It’s a recipe made in reality-TV heaven: Take Survivor and Blind Date, add a dash of Change of Heart, top it with a scoop of Jerry Springer, and you’ve got Temptation Island, Fox’s hit version of When Good Significant Others Go Bad. The Jan. 10 debut handily beat NBC’s The West Wing among viewers 18 to 49 and helped Fox win the week for that coveted demo for the first time in a year.
But don’t pour the piña coladas yet. The show — in which four unwed but ”committed” couples visit a fantasy island with 26 sexy singles primed to seduce — is stirring up a banana boat of controversy, with critics blasting its unabashedly sensational premise. Sniffs a source at a rival network: ”It’s like Fox swallowed Survivor and then crapped it out.”
The tropical storm was upgraded to hurricane when Fox admitted that one couple (reportedly the bickering Angelenos Ytossie and Taheed) had a child — prompting a Durham, N.C., affiliate to drop the show. ”WRAZ will not support a program that could potentially break up the parents of a young child,” general manager Tommy Schenck said in a statement. All this comes less than a year after the Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire? debacle and Fox chair Sandy Grushow‘s vow to tone down the net’s reality programming. (A Fox publicist had no comment.)
Uproar aside, has TV really hit a smutty new low? ”I don’t think it’s telling us anything new about viewer tastes,” sighs Stacey Lynn Koerner, an analyst for TN Media. Meanwhile, we’re happy to watch hunky masseurs and bouncy Perfect Ten veterans cavort in the sand — and to explore some of the island’s burning questions.
Why would any sane couple open themselves to temptation?
”When you get right down to it, the magic of celebrity and being in the public domain are really the primary allure,” says Loveline guru Dr. Drew Pinsky. ”Narcissists are notorious for having difficult, chaotic relationships.”
What was the selection criteria for the tempters?
Each couple filled out a relationship ”wish list” with the traits they most wanted in a mate. ”Based on those desires, we went out and cast the singles to reflect a fantasy dating pool,” says Temptation exec producer Chris Cowan. Hence, Alison (Fox won’t disclose last names) is a physician who posed for Playboy‘s ”Girls of the Ivy League.” And knowledge of outrageous TV may have been a plus: Author-artist Jim worked on Jerry Springer‘s 1998 memoir, Ringmaster!
Were participants encouraged to cheat or seduce?
”Absolutely not,” says Cowan. ”We did not direct them or incentivize them in any way to go out, seduce, or break anybody up.” However, he does note that islanders received a stipend of about $1,500.
How did a couple manage to hide a baby?
The producers, who learned of the child after taping began and ousted them as part of the show, blame the parents. ”The screening process is basically going off of what they put on their applications,” says Cowan. ”If you don’t know it’s there, there’s no reason to look for it.” But security firms specializing in background checks say a thorough screening should have found any kiddies — and would have cost around $500 per person. ”If they had spent enough money…of course they would have found out — especially in the case of a show which has major exposure,” says Peter Assisi of Los Angeles Private Investigation.