MTV’s latest season of Are You The One has made television history: it’s the first series to feature an entirely bisexual+ cast.
Season eight of the reality dating series — dubbed “Come One Come All” — debuted in tandem with the worldwide Pride celebrations, showcasing a cast of 16 singles for whom “the one” could be anyone, as the show’s slogan states.
In a reality television landscape largely built on heteronormative ideals, there’s something groundbreaking about watching contestants not only speak freely about their identities but engage in a dating construct usually reserved for heterosexual couples.
The cast features some of the most dynamic people shown on television, all of whom engage in honest conversations about their gender and sexual identities.
There’s Basit, whose preferred pronoun is Basit, and who identifies as “boy, girl, both, neither.” Contestant Paige confesses that she went on the show as her way of coming out as bisexual to her family. And then there’s Nour, an Arab-American woman who’s struggled to reconcile her bisexuality with her conservative Muslim upbringing.
Some of the most poignant moments come from Kai, a queer, transmasculine, non-binary human who recently medically transitioned and still seems uncomfortable with his identity. Kai and contestant Jenna initially hit it off, and Kai asks Jenna if she would join him for moral support while he administers his testosterone shot. Jenna, who is seriously into Kai, agrees without hesitation. Kai admits in a confessional,
“For the first time in my life, I feel attractive.”
Are You The One, which first aired in 2014, has historically cast a group of heterosexual twentysomethings looking for love (and/or money).
In case you’ve never seen the show, the gist is this: prior to filming, a group of matchmakers and other “experts” use psychological tests, interviews, and vague calculations to evaluate each cast member and pair them up with their scientifically determined “perfect match.” The contestants are all then lumped together under one roof and it’s their job to figure out each person’s match. If each cast member finds their match within the allotted ten attempts they are given, the group wins one million dollars to split.
The premise is ripe for drama, romance, and clashing personalities. However, queer individuals have been absent from the show’s landscape. Until now.
The thing that makes this season of Are You The One so significant is that, rather than stereotyping sexual fluidity or exploiting it as a “wild” revelation from a single cast member, the program is showcasing it as the norm and is giving contestants the opportunity to speak candidly and openly about their queer experiences and romantic preferences.
Cast members are given a safe space to explore their identities, to build relationships, and to break hearts. So often, dating programs follow a strict heteronormative construct (looking at you, The Bachelor). With this season of AYTO, queer individuals will get the same romantic storylines and the same gravitas given to their relationships as any heterosexual couple would.
Is this casting decision a self-serving strategy by MTV to drive up ratings? Of course it is. Is this still a trashy dating show? Absolutely.
But perhaps that’s what’s most noteworthy about it. Queer individuals are given the opportunity to have fun and be trashy, rather than to simply be present as some sort of beacon of representation for their marginalized community.
Ultimately, MTV is providing a dating platform for sexually fluid individuals that used to only be reserved for heterosexual couples. And at the end of the day, that is something truly remarkable.
Are You The One airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on MTV.