Temptation Island CliffsNotes

Temptation Island CliffsNotes

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.

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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.

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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!

Second biggest potential turnabout: Billy began the series as Mandy's love slave, but he could end it in the driver's seat. He's the temptresses' fave—strong yet sensitive. And Mandy is losing out to Shannon in the quest for tempter Tom's affection. Still, the Billy-Mandy relationship is too weird to make any confident predictions about. His affection seems pathologically dependent on her ongoing flirtation with other men, so the nipple-licking video may only deepen his devotion. And the Chippendales video may ratchet up Mandy's wanderlust, thus further deepening his devotion. This couple could wind up happier than ever.

Most stereotypical couple: Kaya and Valerie. Kaya is your garden variety modern male pig, a pretty-boy who works hard on his pecs and abs and then uses them to seduce and abandon. His cruelest deed involved the cute and earnest temptress Megan. Though Kaya knew that his newfound buddy Andy had fallen hard for Megan, he took her out and engaged in petting the exact heaviness of which remains unknown, but which sufficiently wowed Megan that she returned to camp and broke the bad news to Andy, intimating that she and Kaya were now an item. Guess again, Megan! The next day Kaya jettisoned her and fixed his gaze on a different temptress, leaving Megan in tears. Meanwhile, on the other side of Temptation Island, Valerie misses Kaya so much, and so frets about Kaya's straying heart, that she can't even feign interest in her male suitors. Valerie, wake up: You're better off without him.

Couple to root for: In general, the desired outcome of the "committed relationships" that are being tested on Temptation Island is dissolution. Shannon seems too good for Andy, Valerie seems too good for Kaya, and Billy seems too good for Mandy. But when we turn to our fourth couple—Ytossie and Taheed—the situation is different. It isn't that they're equally good. Indeed, Ytossie definitely seems too good for Taheed, who is as big a male pig as any on the island. It's just that, as you've probably heard, the producers found out in midtaping that this particular couple has a young child (at which point Ytossie and Taheed were sent to a different Caribbean resort to work on their issues, of which there are many). So we hope this relationship can revive itself and endure in healthy form for many years to come. But we're not optimistic.

Where we are now: On the edge of our seats. We are entering the climactic "dream dates" phase of the series. After playing the field, all three remaining men have chosen the temptress they find most tempting, and all three women are about to do likewise. Then, with all unchosen tempters and temptresses banished to the mainland, the dream dates will begin. Meanwhile, all three "committed relationships" seem in a fragile state, thanks partly to the eavesdropping-by-videotape that mates have been doing on each other. Stay tuned to Fox. Or, at least, keep your VCR tuned to Fox while you're watching the Grammys on CBS.

Gravest threats to Darwinian theory: As regular readers know, the Earthling is convinced that reality generally complies with evolutionary psychology. But evolutionary psychology says that a) men and women are both pretty jealous of mates; and b) men are especially agitated by the prospect of a mate's sexual infidelity (even if the mate isn't in love with her paramour). So, how is it that all of these people agreed to let their mates be surrounded by temptation? In particular, how could all four men have agreed to let their women be dropped into a horde of guys whose goal is to seduce  (and whose vocations, it turns out, include "massage therapist")? Also, what about the mutant couple, Billy and Mandy? When men act like women and women act like men, isn't evolutionary psychology confounded? Don't worry—the Earthling does have the answers to these questions. But he's saving them until after this week's episode. Stay tuned to Slate.