Much to the delight of reality show fanatics, the first two seasons of “Are You the One?” were brought to Netflix on Dec. 1. The show has a simple yet intriguing premise: 20 singles who supposedly “suck at relationships” spend the summer at a tropical beach house in an attempt to find their perfect match.
The contestants have been paired off by the producers using unexplained matchmaking techniques, and they have 10 tries to sort themselves into 10 perfectly-matched couples. If they are able to pair themselves correctly by the 10th Match-Up, the participants will go home with love and money, splitting a $1 million grand prize.
When I first saw the trailer for “Are You the One?” I had high hopes for the program. It seemed to combine the normal reality dating show intrigue with the added mental puzzle of finding 10 perfect matches. However, after watching the first few episodes, some clear flaws emerged.
For one, it’s a bit difficult to take the premise of the show at face value. The producers claim that the contestants are “perfect matches,” but they don’t go into detail on how the matches are made. It makes you wonder: What are the criteria for creating a perfect match? How qualified are these professional matchmakers, really? And if the couples are legitimately meant to be together, why are they so bad at identifying their matches?
Another major disappointment is the utter lack of strategic gameplay. In the first two seasons, there are two main strategic elements — the Truth Booth and the Match-Up ceremonies.
Each week, the contestants vote one couple into the Truth Booth, which either confirms them as a match — in which case they are kicked out of the beach house and sent to the “Honeymoon Suite” for some drama-free alone time — or a no-match.
At Match-Up ceremonies, couples attempt to correctly pair off, where they receive one “beam of light” for each perfectly matched couple. This means that Match-Ups will tell them the number of perfect matches, but not who those matches are.
With these two elements combined, you would think that the contestants could put their heads together to ensure that they take home the money. However, many players stubbornly insist on “playing with their hearts,” which leads to a lot of missed strategic opportunities.
The show’s biggest issue, however, is the sexualization of the contestants. Players are scantily clad in bikinis and swim trunks most of the time. Challenges involve promiscuous selfies, lewd quotes and large quantities of lubricant. Worst of all is the “Boom Boom Room,” a room in the house specifically designated for getting it on.
Of course, the glorification of sex is not unique to “Are You the One?” All reality dating shows sexualize their contestants to some extent. But just because other shows do it doesn’t give “Are You the One?” an automatic green light to follow suit. All reality programs should really consider how their portrayal of sex might affect younger viewers’ perceptions of what physical intimacy should look like.
With such a large focus placed on physical attraction, the show provides very little character development. So much time is taken up with drama and overdone suspense that the deeper aspects of the players’ personalities and relationships are cast aside. This is especially disappointing because the point of the show is to explore the idea of a perfect match, and a successful relationship is built on personality, emotional connection and common interests, not just physical attraction.
Even if more time were to be spent getting to know the players, however, I doubt that their backstories would be all that inspiring. For the most part, the contestants lack emotional depth and seem one-dimensional. The things that we did learn about the Season 1 players were highly concerning. For example, some claimed to have slept with over 100 people, while others admitted to having tased or stalked their exes. All in all, I would have liked to see a more genuine and relatable cast.
Despite all the problems with the first two seasons, the most recent season of the show tells an entirely different story. Season 8 features a small cast of only 16 players, but all of the contestants are sexually fluid, meaning that their perfect match could be any other person in the house, regardless of gender. This season is not found on Netflix — you’ll have to pay for it on MTV’s website, Amazon or another platform — but it is well worth your money; it truly pushes the boundaries of reality dating shows in a wonderful way.
Season 8 improves upon a lot of the issues that popped up in the Netflix seasons. For one, strategy becomes much more complex, given that anyone can be matched with anyone else in the house. The players also seem to be more invested in strategy, and they’re willing to work together to make some important discoveries.
Another plus is the wide variety of looks and styles displayed by the cast. While the contestants are still stunningly attractive, their quirky clothes and edgy accessories remind viewers that there is no one “correct way” to look good. They are all completely comfortable in their own skin.
The best part about this season is getting to know each of the players and their stories. Since there are only 16 players, viewers have more time to explore each person’s unique character arc. Sure, there are still a few drama kings and queens, but there are also some truly inspiring people. Additionally, the cast features the show’s first ever transgender and gender-fluid contestants.
The only issue I took with this season was its attitude toward sex. If you thought that the first two seasons were questionable, this season takes hook-ups to a whole new level with a three-person make-out session, a fivesome in the Boom Boom Room, and a whole lot more wanton behavior; the hook-ups are so plentiful that many don’t even make it on camera. Additionally, the cast dresses extraordinarily provocatively, often walking around topless or in thongs.
On the surface, it makes sense that this season was more risqué; since everyone is sexually fluid, they could theoretically be attracted to anyone else in the house, increasing the total number of hook-up options significantly. However, just because you can have sex with a greater number of people doesn’t mean that you should.
Promiscuity might draw in viewers, but it gives those viewers — especially the ones who are younger and more impressionable — a warped sense of how sex is viewed in real life. Additionally, the whole season gives the impression that the LGBTQ+ community has no sexual boundaries, which is simply not the case.
All in all, while Season 8 has its flaws, I would still highly recommend it, especially to those who are interested in LGBTQ+ culture. Hopefully, this season will pave the way for future sexually fluid dating shows on MTV and beyond.