Temptation Island Host Mark L. Walberg Reveals What Really Goes Down Behind the Scenes
Temptation Island is all about the couples — and, of course, the singles who are pursuing them. But it's the show's master of ceremonies, Mark L. Walberg, who kicks the drama up a notch each episode. Walberg hosted the series' original run back in 2001, when it aired on Fox and was canceled after just three seasons. Perhaps the world wasn’t ready for the controversial premise of the series at the time. (For those unfamiliar, infidelity-plagued couples are whisked off to a tropical paradise where they’re separated and have no communication with one another for 30 days, while they each shack up with a dozen singles of the opposite sex.) As other reality dating shows flourished and Chris Harrison became a household name, Walberg hosted a bevy of other TV shows including Antiques Roadshow. But then, last year, USA Network decided to bring Temptation Island back in all its glory. This time, the world was ready for the "Will they stay or will they stray" premise, and Walberg was eager to get back to his hosting duties.
Luckily for everyone involved, the revamped series proved to be a ratings hit when it aired last spring. Season two premieres at 10 p.m. EST on Oct. 10, and once again, Walberg will be helping four couples navigate their respective journeys on the island. But much to our surprise, he doesn’t exactly see all of the drama go down on set. “I watch the show like a viewer when it starts to air,” Walberg told InStyle when we sat down with him at one of the show’s Maui villas in June. “I’m seeing about 85 percent of what the viewer sees for the first time myself. So when I hear what the cast is saying, I’m like, ‘Oh my god, they were saying that behind my back?’ After each episode, I can’t wait until the next week.”
During our chat, Walberg opened up about what it's like to host a reality show that can have serious impacts on the cast’s lives when the cameras stop rolling, plus what he really thinks about being constantly compared to The Bachelor host Chris Harrison. Keep reading for his many revelations in our full conversation, below.
Temptation Island is unique in that it can change the course of these people’s real lives. How do you take the seriousness of that into account while also trying to create good TV? We saw last season that the show has the potential to implode a couple's whole world.
Or, it could make their whole world bigger. But yes. They’re gambling with the status quo. I take it very seriously — to my own demise sometimes. I don’t think the couples who come here even know what they’ve done, so I feel responsibility to guide them as best I can. I know once the tape is done rolling, their life goes on and this is going to have very significant impacts. It’s a game changer. And if I’m not buying what I’m selling, it becomes a cheesy show. I’m the kind of person that I am all in with this. I forget cameras are rolling. I don’t care what they’re saying in my ear or what’s “supposed to” happen. Sometimes I say things that are rough or too much, but it’s because I’m really in the moment with them and really fighting for them to get what they hope to get out of this, even if it’s not what they came here thinking they were gonna get.
At what point do you decide that you might need to steer a situation or try to change the narrative in some way?
Well I try not to insert my advice or drive the narrative because it’s not my role. But it is my role to guide them into what they said they wanted, which is to have a journey of discovery. So as soon as I see them not being authentic, or if their words aren’t what their truth is — and I can sense it, which is a skill set I feel like I have — I feel like it’s my duty in my commitment. If my commitment to them was, “I’m an advocate for you to get everything you wanted out of this,” and then I see them not being honest in the moment, I have a duty to honor my commitment to them to call them on it.
In last season’s finale, Nicole and Karl were about to leave together even though they clearly didn’t want to. They looked miserable. How did you know that they needed a bit of a push to leave separately?
I knew what was going on with Karl, and I knew where Nicole was and what she wanted to accomplish before she came to that bonfire, whether she said it to me or not. I knew her enough at that point to realize that what was happening was fear. Now she was seeing him for the first time, and [breaking up] wasn’t something she wanted to do. Which I kind of respect, because she’s not the kind of person that’s outwardly like, “Everyone look at my drama.” But when she said, “Ok, we’ll stay together,” I felt a responsibility — and quite frankly so did production. We made it look like I was a genius and those words were mine, but we all felt the same thing. They sat down and they didn’t kiss. They didn’t touch. This wasn’t comfortable. She was not saying what she wanted to say, and he wasn’t either. So I felt like I had a duty, even if it made me look like the bad guy, to say, “Sit down and do it again.” And then if you decide to stay together and I buy it, you can leave.
In those moments do you ever feel like you’re a therapist of sorts?
People have said that to me quite a bit. All I am is a guy who’s lived longer than them and been in a relationship longer than them. I’ve had life experience that makes me more informed, not wiser. And I bring all that to the table. My goal is to be altruistic and authentic with them. Therapist is a strong word, but it’s helpful for all of us to have someone who’s at a different place, looking at the experience from a different part of the mountain with enough life experience to inform and give a different point of view. Sometimes I need my daughter and my son who are younger to give me a point of view that’s from a different part of the mountain, because my older view is not what I need to hear at that moment. So I’m glad to be able to do that, and if it looks like therapy, it’s because I’ve probably had enough therapy that I know [laughs]. But if I’m helping them, that’s awesome.
In terms of your own relationship experience, you’ve been with your wife Robbi for a long time now —
150 years, in Hollywood years. We [celebrated] 32 years of marriage in August.
Do you think you would have done something like this back in the day?
It’s not our style. While we are both show biz performers [Robbi is an actress] and love the limelight, we’re private. We deal. When my wife and I have upset, she forces us to talk it out right there. It’s not gonna go on long in my house. And I credit her for that, because as a dude, I would just like to say, “It’s all good,” and then ruminate and have a beer and grunt and then feel like shit. So I have to credit her for whatever level of emotional intelligence I now have, either by having to learn it to survive our relationship or because she’s straight up taught me. She’s a guru in that area. So this isn’t a forum we would ever entertain, and if anyone came to us and said, “We’re thinking about doing this,” we would tell them, “That’s ridiculous. Find a family counselor or talk to one another and work it out.” But I also think with TV, sometimes you find people who show up and say why they’re coming — maybe it’s to be famous or whatever — but I think subconsciously, it’s because they know it’s jumping off a cliff. “If I go on this show, it’s gonna force me to say what I’ve been afraid to say in my own living room.” It’s sort of backwards, but it’s effective.
The show originally aired in 2001, and it was cancelled in 2003. Do you think the world just wasn’t ready for it at the time?
Well, the first season of the show was actually the highest rated show in the history of Fox. For many reasons it fell by the wayside, and it was not so much about the concept. It was mostly about how it was produced and how it was managed. But the reason it survives — and what I find fascinating — is that even though this is a reboot of an old concept, 90 percent of the people watching are seeing it for the first time and thought it was a ripoff of The Bachelor, when in fact, The Bachelor came out after Temptation Island. I think it works because it’s extreme enough to make you stop on the dial like, “Who? What the hell? This is the trashiest most ridiculous thing.” But the experience of why these people are having trouble is relatable to anyone who’s ever been alive. We all can relate to the fact that even when you find your person, being able to maintain a healthy relationship for any long amount of time is nearly impossible.
You mentioned The Bachelor. How do you think Temptation Island compares to other shows out there about finding love?
Well first of all, in my house, we love The Bachelor. I mean we love it. My wife and my daughter love it, and even my son and I will say we hate it but we’re like, “I can’t believe she picked him.” You know, so we’re playing along. I think The Bachelor is like prom on steroids, and we can all relate to that. It’s all giggly and flirty and fun and about who should hook up. Temptation Island is like graduate school. So one is like sparring and the other is gloves-off, white-knuckle fighting. Temptation Island appears to be dreamy and sexy and flirty and there’s drama — but the core of it becomes so authentic. You’re along for the ride, and it’s like, “Oh my god, this is really happening.” And I’m here to tell you, it really is happening, whether they want it to or not. I tell the cast all the time: “I know you think this is a TV show, and it is, but it gets really real, really quickly.”
I love that you love The Bachelor. I’m curious: How do you think your hosting style compares to Chris Harrison’s?
I laugh at the [physical] comparisons. This is the first time I’ve done the show when Twitter is a thing. But we look a lot a like, although not so much now because I got a different haircut. But what’s funny is when I did Temptation Island, then ABC launched The Bachelor, and I got calls from the producers saying, “They’re looking for somebody like Mark Walberg and they got this guy who looks just like you.” Now, they’re saying, “Who’s this Walberg knocking off Chris Harrison?” But Chris Harrison is awesome, and our hosting styles are not unlike one another. He’s very real, I think, but our duties are different. He would be great in this show. It requires a host to be a little more immersed. And while I don’t profess to be part of the story at all, there is a part where the host is the facilitator of stuff that’s a little more edgy and dialed-up than the rose choices that happen on The Bachelor. That’s not by virtue of skillset; it’s by virtue of concept. One is a flirty dating show where people are hoping to find love and one is the dire consequence of relationships that either are gonna make it or not make it, looking for love. And I’m the captain of this ship, which is a cargo ship in the Strait of Hormuz. His is a pleasure cruise in the lovely Mediterranean. Both have drama and you could have food poisoning on both. But mine might have pirates.