John Leo
A crisis occurred this week on "Temptation Island," Fox TV's new reality show that tries to provoke committed but unmarried couples into promiscuous behavior. One of the women mentioned that she and her man had a 2-year-old child. This was against the rules. (Rule 47b: Couples willing to conduct televised cheating on the Fox network must be childless.)

Naturally, the executive producer was appalled and acted swiftly. In a televised speech, interrupted only by a station break and several commercials, he accused the offending couple of "problematic" behavior, which is probably only a step or two away from "inappropriate" behavior. It would "kill" him, the producer said, if the show did anything to separate the parents of any child. So the couple was kicked off the island, just like the weekly losers on that other reality show. At least they didn't have to eat any insects or rodents before leaving.

"Temptation Island," a knockoff of "Survivor," is apparently aimed at viewers who found "Baywatch" too challenging. Despite what you have heard, it is not a new low, even for Fox. But it is boring beyond belief and approximately as erotic as a Ralph Nader rally. So it figures to do very well. Some 18 million people a week are managing to sit through it.

The network describes the show as "a short-order unscripted series in which four unmarried couples travel to the Caribbean to test and explore the strength of their relationship." All the network rhetoric about "Temptation Island" has been aggressively dignified. It's not about sex, says Fox entertainment chairman Sandy Grushow. No, it's an effort to examine "the dynamics of people in serious relationships."

As Fox tells it, there's a central philosophical problem: "Have I found the one, or is there someone better out there for me?" The way contestants answer this probing question could strengthen any relationship or "rip it apart," as the irritating host points out each week. The contestants fall in with this kind of talk. Sex and hormones are rarely mentioned, but there is lots of Oprah-style chatter about self-discovery and testing boundaries. Inevitably, one woman announces, "Whatever happens is just going to make me stronger."

But there's sex too, folks. By the sixth and final episode of the series, each of the remaining principals in the show will be aimed sharply toward a new potential lover in what could well be Fox's first prime-time off-camera cheat-a-thon.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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