THE ALGORITHM METHOD

I Want to See Your Spreadsheets, Baby: MTV’s ‘Are You the One?’ Is a Mathematical Orgy

Are You the One? is the child of a one-night stand between Mastermind and Temptation Island, where hot people get loaded on hot pockets and Fireball and sort of do math.

Against all mathematical odds, the cast of MTV’s Are You the One? has once again solved the $1 million puzzle by pairing couples off in “perfect matches.”

A reasonable person might wonder how any man who considers a Kim Kardashianesque blazer sans shirt to be acceptable formalwear could stand at the dating show’s finale with not one, but two women as suitable matches. The same person might question how that man, Layton Jones, a 25-year-old ex-footballer, who spent ten weeks espousing family values, comparing women to his mother, and all the while sexing in the “Boom Boom Room” with a woman with admitted “daddy issues,” could leave a hero. And what would move Jones to jeopardize $1 million and the short-term financial future of twenty other people, just to prove to a girl he hung out with in a hot tub once that he could be “a rock?”

In Are You the One? a house full of attractive, probably-peaked-in-high-school twenty-somethings are flown to Puerto Rico, given an unlimited supply of hot pockets and booze, and tasked with finding their soulmates among the other contestants. One lucky guy—see Jones, above—was paired with two perfect partners this season to shake things up. If the housemates—all “self-admittedly horrible at relationships,” according to the producers—could guess the correct combination of couples within ten tries, they’d be rewarded with a million bucks to share. Simple enough.

“Love experts,” including a licensed therapist and a traditional matchmaker and producers, no doubt (this is a television show, after all) determine the contestants’ matches. We’re told that matches are assigned after an extensive casting process consisting of interviews—of the contestant, friends and family, even exes—and compatibility testing, all powered by hard science, via a secret algorithm. This really isn’t explained further, but again, one need not worry about these details. In fact, enjoying the show takes an extreme dedication to suspending disbelief.

What’s ironic considering the silliness and junk science behind the entire premise is what makes the show different from the rest of its ilk. Are You the One? is ostensibly a game of logic, a sort of Mastermind meets Temptation Island, where contestants have to use the power of deduction to work out who their perfect match may be. We’re told this is a game about love, but initial hookups almost always prove to be not who the professionals intended and dejected couples must decide over and over again whether to maintain their bond or bed hop to find who the experts have deemed to be a more suitable mate. The show subtly advocates for such partner swapping by forgoing individual beds all together, instead providing one big floor mattress for the cast to roll around on.

Logic games aside, the show maintains all the tropes we’ve come to expect from an MTV production. It’s got sex, fights (between chest-bumping bros and their teary, jealous female equivalents), inexplicable nudity, and little-planned challenges where contestants are rewarded with special dates for skills such as eating hot dogs quickly and picking up balls with their honey-covered rear ends.

Viewers might doubt (as I did) that this typical MTV crew—college-aged, but made up of few actual students or graduates—would have the ability to solve the show’s inherent and quite serious math problem. Indeed, blogs run by calculator quarterbacks popped up with the express purpose of figuring out the matches before contestants could, and nerds with little interest in reality TV submitted and solved the puzzle on programming contest sites.

For better or worse, MTV’s contestants are no mathematicians. The clear crowd favorite Ellie Puckett—who finds no love connection, but delightfully is the focus of an inordinate amount of camera time where she drawls on about the delicious sandwiches she made while working at Wendy’s, cops to bringing her “deeeldo” to the set, and calls just about everyone “beeetches”—is into “Chillin on the balcony getting fucking lit,” according to her Twitter profile. Even mini-villain Brandon Tindel, who has a real-life job as a data coordinator for a cancer research facility and describes himself as the “only one in the house with a degree” (he’s actually not), called the game “so hard” after his third strike in the Truth Booth, the futuristic all-white room where the cast sends a challenge winning guy and girl combo to have their body scanned with green lasers (because, Science?) to confirm pairs and eliminate players from the pool.

This Booth of Truth is crucial; without it, finding the correct matches on their own would have been a near mathematical impossibility. Even with the extra help, I was amazed when Season 1’s contestants correctly guessed all ten matches; in fact, upon hearing about this show, I pitched a story on how they would never leave with the money. First, there are over three million possible arrangements for the winning lineup. Now consider that the producers don’t allow paper or pens in the house. “It's super boring to see people sit around and draw grids all day,” show host Ryan Devlin host explained on a reddit AMA.

His point, I suppose, is that this is a dating show. To that end, it’s been effective. Ethan and Amber Diamond (née Lee), were matched during the first season, got married this year, and are expecting a baby any minute. This gives the show about the same real-life success rate as The Bachelor.

Still, dating shows are a dime a dozen. MTV would do well to remember it’s invited a whole new flock of Mastermind playing, Monty Hall problem solving fans into their fold. If they’re like me, they’d likely consider a ragtag crew of Fireball whiskey guzzlers fighting it out over a spreadsheet to be pretty gripping television. The Internet will be happy to check their work.