Can Cads Be Redeemed? A Raunchy Dating Show Investigates.
Confronted by the stone-cold duplicity of a smooth-talking contestant on the reality show “FBoy Island,” the host, Nikki Glaser, found herself …
Confronted by the stone-cold duplicity of a smooth-talking contestant on the reality show “FBoy Island,” the host, Nikki Glaser, found herself genuinely furious. Not just toward him, with his sexy French accent, rippling pectoral muscles and false claims of being a good guy, but toward all men who try to deceive women by “lying and gaslighting,” as she put it in an interview.
“This was the first moment where I saw someone lie so blatantly” on the show, said Glaser, a comedian known for her raunchy celebrity-roast routines. “Are you even French?” she snapped at the offending contestant, Charley, before sending him off in disgrace. (The line was cut from the final edit in order to make her look less mean, she said.)
All bad dating shows are alike; all good dating shows are good in their own different ways. The thrill of the series, which is now streaming on HBO Max, is that it is well aware of its own absurdity. Glaser is there to provide wry commentary and to help the women contestants in their efforts to make, as they say, good choices.
“So many people roll their eyes at reality TV, so why not admit on the air that it is dumb and ridiculous?” Glaser said.
The show’s reductive but amusing premise is that there are two types of single men: “nice guys,” who legitimately want love, or if not, then at least a respectful hookup, and “FBoys,” narcissistic players who will do whatever it takes to inveigle women into bed.
A dozen of each variety — they have all identified themselves in advance — are deposited on a resort in the Cayman Islands. There they compete for the attention of three women who try to figure out who is lying, who is telling the truth and who is so boring that it doesn’t really matter. (There is $100,000 at stake for the final couples.)
The series has had the most viewers of any HBO Max Original reality show so far, the company said, and has gotten good marks from reality-weary reviewers. (Time magazine called it “far better than it had any right to be.”) HBO Max announced this week that the series had been renewed for a second season.
“We wanted to have a real show where people were looking to find a connection — OK, maybe people will meet and like each other — but also to send up the ridiculousness of the genre,” said Sarah Aubrey, head of original content at HBO Max.
There are many ludicrous conventions for Glaser to parse: a mindless, alcohol-fueled “pool party,” a three-way dodgeball game with water balloons, a poorly-choreographed dance-off, the men’s seemingly compulsive need to spend all of their free time lifting weights and preening on the beach.
Surprisingly, there is a seriousness in the madness. The program (and it is hard to admit this, as an adult viewer) raises legitimate issues about whether lying, cheating, commitment-phobic men can ever change. (They always claim they can; are they telling the truth?)
“These shows are so ripe for making fun of,” Glaser said, “but making fun of something doesn’t have to take away from how high the stakes are and how invested emotionally you get, as a viewer and a contestant.”
The show was conceived by the veteran reality-TV producer Elan Gale, who said he wanted it to reflect the “torrential rains and horrible storms endured by women as they try to date.”
“Their primary criticism is the endless apps and the love bombing and the ghosting and the FBoys,” he said. “Isn’t dating all one giant FBoy Island?”
Obviously, the F stands for a word that cannot be used in this context in this publication, nor, HBO Max decreed, in the title of the show. But in its unexpurgated form, it accurately reflects how women describe their faithless suitors. “They don’t say, He was an unseemly cad,” Gale said.
“Unseemly Cad Island” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, anyway.
Glaser, who is 37 and unattached, accepted the hosting job in part, she said, because of her own long, sorry dating history.
“In my 20s, I would date guys with girlfriends,” she said. “Then I dated guys who lived in other cities who weren’t available. Then I moved on to guys who were single and lived in my city, but were emotionally unavailable.”
Glaser entered the show convinced she knew what an FBoy was.
“I pictured a guy at the Fyre Festival who vapes and lies to women and works out all day and cares about expensive things and status and blue check marks,” she said. “It’s all those things. But what it really boils down to is if you’re a liar or not.”
She found herself working with the women as they used various detection techniques, at one point giving them a laptop so that they could scour their suitors’ social media accounts. (The results are underwhelming. “He’s one of those guys that capitalizes every word,” one woman says, scrolling through some semiliterate Instagram posts.)
Unfortunately, their instincts are often wrong, a testament to many of the contestants’ manipulative skills and charm. “All of the men presented as FBoys, basically,” Glaser said. “They looked like the reason rape whistles were invented. They looked like the inventors of the ‘You up?’ text.”
In an unscripted speech that Aubrey called the show’s “Jerry Maguire moment,” one of the men, upon being eliminated, suddenly unleashes a piece of damning information about another competitor: Garrett, a swaggering, ruddy-faced blond who describes his profession as “bitcoin investor.”
Garrett has spent much of his time aggressively wooing Sarah, one of the women, asserting that he is surprised by the depth of his feelings and ready for a real commitment. Not true, the other man says: Garrett has a girlfriend back home, from whom he claims to be “on a break.” (Red flag alert!)
All three women and Glaser band together in genuine shock. (There is worse to come: Wait until they learn about Garrett’s self-professed love of “threesomes, foursomes, fivesomes, multiple girls.”)
Another element of the show is that the men who are eliminated don’t leave the island but are instead sent to two different holding areas: a ritzy house called “Nice Guy Grotto,” where the good guys arrive by limousine and lounge around with piña coladas, and a ramshackle open-air structure on the beach called “Limbro,” reachable via the “FBus,” where the bad ones sleep on ratty cots with straw pillows.
There, they have mock counseling sessions with Glaser in which they discuss their feelings and declare, in some instances, that they have repented. Later in the program, all the rejected contestants return for a “mansplaining” session in which they tell the women which of the men are the most irredeemably snaky.
“It became really interesting, when the men become indignant about the douchiness of these other guys,” Aubrey said.
Has Glaser been cured of her own self-sabotaging ways? She’s not so sure.
“I choose FBoys over nice guys every single time,” she said. “And I will continue to do so until I know that I deserve a nice guy.”