Temptation Island South Africa’s psychologist on love, trust and lust
Clinical psychologist Elmarie Claassens is no stranger to TV-land – she has successfully hosted eight seasons of the popular Afrikaans cooking show Hartskos, and her unique skill set and experience of 25 years in running her own private practice landed her the job of conducting psychological evaluations on contestants of the popular reality show Survivor South Africa.
More recently, she reprised her “role” and took her skills to the set of Temptation Island South Africa (TISA) and we had the opportunity to ask her a few questions. We got more than we bargained for, as it turns out that this interview should be printed out and put on the fridge door next to your emergency contacts and fast food take-away booklet…
As with Survivor, I would imagine that contestants would undergo a psychological evaluation but how does the process for Temptation Island differ from Survivor?
A psychological evaluation for reality TV (or any other reason) is not a cut and paste exercise. We select specific psychometrics to form a battery of tests, tailor-made for the needs of the production.
During the psychological evaluation of participants of TISA, we used standardised psychometric tests, plus individual and couples interviews to build profiles of the contestants. Couples and singles give informed consent for the evaluation and to be on the show, and are very aware of risks and potential gain or opportunity involved. Part of my job post-production is always to debrief contestants where necessary.
Is it a good idea for a couple whose relationship seems to be on the rocks to participate in a televised social experiment such as Temptation Island?
It would be wrong to assume that these relationships were in trouble necessarily. We all have different motivations for doing things or participating in activities or reality shows. Usually, a psychologist would probably not suggest that a couple try to find therapy in a reality show like Temptation Island – maybe that is just it – the involvement of a psychologist in evaluation does not mean that an experience like TISA would be so-called good or bad for a relationship. Taking part in TISA is definitely not qualified as couples therapy!
There is potential for couples’ relationships to come out strengthened or weakened after TISA. But if you feel that your relationship needs work or growth, and you want to commit, there are definitely other options to consider, like therapy, turning towards each other, et cetera. Sometimes it is better to be confronted with the hard truths sooner than later.
Betrayal of trust among strangers in a setting such as Survivor SA could be perceived as more forgiving than in the case of love in Temptation Island. Do you think more is at stake?
In general, different couples tend to negotiate certain limits of appropriate behaviour before the show starts. For most, it is okay when partners stay within these parameters. The concept of trust and perceived betrayal is then put under the spotlight during the bonfire sessions, where partners usually only see parts of stories and complete the narrative in their own minds.
This adds drama to the show and can also play into inner fears, or, in extreme cases, into paranoia.
Let’s talk about love versus lust. How easily are the two mixed up on the show?
You mean, how easily are the concepts of love and lust mixed up in everyday life? Love can be a confusing state or concept for a lot of people in general. In terms of romantic love and commitment, specifically, there are many variations of how it can play out between partners.
But yes, immediate attraction usually refers more to pheromones, the firing of dopamine and oxytocin, and might later develop into commitment and working love.
Mutual respect as a currency can go a long way, right? How does possessiveness undermine everything else?
When we speak about more traditional monogamous (in this case, also heterosexual) relationships, it is very interesting how different couples manage the so-called paradox of commitment and freedom. This has a lot to do with people’s attachment styles, belief systems of what relationships should be, beliefs about roles of men and women in relationships, and then, of course, the very important negotiation of all these things between two people from different backgrounds.
What lessons are there to be learned for the viewer at home when watching Temptation Island South Africa?
If I can zoom into one thing standing out when I do couple’s therapy, it is that intentional negotiation about specific aspects in and around relationships is sometimes neglected for numerous reasons. Hopefully this show encourages dialogue between couples and viewers about important things in relationships, like boundaries, feelings, responsibilities, values, ambition, life goals, et cetera.
Couples need to realise that negotiation, communication and commitment are ongoing concepts in relationships and need to be revisited often and openly. It is not only important to have fun and great sex in relationships, but also to have the difficult conversations that can lead to more understanding, empathy and greater intimacy.
What would you suggest as a logical first step to save a relationship that seems to be heading in the wrong direction?
Be honest and don’t leave it too long. Sometimes a relationship needs a hero to start the difficult conversations. If you struggle to do this on your own, go see a psychologist who works with relationships. There is no shame (in fact, it is brave) to check in or to learn how to do things differently in a relationship.
We are not born with recipes of how things would work when things go wrong for us, and sometimes, when we bargain on previous learning and role models, we risk getting it wrong or just perpetuating a pattern that doesn’t work.
Introspection, honesty and vulnerability are your helpers in therapy and you can deepen your relationship when willing to work, or a couple can figure out how to renegotiate and renew whatever relationship they need or want to have.
In relationships, there are no cookie cutters or recipes that ensure success between (two or more) people. Remember, to have things okay between people, it must be okay for all parties involved in the relationship – this refers to consent, honesty and communication.
Binge-watch the whole of Temptation Island South Africa on Showmax now to see how the couples and singles on the show dealt with – or didn’t address – boundaries, communication and negotiation.