When we chatted with a few of the season 8 cast members from MTV‘s Are You The One, we had a few very important questions. First of all, would challenges be back? And second of all, which Jersey Shore star is your ultimate crush? When Basit Shittu, Paige Cole, Nour Fraij and Justinvery “Justin” Palm swung by the In Touch offices, we had the chance to get to know them a little bit better, play some fun games and get to the bottom of what it was like finding their perfect matches. Based on the previews for the show, we already had some shipping ideas going on — but once we sat down for some Would You Rather, we realized we weren’t thinking big enough. Is it just us or are we totally shipping Justin with Teen Mom 2 star Kailyn Lowry? And Paige shooting her shot with Maria Elizondo from season 7 of Are You The One? We stan!
The representation is real.
But in reality, these stars might already be couple up behind the scenes. Though they can’t spill any spoilers just yet, they did reveal that being in the house was both a blessing and a challenge. For Paige, 21, going on the show was her way of coming out to her friends and family (“I’m dramatic,” she joked), and it was her first time immersing herself so fully in the queer community. “I never really had been in an environment that was totally queer and accepting and inclusive,” she shared. “I learned so much and felt so good about meeting people and being educated on things I didn’t know and being educated in that.”
Basit, 25, noted that knowing that everyone there shared that same sexually fluid experience helped break down a lot of barriers. “Knowing that we all share the commonality, we have all across the spectrum all types of sexual preferences, it really freed up our ability to just communicate with each other,” Basit said. “It kind of sped up the process [of getting to know each other].” And, TBH, it was kind of revolutionary to have a space that was so focused on having only people who are interested in the whole gender spectrum. “We’ve never had this type of representation, and there’s a whole population of us that exist in this world that deserve to see themselves reflected on a mainstream type of situation like Are You The One.”
At the same time, a totally sexually fluid season means that anybody could be interested in anybody. Instead of having 11 potential matches, each cast member had 15 — and the person you were interested in also had 14 other potential perfect matches. Needless to say, things got messy — fast. “Everyone likes everyone,” Basit put it simply. “Everyone is up for grabs. There’s so many options and all you want to do is to find love, but you don’t want to do it at anyone else’s expense. You want to be respectful — or some people do at least.”
It’s not just queer representation.
“We all come from a culturally different background,” shared Nour, 25. “We all bring something to the table where we can learn from one another. It’s not every day that you’re gonna put all these different people from all these different ethnicities and cultures and religions and all of that all together in one house and it’s just like, ‘All right, guys, go ahead, do your thing, find your perfect match.’ We’re all there and we all share our stories as well. It’s a beautiful experience and it’s something that we can take with us for the rest of our lives.”
Paige agreed: “Anybody watching, regardless of your sexuality preference or opinions, will be able to find somebody that they can relate to, somebody has a very similar background, story, upbringing, that everybody will be able to pick out and follow that person and follow that story. … Everybody’s gonna be able to find somebody that they can relate to is what I think is the beautiful thing about it.”
It’s still the same show.
The show is going to be good for the culture, but it’s also still the same Are You The One that you know and love. There are still going to be the same hookups, breakups, makeups and messes we’ve come to expect from every season of this wild ride. “When you get down to the premise of the show, it’s about singles finding their perfect match. It’s about singles finding love because they weren’t able to have relationships in their real life. The show is the same. It’s the same premise, same challenges, same format, same network,” said Justin, 24. “[When people say,] ‘Oh, this isn’t the show I want,’ … they’re saying something that’s a lot deeper than that. … There’s literally only one difference this season and we all know what that difference is.”
As an added bonus, though, Paige promises that the relationships are going to be more complicated than ever. “With everybody potentially being your match, you also don’t know who’s your best friend because they also could be your match.” Friend-zoning became something of a problem and a trap that Paige found herself falling into on the regular. “Being in the house made me very hyperaware of how damaged I was from past experiences. It kind of made me friend-zone to protect myself and then you realize, ‘Oh, that wasn’t a good idea, I notice that you have a lot of qualities that are very complementary to mine, I’m so sorry, forgive me. Give me the time of day.’ … I was probably one of the more dominant perpetrators on that one.”
They all still suck at love.
This time, though, they’ve got love expert Dr. Frankie on their side to help them out. Though we can still count on host Terrence J to call everyone on their crap at match up ceremonies, Dr. Frankie will join the cast in the house and guide them through their relationship hurdles. “I think with Dr. Frankie, she definitely helped all of us put things in different perspectives, and she was able to talk to us like an adult, like there wasn’t any yelling, there wasn’t any trying to talk over each other,” said Nour. Basit agreed that the love expert was “totally the voice of reason,” adding that having that outside opinion helped keep them on track.
For Justin, Dr. Frankie’s visits also provided a reference point for how they were handling everything. “It was just nice to have a solid person that you could reorient yourself to,” he said. “There would be crazy times in the house where so much stuff had happened, and then you had to think, ‘Oh, what was the last thing Dr. Frankie saw in this house, and what has happened since then?’ It just kind of puts it all in perspective.”
And they had a lot to put in perspective. “I felt like I was taking five steps back in my dating life,” confessed Nour. “In the very beginning, I felt like I was starting to do the same mistakes that I was doing in the past, and I was just like, ‘Wait, I’ve learned from those mistakes. What am I doing? Why am I not learning from my mistakes?’ The longer I was in that house, the more I started to realize and started to really internalize everything that was going on in that house. You just grow so much from that experience.” Paige chimed in, “We were actively working on ourselves with [Dr. Frankie] to make the process more effective.”
The motto is “smart vs. heart.”
Though it’s hard to find all of the season’s perfect matches without focusing at least a little on the strategy, the cast members made sure that they were playing with their hearts, too. For them, it was all about finding that balance. “If you’re just going in based on strictly just love, you’re most likely going to fall into the same patterns you did in the past,” warned Nour. For Basit, there are just as many traps when you think only strategically.
“I am someone who’s suffers when trying to calculate romantic connections. … I can find something wrong about anybody. I can be like, ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t like the length of her hair, I don’t like the way his mustache curls, I don’t like that they smile so big.’ … So when I got to the show, I was like, ‘You know what? The only way that I’m going to find the love that these matchmakers have predetermined for me is if I’m open and if I fully just allow myself to catch feelings.’ And boy doesn’t that get you in trouble?”
In the first episode, one of the cast members reveal that, mathematically, this season is approximately 345 times harder than the last season. Paige made the point that they simply didn’t have enough time to rely on strategy alone. “With the amount of possibilities, it literally is designed where we have to use our hearts and genuinely get to know everybody and figure things out with our feelings.” Justin added, “I just definitely went into that house with the most open heart, just waiting to experience whatever happened to come my way and fully just pursue whatever it was.”
They’re bringing the fun.
Everything about this season sounds amazing, but we have to admit that one of the things that we’re most excited for is the return of challenges. And the cast is excited, too. “It was a total surprise, but everyone was super happy with it,” said Justin. “A good portion of the house loves to compete, and that just gave us the perfect outlet to do so.” Basit noted that whatever you were feeling, you could dump it all into the challenge and get it out of your system, whether that was aggression or annoyance or even the butterflies you feel when you start liking someone.
Nobody was lacking for motivation, no matter their actual skills when it came to competing. “It allowed us to kind of take more initiative on who we wanted to go on dates with,” said Paige. “The intensity is so much greater because everybody is competing to do what they want to do. Everybody wants to go on a date, take that special someone on a date with them.”
They found other creative outlets in the house, too — including drag, something Basit has done before and was more than happy to share with newbies in the house. “On the show, Basit is one character, meaning not a character, just myself, and then Dionne Slay is a whole ‘nother being,” Basit spilled. “Dionne was flewed into Hawaii and she flew in, flew out, gave the kids a show, gave the kids a good time, said, ‘You crazy kids better find love,’ and she flew right back out because she had a place to be.”
For Basit, drag is more than just “putting on a wig and wearing boobs and wearing heels.” It’s self-expression. “It’s just saying that I can change my expression and celebrate our difference and celebrate and uplift people through an artistic expression. It was really, really amazing to kind of get to do that and then to also share that with other cast members who maybe weren’t as open or as familiar to drag as a culture. … I think there’s gonna be a lot of people who are going to learn that maybe drag is a form of expression that they want to use to have that liberty to express themselves. Honestly, it’s not exclusive to the queer community! It is something that anyone can use to express themselves. I kind of think that bringing it to MTV is going to hopefully open that door for as many people as possible.”