Exclusive: Darren McMullen talks about 'Love in the Wild' (Part 1)
By Elizabeth Kwiatkowski, 08/01/2011
Love in the Wild viewers have seen five adventure challenges and more than two dozen couples pairings since the new NBC reality dating series, which features singles attempting to find love in the Costa Rican jungle, premiered late June.
Last Friday, Reality TV World caught up with Love in the Wild host Darren McMullen to discuss the season and some of its most memorable events to-date.
Below is the first part of our exclusive interview in which McMullen talked about what viewers have seen so far -- including how dangerous the adventures really were, why he believes Love in the Wild differs from other reality dating series, whether he felt any of the couples built potentially long-lasting relationships, and why contestant Steele Dewald seemed to have so many of the single women swooning.
Check back with Reality TV World on Wednesday for the second half of our interview with McMullen.
Reality TV World: Love in the Wild has featured the couples competing in some challenges that the show has made out to seem very dangerous. For example, they had to cross waters full of crocodiles and a the rope bridge that was falling apart. Could you talk about how dangerous the challenges actually were versus how much of that was dramatized for entertainment? I'd assume the water actually didn't have crocodiles?
Darren McMullen: No, in fact, that is completely false. I thought the same thing! I thought when we came out, "Yeah, they're not real crocodiles. We're just saying that to scare them, aren't we?" And they were like, "No, no, there are real crocodiles."
Actually, what you don't see on-camera is after I told them what they were doing, we stopped and went over safety stuff and went through all the possible hazards they could face like the crocodiles and the dangerous things that could come across them.
In fact, the day before we shot that, they brought in a 15-foot crocodile from the beach that they were making the raft on, and they had photos of this croc that they pulled out and it was 100% percent legitimate, you know? And then for starters, the snake wrangler was there and he actually captured a snake earlier on in the morning.
He brought over the snake and showed them and said, "If you see another one of these, they're incredibly venomous. Stay clear of them." So yeah, the crocodiles were 100% percent there, much to my shock, they would let them swim in crocodile-infested waters!
Reality TV World: Love in the Wild has come across to viewers as a competition show similar to Survivor or Expedition Impossible with a reality dating twist similar to that of The Bachelor. How much of the show would you say is focused on the dating aspect and helping people find love, and how much on the competition and challenges? Which aspect would you say represents more of the show's main objective?
Darren McMullen: It's dating -- 100% percent it's a dating show. The adventures they participated in were there as a way for them to see how well these couples can work together in different situations, and that all goes back to how well you work together will determine if they're meant to be together, I guess.
So, it's 100% percent a dating show and it's just the adventure part of it is just a new way of getting to know someone a lot better in a short period of time.
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Reality TV World: Reality dating shows haven't had a good track record of building lasting relationships. Do you see your show being different and if so, why?
Darren McMullen: Well, look, I think the main difference between my show and others is that other shows tend to paint a very fluffy interpretation of what a relationship is like with champagne dinners, living the good life, living in mansions, and going on beautiful holidays, whereas this show really tends to portray how people work together in stressful situations.
So, yes it's not paying bills and living together and having to have kids together and work and those sort of things. It's not that, but it's certainly testing strength levels when you're thrown into crocodile-infested rivers and your boat's falling apart -- you quite quickly see what somebody's true colors are like. There's no honeymoon period, there's no time to get on your game face.
You're going to see them at their worst and you're either going to love that you work well together or you're going to say, "You know what? You're really not for me and this is not going to work." So, I'd like to think this show will work. I'd like to think that we're going to have some long-term relationships, but you never know.
I mean, let's be honest, 53% percent of marriages end in divorce these days, and so what is a successful relationship? I don't know. All I can tell you is there are several genuine couples. I know this because I'm friends with them all on Twitter and Facebook.
They speak to me privately and say, "You know, we're still madly in love, we're sneaking off to see each other in different states because we can't be seen walking around the streets together as part of the deal we have with NBC until the end of the show obviously, so we don't ruin the ending for everyone."
They're really, really into each other, which I think is pretty clear when you're watching it on the television. A lot of people say, "Well, you know, maybe they're just into each other because they're in this crazy environment and the beautiful oasis of Costa Rica." And we'll say, "Well yeah, maybe."
But let's be honest, searching through jungles and going on overnight adventures and really testing your stamina and your emotions and your stress levels isn't all bells and whistles.
It can be quite horrendous at some points, and I think it's really shown throughout the course of the show that the people who are together now are really together because they work incredibly well under high-pressure situations with each other.
Reality TV World: Touching on what you said about the couples whom have kept in touch, do you happen to know anything about the status of [Derek Leach] and [Jess Debolt]'s relationship now? Because they seemed to end the show on good terms and expressed how they had every intention of keeping in touch.
Darren McMullen: Well I know that Derek lives in LA and I know that Jess went to visit him a couple of times since the show finished. Jess is actually moving to LA within a matter of weeks.
I joked with Jess, "Oh, is this for a boy by any chance?" And she just kind of avoided the subject like, "Oh, well, I got a job there too." But you know, we'll see what happens. So, yeah, that's kind of nice.
Reality TV World: During this week's episode, the producers chose to break up all couples -- some of whom had formed strong connections and wanted to remain together. Do you think splitting them up damaged the show's credibility at all for it's premise of wanting people to find love? Why or why not?
Darren McMullen: No, I think because at the point when they did that, it was very obvious that everybody had formed a very strong bond and they weren't going to swap at the Couples' Choice Ceremony and we knew that from talking to them. And it was certainly something that was not -- their positions were not taken lightly.
Right up until we started that show, we still didn't know what we were going to do. We had meetings about it all through the night. We had meetings again in the morning. And we didn't take it lightly like, "Is this something we should be doing, changing the format a little?"
And we all came to the same conclusion and said, "Look, these people are really comfortable with each other and let's be honest, it's like that age-old saying, 'Absence makes the heart grow fonder.'" And I think one of the worst situations you could be in within any relationship is being comfortable with somebody, staying together because it's comfortable.
So, I said, "Let's make sure these people aren't just comfortable. Let's make sure that they actually really like each other and see if they miss each other when they're not together, and maybe let's see if the experience of switching with other people will test how well their current relationships are going."
So it was all under the guide of testing the relationships they were currently in, and I think it worked incredibly well. I saw last week that everybody kind of came in and said, "Oh my God, I miss my partner so much and it really made me realize that maybe I was taking it for granted," or, "It made me realize how much I like this person," etc., etc. I really think that it had the desired effect and I'm glad that we did it.
Reality TV World: A lot of viewers have been surprised that Derek was automatically eliminated over his wound. Why did you guys decide to eliminate Derek immediately instead of giving him the opportunity to potentially forfeit the next adventure and then take his chances at the next Couples' Choice Ceremony?
Darren McMullen: Well, that was out of our hands. That was a medical decision and we had doctors saying, "This guy can not do any of the challenges." We can't do that or else we'd be liable for that if he hurt himself. He completely shattered his toe in several places and he actually ripped the nail right off his big toe.
There was no way he could do the challenges, so I think we had to speak up and say, "Absolutely fundamentally no way this guy is allowed to continue on any of these adventures." And we knew that the next two adventures are the hardest yet. They're very, very tough and long adventures. So, there was no way he could do it. It was a medical decision and not the producers.
Reality TV World: Samantha Woods and Mike Spiro seem to be one of the tightest couples on the show and have no interest in getting to know anyone else. They've been together since day one, so why do you think that is? What is it about their relationship that has kept them going strong and why do you think they've been such a good match?
Darren McMullen: I don't really know. I never would have thought those two out of everyone together would be the perfect match. Whatever they're doing seems to work for them. I'm obviously not seeing a lot of what the final product is like when I'm there, so I was quite interested in seeing the [finished] show and just seeing what made these guys tick.
Because to me, when I would see them for the short period of time, I would be like, "I don't get these guys. I don't think they're into each other. Do they just want to stay together because they want to win?" That's silly if that's the case, but as I've watched the show now, I realized, "Wow, these guys actually do have a very genuine connection with each other. They really are smitten."
When they're just together alone in the room, they're quite dorky -- both of them -- and they both love kind of the same humor. I don't know. They just seem to work. I don't know what to say makes their relationship work to be honest, because if I did, I would probably make a lot of money.
Reality TV World: Why do you think the girls keep picking Steele so much, helping him to avoid elimination? Do you think at this point in the competition it's still simply just because he's a good looking guy? Because obviously he hasn't been kept around for his skills at competing in challenges.
Darren McMullen: Oh I think, let's be honest, guys are not the only ones who can be a little bit shallow when it comes to dating. Girls are just as bad as men. Sometimes you see a nice pretty guy like Steele who's a professional golfer and has a ripped body and nice style, so they think, "Hmm, I wouldn't mind getting to know this guy a little bit better."
Steele is a lovely guy too. I don't know if that necessarily comes across always on the TV, but he's actually very quick and he's very, very funny too. So, yeah, he's not the best at challenges and adventures, but as I said, the challenges and adventures are secondary to the whole reason why everyone's there -- and that's to find relationships.
So, I think most of the girls see him for what he really is. He's a very good-looking guy and he's very funny, and so they wanted to go with him even if that means risking probably being booted off the show because he's awful at these adventures for some reason. I think that they feel that it's worth it.
Reality TV World: Do you have any insight as to why Steele is so bad at the challenges? Do you think it's just bad luck or maybe he's just not focused on the tasks at hand or something?
Darren McMullen: I don't know, it's like again, the thing that surprised me from watching the show was that I didn't go out on these adventures. So I had no idea why he was coming in last all the time, but after watching the show, I think he's a little bit dopey. I think that's what it is. I mean, last week, we saw he was standing right next to the ladder and just walked away from it.
I'm looking at it like, "What the heck!?" He goes, "Okay, well if you're not going to take it, then I'm going to take it." And then a bit later, he's like, "Oh God! I just realized I walked by it! It was a rope ladder!"
I was like, "Of course it's a rope ladder! We're not hiding big metal ladders in the jungle for you to find. That would be obvious." I think he's just a little dopey sometimes.
Reality TV World: Steele passed up a few opportunities to continue to get to know certain girls and previously commented that the show was turning out like his love life in reality. However, he seems pretty taken with Erica Scherle recently, so how strong do you think their relationship is and what about Erica do you think draws Steele in?
Darren McMullen: I think Erica, she's got a very dry sense of humor, and I think Steele does too. I think it's witty in a way and sarcastic, and I think they're both quite similar in that way. Erica is a gorgeous girl as well, so I'm sure that helps. Although they keep coming in terrible places in their adventures, they seem to work very well together.
There are no arguments whereas [one of Steele's previous partners Vanessa Guerrero], we sort of thought she was full-on crazy talking about kids and have all sorts of -- having only known the guy for a few hours, (laughs) and they just weren't right for each other.
They seem to work really well. I think Steele is taken aback by how much he likes Erica. I really think he genuinely didn't think he was going to have a connection with anyone on the show. There's a little bit of a shakeup in this week's episode with Steele. I don't want to give away too much, but you'll see a little bit of a shakeup.
Reality TV World: Last week's episode made it seem like Steele was strongly considering choosing Jessica Soares instead of Erica at the Couples' Choice Ceremony. Was that actually the case?
Darren McMullen: No, I think at that point it was like Steele thought she was a really cool chick. They got along incredibly well. I don't think personally that there was any physical attraction at all.
I think what that came down to was they were strategizing and he was thinking, "Me and Erica are getting along great, we're not in a very good position, we're both going to get eliminated unless we play a game a little bit here to try and stay in the competition."
But then, they were able to find their way back to each other last week. So, I don't think there was any -- I think Jessica really did like Steele for the same reasons all the other girls did... but I don't think that he felt the same way. I really think that it was just a strategic move that he may have had to play had that not all went topsy-turvy.