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Temptation Island’s premiere explores why couples would go on this preposterous show

Temptation Island’s premiere explores why couples would go on this preposterous show
The four couples who have agreed to be split up and date other people on Temptation Island. From left to right, Evan Smith, Nicole Tutewohl, Kaci Campbell, Karl Collins, Shari Ligons, John Thurmond, Javen Butler, and Kady Krambeer. (Photo by Mario Perez/USA Network)

The first episode of Temptation Island season 4—the new reboot of the series that premieres on USA Network next week—is now online, and on demand.

It’s nuts, of course, but it’s surprisingly raw and intense in the way it explores four couples’ relationships—and the reasons why anyone would go on this show. As Nicole says to her boyfriend Karl as the festivities begin, “What the fuck? Why did we come here?”

The episode opens in the ocean, with Maui and its expansive volcano Halelakalā in the background. It’s a spectacular setting for this absurd experiment: four couples agreeing to split up for several weeks and date other people, to see if they’ll be tempted into behavior that’ll destroy their relationships.

The show is attractive, and doesn’t feel like the typical thrown-together, discount MTV dating show. The reveal of the tempters—the men and women who will be dating the couples during their time apart—is both dramatic and as authentic as a can of spray cheese.

The tempters’ scripted introductions are cheesy and painfully awkward, and make The Bachelor‘s limo entrances seem like Tony-winning theater performances by comparison. They mostly seem nervous about delivering their lines and/or not falling into some nearby water.

But just seeing those people causes one couple to have a whisper fight that’s fascinating to eavesdrop on—and judge, of course. “Let’s just get through this,” Shari says. Her boyfriend Javen replies: “Don’t put stuff in my mouth or putting ideas in my head that’s not there. What’s wrong with you? Story of my life.”

In an on-the-fly interview that seems to have been filmed a few minutes later, Javen tries to explain why this is all perfectly normal and healthy: “I know my girl and she knows me. If I feel a certain way, I’m going to express myself; if she feels a certain way, she’s going to express herself to me. Been together for almost nine years; this is us,” he says.

If this is them before Temptation Island even begins, buckle up for a potholed and riveting season.

Why would anyone go on Temptation Island? Good question.

The premiere spends considerable amount of time on the obvious questions: Why the are you doing this, you loons? What the fuck is wrong with you?

Host Mark L. Walberg asks those questions more eloquently than I have rephrased them, and he also offers an almost-convincing reason why Temptation Island makes sense.

Of course, it makes sense as a reality show: it takes relationship drama, which is already hot and sparking, and throws it into a pool of gasoline.

Once you accept that these are real couples so conflicted by their relationships that they’ve decided to be tempted in front of cameras—and they seem like they are, not like people who’re pulling one over on USA to get a month in Maui—the brilliance of the format reveals itself.

It’s quite simple, and not yet complicated by unnecessary twists and drama.

There is one new (I think! I can’t exactly remember!) twist. After the couples have had some brief exposure to the people who will tempt their partners, each of the eight participants has the option of blocking their partner from dating one of the tempters.

This is mostly an empty gesture, because even though a blocked tempter and a person won’t be able to go on formal dates together, they can still hang out, chat, drink, and/or fornicate at the villa as much as they want.

The first episode ends when the couples are finally, really split up—there are a lot of false starts, which ramps up the tension—and so the dating hasn’t really begun.

Nor has the real drama: when the couples gather together with Mark to watch out-of-context footage of their partners interacting with the tempters. That comes at the end of episode two.

Those will be the moments that really fuel their jealousy, rage, and/or love for their partners, and cause the eight participants to blow things up or figure things out.

What the first episode does best is reveal the kind of bizarre relationship holes that people dig themselves, into using the shovels of societal expectation and gender norms.

One woman, for example, thinks her boyfriend isn’t manly enough, and doesn’t want to have children with someone who can’t teach their kids how to be masculine. Of course, women are held to ridiculous standards all the time, but this particular reversal exposes how damaging, arbitrary, and antiquated it can be for us to expect someone to behave one way because of their genitalia.

Another couple is stuck because she wants to get engaged and married and he doesn’t, and Temptation Island does a surprisingly excellent job of illustrating how these are perfectly rationale positions to take based on the experience (and, in one case, trauma) they’ve had with their own families.

Will Temptation Island continue to explore these ideas and questions? Or will it get caught up in petty jealousy and flings with hot bodies flinging themselves at each other?

Ideally, it will be both, satisfying our need for relationship drama, but perhaps also offering some kind of valuable lesson, too. I mean, other than Don’t date other people on a reality show if you want your relationship to survive.

Watch the full episode on USA Network’s web site, its app, on demand, or right here:

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.

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