2014 has already been a big year for television. True Detective ignited a thousand conspiracy theories in just eight weeks, The Good Wife ruined the dreams of untold fan fiction writers and How I Met Your Mother actually killed the mother.
But the unsung hero of cable, as well as my personal reason for living for the last ten weeks (I don’t have a ton going on), is MTV’s Are You The One? I submit that it’s the greatest reality show of 2014 — perhaps the greatest reality show of the 21st century — and I’m sorry to inform you that you missed it.
It’s unthinkable to me that this show managed to fly under the radar for so long, but here we are, with the final reunion episode airing tonight at 10pm Eastern. The premise of the show is as follows: take twenty of the dumbest people alive and match them into pairs with the help of dating “experts” (this all happens off-camera). Drop them into a mansion in Hawaii and tell them they have ten weeks to figure out who their matches are in order to split a $1 million reward, but don’t give them any clues about who those matches might be.
Along the, way the contestants are asked to compete in challenges whose rewards are either dates with possible matches or opportunities to send a couple into the “Truth Booth,” where they will find out for certain if they’re a “Perfect Match” or “No Match.” At the end of each episode everyone pairs up, and the contestants are told how many correct matches they’ve made, but not who those matches are.
Does this sound too easy? That’s because it is. Are You The One? has the lowest stakes of any reality show I’ve ever seen. No one is ever eliminated, unless they discover their match, in which case they are whisked away to one of Hawaii’s finest Red Roof Inns to get to know each other better in the “Honeymoon Suite” (but are still available for drunken revelry at the main house in the evenings). The brain trust behind the show realized that there could still be plenty of Sturm und Drang provided that there was enough alcohol — more, in fact, because the bad eggs stick around for the duration of the show, doing an especially poor job of finding their matches and sowing the seeds of discontent all the while.
And so you have a show that takes the very best parts of The Challenge, The Bachelor and Elimidate, throws them in a blender with a fifth of tequila and trusts that everyone will be drunk enough and terrible enough at figuring out who their matches are to stretch out the show for the required ten weeks. It’s hosted, Chris Harrison-style, by the frequently absent and casually dismissive Ryan Devlin, who I imagine spent his off hours in a neighborhood bar yelling, “I had it all, and I lost it all. I was on COUGARTOWN” at no one in particular.
Because the contestants lacked a strategy beyond “Let’s get bombed and take this conversation to the Boom Boom Room” (an apparently permanently darkened room viewable only with assistance from a night vision camera), the challenge wins, which determined which couples would be eligible for a visit to the Truth Booth, were not used with purpose. For over half of the show’s run no one appeared to be keeping track of any of the unsuccessful matches — the pairings reset week to week, seemingly at random. It was like watching The Bachelor with a cast of goldfish. When two contestants did start to connect, they were unceremoniously ripped apart in the Truth Booth.
Luckily, this was a resilient bunch. The cast featured probable sociopath Chris Scali, whose talking head interviews had him standing at least three feet closer to the camera lens than anyone was comfortable with. Chris Tolleson and Shanley McIntee were the Bella and Edward of our generation, falling in love in the premiere based on shared admiration of Chris’s Labyrinth tattoo, finding out they weren’t a match in the Truth Booth within the hour, and continuing to sneak around together in the “Boom Boom Room” regardless. Chris was eventually matched with Paige Brendel and sent to Red Roof Inn jail, causing Shanley to melt down at the prospect of losing her boyfriend and Simone Kelly to be bodily removed from the room, so upset was she at the prospect of losing 1/20 of $1 million in the name of love.
Brittany Baldi, an outspoken girl with a thick Boston accent, decided in the pilot that Adam Kuhn was her match, and no matter of persuading from her fellow contestants nor from Adam himself could convince her otherwise. This was something of a theme — my obsession, Ryan Malaty, debuted strongly, becoming very upset about the theft of his dream journal in episode two, only to waste most of the show pursuing Kayla Lusby even as she constantly looked over her shoulder for someone better. Because there were no eliminations, contestants were free to pursue these doomed relationships for the duration of the show.
Nonetheless, this show cast a spell on me. I spent precious hours of my free time looking up the contestants on Twitter, poring over their MTV bios for clues about who their matches might be, trying to figure out the pairs myself, and texting my friends obsessively about the show. Unfortunately, Are You The One? burned so bright, like a plum pudding soaked in brandy, that it burned out one week early. No amount of jungle juice could prevent the contestants from quickly figuring out the remaining two matches once they successfully picked out eight correct pairs at the end of the eighth episode.
“We just won $1 million for trying to fuck each other,” contestant John Jacobs told the camera, amazed. When Ryan Devlin confirmed that they had finally gotten all ten matches, my roommate looked over at me on the couch and said, “Please don’t cry.”
Anyway, tune in for season two. MTV has confirmed that enough people share my psychosis to renew the show for a second season. In fact, as their president of programming says, “[Are You The One?] is the #1 original series across all TV in its time period with young people ages 12-34.”
For those of you unlucky enough to miss the show the first time around, you’ll get a second chance to discover it — a second chance at love, if you will. Just know that you probably don’t deserve it.