Are You the One? is back — but this season, MTV is shaking things up.
Season 8 of the hit reality dating competition show, which premieres Wednesday, features a roster of sexually fluid contestants for the first time, and that’s not the only twist. It will also introduce Dr. Frankie Bashan, a relationship expert on hand to help the daters navigate the drama.
Per the show’s signature format, 16 singles will head off to Hawaii in hopes of finding their “perfect match” and splitting a $1 million cash prize. This time, the singles identify as sexually fluid, meaning there are no gender limitations in perfect matches.
PEOPLE sat down with Dr. Frankie, a clinical psychologist who specializes in working with the LGBT community, to find out more about how it will all unfold.
Tell us about your role this season.
DR. FRANKIE: I’m there to help the cast better understand why they’ve struggled so terribly at dating, so they can change those behaviors and be successful. We do exercises in communication or eye contact and they talk about what has come up in the house, what they’re struggling with, then I make suggestions about how they may be able to shift their behavior or think about things differently.
Were you living in the house with the cast?
DR. FRANKIE: I was not, that would have been crazy. I was seeing them every other day. We’d meet together as a group for a few hours. In these Dr. Frankie talks, often I would have them think about things to work on, behaviors to pay attention to, and then we would come together. The idea is that viewers will have a takeaway — they’ll get nuggets of helpful information that they can apply to their own lives and make positive changes in their own relationships.
This season features the first sexually fluid cast — what was that like? Were you familiar with previous seasons of the show, and how does this compare?
DR. FRANKIE: I don’t watch a lot of TV, which is ironic. But I did watch some of it beforehand to get a sense and there’s so much more depth in this season. This cast, they can go to places emotionally that I think is pretty remarkable. I think it’s revolutionary for primetime television to have a sexually fluid cast and I’m so incredibly grateful to be a part of it. Because this cast has already dealt with so many challenges within their families and their lives back home, being queer or feeling different, they’ve gone places that have forced them to deal with difficult emotions. There’s just more depth and complexity to each of their characters, who they are as people. You’ll see that and you’ll feel it. And they’re fearless. They’re fearless, bold and amazing.
What were some dating trends you encountered in the house?
DR. FRANKIE: Petty behaviors like manipulation, stone-walling — stone-walling is the same idea as ghosting, but it’s doing it in person. You get into a situation with your partner and then you ignore them, you don’t want to talk about it. You disappear, essentially. But now you’re under the same roof, having to sleep next to each other. So they have to confront [each other], they don’t have a choice, which is a beautiful thing, because they’re forced to work on it. With me there, I can give them skills and tools so that they can feel more empowered to work on these things, not just throw their hands up and feel stuck. Now they’re like, ‘Okay, well Dr. Frankie made these suggestions, I’m going to try them. Let me see if they work.’ Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t, and that’s going to be captured on camera, which is going to be amazing for viewers.
Did you find that the daters responded well to you and the advice you were offering?
DR. FRANKIE: Absolutely. They were hungry for it. They’re there because they want to find their person but they keep getting in the way of themselves. So they were eager for professional perspective or input about how their behavior is interfering in the process of them being successful.
Were you aware of the perfect matches going into it, and did they surprise you?
DR. FRANKIE: No, I wasn’t aware of them. But I think they made sense.
Did you witness real sparks flying? Do you think some of the relationships that formed will last?
DR. FRANKIE: Yes. Sparks flying and volatile emotions — a lot of intense emotions, ups and downs. I hope they’ll last, of course!
How do you think viewers will respond to this season?
DR. FRANKIE: I really, really hope there’s a big takeaway for viewers across the country, whether you’re queer or straight, to become better straight allies and better understand people in the queer community. For young, queer youth to see other queer folks that are kind of pushing the envelope and being themselves and being confident and brave — I hope that they will be role models for these kids.
Do you hope to be brought back for future seasons? It sounds like you were very instrumental.
DR. FRANKIE: Of course, I would love to. I’m a psychologist, so I love to see people take themselves out of their comfort zone and get better and get healthier. It makes me incredibly happy.
The new season of Are You the One? premieres Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET on MTV.
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