Are You the One? Reality show's sexually fluid season was a Gen Z fever dream

The eighth season of the MTV offered unguarded moments in queer love – and breakups

MTV aired the season eight finale of Are You the One? on Monday night and it was a bittersweet ending for the show’s newly gained LGBTQ+ fans, who have been obsessively tracking the dizzying carousel of pairings, make-outs, and heartbreaks this summer.

That’s because the finale marks the end of a previously unremarkable dating show undergoing an exciting queerification. The change has created such a buzz, Are You the One? viewing parties at queer nightlife spots became popular this season.

This season was a Gen Z fever dream: every cast member identifies as sexually fluid. There was a trans masculine heartbreaker, a non-binary scene-stealer who uses they/them pronouns and performs under the drag persona Dionne Slay, and contestants who relished the chance to explore their bisexuality for the first time. Dating can be full of limitations for queer people, especially those who live in rural areas. And with this season of Are You the One?, MTV manufactured a glossy, made-for-cameras queer utopia for viewers and a chance to explore the question: would dating be easier if everyone was open to dating everyone (and hot)?

The answer is no.

The pressure was on for the 16 contestants to find their “perfect matches” and take home the grand prize of $750,000. (“Perfect matches” are pre-decided by producers after extensive interviews with psychologists, relationship experts and the cast members’ exes and then left for the cast to discover over the course of the show. Think musical chairs meets process of elimination meets great acting.) All pretense of finding true love was thrown out the window in this episode. The six contestants who had yet to discover their perfect matches (called “the stragglers”) resorted to a confusing strategy of gut feelings mixed with logic. At one point, two contestants soberly theorized they might be perfect matches simply because they were both from New York. (Turns out they were right.)

The finale was devoid of the genuine connections that had taken place over the course of the season. But that’s largely because most of those genuine connections had been fractured. Heartbreak makes for good TV and contestants have little choice but to split up once they find out they’re not a perfect match. This cruel, Big Brother style of dating was especially radical – and painful – to watch with a queer cast.

The passionate romance of the season was between Max and Justin. Their love felt like a 2019 Brokeback Mountain, two men basking in the highs of a particular kind of first love. It was Max’s first time in a relationship with a man. And of course, only once strong feelings emerged did the two discover they weren’t a perfect match. Reality TV becomes its best when contrived scenarios and set-ups unexpectedly slip into raw, unguarded moments. And that’s exactly what happened when Max sat crying next to Justin, confused and hurt that Justin would return to playing the game after the connection they shared. Justin sat there, stiff, unsure what to say. Queer love is important to witness, but equally important is a very queer and very awkward breakup.

By the end of the finale, everyone had found their “perfect matches” (whether they were happy with the matches is another question) and the grand prize had been claimed. What could have made for a more fulfilling ending is if some other kind of finish line – something more authentic and less hijinks- and gotcha-oriented – could have been employed. Seeing Max and Justin fall out was dramatic, but I can’t help but wish we had seen the pairings fall or soar on their own, with no intervention from producers.

Then again, Are You the One? is not the highest caliber of reality TV. It lacks the high-octane, soap-like drama of Bravo shows and the superior production of shows like Bachelor in Paradise and the UK version of Love Island.

There’s also the desire to see a sincere engagement and commitment to its LGBTQ+ viewers from networks. We are not a fad or a one-off season experiment. MTV did end each episode of Are You the One? with a PSA to find out more information about sexually fluid communities this season, but the support could go further.

However, all things considered, season eight of AYTO was a fabulous start for the queer community. Hopefully there’s more to come.

Contributor

André Wheeler

The GuardianTramp

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