to prove she’s truly unique and special by telling us she lives by the #YOLO motto and she also really likes abs. If Cathlene’s words didn’t inspire you to your very core, you’re dead inside.
Then there’s Kathryn. Kathryn clearly has every intention of staking her claim early on as being The One To Watch in this reality television hellscape. Having realized John’s attention has shifted elsewhere (and knowing she requires the full gaze of another man, lest she shrivel up and die in a corner of that villa), she decides to pull Javen aside to tell him she just can’t shake him. Javen appears terrified by this news. He stammers and then quite literally runs away. With Javen hiding beneath the covers upstairs, Kathryn decides to ask Evan if he’ll “do a confessional” with her and the fact that such a sentence is part of our vernacular is just fucking sad. The “Want to do a confessional with me?” question is basically a new version of the “Want to go for a walk?” question guys asked me back when we were in 9th grade and they were hoping to feel up some budding boobies on a Saturday night in the suburbs. We all know this, yes? Kathryn simply wants to get this guy into an enclosed space where the act of fleeing will be more difficult to pull off and the fact that she can maybe accomplish such a thing while a camera is pointed at her face?! You guys: that’s Kathryn’s fucking utopia come to life. Kathryn and Evan are only in the confessional room for a brief moment before Morgan appears. See, Morgan also likes Evan – this is the sort of shit that happens when there are essentially only four men on an entire island – and Morgan wants to express her horror that Evan would even think of being alone in a room with some girl. Morgan’s concern, by the way, is not that Evan might betray his long-term girlfriend. No, Morgan can’t believe Evan is disrespecting Brittany. We are wading through some fucked up waters here, people.
Also: I full on object to chronicling the nonsensical fight that went down between “best friends” Kathryn and Morgan since I don’t care about their fury in the slightest and I find it utterly insane that they’re referring to one another as “best friends” when they’ve been acquainted for – tops – two whole weeks. That would be like me claiming the piece of chocolate mousse cake I ate this weekend is my best friend, and I guarantee that cake had way more depth than these two are exhibiting.
The sun comes up bright and shiny for Date Day and the men chivalrously help their dates climb into dune buggies. That part is easy. Remembering how to behave on a first date is not. Javen is struggling with the idea of what Shari could do to him should he step out of bounds and Brittany has decided she’s not really into her date with Evan because all the drama that went down at the house the night before turned her off. It seems Brittany – a girl who willingly went on a reality show called Temptation Island to try to bag a guy with a girlfriend – doesn’t really like it when things get dramatic. (I’ll pause here so you can laugh your entire ass off at this perfect example of ironic horseshit.)
The women spend Date Day snorkeling. Being underwater is good for Shari because that way she doesn’t have to make eye contact with her date. Meanwhile, we learn from Kady that John burns like firewood in the sun (probably because he lacks all that virility), but Chiropractor Johnny tans just perfectly. We also learn that Kady may very well be an ideal candidate for some Freudian analysis because she’s decided Johnny looks exactly like her father. As for Kady’s other half, he’s on land fully screwing up his own date. While reclining with some poor girl on a scenic bluff, John actually tells her that she was his second choice because Kathryn – the woman who has thrown herself at almost every guy there thus far – was his first choice. John’s date just sort of nods blankly while staring off into the distance. My guess is she was trying to decide if she’d maybe be able to fly if she hopped over that bluff in an effort to escape the worst date ever. Then there’s Shari. The girl is so uncomfortable being on a date with someone new that my heart breaks for her. She’s not being rude, but she is certainly not being warm either. It’s clear she feels like she’s dying inside.
The dates are finally over and now it’s time for an actual inferno. A bonfire has been set up and the men are welcomed by Mark Walberg, who tells them that this fiery setting is a place for them to vent and maybe get a glimpse of what their girlfriends are doing on the other side of the island. I’d argue that any normal person would know not to agree to watch intentionally incriminating and very heavily edited footage that could crack their hearts in three, but a totally normal person probably would not agree to go on this show in the first place. The bonfire thing works this way: Mark has an iPad loaded with out of context clips and the guys can decide if they want to watch it privately with headphones or share it with the group. All the guys choose to watch the footage publicly and they’re all rather relieved that none of it shows their girlfriends being felt up by strangers. John is the most offended out of all of them. The clips he saw were of Kady yet again questioning his level of manhood and it seems he’s starting to get tired of that shit. The guys eventually walk out of the wilderness and then it’s the girls’ turn to be taunted. Shari is up first. She chooses to share everything with the group and what she’s exposed to is the moment Kathryn declared Javen incredibly handsome followed by Javen saying he’d crossed the line. Fanning the flame of the nervous breakdown occurring right in front of him, Mark tells Shari he has no idea what Javen is referring to when he says he crossed a line because they don’t know what happened before or after the footage Shari’s just borne witness to, but what’s clearly being implied here is that Javen cheated. Shari breaks into tears beside the glow of the fire, announces she and Javen are over, and I’m starting to think this entire scenario might be so vicious and tragic that Mark Walberg didn’t even bring along the makings for fucking s’mores.
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