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Queer Cast Shines on “Are You The One?”

Diverse group gives LGBTQ participants visibility on mainstream TV

The all-queer cast of “Are You The One” succeeded in finding perfect matches before the season completed.
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The question of “Are You The One?” has been answered with a unanimous “yes.”

Note: This article contains spoilers about Season 8 of “Are You The One?”

An MTV matchmaking show featuring a group of 16 queer and single 20-somethings holed up in a house in Hawaii ended in dramatic fashion on September 9 when all the remaining contestants managed to find their “perfect match” at the last minute and secure a shared $750,000 prize.

The long-running show made history this year, in its eighth season, when MTV opted to field the first sexually fluid cast, giving a major boost to queer visibility on mainstream television following the trailblazing path paved by the ongoing FX show “Pose.”

This season of “Are You The One?” encompassed a racially diverse slate of cast members, including trans men, gender nonbinary individuals, and cisgender men and women who were tasked with finding the person best suited for them according to a rigorous matchmaking algorithm calculated prior to the beginning of the season. Interviews with participants and their exes, family members, and friends were utilized to determine each person’s perfect match.

The contestants used trial and error as part of a matchmaking process reminiscent of speed dating. They partied, dated, went on outdoor adventures, and concluded each episode with a ceremony during which contestants would pick a potential perfect match and the show would only reveal how many — not which — perfect matches emerged from the entire group.

The contestants originally aimed to secure the $1 million grand prize, but that opportunity was squandered one week when there were no perfect matches during the ceremony. The grand prize was then reduced to $750,000.

Throughout the season, contestants navigated the ups and downs of the long journey towards finding their pre-determined one and only while simultaneously demonstrating to mainstream society the vast diversity that makes up queer millennials from across the nation. That was seen in numerous examples, including when one gender nonbinary character with they/ them pronouns, Basit Shittu, stated that they are a “vers top,” undoubtedly rattling the minds of folks throughout the nation who are still perpetuating rigid gender norms and who are not familiar with queer-specific language surrounding sexual roles.

Each week, contestants voted to send a couple to the truth booth, where it would be revealed whether or not they were a perfect match. One couple, Brandon Davis and Aasha Wells, managed to connect rather early in the show and found out in the truth booth that they were indeed a perfect match.

Others came out of their shell as the show went on and became more comfortable with their respective identities. Jonathan Monroe, who matched up with Basit, initially expressed hesitation with dating nonbinary people but became noticeably more willing to express himself as he grew closer to Basit. The turning point for Jonathan appeared to be during a queer prom when he and Basit applied makeup together and subsequently watched their budding connection blossom.

The show also made strides spotlighting the unique health needs of trans folks. Kai Wes, a nonbinary person, discussed undergoing top surgery and was seen taking testosterone shots. During those injections, he was surrounded by castmates who offered him emotional support.

More and more couples continued to find their perfect matches as the season went on, but a yearning for love eventually turned into a desperate game of strategy as the final handful of contestants sought to solidify their perfect matches before time ran out. That pressure coincided with booze-fueled moments of jealousy and frustration, leading to escalating arguments and bitter divides that, at times, threw the future of the season in jeopardy.

There was also heartbreak. One contestant, Max Gentile, was especially devastated — distraught, even — after it was revealed that the man he had been seeing for weeks, Justin Palm, was not his match. Max appeared to be on the verge of ditching the show entirely before he rebounded and matched up with Kari Snow in the end.

Even in the final episode, one couple’s failed trip to the truth booth left the remaining stragglers wondering whether they would be able to escape Hawaii as winners or losers. The lingering unmatched contestants put their feelings aside, huddled, and openly discussed personal details about compatibility in a last-ditch effort to salvage the season.

When they gathered for one final ceremony, the remaining contestants took a risk and paired up to their best ability. When it was revealed that everyone in the group successfully found a perfect match, the entire crew erupted in joy and stressed the importance of a successful season of queer visibility.

“The queer community rises up once again!” shouted Kari as she threw her hands in the air with excitement. Jasmine Olson, who paired up with Nour Fraij, said, “As a queer community, the odds are always stacked against us. We have overcome the odds.”

Following the conclusion of the show, Kai and others took to Twitter to thank viewers for watching the show and underscored the impact of queer representation on television.

“Thank you for all of the love, your heartfelt messages, spreading the word, showing your friends, your family, your coworkers what authentic queer relationships can look like and making this representation MEAN something,” Kai wrote in a tweet after the finale. “We did this all for you, because we all know our lives would have been a lot different growing up if we had seen ourselves on a screen the way we do now.”

Updated 11:44 am, September 11, 2019
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