So, Where’s the Feminism on Fboy Island?

HBO Max's latest endeavor further proves that the reality dating show formula is dead in the water

So, Where’s the Feminism on Fboy Island?
Screenshot:HBO Max

Fuckboys are like racism—you know it when you see it. The true fuckboy will never announce himself as such, but if you are ensnared in his trap, you will be able to suss it out from his actions. A real master of the genre will convince his victim that he is indeed a good man, and for him to truly succeed at being a fuckboy, he has to deceive his victim into believing his grift. Understanding these basic tenets will throw a wrench into your viewing experience, should you choose to spend any time with Fboy Island, HBO Max’s latest iteration on the dating show. What transpired over the three episodes I watched was nothing revelatory or transformative, proving that at this point in the game, dating shows are past the point of reinvention. Short of pulling the plug and starting afresh, there is really nothing new under the sun.

Though no one ever says it outright, Fboy Island’s general mission seems to be attempting to place the power back in the hands of the women, a limp gesture towards something that could be called feminism. Host Nikki Glaser opens the show by stating its feminist intents from the jump: by putting the power of choice firmly in the women’s hands, Fboy Island will finally allow women to break free from the “emotional douchebaggery” of the male ego. Arguably, the emotional douchebaggery on dating shows goes both ways, but on the white sand beaches of Fboy Island, the women are in charge and the men, merely pawns in the game.

The show’s premise is simple: of the 24 men assembled, half are self-proclaimed fuckboys and the rest, nice guys. Pay close attention, because this is where something that looks like feminism comes in—the women in charge of finding a mate are going to use their years of experience in the field to determine who is a fuckboy and who isn’t. This twist, which is essentially the central concern of all dating shows, no matter who is considered to be in power, is framed as empowering. And at the end of this enterprise, the people who win will leave with something akin to love and also, $100,000.

When the men are eliminated and found out to be Fboys, instead of leaving the island completely, they are sent to “Limbro,” a structure with bamboo poles for walls and burlap sacks stuffed with hay for pillows. In the three episodes I viewed, it was not clear to me what would happen to the men in limbro, nor was it clear why they were still there. A show as disorganized as Fboy Island will probably leave them there long after filming has wrapped, forcing them to fend for themselves just beyond the borders of “Nice Guy Grotto,” the luxury resort where everyone else is hanging out and having a good time.

Because the women are tasked with figuring out if any of these men are true to their word, there’s an alluring gossip element to these proceedings. The women are supposed to use their own intuition, combined with their years in the field, to figure out if the men’s intentions are pure. Various tactics for figuring this out include gossiping with the men in search of tea, to see if they will give up any dirt on their competitors as to who they are. Part of the trouble with the premise is that the men were required to self-designate as either fuckboy or “nice guy,” when leaving that decision to the players feels like a setup for failure. Other dating shows, like Are You The One, rely on something akin to science to determine compatibility or personality. But to the show’s credit, some of the fuckboys in question really do show their true colors. Charley, a long-haired Frenchman, reveals during his elimination that he is a nice guy—a claim that is refuted by hours of casting tapes where he proves himself to be the direct opposite.

For a dating show to work successfully, there must be a gimmick that is strong enough to sustain an entire season. But FBoy Island’s entire conceit is flawed from the jump: the “emotional douchebaggery” derided by host Nikki Glaser in the cutesy intro is endemic to dating shows across the board. Though all dating shows operate on the same basic premise—that love is easy enough to find if you are in the correct location and mindspace to do so—the situations that these contestants in are never anything close to real life. The better lens for this show is not love, but taking bets on the longevity of these people’s careers after this blip. Arguably, the success of a dating show contestant is not measured by the relationships they make on the show, but how they can spin their brief time in the spotlight into a lucrative career as bottom-tier influencer. Retooling dating shows to push this hidden agenda to the forefront would eliminate a lot of the frustrations that come from watching these programs in the first place.

The main issue, though, is the conceit. Any self-proclaimed nice guy will end up being a fuckboy by accident, because they’re so hellbent on proving their niceness that they end up being assholes. A true fuckboy never makes any proclamations about being nice, but relies heavily on the illusion that he is. Finding love is never as easy as it looks on television, but when everyone is telling a convenient version of the truth, even on a dating show, it’s impossible.

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