Case Study: Temptation Island

Carlotta Rossi Spencer, head of format acquisitions for Banijay Group, talks to TV Formats about what keeps people tuning into Temptation Island more than a decade and a half after it first premiered.

The seven deadly sins are alive and well on Temptation Island—or, as it’s better known, Maui—and audiences have been faithfully tuning in to the reboot of the early-2000s classic reality format on USA Network since the premiere of its fourth season in January. Produced by Banijay Studios North America, Temptation Island had been on hiatus in the U.S. since 2003, when the last of its original three seasons petered out. Taking a hint from the show’s successful Italian version, USA’s revamp has been repositioned more positively this time around, with four sets of couples navigating the “ultimate relationship test” rather than the “ultimate temptation” as viewers watch the couples—who are all at a crossroads in their relationships—fend off the siren songs of the singles who surround them.

Since the show’s original run in the U.S., it has remained on air around the world in various countries, with distribution rights for the series held by Banijay Group, which is spearheading the show’s revival. My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancé and Joe Millionaire creators Jean-Michel Michenaud and Chris Cowan—under the banner of Rocket Science***Image*** Laboratories—developed the show when reality TV was still in its infancy, and it has now become a worldwide brand powerhouse.

The pillars of the show remain intact, with the dating duos ultimately deciding whether to stay together or call it quits after their emotionally exhausting stay on the island. According to Spencer, the real crux of the show lies in the “raw emotion, psychological exploration, voyeurism and confrontation” it offers, universal themes that have shamelessly drawn audiences in since the dawn of reality TV. “We believe it is the portrayal of real and honest human behaviors and emotions” that keeps people tuned in more than a decade and a half later, she says. Of course, the bikini-clad harem of buxom bachelorettes and their equally enticing male counterparts don’t make for bad viewing, either.

Since first airing in the U.S. on FOX back in 2001, the show has traveled around the world, with the idea for a more positive-skewing reboot starting in Italy, where the show is currently in its sixth season, alongside two seasons of the spin-off Temptation Island VIP. After striking a chord with audiences there, Banijay Studios North America brought the idea to USA Network, where the show has since landed and performed well in its Tuesday night slot. “The focus of the show has shifted from the singles being there only to tempt, to the couples going through a very emotional journey and the singles being there to also support them,” Spencer says. “In this journey, tempting and failing is part of the game.”

There have been over 25 adaptations of the reality juggernaut to date, with new commissions recently coming in from New Zealand (Screentime New Zealand for TVNZ), Germany (Banijay Productions for RTL and TV Now) and Spain (Cuarzo TV for Mediaset España), marking the show’s first Spanish-language adaptation. “The U.S. finished tape has also been acquired by E! in the U.K., Bell Media in Canada for its top-rated channels and Nelonen in Finland, which is also in its fifth season on the local remake,” Spencer says.

“While all carry the same traits, there have been a few adaptive elements across certain territories,” Spencer continues. New to the show are the “message in a box” component, which allows couples to send each other 30-second videos; the “daytime videos,” which function as lighter versions of “bonfire meetings,” the periodic, drama-inducing beachside get-togethers that propel the show’s plot forward as couples watch video clips showcasing each other’s antics; and the possibility for any member of the couple to ask for such a meeting with their other half at any time—”all of which are optional elements for producers” as the format travels and evolves, Spencer says.

“As well as the on-screen tweaks, there are the add-ons and commercial options associated with the format,” Spencer adds. “Now, there is a show companion app, a Banijay-owned music library and even a board game, redefining this format as a brand, not just a show.”

USA Network ordered a second season of the show for U.S. audiences just one month after its premiere proved a ratings success for the network. The new season debuts on October 10. With a sophomore American run on the horizon—and a revised, less subversive ethos that seems to have audiences hooked—the sun has yet to set on Temptation Island.