Temptation Island is coming back! Read EW's 2001 take on the iconic reality hit
Temptation Island is headed back to TV!
The hit Fox reality series, which ran from 2001 to 2003, is moving to USA Network and will premiere Jan. 15 at 10 p.m. ET, with original host Mark L. Walberg.
For those who don’t remember the original Fox series, USA describes the show as following “four dating couples at a pivotal time in their relationship, where they must mutually decide if they are ready to commit to one another for the rest of their lives — or should go their separate ways. Together, the couples travel to the tropical paradise of Maui, Hawaii, where they join 24 eligible men and women. There, they live the ‘single life,’ in a test that is meant to help answer their most difficult questions about their relationship.”
In preparation for the reboot, take a step back in time and read EW critic Kristen Baldwin and former EW staffer Josh Wolk’s 2001 “She Said, He Said” review of the show’s first season:
Stupid people are funny. Stupid people bringing misery upon themselves — now, that’s hilarious. Humanity has always gotten a thrill watching other folks suffer — so much so we’ve even got a fancy-pants word for it: schadenfreude. And Temptation Island, my friends, is the schadenfreud-iest show on earth.
Sourpuss critics charge that Temptation is abhorrent because it demeans the concept of commitment. Well, heads up, folks: Men and women have long been adept at trivializing relationships all on their own (see Roseanne, Darva Conger, Bill Clinton). Fox is merely helping the inevitable romantic sabotage along with its salacious, silly, and oh-so-entertaining Survivor rip-off.
Speaking of that phenom Down Under, explain this to me: When Survivor tortures near-starving contestants by making them force down cow brains, people hail it as amazing, revolutionary TV. But when Temptation producers let eight fame-o-sexuals eagerly ditch loved ones (and clothing) in exchange for national primetime exposure, that’s immoral?
Remember, the TI contestants are folks like Taheed and Ytossie, two people who treat each other with a level of hostility usually reserved for DMV waiting rooms. (Yes, they have a child, but based on this pair’s ice-cold interactions, if they break up, Fox probably did that kid a favor.) Then there’s Billy and his girlfriend Mandy, a woman who licked sugar off a stranger’s nipple and then proclaimed, “If Billy can’t love me for… being who I am” — um, what would that be, a big hussy? — “then we’re not supposed to be together anyway.” Must we really weep for the sanctity of this relationship? Hell no. Just pull up a chair, bust open a bag of Cheetos, and watch the idiocy unfold.
Okay, so maybe it’s not my finest hour when I’m cackling at the TI couples’ misery. But what’s so wrong about feeling superior for 60 minutes each week? Most TV highlights the many ways we don’t measure up — we could be richer, smarter, happier, thinner — but Temptation Island is far more kind: “Hey, Mr. & Mrs. America, at least you’re not as emotionally and intellectually handicapped as these chowderheads.” Take poor deluded Kaya, a guy so adrift in the sea of personal identity that he’s turning to this sleazed-up Dating Game for enlightenment: “I was waiting for an opportunity like this to… find out who I am,” he proclaimed. (I don’t know about you, but I have a suspicion Kaya is not quite ready for that discovery.)
What the naysayers need to remember is that Temptation Island is, at its core, an educational program. By tuning in, I’ve learned several lessons: (1) The reality of your boyfriend whooping it up with scantily clad hoochies on a tropical island can be nullified by adopting a sophisticated “What I don’t see on videotape isn’t actually happening” strategy (thanks, Shannon!); (2) with enough chemical coaxing, human hair can achieve the color of a prison jumpsuit (thanks, Mandy!); (3) it’s really not a first date unless you’re wearing disposable undies (as Mandy, Johnny, Valerie, and Matt did during their mud massages).
While pondering the gravity of her Temptation Island experience, Mandy mused, “This will most likely never happen to anybody else.” You know those evil geniuses at Fox will make haste to prove her wrong.
First, let me say I have no great moral objections to Temptation Island as a concept; producers should have carte blanche to humiliate at will any amateur actors signing up for reality TV duty. But I am morally opposed to the show’s attempts to frame this Mating Ritual of the Ab Enhanced as a force for good — a valuable tool for gauging a couple’s marital future. That’s like saying cockfighting is a good way to boost a chicken’s self-esteem.
Temptation’s faux earnestness is personified by host Mark L. Walberg, who passive-aggressively tries to rub the contestants’ sunburned noses in their partners’ infidelities while feigning concern when the Coppertone finally hits the fan. After handing over his weekly dose of damning videotape at “Bonfire,” Walberg waits for the mascara to start running or the pretty-boy faces to grimace before innocently asking, “What did you see?”
Golly gee, Marky, it’s almost like you hadn’t been briefed by the producers about each pelvic grind and tongue kiss captured on tape. Misery maitre d’ Walberg (an ex-daytime talk-show host) spouts Zen-lite quotes like, “It’s all about choices,” and interrogates in hushed tones, as if he were Oprah coaxing the troubled past out of an incest survivor, and not a tabloid ringmaster with a gossip jones querying a bunch of bim- and himbos about their booty-chasing preferences.
Why the charade of caring? Huge audiences aren’t tuning in because they’re a-hopin’ and a-prayin’ that these crazy kids will end up in a big ol’ group betrothal, to be aired on Fox’s Most Happiest, Grooviest Weddings Ever. They adore the conflict, so why doesn’t Walberg react the way we do at home, by, say, leaping up after the men’s Bonfire and yelling, “Now that you’ve watched ‘Jacuzzi Jump,’ how are you Three Emascula-teers feeling now? Suckers!”
Of course, Walberg only reflects the insincere ethos of the producers, like that oh-so-caring one who dotingly explained to Ytossie and Taheed — they of the “secret” child — -that they would have to leave the game because the show did not want to be responsible for “fracturing” a family. Mr. Social Conscience then announced that he’d give the shamed couple some privacy. Accent on some: He left a camera crew behind to make sure America wouldn’t miss out on any potential histrionics. (Alas, the entente was brief and quiet.)
And with that one-to-grow-on moment out of the way, the show quickly returned to zeroing in on destroying the most fragile — but non-child-rearing — couple: Mandy and Billy. (Watching a Walberg-proffered video of Billy doing a striptease for an admiring gal was enough to make Mandy’s braid-tentacled head spin.)
But the series’ let’s-have-it-both-ways attitude is simply trickling down from the top: At a press conference last month, Fox TV chairman Sandy Grushow defended Temptation Island as “not a show about sex.” Cut to three weeks later, as the tape of fruit-crazed Mandy licking watermelon juice off date-for-hire’s nipple is replayed so often it becomes the Zapruder film of relationship assassination.
If Fox ever plans a Temptation 2 [EDITOR’S NOTE: They actually ran three seasons of the show], the least it can do is own up to the relationship havoc it’s wreaking — after all, nothing spoils a guilty pleasure faster than watching its makers desperately trying to distance themselves from the guilt of pleasuring us.