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"Temptation Island," Episode 1: Babealicious women! Hunkariffic guys! Doomed couples!

Published January 11, 2001 5:11PM (EST)

The credits have not yet run, and already there is remorse.

A stricken youth, a fashionably bald fellow, faces the camera as Satan-movie music plinks in the background.

"I feel like I've sold my soul to do something fantastic, which is to come to this place ..."

A title card fades up: "Tempt, (v) 1. To entice or induce."

"... And now the fun is over and I'm paying for it."

Soon we will learn the lad goes by the name of Billy. Billy cannot see the cards. He is on a beach in Belize, and he is unhappy.

"And I hate to say it's a mistake, but ..."

There is a slow-motion shot of a woman in a bikini, blinking languidly.

"Now I'm in hell."

The plinking is followed by a sonorous plonk.

Welcome to "Temptation Island" -- Fox's answer to the Stanford Prison Experiment, only with sand. Four "committed" couples "at a crossroads in their relationships" have traveled together to a paradisiacal island resort where they will be separated by gender and then tossed into a pleasure pit with "13 fantasy singles" of the opposite sex "chosen specifically to entice them" -- horny kids in bathing suits who say things like "Wet and wild!" and "I like it hot!"

Look, boss! The plane crash!

Our beach-strolling host is a Jeff Probst manqué named Mark Walberg (no relation to actor Mark Wahlberg), who addresses the guys as "Gentlemen" and is capable of saying things like "OK, I have work to do," while keeping a straight face.

"Who will stay together?" asks Mark as he thoughtfully approaches us, the concerned viewers at home. "Who will be torn apart? Who will return to their lives with the partner they arrived with? And who will return alone?"

Who will really care? As long as they keep the public sexual humiliation of others coming.

The four couples are:

From Malibu, Calif., Shannon, a dead ringer for Gwyneth Paltrow with achingly obvious low self-esteem, and Andy, a greasy lad with darting, roving eyes and a dangerously inflated self-image. He's all puffed up -- Look out! He's gonna blow! Shannon and Andy have been together five years. How or why is beyond us.

Couple No. 2, from Atlanta, Ga., consists of Mandy, an orange-haired "singer/waitress," and Billy, whom we've already met. Billy is young. Billy is innocent. Billy is in love. Billy is screwed. When she isn't affectionately shaving his head, Mandy likes to say funny-scary things to Billy. One time, she kissed another boy in front of him. "Although I think Mandy and my relationship is extremely strong, there's no telling what's going to happen when she gets there," he says.

Cut to Mandy wondering aloud if this will be the last she sees of his driveway.

Taheed and Ytossie are from Los Angeles. (Pronounced "why-tossie" -- just the question Taheed has been asking himself for five and a half years.) Taheed has "stepped out" of the relationship before, we learn immediately. Ytossie wants to "test" him to see if he'll be faithful under extreme duress. Why she hasn't ytossied him earlier is unclear.

Valerie and Kaya are from Miami. Valerie casts many withering glances and looks quite put-upon. The vacant-looking Kaya spends a lot of time in front of the mirror, pulling at his hair.

Images of the couples flying, landing, handing over their passports to be stamped, hugging, laughing, pointing, etc., are intercut with interviews of everybody talking about their hopes, their dreams, their deluded romantic notions, their hopes for sex with strangers in the future.

You can learn a lot about someone from the way they describe a dysfunctional relationship they've been stuck in for too long.

Shannon hopes the experience of being constantly drunk on daiquiris and surrounded by girls in bikinis will make Andy "think very seriously" about their relationship and give him the "kick in the butt" he needs to make that "larger commitment."

For his part, Andy compares the show to the Pepsi challenge, only "the ladies are like the soda."

Surly little Val's motives for succumbing to "Temptation"? It's "better to know than not know," she says. She apparently believes that appearing on a television show is a good method of sussing out one's mate's propensity for being unfaithful. We think there's a flaw in her logic, but we can't put our finger on it. Later, she says, "If Kaya proposed to me today, I think I would say yes. I think he kind of knows that I want him to realize that I'm the one."

What a shock it is to learn that Kaya feels he "got involved in this relationship so quickly" he "never had a chance to be single." Kaya wants to explore and find out who he is. (A small banner on the screen informs us that he is a model.)

Of the boys, only Billy is different. Billy is afraid that Mandy will find someone else and he'll be left alone and "just as in love with her as I am now."

We love Billy. We are rooting for Billy. Billy is screwed.

"Billy has never given me indication of going astray," says Mandy, wrinkling her nose, "and I think I kind of need it."

Suddenly, a boatload of fantasy singles arrives! "Boys! Oh, yay!" squeals Mandy, as Valerie's expression turns sour and Shannon visibly panics. Billy is patient and easy-going. Billy is screwed.

The boys -- their faces turning to grayish stone -- later pretend the stud parade was unimpressive. Andy calls them "Punks off the street." Andy is proving to be quite the anachronistic quipper.

The couples are then separated for the night, but the next day everyone regroups to gather around the pool and take a good, long, terrifying look at the meat market. There's a quick Miss America-style introduction round. The men have names like Dano and Ace. One woman says, "Hi, I'm Heather, and I'm from wherever you want me to be from!" Another, Alison, is allegedly a physician and a "former Playboy model."

Then the girlfriends and boyfriends are given the opportunity to vote the single who makes them "most nervous" off the island. Which they do, though the guys unaccountably give a pass to a handsome masseur.

Next, each is allowed to pick the person who they think will most appeal to their mate and "block" them. Once blocked, the single cannot "date" the mate -- in "Temptation Island"-speak, "date" apparently means "spend time alone with on a sailboat" -- but they can talk to them as much as they like.

Can everyone see it coming?

Taheed starts. He looks at three guys and gives the blocking bracelet to a guy named Maceo, who is about 10 years younger than Ytossie and doesn't really look like her type. Ytossie blocks a medical resident named Venus (who despite the name, is not really the bombshell type) from dating Taheed. A relieved Taheed smiles distractedly. Kaya looks carefully up and down the line and blocks the cute massage therapist. Valerie blocks a kittenish kindergarten teacher named Megan -- a sunnier, sexier version of herself -- from dating Kaya.

Kaya's response is, "Good choice. That was a good block." Host Walberg is incredulous. "That was a good block? Could have been trouble there?" "Who knows?" says Kaya. Valerie is starting to break our hearts.

Mandy blocks Carla, the pink-haired bassist from Seattle. Billy likes "funky girls," she explains. Billy smiles. Billy is starting to break our hearts, too. He dramatically marks the masseur. In the good old days nobles and gentlemen settled disputes about women with glove-slaps to the face and duels, addressing each other as "Sir" all the while. The 21st century reality-TV version of this process involves the manager of an Athlete's Foot shop dropping a Deadhead bracelet in front of a masseur on a Caribbean beach in an attempt to stop him from having on-camera monkey sex with his girlfriend.

And some people say our culture has devolved.

The repellent, unattractive Andy can't resist putting Shannon in her place. As he approaches the beefcake lineup for his block, he turns to the others and says, "For Shannon it's not so much physical as it is emotional." Read: "I may be a chunky, ugly kayaker, but I know just how to put her down." He picks a generic-looking special-ed teacher, saying, "Sorry, man, she's a hot lady. She's a hot lady."

Shannon dutifully laughs in appreciation of his "charm." Then she turns to the girls and shrugs, "I wouldn't have picked him." Shannon walks to the skinniest, tartiest youngest blond, Elizabeth, and blocks her from dating Andy. Elizabeth waves sadly at Andy as he yells, "I knew it! I knew it! On the money."

Afterward, everyone's allowed to mingle. Elizabeth and Andy chat and tear into Shannon. "She was eyeballing me, she was staring me down," Elizabeth tells the grinning Andy. "God, nobody has ever not liked me in my entire life and that girl is staring at me!"

Andy laughs at "that girl." He says, "She's obviously thinking that you're the best-looking one of the 13."

We wish Andy ill. Happily, the other boyfriends hang back and shuffle around their cabin and think volleyball sounds like a really good idea.

That night, at the couples' last dinner together, the strain starts to show. Taheed says he's spoken to the forbidden Venus; Ytossie snaps, "Immediately." The sadistic Andy mentions that he spoke to Elizabeth for over an hour and that "she's neat."

"How does that make you feel, Shannon?" asks Walberg.

Shannon is speechless. "It bothers me a little bit."

Ytossie not-so-casually mentions that she spent some time talking to the "very handsome" massage therapist, Sean. "He has manners and a respect for women that every woman should love." Andy turns sharply to look at Shannon. Shannon looks wistfully at Ytossie. Valerie looks at Kaya.

Mark Walberg smiles. "Is that a turn-on?" he asks the women. "Big time," Ytossie says. Taheed shakes his head. Ytossie just keeps getting more and more upset; she understands already she's made a big mistake. She wants some sort of reassurance from Taheed. He's not giving it.

She storms out of the room and winds up on the beach, sobbing so hard she can barely talk.

"No matter how many women he has sex with, none of them will ever love him as much as I did."

The couples split up and go to join their respective temptations. The show ends with the boys in a cabana clubhouse, drinking and carousing with the single gals, some of whom are shown in the pool spanking each other.

And the women -- well, the women are seen crouched on the beach in the dark, ministering to the sobbing Ytossie.

It's the sickest thing we've ever seen ... and it's only on once a week.

(Carina Chocano)

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By Carina Chocano

Carina Chocano writes about TV for Salon. She is the author of "Do You Love Me or Am I Just Paranoid?" (Villard).

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