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Take a Trip to Manipulation — *ahem* — I Mean, ‘Temptation Island’

When I heard that Temptation Island would be returning in the fall, six months after its first season back (the show had a short run on FOX, with host Mark Walberg — not that one — in the early 2000s), I nearly jumped out of my seat. My favorite new (old) reality show on a two-seasons-a-year schedule?? Double my pleasure!! 

Let’s back up a bit: As in its original run, Temptation Island brings four long-term couples, at a “crossroads in their relationships,” to a tropical paradise, where they are separated and moved into different luxury hotels. Once there, they are joined by the other three decoupled participants of the same gender, along with 12 well-oiled, aggressively interested singles of the opposite sex. 

Season 1, which ran last spring, was an unexpected delight, in spite of its trashy-sounding premise. Not because three of the four couples indeed gave in to temptation and split up by the end; not because the tempters were excessively attractive (though a few were); but because it provided a fascinating window into the psychology of long-term dating, people’s expectations of one another, and their efforts to manipulate each other into fulfilling those expectations. 

For example, last season’s most compelling couple was Evan and Kaci. Evan is six-foot awesome with broad shoulders and pale blue eyes; obviously, he made a clear first impression on every one of his would-be temptresses. Kaci, his girlfriend of ten years, was… well, let’s just say Kaci was not in his league, outside or inside. She constantly brought up the fact that Evan had cheated on her once, years ago (they’d been together since high school, and — HOT TAKE ALERT — I think that kind of youthful infidelity should be graded on a curve), and frequently stated her fear that “the old Evan” would return. Evan seemed desperate to win back Kaci’s faith but he was dragging his feet on her ultimatum that they get engaged soon OR ELSE, so she thought she’d force the issue by bringing him to Temptation Island. Presumably, he would then buckle under the jealousy of seeing her with other guys. 

Evan and Kaci, in happier times. (USA Network)

That is not how it played out. Evan immediately beelined to a much cuter, much more levelheaded, much less manipulative young woman named Morgan. He began to verbalize how oppressed he felt under Kaci’s thumb, and in short order, he consummated his new relationship and proposed to Morgan, all before breaking up with Kaci — who, upon her brief, tense reunion with Evan, was DEVASTATED that her genius ultimatum plan didn’t work out. 

Likewise, Kady and John, a couple from Texas, came to the island because, despite a long and purportedly happy relationship, Kady could not seem to stop talking about how manly John wasn’t, and seemed to want to use the show as a way to gently break up with him — you know, soften the blow by letting him taste a little of the freedom she was about to hand him. But John found a woman who seemed to actually respect him and she refrained from constantly questioning his manhood and parenting potential (to the extent that can be assessed in front of TV cameras at a tropical luxury resort). After valiantly trying to stay faithful while being avidly pursued, he was shown a video of Kady in bed with another guy and decided to respond in kind. John then took the opportunity of their reunion to fully unload on Kady’s belittling and open disrespect. Adding insult to injury, the guy Kady spent the season with lost interest in her the minute she and John decided to go their separate ways. 

What I’m saying is there’s more than a little schadenfreude on this show. If you are the kind of person who enjoys that type of dating show (is there another type of dating show?), I highly recommend that you visit Temptation Island at your earliest convenience. 

New episodes of Temptation Island premiere at 10pm ET Thursdays on USA Network, and Fridays on demand.