MTV’s hit dating format Are You the One? has been making headlines and attracting viewers since the announcement last May that the cast of its eighth season would be composed exclusively of cast members who are sexually fluid, meaning there are no gender limitations on who they might pair up with. This was a first for the traditionally straight series.
“We have seen incredible response to the show,” Rob LaPlante tells Realscreen. LaPlante is co-president of unscripted prodco Lighthearted, which produces Are You the One? for the Viacom-owned youth-skewing cable network. He co-created Are You the One? with Jeff Spangler and serves as executive producer on the dating series, which has received media attention from unlikely outlets in response to the new season’s diverse cast and rejigged formula.
Everyone from The Atlantic, to NPR, to Vice, to Slate, to the New York Post, to CNN has tapped into the energy coming off of this season’s dating format behemoth, and no one is skating around the question of sexual orientation, which drives much of the discussion.
And there’s been a groundswell of support from fans. “We’ve now got three weeks of ratings back, and they have gone up week over week, every single week,” says LaPlante. “I think that the audience is seeing something that they find relevant.”
Are You the One?, which first premiered in 2014, sees 16 singles heading to Hawaii in search of their perfect romantic match and a possible US$1 million cash prize. Joining the series this season is Dr. Frankie, a relationship expert who helps the singles navigate dating and their own behaviors and priorities. Actor, model and entertainment reporter Terrence J. serves as host.
The change to a sexually fluid cast — including gender diverse contestants — wasn’t exactly a no-brainer, as the series was already a ratings success with a solid fanbase. “Any time you make a change to an existing franchise like this, you get concerned that you might aggravate the audience in some way, just because they like it — they’re watching it,” LaPlante explains.
Still, the timing felt right, and MTV was immediately on board, he says: “I think reality shows mirror life. And I think the world is evolving on these issues.” With seven seasons under their belts, the Lighthearted team had noticed increasing discussions around sexual fluidity during the casting process. Refocusing the show just meant listening to the people interested in participating, while speaking to MTV’s young and diverse audience in a way that expanded representation, making the show more inclusive.
And at the end of the day, that didn’t mean anyone had to reinvent the wheel.
“These people are just 20-year-olds who would like to hook up and are single. Nothing out of the ordinary. In every single season of this show, the cast — to some degree, at some point in time — are bucking broncos and they’re on emotional roller coasters,” says LaPlante. Season eight “was the normal level of extreme emotional roller coaster that we always have.”
Lighthearted produces Are You the One? for MTV, with Matt Odgers executive producing alongside LaPlante and Spangler.
The dating format is currently airing its eighth season on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on MTV.