Can “Temptation Island” still shock in 2019?
That’s what USA is hoping as it reboots the once-contentious dating show, premiering Tuesday (10 EST/PST), nearly two decades after it first bowed on Fox.
The premise remains the same: Four insecure couples agree to live apart on a tropical island, where they date singles of the opposite sex and decide whether they should stay or split from their current partner. It has all the ingredients of your favorite trashy reality shows: shouting matches, drunken hookups, tearful meltdowns and hot guys and girls behaving badly. But the show also poses bigger questions about the strength and longevity of relationships in the modern world.
“The age-old question of (whether) you’re with the one you’re supposed to be with is always relevant, even more so in the age of (dating apps), where you have options on your phone at any given time,” says host Mark L. Walberg, returning to the series long after its original three-season run. “Social media has affected dating so greatly, and here these people are on an island without any computers or phones.”
“Temptation” was considered controversial when it premiered in 2001. ABC’s mega-hit “The Bachelor” was still a year away, and reality dating shows were mostly unexplored terrain. The concept was condemned by many conservative critics, who said the series encouraged cheating and sullied the sanctity of relationships.
Most of the outrage stemmed from the promos, Walberg says: “People just assumed these were married couples. But once they realized these were young couples who had been dating for a long time and their relationships were at a crossroads – it didn’t become less controversial, but at least a little bit more palatable.”
As in the original show, men and women still congregate at the pivotal bonfires, where they watch videos of their significant others going on dates and flirting (or not) with singles. Participants can veto their other halves from potentially dating one of the singles, who play a more significant role in the new season.
“We don’t call them ‘tempters’ (anymore),” Walberg says. “In the original one, it was like, ‘Let’s see if they can tempt them away.’ ” But the revival emphasizes “that these singles are (also) trying to find love and hoping to find the one, so we kind of explored that as well.”
But even with its attempts to humanize, it’s sometimes difficult to get invested in this revamped “Temptation.” Unlike the first season’s contestants, many of whom seemed genuinely uncomfortable on camera, the new cast has grown up on reality TV and plays up the onscreen drama, most of which rings inauthentic. The premise is also not that far removed from subsequent dating competitions “Love Island” and “Paradise Hotel,” in which singles hook up and get voted out of tropical getaways. (Fox is rebooting “Paradise” this summer.)
Plus,it’s more common now for couples to take relationship breaks or seek counseling. So why are these contestants throwing themselves into a situation where infidelity is practically inevitable, when they could more easily work through their issues off camera, temptation-free?
We’re not alone in wondering that, says Walberg, who’s been reading viewers’ responses since “Temptation’s” season premiere was posted online last week.
“A lot of people are going, ‘Oh my god, who would do this?’ and they’re shocked,” he says. “But I think that’s a lot of the intrigue and why people watch the show, because it’s a bizarre, extreme experiment that most people would not ever entertain doing.”
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