In just a few weeks, MTV’s new take on Are You the One? has developed a loyal following eager to watch the boozy, messy antics of the new sexually fluid cast, a historic first for an American dating show. In the five episodes that have aired, there have been multiple hookups and breakups, and this week’s episode promises a fivesome in the boom boom room. With a cast made up of sexually fluid contestants, everyone is fair game. And what happens when you stick a bunch of hot people who are all potentially attracted to one another in a Hawaiian beach house and promise them each a share of $1,000,000 if they find their ideal mate? Well, they fuck.
But not everyone sees this as a win for queer visibility. Slate published a story on Wednesday questioning whether the show’s depiction of it’s sexually fluid cast was actually the win for bisexual representation it claims to be. The essay posits that a show filled with queer folks getting wasted and hooking up perpetuates the stereotype that bisexuals — and to be clear, not everyone on the show identifies as bisexual, as the term “sexually fluid” has been applied to the cast as a whole, so some of them may be pansexual or other variant of label — are greedy and hypersexual.
“It’s become frustrating to watch different contestants put the group’s chances of winning at risk by creating conflict, hurting one another, and failing to strategize about finding a perfect match. While I recognize it wouldn’t make for the most riveting TV, I desperately want to see them all sitting together with a piece of paper, charting out the best ways to play their odds intelligently,” writes Hannah Harris Green, who misses the point that creating conflict is the entire goal of reality dating competitions. Can you imagine if the cast of AYTO spent an episode sat around a notebook figuring out who they should pair up with rather than going snorkelling and taking repeat trips to the smush room? That would be so boring. Ratings and social engagement would plummet, and then we’d never get another season.
Drama is the entire reason that people watch reality dating shows! Remember earlier this year when that girl faked an Australian accent on The Bachelor? I watched the season premiere, having never watched the show before, just for her! There is no reality dating show — not The Bachelor, not A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila, not Finding Prince Charming — where contestants approached any strategy without the hopes of getting laid and getting their 15 minutes of fame.
Decades into the reality TV phenomenon, these contestants know that the more messy drama they cause, the better their chances of getting screen time are, which means leveraging their shot at love into an actual career. Sure, it would be nice to find your perfect mate and win some money, but in a post-Instagram world, reality TV favorites can turn their few weeks of airtime into a career as an Influencer, or maybe even land a spinoff. Is it realistic to expect that they’ll play nice and work together, flying in the face of a perscribed path set out by every other reality TV show ever, in order to provide a more nicely packaged depiction of what queer people look like?
And why should we expect them too? The powerful thing about the new season of Are You the One isn’t just that it has cast a bunch of queer people, it’s that it’s giving them the opportunity to behave the same way that cishetero folks do on dating shows. Green says they “hope we’ve reached a point where audiences could see this show and realize that the messiness on display isn’t exclusive to bi people,” which reeks of sex shaming. And honestly, isn’t showing that queer folks can be just as messy and entertaining as straight people actually the ideal outcome for a show like Are You the One?
Remy Duran, possibly the sluttiest AYTO cast member, tells Out he “always pushed back at the idea of being positive representation” because when it comes to bisexual stereotypes, he fits so many of them. “I’m a messy, slutty, bisexual who can never make up his mind on how many people I want to date at a time.” But according to him, being “the worst bisexual ambassador the community could ask” is exactly why he should be on TV. “I am part of the community whether people like it or not, I still matter and I’m not ashamed of being a slutty drama queen, especially not in front of no damn straight people.”
Queer folks shouldn’t behave better just because they’re on TV so that straight audiences get some sanitized version of what queerness looks like. Those outdated respectability politics are really not that dissimilar to the very structures of oppression we are trying to combat when it comes to “representation,” whatever that means. We don’t need to be palatable to cishetero folks, nor do we need to center straightness when we think about how these stories come across. And we certainly don’t need to force queer folks in media to be sexless paragons of respectability. We are allowed to be as slutty, flawed, self-destructive, and villainous as we want — that’s what makes good TV! If visibility has advanced enough to have a reality dating competition with a cast of queer folks, they should be able to be just as messy and slutty as queer folks are in real life. That is representation.