KAILUA-KONA — The Kona coast is a dramatic landscape of mountains and the Pacific Ocean — the perfect backdrop for a TV show set in paradise.
And this past summer, 22 strangers brought a different kind of drama to the area.
The MTV reality dating show “Are You the One?” brings a group of 20-somethings together to live and date in a tropical location. For the show’s seventh season, a private residence in Kona hosted the competition. The season premiered Wednesday on MTV and will run for 10 episodes. Kona also was used as the location for the show’s third season.
As with many reality shows, “Are You the One?” brings plenty of love, fights and other alcohol-infused situations to the viewers at home. But for the contestants, getting a chance at an extended vacation in Hawaii is one of the biggest perks.
“We actually had a beautiful view of the ocean,” said Moe Elkhalil, one of the contestants from the show’s seventh season. “If you watch the show, you know that sometimes you’re able to go on dates. And I went on a couple of dates, and I really got to appreciate what Hawaii was, and what people talk about. We got to experience the ocean life, and it was really exotic. It was like what you would see on Nat Geo or whatever. … It was almost like I was on a different planet.”
Elkhalil and the rest of the contestants weren’t allowed outside the house for the majority of filming. A 22-year-old student from Houston who also models in his spare time, Elkhalil was able to experience the best of Hawaii while on the show’s dates.
“We went diving,” Elkhalil. “And it was just really nice because we got to swim with small sharks. People swim with dolphins, but I got to swim with sharks, which is kind of crazy. And we just saw the reef and the coral, and all those beautiful things.”
Asia Woodley, a 23-year-old photographer and entertainment journalist from Corona, Calif., also was fortunate enough to also go out on a TV-produced date, which helped her find love for the island. She said she was able to “see the landscape and the beauty of the island” while riding along a highway.
Woodley said she previously vacationed on Oahu, but Hawaii Island brought an entire new experience.
“It was more of a community type of vibe vs. Oahu for me,” she said. “It was like everyone knew each other, everybody was super friendly. … It was a definitely a good impression when I left the island.”
Being cooped up in a house with 21 strangers and a television crew doesn’t always seem like the best way to get a glimpse into local life, but the cast was able to see some of the hospitality of Hawaii even from afar.
“First of all, we didn’t have any phones or TV, or any connection with the outside world,” Elkhalil said. “But it was kind of nice because every so often, someone would swing by on their boat and cheer us on. … They would be passing by on their canoes and be like ‘Good luck guys.’ They were really optimistic and cheerful. And just the whole environment in Hawaii felt welcoming.”
The cast also got a warm welcome from Kilauea. The eruption that began May 3 in lower Puna occurred during the middle of filming, and created another uniquely Hawaiian experience.
“We actually felt some of the earthquake, and everything started shaking and they put down the cameras,” Elkhalil said. “And I remember the waves started coming up to the house. So that was kind of unexpected. I was thinking, ‘Oh my God, am I going to die? Am I going to die on this TV show?’”
Elkhalil and Woodley said the experience was rewarding. Even if the authenticity of dating on TV is often questioned, Elkhalil said it helped him in the real world.
“It kind of showed me, in other words, how to date,” Elkhalil said. “Back home, I would talk to a girl and we would go to the club. Here, it was more one-on-one time, no distractions, get to know the girl. Ask deeper questions, not really on-the-surface questions, but kind of, tell me about the biggest challenges in your life, tell me about your past relationships and why they didn’t work out. It teaches you how to ask those questions and how to connect better. … It teaches you to be more like, hey, I want to get real with you.”
Woodley said she wouldn’t go back on a dating show, but if the opportunity to participate in a different reality show presented itself, she would try to be a part of it.
“I definitely underestimated how awesome of an opportunity this would be, and how big of a change for me it would be,” Woodley said. “I learned so much about myself in this experience.”
Email Elizabeth Pitts at firstname.lastname@example.org.