For all The Bachelorette’s shortcomings, at least it’s easy to understand what’s going on. One woman is introduced to a group of the finest douches from across the United States, and, if we’re lucky, Canada. Each week, she sends a few of the less-telegenic douches home, with the hope of finding one perfect douche to spend the rest of the media cycle with. It’s a simple, time-tested formula.
Fox’s new dating show, Coupled, from reality TV maven Mark Burnett, is a liiiittle more advanced. Let me tell you, I have watched three episodes, and I’m pretty sure you need an advanced mathematics degree to understand the game theory at work here. I am just a simple blogger, so there’s no guarantees I’ll get this right, but here’s my best attempt:
• Twelve single women live together in bungalows on a tropical island, along with this man. I think he is the host, or else he wandered away from the Anguilla Club Med and is lost.
• One by one, men are airlifted onto the island via chopper. Think of it like an emergency rescue helicopter, only instead of extracting victims from a disaster zone, they are delivering them to one.
• The women take turns meeting their suitor for a brief speed-dating round on a wooden veranda. We meet men like Alex, a radio DJ who performs “hip hop, reggae, alternative” music.
• This is when things get complicated. If the women like the first impression, they go to the right, where they have a chance for a follow-up conversation at a tiki bar. If they don’t, they go to the left, where they return to the bungalows, to think about the ways in which love has failed them.
• By the way, if you’re thinking this walk-left-walk-right thing feels a lot like Tinder, you’re right, because — zeitgeist alert! — they all have cell phones, with which they can text each other totally candid things like, “There are certain times where I 2nd guess my decision,” that are in no way written or crafted by producers after the fact.
• The suitor then heads over to the tiki bar to see how many girls deemed him worthy of boning in a luxurious and presumably air-conditioned “couples villa” on the other side of the island. This, by the way, is the extent of the female agency on the show. Wasn’t it fun while it lasted?
• Then the tables turn! “Y’all know how relationships go: Power can shift quickly,” says “host” Terrence J. Now it’s the man’s turn to choose which two of these women will come back to the villa with him to exchange awkward death stares while pretending to enjoy horseback riding.
• At the end of the triple date, the man picks the woman he wants to be “coupled with” for the rest of the show and the other woman is sent back to try again.
The rinse and repeat:
• Meanwhile, in the bungalows, the women coexist happily in a matrilineal society free from the leering gaze of men. Just kidding! A new man is flown in on a helicopter. There is a seemingly endless cycle of men in brightly colored slacks ready to be funneled into the island’s gaping maw.
• The cycle begins again. Judgments are made. The number of single women dwindle. New couples are formed and sent off to the villas, to live happily ever after and/or fight, cheat or breakup (in which case the women stick around and the men are sent home) as the producers see fit.
• We learn that “host” Terrence J is actually a shipwreck victim and this whole show is an elaborate fever-dream he is narrating to a beach volleyball (this doesn’t actually happen, but would be a good twist).
What will happen as the number of women declines? Will the women’s taste improve as the show goes on, or will desperation drive them mad? How weird is stuff going to get in those villas? Will anybody find true love, or at the very least, a lucrative book deal? I don’t know, but, for reasons I cannot explain, I’ll be watching.