Network TV's New Pandering Low
By Jamahl Epsicokhan
January 8, 2001
"Temptation Island"?! You've got to be goddamn kidding.
In my book it's a new low for network TV pandering. I don't know much more about Fox's upcoming "Temptation Island" (premiering Wednesday at 9/8c), I suppose, than I need to know. What I need to know I learned solely from the TV commercials. And I don't want to know anything more. The TV ads are enough for me to realize that since "Survivor" became a smash hit last summer we've been suckered into a craze of "brilliant reality TV" that has descended into one wretched excuse to fill an hour after another.
You'd think Fox had learned their lesson with "Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?" They actually went on record to apologize after that fiasco, saying they wouldn't try anything like it again. Well, I guess not. Instead we get "Temptation Island" (a more promising concept, to be sure), a show in which four unmarried couples go to an island populated by 26 attractive single people who will try to steal boyfriends from their girlfriends, girlfriends from their boyfriends, etc., etc. These types of shows are all concept and hype. And, I suspect, there will be very little in terms of actual content beyond dumb soap operatics. Put a camera on an island within a manufactured situation and presto: you have instantly riveting "real" human drama, right?
No, because it's just as contrived as bad fictional melodrama. Assuming none of this is rigged in the first place, can we for one second just pause and label all the couples going out to this island a hapless parade of chumps? They've been bribed with money and/or the possibility of their 15 minutes of fame (remember Richard from "Survivor"?) to engage in a lab-rat experiment involving human sexuality, weakness, insecurity ... and stupidity. Of course it's a recipe for ratings success. It's damn near perfect.
This is assuming the show delivers the goods. CBS's "Big Brother" was a reality show that turned out to be a boring flop no one cared about. "Temptation Island" has sex and imminent pain built into its premise, so it's a hell of a lot more promising on its theoretical elements. If it delivers what the ads promise, I have no doubt it will be successful in drawing its audience, even if it's not nearly a triumph of "Survivor"-like proportions.
But make no mistake — this show is exploitive trash. Anyone who would willingly participate in an experiment like this is doing it for all the wrong reasons. "I want to know if I was really meant to be with him," says one participant of her lover in a commercial. What a line of crap. Relationships aren't meant to be tested in a virtual lab by stranding yourself on an island filled with hottie strangers carted in specifically to provide alternatives to your lover. If you're as strong as you say you are, then prove it: Don't be suckered by the monetary payoff to be on this stupid show in the first place.
We've reached new depths in the definition of the "high concept." The concepts now are so high (or so low, to be more accurate) that a show can be made simply because it evokes tantalizing trailers, instant discussion steeped in disbelief of the bizarre, and, as in my case (and certainly others), instant prejudgmental write-offs based on a sight unseen.
The only question for Fox is whether enough viewers will care about "Temptation Island" — whether they'll finally have grown tired of the fact that they're watching stupid things unfold on the screen merely because they're "real," or whether they'll continue to buy into that very idea. Going up against "The West Wing" won't make grabbing those numbers easy.
Regardless of how that question is answered, I will not be watching this new take on the high concept. Not one minute of it. I'm better than that. If that sounds arrogant, then fine — I'm an arrogant bastard.
But one bastard who won't be wasting his time with "Temptation Island," no matter how little time that may be.
Then again, I never wasted my time with one minute of "Survivor" either.