It’ll take more than a pandemic to stop a return trip to Temptation Island.
USA Network’s guilty pleasure is back Tuesday, February 16, with host Mark L. Walberg and a new set of couples — Erica Washington and Kendal Kirkland, Erin Smith and Corey Sobczyk, Kristen Ramos and Julian Allen, Chelsea Orcutt and Thomas Gipson — venturing to Maui for the ultimate relationship test. They’ll be joined by 24 hot singles looking for love.
In the end, the four couples will have a big decision to make. Do they remain committed or give in to the temptation of another? We sat down with Walberg to preview what’s to come from the steamy reality show.
How did COVID impact production?
Mark Walberg: We started taping at the end of September. There was delay after delay, so COVID was really crippling us. Once the producers established a safe protocol and the initial quarantine in our rooms, we got to work. The things that looked like obstacles ended up being opportunities. We were in a very strict bubble. What happened with our cast and crew was this cohesiveness that we would not have had being in separate hotels all over the island. As far as the cast goes, they are usually sequestered anyway. So it wasn’t any different in that regard.
How did the cast react to these unique circumstances?
Once we were all past the quarantine phase, there was a feeling of safety. The island itself had very few cases. We weren’t intermingling with anyone outside our bubble. We knew everyone was tested. We had 3,600 COVID tests and zero positives. From the cast standpoint, once they moved into the villas and started their life there, I think it was a relief. They were able to live as if there wasn’t a raging pandemic out there.
What do you tell the couples starting out?
I say, “You come in with questions you need answered. I can’t promise you’re going to get answers, but I can promise you there will be an entirely new set of questions. You can do whatever you want to try to control your image or manage things, but it’s unmanageable. The sooner you lean into this, the more you can get out of it.” I try not to give advice. I try to follow their lead and guide them towards finding the answers they seek. I really want to just host the show and let them do their thing. I don’t want to insert myself on that level.
Then the bonfires come, where you sit down with the couples throughout the season, and it feels like a therapy session. You’re trying to comfort them, especially during those emotional breakdowns.
The only way I know how to host anything is to bring my authentic self. When I’m sitting across this bonfire with these young people grappling with all these questions and problems, I can’t help but coach them through things based on what I know from my own life. I tell them the advice I give is exactly what they paid for it. I’m a game show host. I’m not a therapist. But I am a husband, a father, a son and all these things. The only thing I can bring to this is I’ve failed more than they’ve tried, so maybe I can help.
What can you tell us about the couples this season?
We have four couples who are gorgeous, physically. They are really smart. They also have some real problems. I tell them that they come here as four couples, but I look at them as eight individuals. While I’m rooting for an outcome that makes all of them happy, I’m not rooting for these eight people to stay together. I’m rooting for them to find love. And if it’s together, that’s great. And if it’s not together, then it’s better finding out now than 10 years down the line.
There are so many dating and relationship shows. After all these years, what makesTemptation Islandstand out to you?
When you look at Temptation Island, it seems to be the most outrageous and ridiculous concept. But it’s actually this very real experience. I always remind people they are not competing for a million dollars or a dream vacation. The outcome is they are either going to stay together or not. There is no other prize other than that. That’s what separates us from other shows. The experience is as extreme as the concept is, but it boils down to some relatable questions everybody asks. They’re universal. I love the other shows. They are fun, but this one really becomes a very introspective life journey.
What do you think couples get out of watching the show together?
So many say they watch the show and there are these shocking moments. What I get from a lot of people is they watch with their significant other and ask questions of one another. Dialogue and communication is the key to a long relationship. Sparking conversations can’t be a bad thing.
Anything you would change aboutTemptation Island?
I think about that a lot. I look at it as the nuts and bolts. It just doesn’t matter what the dates are or where we’re staying. For me, it’s about the casting. People who are authentic and willing to embrace this journey and have a point of view, even if they are flawed. We’re all flawed. That’s the show. It’s about the couples. Whatever the journey is. We can put them in North Hollywood and it may be just as exciting. Except we would have less bikini shots, so the promos wouldn’t be as hot. The show is so crazy but gets so real so quick.
Temptation Island, February 16, 10/9c, USA Network
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