“If we’re putting this kind of thing on TV as a form of entertainment,” a Parents Television Council executive declared of Temptation Island, “we might as well throw Christians to the lions.” Easy, pal. There was plenty to like about this unconscionably vapid program, in which four couples embarked on journeys of personal exploration and self-loathing amid the sun-kissed beaches and lush vistas of an Eden so sleazy it could only have been created by Fox. Sure, the notion of a show specifically engineered to highlight the downsides of monogamy was “disgusting and appalling,” as critics pointed out. But it was also high comedy, so long as viewers remembered that the star-crossed lovers voluntarily jumped at the chance to ruin their long-term relationships for a free trip to Belize and some priceless exposure. Temptation Island was visually stunning — think washboard abs, swaying palms, shimmering sarongs — and packed with wonderfully inane declarations about the perils of love (“We’ve never had a fight … monotony has set in”). The contestants strayed, they reconciled, they choked out tear-soaked confessions that somehow never ruined their makeup. “By no means will I defend it as noble entertainment,” admitted the show’s host, Mark L. Walberg. While the show succumbed to low ratings in the U.S. after two seasons, it has demonstrated remarkable staying power abroad — a fact Americans may want to highlight the next time some snooty foreigner maligns U.S. tastes.
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