TV review: NBC’s ‘Love in the Wild’ is a cross between lots of reality shows

June 25, 2011

What do you get when you cross the jungle challenges from “Survivor,” the fighting contestants from “Amazing Race” and every hot-tub scene from “The Bachelor”?

Not only a horribly twisted riddle, but also NBC’s new reality series “Love in the Wild.” And it is exactly the viewing experience you would expect when 20 single reality-star wannabes are thrown into the Costa Rica jungle to brave the elements and find love. And avoid falling into crocodile-infested waters, though that might have made things more interesting.

The premise: Each week, contestants pair up and compete in jungle obstacles. The couple who comes in first place for the week wins a romantic night in a suite away from all that nature. Then all the couples decide at a ceremony whether to swap their partners for someone else or stay in the same team.

The final two not chosen are eliminated, and show host Darren McMullen solemnly tells them to take off their special show bracelets, place them in a bowl and get the heck out of the jungle. It makes a torch or rose ceremony look inspired.

Although the series borrows elements from familiar reality competition shows, it never goes far enough in any direction to make the premise intriguing to watch. The outdoor challenges don’t look fun, and they’re not that tough — the premiere challenge has the couple building a raft, climbing a tower and taking a video of their first kiss. They walk through a bat cave, which is scary, but the bats mostly mind their own business and don’t even fly into anyone’s hair.


Theresa Trujillo, Peter Paris in the first episode of ‘Love in the Wild.’ (Trae Patton/NBC)

Even the relationship “drama” is half-hearted. Law student Vanessa — who mentions many times that she’s ready to settle down — gets angry when her partner, Steele, flirts with other women. Given that they barely know each other, who cares? Unlike, say, “Amazing Race,” there aren’t any stakes in the fighting couples, who do bicker about everything — one person talks too much, one whines about a fear of ants, another whines about the whining about a fear of ants. The contestants don’t seem to be under the impression that they’re going to find a soul mate.

“I’ve never been the kind of guy that really gets nailed down; however, right now I’m interested in seeing how a relationship might change my life,” says pro golfer Steele, sounding like he would do just about anything rather than see how a relationship could change his life.

So while the series sort of attempts to keep the love and wilderness metaphors going, the producers do us all a favor and don’t take it too seriously. Navigating a raft floating on a river filled with reptiles, wedding planner Samantha happily chatters away as she explains to her partner, commercial real estate broker Mike, why she’s still single. “It’s a jungle out there. Get it?” she jokes. Even the lizards roll their eyes.

In the second episode, the pairs must complete a maze made up almost entirely of rickety bridges while both people are tethered to one another. “The good news is, if you do fall hundreds of feet to your death, you will fall together. As a couple!” host McMullen says cheerfully. He also says the challenge will teach them about trust.

Okay, probably not, but it is amusing — for all the wrong reasons — to watch pairs who deeply dislike each other be stuck together for so long.

The best part of the series is the gorgeous, sweeping views of Costa Rica, from the tropical flora to the waterfalls. Even the bat caves look beautiful.

But now we know if you do go, don’t bring a first date. Because you will end up getting in a fight when one of you drops your map in the river. Who says reality TV doesn’t teach us anything?

Love in the Wild

(one hour) premieres Wednesday at 10 p.m. on NBC.

Emily Yahr is an entertainment reporter and pop culture blogger for the Style section. She joined the Post in May 2008, a week before she graduated from the University of Maryland, and worked on Lisa de Moraes' TV Column and blog.
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