FBoy Island Is Everything The Bachelorette Is Not

Photo: Ramon Naquid/HBO Max

When former Bachelor contestant — and current Bachelorette host — Jesse Palmer announced that two bachelorettes would star in the next installment, he very quickly admitted that he didn’t know how it would work. Both Gabby Windey and Rachel Recchia would be co-leads for the entire season, working alongside each other and seemingly quelling fears that season 19 of The Bachelorette would end up like season 11, which made two hopefuls battle for love and ended with one of them leaving the mansion embarrassed by rejection. But by episode three of the new season, the producers had already pit Windey and Recchia against each other and humiliated them to varying degrees.

So far, Bachelorette viewers aren’t seeing an uplifting story of two friends looking for love together — but there is a show out there in which multiple female leads are confidently calling the shots, don’t have to worry about how they stack up against each other, and any contestant who dares bad-mouth a woman is put in his place. That show is HBO Max’s FBoy Island, and it’s giving everything reality-TV fans wanted but aren’t getting from The Bachelorette.

As the title suggests, FBoy Island isn’t a show that takes itself too seriously. There are no limo entrances or proposals. It’s just a fun time on a beach where Tamaris Sepulveda, Louise Barnard, and Mia Emani Jones eliminate so-called “FBoys” in the hopes of finding a “nice guy.” At the end of ten short weeks is the prospect of love (dating — not a forced engagement) and a cash prize. (If an FBoy wins, he could choose to keep it all. If a nice guy wins, he splits it with the lead.)

Paradoxically, the show’s silliness makes it more believable. Everyone’s in it for a good time, to maybe find love, and hopefully get a payout. These are the same reasons contestants go on The Bachelorette, but FBoy Island says the quiet part out loud.

Sepulveda, Barnard, and Jones don’t play the comparison game, and even though they’re dating from the same pool, there are no rivalries. At the beginning of the series, each woman explained that they called dibs on a few guys but then let the men display their interests in whichever ways they wanted. Unlike on The Bachelorette, a guy pursuing multiple women on Fboy Island is seen as a red flag. “That’s how you knew who was trying to play the game,” Jones told me in a Zoom interview about a week before the season-two finale.

FBoy Island is unique in how it unites the women in a common goal to weed out the FBoys. Barnard, Jones, and Sepulveda meet together before eliminations with host Nikki Glaser and discuss who they think is an FBoy. It’s not a requirement, but these three women decided before filming that it would be a collective effort. “We just knew that we had to stick together because we’re all dealing with self-proclaimed FBoys,” Barnard said over Zoom. “Usually on other reality shows where there is more than one woman, the girls don’t get along, and they don’t work together to try and figure things out.”

Glaser, too, is an important presence on the show. She’s not just there in the background to give self-evident directions about who will be sent home. She counsels the leads and provides a sounding board. “I don’t give an F who they choose,” Glaser told me over the phone. “I just want them to be happy.”

On The Bachelorette, we have to watch more scenes in which the leads compete with each other and their own insecurities than we see of the contestants vying for their affection. It’s not Recchia and Windey’s fault; producers choose which narratives viewers see, and on a fundamental level, the lack of structure in this season feels to blame. They were already thrust into an unconventional role, dealing with the pressure of trying to find a husband in a few weeks, and now they have to set the rules, too? No wonder they’re feeling confused.

In episode three of The Bachelorette, Windey remarks that divvying up the guys at the rose ceremony “was supposed to be us taking the power back, but we literally just handed it right back to them.” For all their efforts to steer the ship, the power struggle creates space for the men to treat Windey and Recchia poorly. (Reps for Palmer did not respond to a request for comment, and Recchia and Windey’s reps did not respond to our questions.)

“That’s always the thing that bothered me about The Bachelorette,” Glaser added. “I’m always like, ‘Where are their friends?’” Co-hosts Kaitlyn Bristowe and Tayshia Adams provided a bit of female camaraderie last season, but for whatever reason, ABC didn’t tap them to host again.

It’s not wholly surprising that the new season of The Bachelorette falls into a narrative that disempowers the women given its traditional origins. Thankfully, the parodic nature of FBoy Island frees the show from conforming to the same expectations.

“I feel like the show toes the line perfectly between being completely serious, and the emotions on it are real, and we take the connections that are being made seriously,” Glaser said. “But we also know it is so stupid.”

Stupid as it may be, the rules of FBoy Island are clear: The ladies run the show. And because the women compare notes, the guys have to put in more effort if they want to stay in the game. They also have to treat the leads with kindness and respect, and the men call each other out for FBoy behavior and tattle on their fellow contestants to the leads. Once exposed, FBoys are often swiftly eliminated, but before that, they’re held accountable for their bad behavior when, each week, the bottom six guys receive something of a public dressing-down. A notable (and particularly thrilling) example came when Austin Sikora informed Barnard that fellow contestant Kyland Hewett-Newbill had referred to her as a “25-cent kissing booth” because she’d just kiss anybody (a diss as corny as it is rude). At elimination, Barnard tells Hewett-Newbill his behavior was “disgusting,” adding, “I hope your mother and sisters are very proud.”

“I think there’s something really empowering for me to see these girls confront these guys about their issues,” Glaser said. It’s like how in the second episode of The Bachelorette this season, the co-leads went off on contestant Chris Austin for his gross slut-shaming comments about fantasy suites. Just imagine if that scene happened every week and you have your average episode of FBoy Island.

FBoy Island might not pass the Bechdel Test, and it may not produce any marriages. But still, “there are women in positions of power,” Barnard told me. And, spoiler alert, one of the women wields that power in the ultimate way when she decides in the finale to not ride off into the sunset with either of her top-two picks and chooses herself instead. While it’s debatable whether it plays as a triumph for women or is simply a demonstration of FGirl behavior, the option to walk away alone is something that could empower the leads of any reality dating show. Not to mention, in breaking from reality-TV tradition, it definitely made for the most dramatic ending yet. 

FBoy Island Is Everything The Bachelorette Is Not