Reality competitions and the search for love have come together on television before but in a new NBC series can true love be found when 20 attractive singles are dropped in the jungles of Costa Rica? In other words, can 10 single men and 10 single women find "Love in the Wild?" Hosted by Darren McMullen (who also happens to host the Australian version of "Minute to Win It"), the way the show works is that the male and female pairings embark on adventures together that will test their skill of working with someone they barely know while also seeing if romantic sparks fly high or crash and burn. After each adventure together, the couples come together in the 'Couples Choice Ceremony' where they each decide whether to stay together for the next adventure or break up and get paired up with someone new.
When McMullen talked to our Jim Halterman last week, he explained that while this description may sound a tad excruciating, audiences will find the tone of "Love in the Wild" to be quite lighthearted and fun. What else could possibly go wrong - or right - in the middle of a jungle with a group of attractive, unattached men and women? McMullen shared the ins and outs of the new summer offering.
Jim Halterman: You host "Minute to Win It" in Australia so how did you get involved with American television and "Love in the Wild?"
Darren McMullen: I've always wanted to live in America; I love it here. As Murphy's Law would have it, I'd been [in America] for awhile and I was getting ready to go back to Australia because my Dad was sick and I got a phone call from my agent saying 'They want to see you for this 'Love in the Wild' show and can you come and audition?' I said 'I can't. Family is first and, what can I say, that is more important than work.' I said I could put something on tape so I grabbed my friend who is a cameraman and we went into some pocket of the jungle. I had this pain in my leg and I looked down and I'd been bitten by a spider! My leg was swelling up and we captured the spider and my friend said 'We should go to the hospital' and I said 'We should do one quick take and then we'll go to the hospital and we'll take the spider with us.' My friend said 'Alright, but you're crazy!' I finally got to the hospital and it turns out it wasn't poisonous though my leg was the size of a basketball. So we sent the tape off and it wasn't my best by a long shot but then I got a phone call and they said they loved me and wanted to see me in America.
JH: So tell me how the show works. You start out with ten single men and ten single women who have never met, right? What happens next?
DM: They're complete strangers and we throw them into the Costa Rican jungle and they have the opportunity to pair up on adventures and some of these adventures go from a few hours to overnight. The premise behind that is that everybody has their game face on in the first 3-6 months of a relationship, the honeymoon period, and then you start seeing your partner's true colors when they let their guard down. That's the point where a lot of relationships fail because you realize 'I really don't like this person.' But the premise of this show is if you're sailing down a croc-infested water and your raft is falling apart and you're falling into the water you're going to see each other's true colors quickly and you're either going to love it or hate it. What happened was that those who were into each other were really into each other and they really saw everything that this person was about. These people were acting like they'd been married for two years when they'd only known each other for two weeks. On the flip side of that, people who didn't get along really didn't get along and there were fights and arguments. I'm quite sure that some of the contestants will be quite happy if they never see the other one again.
JH: Initially are the contestants more into the physical aspect of the opposite sex but then think about the skills of the other person so they can go far in the challenges?
DM: The first part of that is right. The first time they choose they've never met each other so it's purely based on looks. NBC and Endemol had decided that there wouldn't be a monetary prize for this and I think that was the right choice. If there was a prize involved, you wouldn't find people that who were truly there to find love. You'd find people who chose people because their partner was quite physical and they wanted to win the money. It was quite evident in the show - without being too specific - that these people were here to find love. These are genuine people who have struggled finding a partner and have tried speed dating and Internet dating and they thought, 'Why not? I can take two weeks off from my career and I can see if this works. I've tried everything else.'
JH: So the prize really is true love!
DM: Yes, it is, and as a bonus the winning couple will actually get sent on an all-expenses paid first class flight around the world to some of the most romantic cities like London and Paris.
JH: If there's no money at stake, do things still get competitive between the couples?
DM: Not so much. The tone of the show is actually quite fun. I was being quite fresh and fun and cheeky and saying 'Hey guys, ultimately let's not take ourselves too seriously. We're having amazing experiences and we're here to find something special.' The way it works is that the position you come after each adventure is the position that you'll come up to me in the 'Couples Choice Ceremony' and decide if you want to stay with your partner or switch and both partners get to choose. So you have the situation where both want to stay together and that's fantastic and they'll move on to the next adventure. Then you might get one who wants to stay but their partner wants to switch unbeknownst to them and they switch to someone else and they can come in last. Nothing is guaranteed. The first place person could ask the last place person to be their partner and she could reject him and then he could be up for elimination. It's an elimination unlike anything I've seen on television before.
JH: In your host duties, were you able to see early on who you thought would go far in the competition?
DM: Yeah, I think I did. Saying that, when it came down to the final Couples Choice Ceremonies people had been together for some time by then and because there weren't many people to pick from we thought that it might get quite boring but we were all very, very shocked at the last episodes when you thought everyone was matched up and quite happy but there was stuff going on behind the scenes that we weren't aware of. There was never a dull moment, let's put it that way. Although there were some surprises, the biggest surprise, I think for everyone, was finding genuine connections. It was a bit of a risk since NBC had never done this show before and if all these people hated each other then this show would be a disaster. And if they all loved each other and would stay together then that's also a disaster. It could be a completely different show! We were really worried going into that and I'm glad they stuck to their guns and they just let nature take its course and it worked out perfectly.
JH: Darren, are you personally a believer of love at first? These people have to make a connection pretty quick, right?
DM: I am a believer in love at first sight and what I learned from the show is you have to be honest from the get go and show your true colors. So many people wait five or six months to show who they really are and when their partner sees who they really are, they don't always get along. Sometimes strenuous, stressful situations are when the true colors come out and you either love that person or you hate that person.
"Love in the Wild" premieres tonight at 10:00/9:00c right after the Wednesday edition of "America's Got Talent" on NBC.