How Temptation Island's Host Dealt With Being in the Middle of All Those Emotions

Mark Walberg dishes on how Temptation Island works and how he made sure it wasn't just a show about cheating

By Lauren Piester Mar 26, 2019 8:32 PMTags
Temptation IslandMario Perez/USA Network

It's not easy to host a show like Temptation Island

When the premise of the show is that four couples are given permission to date other people and you're the only one in the middle of it all, there's a whole lot of emotions coming your way at all times. And if, like Mark Walberg, you have your own feelings of "trepidation" about what these couples are currently going through, it's even harder to do the job you have to be doing. 

Walberg was the original host of the show when it first aired on Fox back in 2001, and hosted it for three seasons before cancellation. He returned for the new 2019 version of the show on USA, which ends tonight with one heck of an emotional finale as the remaining three couples reunite and decide if they're willing to leave together, leave alone, or leave with someone else. At this point, you might be able to guess how it's going to go, but had you asked us or Mark Walberg at the beginning of the season, we could have never guessed how this would all end. 

From the sound of it, that's just about exactly how this show should work. 

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E! News got on the phone with Walberg to find out what it's like to be there in the middle of what seems, at its most basic premise to be one of the trashiest shows on TV, but might actually turn out to be one of the most interesting dating reality shows in a long time. 

Life Has Changed

Walberg was also the host of the show when it aired on Fox in 2001, and he noticed a few things that were different this time around. 

"The show itself is pretty much the same. Life has changed a little bit, and one of the things that I think is better about this iteration is that the cast, the four couples, are a little older... John's 35. There are a couple in their thirties. Nobody's 22. It's all a little older than that, and with that comes the natural shift that happens in dating from, Hey, I'm just dating this girl or dating this dude to I don't know how much time I want to waste just dating, are we heading somewhere or not? So that's a little bit more of a legitimate concern for this cast. Other than that, just the way dating happens, the way communication happens, the constant communication through social media when you take that away. That was a dynamic that I think was even more taxing on these couples than on the first season, 18 years ago." 

Not Just a Cheesy Dating Show

The idea of a show where the point is to date other people and be tempted to cheat on your partner could be inherently trashy, or at least controversial, but Walberg's job as host is to highlight the point of the show—and remind us of the fact that no one even kissed for the first five episodes of the original first season. 

"The concept ruffled everybody's feathers, as it should, but what I always say is that as the host, if I'm at a place of let's see if I can get them to fool around with these single people, then the whole thing is just gross, right? But my stance has always been for better or worse, what's the authentic truth for me in this? And for me, I look at them as saying, look, this is one of those 'be careful what you wish for' moments. I know it sounds really awesome to go to Hawaii for a month and you'll be on vacation, you think it'll be fun, and maybe we'll get to date other people and that'll be sexy. But I told them right off the bat, this is deeper than that. Even though it looked like a cheesy reality show, it's deeper than that. But you made the choice to come, you're going to find out the answers you want, and you're foolish now that you're here to do anything other than lean into this entire experience, because if not, you're wasting your time." 

It's Not About Cheating

The show does, at its most basic level, allow couples to cheat on each other, which Walberg defines as "anything you would do that if your partner found out about it would hurt them," but the show isn't about watching couples cheat.

"The entire experience was about giving your partner the freedom to be single again to figure out if you're supposed to be together. So in that vein, you kinda got to go into the open relationship world in that you both gave each other permission to do this, although it's apparent once they get there that many of them gave the permission as a caveat of like running the gauntlet. 'We're gonna go be single, but don't you dare be single,'" he says. "The concept is you guys have agreed to allow the other person to date single people. It's a dangerous place to go, but I don't look at them as in this process they're active as cheaters, but this was what it was, and this was what they signed up for, this is what they wanted answers to, and it was well within the understanding of their partner. These relationships are real, these feelings are real, and I try to be, as crazy as it is, as responsible as I can for them to get them to the other side." 

Emotionally Invested

Walberg's job is to host, but he also admits that he cares about the people on the show and has his own feelings about the journey they've chosen to take. 

"I'm not hanging out. I have an idea of what's going on on each side of the island, and what producers have told me, and the stuff you see on TV that I see, but I'm not really digging deep into where they're at so I can't tip my hand when I see them," Walberg says. "As far as [my relationship with the islanders], I try to establish right off the bat that I know you think I'm some cheesy TV show host—which by the way is 100% true—but I actually do care that this turns out to be an experience that you feel positive about, even though I have trepidation that you've chosen to do this." 

Not Here to Make Friends

While he can't really be best friends with any of the couples or singles, he can be there for them however they need him to be. 

"You know, it's tough because I'm the bearer of bad news often, but I always tried to have the stance of look, I'm not necessarily your friend, I don't expect you to be my friend, and I'm not trying to be a pal with you. But I do want to let you know that everything I do and everything I'm told to do and everything you're having me do, I'm an advocate for you getting out of this what you want. And I think for the most part, the four couples didn't shoot the messenger on that," he says. "I think they knew where I'm coming from, and if I were to see any of them today, I'd be thrilled to see them. I love all of them. I think they're terrific. I liked all eight of them a lot, so I just did my best to say out of the fray of what their emotion is, be there to offer advice if they ask, and be there to guide the processes as authentically as I could." 

The Video Clips

Walberg reminds us he's "just the host," and not a producer, so he had no hand in putting together the video clips the islanders were shown at each bonfire of what their partner was up to. He doesn't even know how the clips are chosen, and often sees them for the first time along with the islanders, which is a choice the production purposely made. 

However, he highlights the importance of the clips, which are meant to invoke a reaction no matter what they contain, because having an emotional reaction and realizing what that emotional reaction is is the point. 

"It's hard, you know. I don't think it really serves them to show them a fluffy clip when in fact [their partner is] having a love affair. I would feel bad that we were proactive to causing drama that doesn't exist by showing them a benign clip when something actually is going on. So that to me would be a little trickery on the producing part, but to show them stuff that's visceral, that may or may not be the whole story, is exactly what is promised at the beginning," he says. "I make this argument back from season one. What you're saying may not be what you think it is, but all you need to think about is how does it affect you emotionally. How does it make you feel, is what you're asking. How do you feel about the other person? Even if they're in the hot tub, having this intimate moment, maybe it was a dare or maybe it was a drunken thing, but seeing it should make you feel something. And if it doesn't, that's also an answer." 

The Casting Process

While again, Walberg isn't a producer, he does have a unique perspective on the couples who took part in the show and why they were compelling, and why the show was compelling in general. He also knows that everyone wonders why anyone would want to do this show in the first place, but the truth of it is that even if they're just doing the show to be on TV, they're going to leave with answers to questions they may not have even known they were asking. 

"One of the things I like about this show, other than the fact that it makes me uncomfortable from the moment we start rolling tape to the moment we're done, is that it is very simple. There's not a lot of gimmicks, there's not a lot of game play and antics. Even the dates are relatively simple compared to The Bachelor and other things, right? What it really is is based basically the relationships of these four couples, and the wants and wishes of the singles who are also looking for love. And I have to kind of remind people that this is an age old journey that is very difficult and is the stuff that's inspired, you know, biblical writing and Shakespeare and any piece of drama or ballet or anything you've seen have been all about finding love," he says. "And what makes it relatable is that we've all either been in love, had our heart broken or are looking for love so we can feel the pain, and we also are pretty sure that what they're going through is not a great idea nor [something] any of us would want to go through. It just lies on four authentic couples who want to go and try this out, and I don't think there's any shortage of couples that think that being on this show is going to make them famous and who want to be here and work things out, but I guarantee you, and it's proven over and over again that the concept of the show just makes it real, makes it real, makes it romantic, makes it emotional. And there is the possibility of real love happening." 

Temptation Island premieres Sunday 4th August at 9pm, on E! in the UK & EIRE.

E! and USA are both part of the NBC Universal family.