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.

The action of the show is simple enough. The four women were stashed on one side of the island for two weeks with 13 ready-to-go single males. The males of the four couples were on the other side of the island with 13 eager women. ("Keith," one of the singles, was thrown off the island for failing to make a connection with any of the women. Poor guy. No seductive skills.)

The single males come on to the four women, going on "adventure dates," often pushing things along by kissing and hugging. ("It's his job," one of the four men said philosophically of the single guy pursuing his lover.) Then videotape excerpts of the action are sent back to the four men, who have an opportunity to be indifferent, appalled or enraged. The four women get similar videotapes and have similar reactions. On one tape a woman is encouraged to lick some fruit juice off a man's chest. She does, and squeals, "Billy would kill me for this!" Billy sees the tape and announces, "Now I guess I can do whatever I want," and heads off toward a new woman.

Good luck with the relationship, Billy.

The four women and four men talk to their partners only via videotape. Almost nobody says, "I love you" or, "Don't worry. Nothing happened." Presumably this would ruin the show. Instead they say things like "I'm having a super time and I hope you are too." This keeps the all-important doubt and jealousy. At a ceremonial bonfire (the equivalent of those rituals at the fake Polynesian ruins on "Survivor"), the principals "confront their emotions" with large emissions of psychobabble. Women sob. Men sob. If they complain, the host says sharply, "You signed up willingly to be here."

The central assumption of the show seems to be that everybody should be ready to trade in a current partner if a more attractive one comes along. As one contestant says, "Temptation Island" is structured like the Pepsi challenge, with people playing the roles of Coke and Pepsi. One of the women puts this grass-is-always-greener philosophy as gently as she can: "I think the idea of remaining in a relationship with a man who no longer makes you happy prevents a person coming into your life that you are supposed to be with."

Married or unmarried, it's best to move along if you feel you will be better off. The very thing that moves you into a relationship -- the drive for self-fulfillment -- is very likely to move you right on out. So just go with the flow. Or just skip the show and switch to another channel.


John Leo

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

Be the first to read John Leo's column. Sign up today and receive Townhall.com delivered each morning to your inbox.