Game design is dead; ‘FBoy Island’ lives
Because I have both self-respect and dignity, and because my brain was melting in the hundred degree heat and oppressive humidity, I watched Boy’s Island on HBO. And let me just say: game design is dead and it just doesn’t make sense. This show is truly the wreckage of reality TV at its finest and most absurd, thriving in gleeful self-parody as piles of utter nonsense pile up on screen.
For those who are completely unaware of this: Boy’s Island is an HBO Max series where three hot women and a group of hot men are embarked on the proto-typical tropical island paradise, and the women slowly weed out the men as potential soul mates in the healthiest dating environments and most normal. The thing here is this: half the men identify as f***boys and the other half as nice guys. Women, who exhibit horrible taste in men, try to fall for someone of the right type of guy-in-law.
Yeah, that’s as dumb as it sounds.
And the kicker: they’re on HBO. Where you can absolutely fucking say. The cast members do indeed say they fuck quite often. But according to some obscure logic of reality TV, absolutely no one says fuckboy. Although fuckboys and their selfish misogyny are the premise of the show.
But here is the defining aspect of Boy’s Island: It’s absolute chaos. There is no structure, no design. Sometimes one-on-one dates will happen randomly. Sometimes there are pool parties. Sometimes the contestants pretend to hitchhike across the island between the villas. Periodically eliminations occur but never, apparently, with the same rules twice. The rules don’t matter. Men literally grab women and pull them away from conversations with other men. I privately dubbed one of the eligible women, CJ, as the resident chaos demon, who approaches the search for intimacy like a child throwing lit fireworks into a trash can to see how the explosion goes. unfolds. At one point, trying to remember a contestant’s name, she asks in a talking-head interview, “Like to be one hundred percent honest, is he part of the cast?” You can’t help feeling that the producers are taking a similar tactic with the show as a whole and filming the spinoffs. As a contestant slips away due to a medical emergency, literally everyone struggles to remember who they even are. The producers helpfully edited the previous scenes while graying out the man’s face. Everyone is in on the joke, and everyone continues to play.
Boy’s Island is truly the culmination of decades of increasingly absurd dating shows. And it makes perfect sense that it exists. I remember driving to school listening to talk shows on the radio many moons ago, when The single person was a relatively new concept. The radio host asked one of the candidates why she would go on a show like this to find love: doesn’t it really seem beyond reason, to go out in competition with one monogamous person versus a dozen other monogamous people who never even met said object of desire before filming began? My teenage brain was like, Yeah, that actually sounds really beyond the reach of rationality.
Has the underlying logic of dating shows changed? If you ask me, no. It’s just a lot more normal, and if you’re not getting any love or prize money now, you can grow your following as an influencer for a more reliable income…or just go on another reality show and spin the wheel again while increasing your TikTok followers.
Host/comedian Nikki Glaser rules the show’s hellish landscape with a devilishly conniving smile. She is fun and funny as always and absolutely having fun. As she ostensibly does the serious host-face routine during Serious Emotional Moments, she delivers laid-back punchlines about the utter absurdity of her field. Overseeing a pointless three-water-ball dodgeball game, she blithely comments that it’s a truly unassailable setup.
As more and more men are eliminated and transferred to other villas on the island, it becomes increasingly clear that the eliminated players are hostage extras in Glaser’s comedy sketches that spice up each episode. All the skits are aimed at the men themselves and their complete himbo unconsciousness. The himbos themselves eat this comedy. A homoerotic smoothie-making montage takes up several full minutes of runtime, about nothing. And the show continues.
And it works. Chaos, comedy and self-parody reign as himbos continue to be ridiculous and the search for love turns into utter nonsense. Women continue to reliably make horrible choices. The show is well aware. It’s a step beyond the guilty pleasure watch: if anyone has ever experienced The Onion’s house of sex, you know the kind of thunderous and disturbing satire that reality TV lends itself to. On Boy’s Islandthe audience, the contestants, and the host all had a good laugh at the madness instigated in the name of featuring very hot people on subscription streaming services.
As someone interested in game design, the huge absence of this one is something to behold. The success of this free anarchy becomes a level of social commentary as no one learns anything and people broadcast emotional turmoil while clearly not caring if they are about to meet their soul mate or their next margarita.
“Let the nonsense begin!” says Glaser at the start of the second season, now airing on HBO. Let’s not pretend she hasn’t planned skits, gentlemen.
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Image sources (in order of publication): Nikki Glaser is living her best life, via HBO Max