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From the new “Love Island” to “Paradise Hotel” and “Are You the One?” the resurgence of dumb, horny dating shows couldn’t come at a better time.

In the premiere episode of Love Island last week, the participants are introduced to us in pre-recorded interviews, in which they discuss bad relationships in the past, ideal partners and their hope for finding true love. These interviews are interspersed with images of each, inexplicably, trying to look sexy while lying in a ball pit that happens to contain rubber ducks. There is no discernible reason why the ball pit is needed, nor is there a way to look sultry while waving around in one. It’s completely ridiculous, and it’s perfect.

Love Island, a compulsively observable reality dating series, originated in the UK and has found a legion of dedicated American fans thanks to Hulu. It was only a matter of time before the series crossed the pond: last Tuesday, CBS premiered with the American adaptation, which was broadcast four (!) Nights a week. (CBS ‘other summer reality article, Big Brother, only three is broadcast.) It’s not what you call’ good ‘television, but it’s much nicer than much scripted, especially since it’s self-confident enough to never aim much higher than’ attractive ‘ people who connect, argue and train. ‘ It does not want to be a Bachelor and knows that there is more fun (and drama) to experience if all participants want to fuck each other instead of competing for a person. Love Island is based on the first week and does not live up to the charm and smarm of its British counterpart (especially the accents, jargon and the cheerful moanable tale of Iain Stirling are missing) but it is still hard to look away.

The actual conceit of the show is this: a group of “sexy singles” live temporarily in a beautiful villa and couples in pairs trying to find true love and / or a cash reward at the end. New “islanders” are regularly brought in, couples break up, new forms, people are voted out. Once in a while there is a “disconnection” ceremony to shake things up. (By the way, these ceremonies are pretty much the only time everyone’s not wearing a swimsuit.) In between, they take part in “challenges” that are usually excuses for the producers to get everyone in even less clothing than normal and to introduce shameless drama through secrets or encourage spontaneous makeup sessions. “Truth Or Dare” is a popular game, and the producers are also fond of introducing lie detection exams. It is all definitely unubile – and somewhat sociopathic – but it would not work if it were not. Even this simplistic description is too complex for Love Island: the highlight is to see how they all interact with each other through painful clumsy flirting, immediate possessiveness and jealousy, and clumsy s.x while sharing a room with about eight other people. It can be cheerfully cruel, but it’s so nice to see, because you don’t have to think about anything except the stupidity of the participants.

The reason I keep going back to OG Love Island between watching other shows – teenage nihilistic drama Euphoria, the tiring Twilight Zone reboot that you hit with political allegory, the gripping Chernobyl that can’t be watched while eating – is because I needed something that definitely felt less cerebral, something I could only pay attention to half. Everything that I would temporarily invest more in terrible couples that I will never meet than in our daily reality.

Love Island is just one of the many trashy and infectious dating series that I am temporarily obsessed with this year, shows that are ideal for lazy summer afternoon visits and that offer a nice antidote to heavier scripted dramas. In January, the American network debuted with a reboot of FOX’s Temptation Island, which originally ran from 2001 to 2003. The series, originally a source of controversy, does not go much deeper than the name. Four couples who try to decide whether to stay together or call it quit are divorced so that they can live temporarily with attractive and, ahem, seductive members of the opposite s.x. They can choose to be faithful or they can cheat. It’s a terrible, border-cruel assumption akin to rubberneck a car accident, but it’s easy to remember that if this is your last attempt to save your relationship, it’s probably not worth saving. Restarting the US didn’t feel as fresh as the original series, but it’s still a cheap way to kill a few hours – it’s strange how less stressful these real couples feel than the fictional ones at HBO.

FOX Paradise Hotel restarted in May, which was broadcast two seasons in 2003 and 2008. Now hosted by Kristin Cavallari (The Hills), Paradise Hotel shares a similar layout to Love Island: people are paired and share a room; there is one person left who must mate at the end of the week or be evicted from the “hotel”. The winning pair must decide individually whether to share or keep the $ 250,000 prize. With only seven episodes, the 2019 season was airy and full of laughable, fascinating drama between couples you’ll never see again.

But the best of these is Are You The One, MTV’s unnecessarily complex dating show. The producers use a matchmaking algorithm to secretly couple couples and, during the season, the participants live together as they try to find out who is the “perfect” match of everyone. If they identify them all correctly, they will win a shared prize of $ 1 million. There are other crazy things in it – ridiculous data, challenges, a relationship expert, a “truth booth” – that aren’t really worth explaining. But what works so well for this currently broadcast season is that all participants are “sexually fluid” and able to make contact with everyone, rather than relying on the boring hetero-pair formula used in every other show.

The result is both sparkling slutty and dramatic – in the two-part premiere, Kai, a transman, has s.x with both a cis woman and a cis man on the same night – and legitimately groundbreaking. This is the first dating show I have seen with a trans-participant, a non-participant and serious conversations about gender identity and sexuality. But it also does not betray its low roots: everyone kisses everyone, and there is non-stop jealousy and arguing. Kai and Jenna, the most explosive couple, literally alternate between yelling at each other and furious s.x. At one point, while basically humming them dry in the middle of the floor, they shout “You are toxic!” And “You are more toxic than me!” Against each other. (But the strangest thing about Are You The One?, Which I am sure is mainly due to its strangeness, is that it is also the first dating show in which I actively seek myself for couples to work.) You know: young love. Plus, not to be surpassed by Love Island’s emphasis on s.x, last week’s episode included five!

The appeal of this series is this inherent ridiculousness, the idiocy of the basic building, the permanent garbage antics. The appeal is that they cannot possibly be taken seriously, even when the participants themselves are serious. Take the Love Island premiere, where a man ironically explains that he got into the show because he is trying to “find someone in an organic way.” Nothing surprising about all this: you can barely get through an episode without anyone talking about how they have ‘trust problems’ because they have been cheated, so ‘walls have been built’ and it takes a long time before they ‘let someone in’. (The ‘long time’ is usually one to two weeks.) If you want to waste, take a drink if someone is talking about putting their eggs in one basket.

These series offer a great, welcoming break from how heavy everything else feels, both in the real world and on the screen. Of course the grimness of a show like The Handmaid’s Tale or the political world of Orange Is The New Black is important and necessary, but sometimes it is too much, especially all at once. Television often responds to politics, so it makes sense that so many series have recently felt both filthy and horrible – which is not bad! But it sometimes feels overwhelming; even Facebook’s reboot of The Real World was sometimes hard to see while the roommates discuss racism, homophobia and immigration. There are times when you have to close that part of your brain to maintain your energy and sense of self. Reality television, and in particular this subgenre, can feel like disconnecting or providing self-care. Sometimes the best way to charge is to tune into the stupidest thing you can find.

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