We are currently in a massive boom for reality dating competition series. Love Island is in full swing in the UK (and now the U.S.), ABC’s The Bachelor franchise plays almost non-stop all year, MTV’s Are You the One? was arguably the greatest season of a reality dating show I’ve ever seen, and Netflix has been excelling with its lineup of Too Hot to Handle and Love is Blind.
FBOY Island, HBO Max’s foray into the reality dating competition show, is a true outlier. Unlike the genius of raucous shows like Temptation Island, Next, or Date My Mom, FBOY Island is what happens when you make all the wrong decisions every time.
The rules are a little complicated, but the show starts with three women and 28 guys (scary!) Half of the guys there are “Nice Guys” sincerely looking for love, and the other half are “FBOY’s.” If the girls can meet a Nice Guy and fall in love, they split $100,000, but the FBOY’s are contestants who are there to trick the women into falling in love with them so that they can win the $100,000 prize and dip. Every week, three men are eliminated, when they must reveal to us whether they were a Nice Guy or an FBOY.
Created by former Bachelor producer Elan Gale, the show attempts to ask the question, “do nice guys truly finish last?” Throughout the series, however, FBOY Island more accurately asks: “can you even tell if someone is sincere or not?”
“Are you here for the right reasons?” is a type of question cemented in dating show lore. It’s a tenant of what makes an honest contestant, or the kind of red flag that sends them home. While looking for love is all you need to make it past a villain arc in The Bachelor, it’s interesting to see that question become the basis for an ex-Bachelor producer to explore in their next series.
The idea that opening up to someone doesn’t mean that you’re genuinely interested in anything past a one-night stand is a solid critique of how contestants talk to each other on dating shows, but FBOY Island doesn’t create a way to really answer “how do I trust someone?” The Bachelor ends in an engagement (although it rarely works out), but FBOY Island only seeks to answer whether or not the women will be tricked out of both love and $100,000 cash. A real lose-lose condition for women.
To find out if a contestant is an “FBOY,” the women put the men through “gentleman” tests on their dates. They monitor how the men act around the other guys in the competition, see if they can rub sunscreen on their backs without groping them, and ask them questions about former relationships and why they choose to be here. “To find love” is said roughly 99.99% of the time.
Who are these women, and why do they deserve love? Sadly, we don’t ever learn much about CJ, Sarah, or Nakia throughout the series. CJ is a 30-year-old model from Los Angeles, Nakia is a 28-year-old singer/songwriter from Los Angeles, and Sarah is a 25-year-old social media influencer from Chicago. That is all we are told.
In one episode, Casey asks CJ what she wants out of life and she responds, “I don’t know.”
Worse than having almost no emotional connection to hoping that the women find love, the difficulty of weeding out the FBOY’s is also evidently high starting with the first episode.
The show tries to define FBOY’s as the enemy, and by doing so it makes casual hookup culture seem like a male-only vice. It paints FBOY Island as a show where everybody is out to trick you, and you have just to stab at the potential dybbuks–blindly hoping that they weren’t just lying to you for the money.
The problem is that “FBOY” is hard to define in this environment. In the first episode, CJ deletes a boy because he talks about how beautiful their kids would look together. Another guy is questioned because he has two phones until Nakia says that she has two phones as well. Jarred, who enters the show as a self-proclaimed “alpha male,” turns out to be a “Nice Guy.”
Between the three women, there seems to be no consensus as to what makes an “FBOY.” There’s also a weird idea that the “Nice Guys,” who are there for the right reasons, are infallible husbands-to-be. On night one, one of the Nice Guys is very creepy to Nakia, and a lot of them just get sent home for not aggressively pursuing them as much as the FBOY’s.
On a date with Sarah in the second episode, “Nice Guy” Josh doesn’t go in for a kiss even though Sarah tells us in a confessional that she wished he had. In another moment, CJ jumps into Casey’s bed and makes out with him. Would he have not followed her if he was a “Nice Guy,” or does that just make CJ an “FGIRL?”
“FBOY, Nice Guy?” contestant Jared questions in the second half of the season, “semantics.”
How the Game Was Played
Despite the premise, all three girls initially fall for guys that they also believe to be FBOY’s, which was the most entertaining part of the show’s experiment. Sarah falls for Garrett, a confirmed FBOY from the start who says he’s here for the game but is falling for her anyway. CJ falls for Casey, an FBOY that she thinks “can be salvaged,” and Nakia’s three hottest connections are all with FBOY’s.
The show also crumbles from an odd amount of disorganization. There’s a weird elimination round in episode three when Sarah wants to eliminate Chris because he hasn’t given her any attention. Chris’ reasoning is that he’s been putting all his effort into wooing CJ. CJ stops Sarah from eliminating Chris and eliminates someone else to save him. It was insanely weird and made me question if the women even talked to each other before the elimination ceremony. Either way, they end up eliminating three Nice Guys that night.
The f**k-ups continue, however, when the show forces them to eliminate men that they were planning on keeping around another week in episode four. All the men then revealed whether they were an FBOY or a Nice Guy halfway through the season–something that should have remained on lock until the end of the series.
Surprisingly, the women still considered some of the FBOY’s over the remaining Nice Guys even after finding out. FBOY Island then has Nakia (who is supposed to be a prize of the show) choose between three self-proclaimed FBOY’s who will take the money and run. No surprise to viewers at home, none of the relationships lasted.
The Takeaway from FBOY Island
FBOY Island, at its core, proves that dating is hell if you’re looking for a real connection, but it really f**k’s up the gender politics. FBOY Island doesn’t understand that women look for casual hookups just as much as men. It believes people can change, and that everyone is figuring it out at their own pace, but the central idea of the show contrasts with any sort of fluidity. The more ironic flaw of FBOY Island is that the “FBOY” conceit is the worst part of the show.
Men arguing about who didn’t have enough time to talk with the women, or frontrunners getting too arrogant about their connections, is already present in what makes The Bachelor drama great. The Bachelor, Love Island, Are You the One?–none of these shows try to tell you who’s right or who’s wrong (unless they’re really insulting) and they leave it up for the audience to decide. FBOY Island goes: “That guy’s an ‘FBOY’ and that guy’s a ‘Nice Guy.'”
The reason more popular dating franchises only cast people who they want you to believe are “looking for love,” is because rooting for an “FBOY” to succeed and a woman to settle for someone who’s been lying to her the entire time feels gross.
What do you think? Drop your thoughts in the comments below.