I'd never watched MTV's Are You The One? before this summer, but somehow my Twitter algorithm knew I'd be hooked on a show about sixteen sexually fluid contestants flung together to be dramatic and lovey and figure out who they were paired with by a crack team of unidentified matchmakers. Bachelor in Paradise, on the other hand, has been my summer companion for these four years or so. I even recapped the behemoth last summer. It's about the rejects from recent (and not-so-recent) seasons of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, getting drunk and hooking up and yelling and secretively-but-actually-very-very-transparently manipulative. Other than a few token contestants, everyone is very very straight. Any engagements that happen at the end of the season are strictly offered by the man in the relationship to the woman.
So discovering AYTO? was like a balm, a breath after the rigidity of the utterly heteronormative BIP. This season BIP offers Demi's same-sex relationship as a vote for love, but AYTO is like that times eight. Like that times a hundred. Like that times infinity. Not to mention that BIP is the Mille Borne of dating shows - it's every man for himself, every woman for herself, either trying to make a relationship work or trying to display a big enough personality to warrant Instagram followers for a good post-show boost. (On the rare occasion, the next Bachelor could be chosen on these shores.) On the flip side, AYTO reads like one of those cooperative socialist board games that requires everyone to either win or lose. Either everyone finds their Perfect Match and they win the money, or they don't. And they're so much NICER for god's sake.
Both shows have the apologetic multiple offender: Blake (BIP) enters Paradise as the hottest ticket and is now getting a bad rap for his actions before the show started: hooking up with multiple women within a 24-hour period, texting multiple women, and then trying to appear on the show without those actions having any bearing on the outcome. Meanwhile, Kai (AYTO), a transmasculine person who identifies as nonbinary, also entered the house as one of the most desirable contestants. In fact, he hooks up with two people on the same night WHILE ON the show. Nour and Jasmine (see gif above) almost come to blows over the drama he causes.
While their actions are comparable and both parties come off as selfish, Blake (whether by the producers' hands or otherwise) comes off as careless and stupid while Kai comes off as ... almost sympathetic. Being a trans person, he admits that until recently he didn't find himself attractive and now the constant validation from multiple people wanting him is throwing him for a loop. A free-for-all, let's-hook-up-with-everyone loop. Call me a sap for insecurity, but I found that a lot more convincing than a guy who just thought he could get away with it.
Not to mention, watching AYTO is when it finally hit me why the pronouns currently in American usage are inadequate. I'm watching these people and thinking, "No, this is not he, nor is this a she." There is a crossover space where neither works for a specific person. And let me tell you, it's making me think really hard about how I want to raise my kids and how to present an attitude toward gender that isn't restrictive.
It's hard to imagine having that conversation centered on BIP, where the only woman with hair shorter than her shoulders is the lesbian. Where the men are working out by lifting weights and the women only do cardio. Where the lines of gender are written into the rules of rose giving and cute little Demi is giving out the only long-stemmed rose to Kristian on a night of buttonholes.
You may ask, why doesn't she just watch AYTO? Why does she continue with the tomfoolery of BIP? Well, nation, I don't really have an answer for you. I was rooting for people on last year's BIP and the one before that - have you seen Raven and Adam lately? they're adorable! - so what am I still doing with FOUR HOURS A WEEK.
Maybe it's because when an extremely shy guy finally works up the courage to kiss the woman he likes, the editors do this (start at 4:56):
For more information on why I'm fascinated by people with big personalities being punished for it, please see my sister's wonderful article on the subject: https://aeon.co/essays/is-reality-tv-a-kind-of-bite-size-greek-tragedy