Temptation Island CliffsNotes

Science, evolution, and politics explained.
Feb. 20 2001 9:00 PM

Temptation Island CliffsNotes

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With the TV series Temptation Island approaching its climax, those of you who haven't been watching it may feel left out. This Wednesday, as your lowbrow officemates stand around the water cooler anticipating the evening's display of lust and betrayal, you'll be alone at your keyboard, trying to find out if past episodes are available in streaming video.

Robert Wright Robert Wright

Robert Wright is a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. Follow him on Twitter.

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Well, they're not—but don't worry! Fortunately for you, the Earthling has licensed kausfiles' patented Series-Skipper technology. The following few paragraphs give you everything you need to know to watch this week's show and discuss it the next day with a knowing and incisive air.

Premise of show: Unless you've spent the last few months in an ashram, you can skip this paragraph (using the Earthling's patented Graf-Grazer technology). Four unmarried couples with "committed relationships"—of more than a year's duration—are brought to an island in Belize. They are sent off to separate camps—one for guys, one for gals—and exposed to a bevy of attractive members of the opposite sex. Which relationships, if any, will survive? Who will betray whom? How much skin will the Fox network show us?

Most loathsome group of people on show: Men. In keeping with millenniums-old stereotypes, not to mention modern Darwinian theory, the men are keener on extracurricular activities than the women. They don't seem much weighed down by past professions of devotion. Out of sight, out of mind, baby. The men are also strikingly insensitive. When they send video messages to their mates, they stress what a fabulous time they had on the previous night's date with some temptress. The women, meanwhile, just don't approach their own dates with quite the same relish—though their relish does grow after they get vivid evidence of the shenanigans their men are up to. This evidence includes not just the aforementioned video messages, but also videos of their men doing things like lying in a hammock with a temptress and stroking her leg while telling her, "I do have a good ass."

Exception to above generalization: The most fascinating thing about this show is the mutant couple, Billy and Mandy. Though Billy looks like a good candidate for typical male jerk—a massive bodybuilder's physique, a square, chiseled visage—he's actually a softie. His heart isn't in this dating business; he'd much rather spend his time worrying about what his beloved Mandy is doing on the other side of the island. And Mandy, for her part, is more guylike than the other women. She is the only woman on the island, for example, who spent part of a first date licking her tempter's nipples.

Qualification of above exception: Though Billy is in some ways the least guylike guy, he did work up some retaliatory testosterone after the show's host generously showed him a video of Mandy's nipple-licking episode. He walked into the cabana of one of the friskier temptresses, and, after spending an hour there (presumably discussing Belizean culture), went to the bar, where he performed an eerily competent Chippendales striptease for her and other curious onlookers. (We don't know whether he reached full frontal nudity, but in any event, girlfriend Mandy, shown a video of the opening stages of the striptease, was outraged.)

Woman most likely to appeal to the type of man who reads Slate: Shannon. In addition to bearing an occasional resemblance to thinking-man's sex-symbol Gwyneth Paltrow, Shannon is the most cerebral of the four women (though, admittedly, there are higher accolades than "most cerebral woman on Temptation Island"). You want proof of Shannon's caliber? Tom—the only tempter who is identified as an "Ivy League graduate"—declares that she is his favorite.

Man most likely to appeal to the type of woman who reads Slate: Sorry, ladies, but it's a four-way tie for last. I might have given the nod to Billy until he cheapened himself with that Chippendales dance.

Biggest mystery on Temptation Island: How did Shannon wind up with crude and unscintillating boyfriend Andy? Andy's the source of the aforementioned bon mot: "I do have a good ass." He also gives interviews in which he notes that Shannon's legs aren't as nice as those of the temptress he's dating. Psst, Andy: Through the miracle of modern communications technology, Shannon may someday catch wind of this comment.

Biggest potential turnabout: Shannon and Andy may see a complete power shift before this series is over. At the outset, she was the devoted gal and he was chomping at the bit to play the field. He said it would be like taking the Pepsi Challenge—only with chicks instead of beverages! But now Andy has been dissed by temptress after temptress, including the one he fell hardest for, Megan. His serotonin level is down around his toes. He spends his time wondering what Shannon is doing on the other side of the island. As well he should: Shannon's been smitten by Ivy-League-graduate tempter Tom!