In a reality TV scene dominated by repetitive dating shows — like ABC’s "The Bachelor" and UK hit "Love Island" — MTV is using the format to change the way the entertainment industry defines romance.
Its unique version of TV dating, known as "Are You the One?," brings singles under one roof to help find their "perfect match," predetermined by matchmakers. Historically, the cast would identify 10 correct male-female pairings for the chance to win $1 million. But in its eighth season, the series has rebranded for the more inclusive "Are You the One? Come One, Come All."
The dating show is the first to feature an entire cast that is sexually fluid. The series, a history-making move for the network, is underway with 16 people who identify as having an attraction to both men and women. So, those "perfect match" pairings are no longer defined by heteronormative gender roles.
"It’s so, so important for representation to exist for people who aren’t just straight," says Williamsburg-based Basit Shittu. The New Yorker, who identifies as nonbinary (preferred pronouns: they/them), is a part of the pioneering cast.
"The heterosexual community has had plenty of representation in, I would say, almost all dating shows that have ever existed in the history of television. People who identify like us, which is a large group of people, need to see themselves on TV."
Shittu and their castmates were all selected to appear on the show for their lackluster dating skills. Whether it be their inability to master monogamy or a deep-rooted fear of commitment, an in-house relationship coach helps guide the group past their insecurities and into the arms of "the one."
And while the reality dating show’s exposure can serve as a learning platform for those unfamiliar with what it means to be sexually fluid, Shittu says the cast’s hope is more to show the world the LGBTQ+ community is "at the core, the same" as anyone else.
"That’s what I want people to get from this show. We’re human beings who want to feel loved and respected. Hopefully, there can be more sexually fluid representation to come from this."
The series doesn’t sugarcoat the LGBTQ+ dating experience to get across a message. Instead, relatable dating struggles play out through a cast of androgynous, transgender and bisexual individuals.
And while it may be easy to assume the house would be void of bias, the show also explores the education of its own sexually fluid cast members, some who were unfamiliar with what it means to be trans or genderqueer.
As one of few nonbinary cast members, Shittu shares their story with the group, and faces challenges early on. A confrontation with a potential romantic interest who referred to them as "he/him" gives Shittu the chance to open up about their experience.
Growing up in a conservative neighborhood of Dallas, Texas, Shittu says they knew "that was not my tea" from an early age. "I loved dressing up, being flamboyant, and my personality was always pretty big. It was taught to me very early, by my entire surroundings, that if I wanted to exist in Texas in a safe way I needed to mute my personality." Instead, Shittu moved to New York City.
Shittu, who performs drag in the city under the stage name Dionne Slay, explains on the series that they do not identify as male or female. Though identifying privately as gender-fluid their entire life, it was three years ago they shared it publicly.
"I don’t feel like a boy. I don’t feel like a girl. I feel like both. I feel like neither. It’s just the idea of being labeled in a way that makes you feel seen."
Shittu, who was asked to appear on the show by MTV casting producers, says they hope their story inspires those who belong to marginalized communities to understand they "deserve to be appreciated, loved, and seen as a fully conceived individual, not just an idea of a person."
New episodes of "Are You the One? Come One, Come All" air Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on MTV. You can catch up now on the MTV App.