We are currently in a massive boom for the 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, Love is Blind, and Dating Around.
FBOY Island, A true outlier, is HBO Max’s new foray into the reality dating competition show. 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.
The rules are a little complicated, but FBOY Island works as such: There are 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,” contestants who are there to trick the women into falling in love with them so that they can win the $100,000 prize. Every week, three men are eliminated, and they must reveal to us whether they were a Nice Guy, or an FBOY.
Created by former The Bachelor producer Elan Gale, the show purports to ask the question, “do nice guys truly finish last?” but throughout the series, 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, and a tenant to what makes an honest contestant. Sincerely looking for love is at the crux of The Bachelor, and it’s interesting to see such a 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 shows like The Bachelor, 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 all that is left at the end of FBOY Island is whether or not the women will be tricked out of both love and $100,000 cash. A real lose-lose condition for the women.
To find out if a contestant is an “FBOY,” the women put the men through what they believe to be “gentleman” tests on their dates. They women 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 current occupations.
So, who are these women, and why do they deserve love? Sadly, we don’t ever learn much about CJ, Sarah, and 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, 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 everyone may be out to trick you, and you have just to stab at the potential dybbuks blindly, hoping that they weren’t lying just 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 Boys,” 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 “FBOYS.”
In the second episode, on a date with Sarah, “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,'” 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 starts off thinking “can be salvaged,” and Nakia’s three largest connections are all with “FBOY’s.”
The show also crumbles from an odd amount of Season 1 disorganization. There’s a weird elimination round in episode three where Sarah wants to eliminate Chris because he hasn’t given her any attention, but it’s because 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 they 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. After that, half-way through the season, all the men reveal whether they’re an “FBOY” or a “Nice Guy,” something that should have remained on lock until the end of the series.
Crazier than that, is that the women still consider some of the “FBOYS” over the remaining “Nice Gus” 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.” It becomes increasingly more infuriating to watch the women get disappointed by the “FBOY’s” they’ve decided to be the worthy of their affection, and they continue to trust people who arrived on a show with the plan to lie to them.
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***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 people are all just figuring it out at their own pace, but the central idea of the show contrasts with any sort of flux or hookup 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 leaves it up for the audience to decide. FBOY Island goes: “No that one’s an ‘FBOY’ and that one’s the ‘Nice Guy.'”
The reason more popular dating franchises only cast what they want you to believe are “real people looking for love,” is because rooting for an “FBOY” to succeed and a woman to settle feels wrong.
What do you think? Drop your thoughts in the comments below.