Yes, Temptation Island is a show centered around the absolutely batsh*t premise that couples are supposed to swan dive into experiences in which their fidelity is tested over and over and over again. True, the participants are forced to keep up with the shenanigans of their significant others via carefully spliced pieces of footage that are presented without context while they sit anxiously beside a bonfire. Sure, not having the full story about what’s really going down, nor the ability to speak to the person you love during the process, is nothing but a finely orchestrated mindf*ck. And of course a part of me believes you’d have to be, at the very least, flirting with clinical insanity to so much as even entertain the idea of applying to be on this program. But there is one positive thing: the people on this show take care of one another. Though she’s miserable after having to say goodbye to her boyfriend, Kate is there to pat Ashley H.’s head as Ashley bawls her eyes out. Esonica crawls right into bed with Ashley G. and wraps her arms around her as Ashley talks about how she knows herself so well, that she knows exactly the kind of thing she’s capable of doing that will lead to the definite destruction of her relationship. She knows – she just knows – that Rick will do something foolish or hurtful and she will then overreact to his behavior and retaliate with something that will prevent him from ever forgiving her. As a fellow human who wants good things for the others in my species, I wish Ashley would stop herself from doing what she knows will destroy her, but I’m also impressed by any reality show participant who’s packing even an ounce of self-awareness. It’s only episode two, and I am already rooting for these women. They are fully cognizant of what they’re about to deal with, they’re justifiably freaked out, and they are there for each other – and that kind of sh*t is just easier to root for than, say, a winking bartender or a man and his deac.
There is, however, a show to create and it can’t just be a montage of people crying, so both villas get visits from the Singles. Kate is really not looking to entertain right about now. She’s got her guard up, she misses her boyfriend, she’s weirded out beyond comprehension, and she doesn’t want to act like she’s in any way single, lest she give some guy (let alone one who was hired to woo her) the wrong idea. Ashley G. fully admits to her new suitors that she’s all “in her feelings,” but taking a shot helps her move beyond those feelings. The quicker those drinks go down, the happier she starts to feel. Out by the pool, Kareem tells Esonica that he can tell she has a big heart. He says it like it’s not just a line; there’s a chance I believe what’s coming out of his mouth. That sort of belief is totally absent when I look at or listen to KB. He makes a gross little moan when he hugs Ashley G. and then he stares at her like he’s the wolf and she’s some girl skipping naively through an untamed forest before he catches and devours her for an amuse bouche. And I felt that way before he uttered the words, “Come on over here and give me some of that chocolate love,” so I’d like to win something for correctly and so quickly pinpointing this guy as vomit-inducing. Maybe that prize can be a nice bucket.
The next day dawns and it’s time for people in relationships to choose someone new to take out on a date! But if you thought those selections would happen with any sort of dignity, you simply have not been paying attention. The couples are reunited, but it seems they’re not permitted to speak, and they are tasked with asking some stranger out while their significant other gets to watch. In other words, if you are a normal homosapien, you are basically watching your very worst fever dream played out in front of you for entertainment purposes. So let’s cringe together and then marvel at the way Mark the Host can grin his way through this televised misery, shall we? Kate is up first and it looks like she’d rather be at the DMV after getting a pap smear. She doesn’t want to choose a date at all, let alone in front of her boyfriend. She chooses Dominique because they’re both into fitness. Ashley G. goes next and she selects KB. This choice concerns me, as does Ashley H.’s choice. She chooses Deac! After his opening line and tongue waggle, someone actually chose the guy! Listen ladies, I want to support you here, but you’re going to have to meet me halfway and choose men who A) don’t look like actual predators and B) nauseate me on sight. Please see what you can do moving forward because my patience can only extend so far. Esonica ends the selection process by picking Kareem, a choice that doesn’t cause any of my gag reflexes to sprint into overdrive.
The guys pick their dates next. David chooses Kari, and Kate thinks he did so because Kari is not his type. Kate also looks like she’s having a full coronary when she confides her theory to us, so maybe we should tread carefully before we accept her words as wisdom. Rick picks lip-biting Medinah and Rick’s girlfriend holds in her feelings beautifully under such duress, only muttering things like “I want to punch her in the throat.” I’m impressed by her restraint! Casey picks Payton, the winking bartender, and Ashley H. is immediately ready to collapse because Payton is short and Casey loves short girls and maybe Payton is the most confident girl in the whole wide world and what if Casey falls in love and see, this flood of unanswerable questions is why nobody should go on this show ever. Gavin selects his date next and he picks Toneata. Now, you’d think the selection of dates would be the most cringeworthy part of this process, but then Mark ratchets up the stakes and asks each member of each couple for a reaction to the selections. Questions like these are why nobody should ever believe reality dating show creators actually have your best interests at heart, but I think we’re supposed to pretend they do, so let’s stifle every bit of our intelligence and take in the following knowledge this question grants us:
1. We learn that Dave lied about not having a connection with Kari. He does, but he’s reluctant to emotionally torture Kate even more than is already happening.
2. Rick, not wanting to sound like an assh*le, says KB has a very nice smile and that he’s not trying to handcuff Ashley right now.
3. Ashley G. is only capable of reading imaginary subtext right about now and she has decided Rick’s comments – the ones made under duress –
must mean he’s looking to get laid by someone besides her immediately.
4. Ashley H. is not getting through this month on Temptation Island without falling apart, and I mean completely.
The soul-splintering ceremony complete, the ladies head back to their house and are joined by the single men. Ashley H. sits poolside with Ben and talks about her insecurities. Over at the guys’ house, the group is celebrating Casey’s birthday and it seems the only way these girls know how to show Casey a good time is through downing shots and twerking on his lap. Casey takes off his shirt, and you know Ashley H. will lose her mind when she sees this footage, but there’s really nothing damaging going on here. Besides, it’s way too early for anyone to engage in any sort of real betrayal and…I’m sorry, what’s that? You say Ashley G. is not at all afraid of Big Bad Wolf types? You say she is happily heading into her bedroom with the Wolfman himself? Well, maybe they’re just going to do some cuddling! Maybe she is not going to have sex on the second day with a guy who afterward gloats that he’s the captain now, the way those sweet pillaging pirates in that movie once did!
Also: My hopeful thoughts are proven entirely useless. Ashley G. totally gets her Temptation Island cherry popped, and by a man who is fueled purely by ego and is now speaking as though he owns her.
The next morning brings about tears and regret. Ashley G. sobs in the kitchen while the other girls console her, but much as the music intones, what’s done is done. Those of us who have watched this show before know Rick will see last night’s footage – complete with Ashley’s “Oh my Gods” as she experiences sex with a man who happens to have a size thirteen shoe and zero scruples. Though supportive of her new friend, Kate recognizes the fact that if Ashley already slept with someone else, that means Dave may do the very same thing and sh*t just keeps getting more and more real. Perhaps the dates they’re all going on will help distract them! The guys head out in jeeps and Medinah tells Rick she’s found herself recently in an experimental phase of her life – “experimental” may include having threesomes – and she’s also totally fine if her boyfriend checks out another woman in her presence. Now, I don’t know Medinah and she actually strikes me as bright and articulate, but I call bullsh*t. I think most of the Tempters are saying pretty much what they think they’re supposed to say, which is basically them swearing up and down that they’re so very different from the girls the men are currently dating. Listen up, guys! That Cool Girl pose fades after a while. Your girlfriend catching you mentally feel up some stranger will only lead to your abject misery. Internalize that truth and f*cking deal with it, okay? Meanwhile, the women head out onto a boat with their momentary paramours. Ashley H. appreciates that Deac is laid back and is just allowing her to have fun and some light distraction. (I no longer hate Deac, by the way – but I fully reserve the right to start hating him again should I see fit.) Kate opens up to Dominique (who is seriously handsome) about how she really loves Dave and that she was married before. Esonica is fully freaked out that she’s spending the day with someone who is not Gavin. And Ashley G.? She’s wondering why KB is not sitting right beside her, but he already banged this girl so now he’s playing the ever-adorable emotional withholding game. Later on the beach, he deigns to lean in and give her a kiss, but only when she requests one. I have some very bad feelings about where these two are headed, and I cannot be the only one.
Also: Please understand that I am not judging Ashley G. for having sex with some random guy. She’s on a show called Temptation Island. She is a grown woman who is comfortable with her sexuality. What I do judge her for is sleeping with a man who is the walking manifestation of an actual douchebag, and if you think I’m being harsh, go back and rewind the footage and watch KB’s smugness seep out of his pores like a wet spot.
Mark drops by the house later that day to inform the girls that tonight will be their first Bonfire. Yes, it’s time for them to sit on chairs in the darkness while ash fills the air and they are required to watch footage of their boyfriends’ experiences thus far – and they will be offered no real context for what they are seeing. The only one freaked out for real is Ashley G. because she knows what Rick is going to be presented with at his own Bonfire. The girls arrive, and before they have to stare at an iPad that will either soothe or destroy them, Mark reminds them that the footage they are about to see is just a moment and they will not know what led up to that moment or what occurred after it. I appreciate that he says that, but it must be hard to keep such clarity in mind when the flames of the nearby bonfire is hitting their faces and their stomach acids burn like a particularly harsh strand of gonorrhea that’s been transmitted to them by Satan himself.
Also: KB is Satan’s cousin! At least I’m pretty sure I read that somewhere.
Ashley H. sees her footage first. In the context of this show, what she sees is not really all that bad. She watches two girls grind on her boyfriend’s crotch, but that’s enough to cause her to burst into tears. This experience is going to be rough for Ashley H. As we all know, things can get so much worse. Is there maybe some Xanax on that island?
“Do you think you’re good enough for him?” Mark asks her after she admits that she’s truly afraid Casey will leave her for someone else, and I honestly got a little teary when Ashley G. turned around and whispered, “You are.” Romantic relationships may soon be blown to smithereens, but I think some strong female friendships are being established here.
Kate is up next. She gets to stare at the moment her boyfriend tells a stranger that he was lying about how they don’t have a connection and now Kate feels uncertain about Dave’s ability to be trustworthy. I wish she could deduce that the reason she’s hearing that particular sound byte is because Dave has yet to do anything more incendiary or damaging, but she’s in a vulnerable position right now – they all are – and it’s hard to be rational when a microphone is strapped to your body and you’re watching your boyfriend rock a man bun and confide in another woman. Esonica then watches a video of Gavin telling his date that he’s just not sure Esonica is The One, and she reacts by saying, “That’s some deep sh*t.” She’s right. That is some deep sh*t and she is justifiably pissed off, especially since it was not her decision to come on this show in the first f*cking place. Then it’s Ashley G.’s turn, and all she sees is Rick holding hands – pinkies, really – with Medinah as the two walk over some rocks. Still, that bit of touching is enough to hurt her, though Mark wisely asks if she’s crying because of what she has just seen or because of how she feels. Ashley admits guilt is causing her tears. She knows she may have f*cked everything right up, she knows Rick is about to see way worse sh*t than what she had to sit through, and we all know that whichever producer or casting director found Ashley G. is about to score a massive raise because we are only in episode two, people, and the dramatics are already sky f*cking high.
The men head to the Bonfire next and Rick feels fully confident that he won’t be confronted with any inappropriate Ashley behavior. Ah, dramatic irony. Casey is shown footage first, but all he sees is Ashley H. talking about how it makes her uncomfortable that Casey is still friends with girls he used to sleep with. In other words, Casey should be dancing a jig right about now because this comment is all producers managed to get on his girlfriend. When it’s David’s turn, he sees a guy rubbing suntan lotion on his girlfriend’s shoulders. David also gets to hear Kate say that she loves and wants to marry him. David? Get yourself up and join Casey in that jig! Gavin will soon follow and you guys can hold hands and make a circle and dance like only the host and an entire nation of people and bored dogs are watching, but listen: it would be really kind of you all to stop when Rick’s footage plays. Because Rick is going to have to sit there and watch KB mount the woman he’s in love with, and that image is probably going to cause a very justifiable reaction, one that may require restraint, one that will certainly require emotional support, and one that will definitely require a moment of stillness while this already-betrayed man forces himself to come to terms with the ugliest of truths.
Here’s a clip from episode 3 of the guys bonfire:
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. Also be sure to check out her website at nellkalter.com. Her twitter is @nell_kalter.