MTV’s first-ever all-sexually fluid season of its dating show Are You the One? is coming to a close, and we couldn’t be sadder about it. Not only was the series a tremendous delight that brought all sorts of queer people together in a community of fans, it also gave us ample opportunity to debate amongst ourselves. Who doesn’t love a good battle over math when queer dating is involved?
Several weeks ago contributing writer Kevin O’Keeffe and managing editor Joe Reid engaged in a debate over which of their favorite couples would wind up being the true perfect match: Max and Justin, the fan-beloved underdog couple, or Danny and Kai, the odd couple pairing. Kevin won that round, as the penultimate episode revealed Justin and Max were not a perfect match. But round 2 is tougher, as Kevin and Joe challenge themselves to figure out how the remaining six stragglers — Justin, Max, Kari, Kylie, Amber, and Remy — should be paired together. Mathematically, there are four possible combinations. Below, each writer makes the case for one of them.
Joe Reid: Kevin, it seems like just yesterday we were arguing over whether Max and Justin or Danny and Kai were that pivotal third beam that would steer the course of the rest of the season. I'm non-gendered-term-for-courageous enough to admit that I got that one wrong. Now we're at a similar crossroads. Only one of last week's three "straggler" pairs (Amber/Kylie, Max/Kari, and Justin/Remy) earned a beam, and whomever that was will similarly dictate the endgame strategy of the finale. Before we lay out our full proposed scenarios, let's just quickly say who we think that sixth beam belonged to. I think it was Kylie and Amber.
Kevin O'Keeffe: And I think it was Max and Kari. Despite my hesitation to buy into Max’s wild-eyed ravings that Kari is his match after they had one conversation, Are You the One showing us Amber and Kylie confidently calling themselves a perfect match hints to me that, much like nearly every other seemingly assured pairing this season, it’s a red herring.
JR: While you are definitely correct not to follow the show's metatextual clues (I haven't seen foreshadowing this heavy since Basit's beat on mermaid-party night) to figure out the matches this season, trying to play the reverse-psychology game is also a fool's errand. Because as easily as you can shoot down Amber and Kylie for being a red herring, I could say that protestations that Max and Remy could NEVER match are also setting us up for a surprise. Wait, I could say that? I AM saying that. Here's my scenario: Amber matches with Kylie (Kylie's energy has been female-focused all season, and with the exception of Justin, so has Amber's), Max matches up with Remy (I'll get into it), and Justin matches up with Kari (which seems pretty random, but at least one of these pairs is bound to be random, and I can see the matchmakers — who have been on a BENDER this season — wanting to give Kari a man who's fun and low drama).
Kevin, I already know you're gonna say a Max/Remy pair is a deal breaker, so let me just hear it before I go on.
KO: I think I’d buy what you’re saying about a fake-out if Remy’s protestations that he and Max aren’t a match were given more real estate in the penultimate episode. When he tells Justin that Max will never feel comfortable dating him, Remy doesn’t speak from a particularly strong personal perspective. The show presents it as him just stating a fact. They didn’t even give him a confessional to expand on that. If it’s a fake-out, it’s a pretty lazily established one, in strong contrast to how Amber/Kylie looks right now.
Max’s storyline this season may have been about his queer awakening, but it didn’t start that way. He was very shy to show that part of himself at first, as he wasn’t out to everyone in his life when he came on the show. His relationship with Justin inspired major change in Max. But what if the plan all along was for him to wind up with a cis woman — that his exploration was set to be just exploration, and go no further? In that case, Kari makes a lot of sense for him — much more than Remy, whose sex-positive-to-the-max (pardon the pun) would’ve been a lot for the still semi-closeted Max.
I realize I’m mostly using metatextual analysis to back up my claim here, but talking about personalities hasn’t been much help this season. The folks who have seemed like perfect matches all season — your Max and Justins, your Kylie and Karis — have fallen by the wayside in favor of odd couplings like Jasmine and Nour and Danny and Kai.
JR: Look at this from the perspective of a TV producer, though: you're casting an all-sexually-fluid season of this dating show, and you're presented with Max, who says he's bi, but only in Los Angeles, and (as you mentioned) not out to everyone in his life, and in general sees queer identity and intimacy with a man as major hurdles. You're not going to cast him with an eye towards keeping him in that bubble, right? That's Real World 101: you cast the sheltered small-towner with an eye towards their big-city awakening. Which is why I would be very surprised if the idea all along would have been to match Max with a woman. And since we all know — boy do we EVER know! — that Max and Justin are not a perfect match, that leaves Remy. Which, to me (again, thinking as a producer) makes a kind of sense. Remy is SUCH a big personality, so sexually forward, and while he risks being off-putting, he also — as we learned via his pursuit of Paige — grows on you. I can absolutely see producers seeing Remy as the only man with the sexual horsepower to haul Max out of his bi closet. Honestly, I'm more sure of it now than when I was devil's advocating it before.
This also leaves Justin paired with Kari which ALSO makes sense if you know that Max has been feuding with Kari on social media, which: whomever ended up matched with Justin was obviously going to earn Max's ire. That's just conjecture, but I'm standing by it.
Okay, Kevin, I've stated my case. Let's hear yours. Sell me on Remy and Kylie.
KO: Before I do that, I’m gonna both co-sign you — Justin/Kari does make sense when you consider the Max and Kari feuding of it all — and push back on you — if they wanted to tell that story about Max with Remy, then why have we barely even seen those two talk all season? We’re down to the home stretch and we have to read every tea leaf we can. To get back to Remy and Kylie, I see them getting even a short flirting scene together in this past episode and that sets off an alarm bell to me. Why include that scene if Remy and Kylie aren’t together by the end? Why sacrifice valuable second-to-last-episode real estate for that? If Max and Remy were the story, they could’ve used that space to give Remy a confessional after saying Max would never be comfortable dating him.
I also want to talk about Justin and Amber, who have gotten much the same story treatment as Danny and Kai did: not a ton of focus, as both Justin and Kai had other partners (Max and Jenna, respectively) taking up more narrative space, but just enough that we don’t forget about them. Again, why have Amber spend as much time with Max and Justin if the solution to her story is with Kylie?
Look at it this way: of my three pairings, one has a good bit of narrative heat (Justin/Amber), one has a decent amount (Max/Kari), and one has at least given us a hint (Kylie/Remy). Compared to two with a decent amount (Kylie/Amber and Justin/Kari) and one with none (Max/Remy), and I feel like the tea leaves are painting a clear picture. But I welcome your counterargument!
JR: Look, just because I can't counter your narrative-time-spent argument doesn't mean I'm just going to start popping off all Nour-style "WHAT'S GOOD, PAIGE?!" in your face to win this argument. Though I could. I'll just say this: I object to you declaring that Max and Kari had a "decent amount" of narrative heat; I'm offended on behalf of the concepts of decency and amounts. Previous to this week I was unaware they knew each other's names!
KO: One episode’s worth of heat is more decent than the .23 seconds Remy and Max have gotten, is all I’ll say in response to that, good sir.
JR: WHAT'S GOOD, KEVIN?! WHAT'S GOOD?! Okay, but for real, you're kind of making my point, which is that I don't think narrative time spent is the metric we think it is. Paige and Jenna got ZERO story before they were revealed as a match. Jasmine and Nour ONLY got narrative shine because they fell ass-backwards into a feud over Kai. In a way, that's the beauty of this show, that all the queer mixing and matching gave us SO MANY options for chemistry that some of these matches only coincidentally crossed each other's paths. God damn it, I'm going to miss this season! Honestly, whichever one of us is right, I think we're gonna get a great end to the season, don't you agree?
KO: I do! The only sad thing about it is that it’s ending at all. Well, it’ll also be sad if we argued over nothing and one of the other possible combinations (Amber/Kari, Justin/Remy, Kylie/Max or Amber/Remy, Justin/Kylie, Kari/Max) turns out to be right. If I can’t be right, I at least want you to be right.
Honestly, this show has been such a gift. Beautiful conversations about queerness between sexually fluid people. Enough drama to replenish gay electrolytes, but not so much that it actually caused strife between these people. Occasion to do more math than any of us do outside of tax season or at brunch when the bill for 12 people comes. I already can’t imagine my Monday nights without it.
JR: GIVE US ANOTHER QUEER SEASON, MTV, YOU COWARDS!
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Kevin O'Keeffe is a writer, host, and RuPaul's Drag Race herstorian living in Los Angeles.