A Hetero- Homonormative Cautionary Tale of Debauchery: The Trope of Hypersexual Bisexuality on the ‘A Shot at Love’ Series

by: , September 12, 2018

Throughout the first decade of the 2000s, LGBTQ+ visibility steadily increased in North American popular culture, resulting in not only more LGBTQ+ characters but also more nuanced non-heternormative representations and narratives. Although bisexuality is part of the increasingly popular phrase of inclusivity (LGBTQ+), it is still one sexual identity that not only tends to be overlooked within popular culture but also continues to be represented in limited ways. In this context, my doctoral research analysed popular culture representations of bisexual women. In particular, I examined how these representations tended to fall within similar and limited themes of deviance, excessiveness, instability and lack of authenticity, to name just a few examples. (Cocarla 2016)

Drawing from this research, here I focus on the MTV reality dating series, A Shot at Love (2007-2009) to discuss how, despite this series achieving many firsts in bi-visibility, it replicates one of the most prominent bisexual tropes: [1]  hypersexuality. While it would be easy to render these representations entirely problematic and/or inaccurate, I would like to challenge the idea of an ‘accurate’ representation of sexuality and instead locate these representations within a wider discussion of hegemonic understandings of gender and sexuality. As such, not only do these representations work to tell us about culturally imagined understandings of bisexuality, but they also reaffirm larger gender and sexuality norms. In this relationship, bisexuality is rendered as one of the outsiders to monosexuality’s (hetero- and homosexuality) normativity.

Screenshot from ShareTV.com

My use of homonormativity in this discussion is in particular indebted to the work of Lisa Duggan (2003). According to her, homonormativity

‘is a politics that does not contest dominant heteronormative assumptions and institutions but upholds and sustains them, while promising the possibility of a demobilised gay constituency and a privatised, depoliticised gay culture anchored in domesticity and consumption’. (Duggan 2003: 50)

It is the uncritical subscription to heteronormative ideals, institutions and politics that positions these ideals, institutions and politics as not only necessary to the historical progress of LGBTQ+ communities but also to the attainment of ‘basic human rights’, dignity, and normativity. In this political, social, and cultural climate, normative-subscribing gay and lesbian citizens (homonormative) participate in normalising projects [2] through subscription to heteronormative institutions and ideals, simultaneously distancing themselves from ‘non-normative’ queered identities and reproducing other social norms of race, gender and class. Although this is done in a variety of ways, the perpetuation of hetero- and homonormative ideals in popular culture is especially important to my project. As such, popular culture becomes a relevant site to illustrate and maintain the ‘normality’ of gayness, both through increased and nuanced representations of gay and lesbians, as well as through representing queer-er sexualities in ways that portray them as being other and separate from homonormativity.

A Bisexual Shot At Love

Spanning three seasons, the MTV A Shot At Love series (A Shot At Love With Tila Tequila, 2007; A Shot At Love II With Tila Tequila, 2008; and A Double Shot At Love With The Ikki Twins, 2008-2009) is a groundbreaking example of bisexual visibility for multiple reasons. At the most apparent level, the show actively centred bisexual women as stars, with the entire series built around their bisexuality. Also, the term ‘bisexual’ was not rendered invisible in this series, in turn challenging a highly reoccurring trope in popular media, where ‘bisexual’ appears rarely uttered, and instead, audiences are left to assume the bisexuality of characters/media personas via the genders of their romantic/sexual partners. A Shot at Love also held incredibly wide-reaching popularity — its first season had an average of 6.2 million viewers and quickly became one of MTV’s most-watched series at that time. (Finn 2007) Finally, it was one of the only mainstream series — among both fictional and reality TV productions — to focus entirely on bisexuality. [3] For these reasons,  A Shot at Love is a valuable source in understanding larger beliefs and sentiments surrounding bisexuality in popular culture.

Promoted as a bisexual reality dating show, the first two seasons of the series saw internet celebrity Tila Tequila search for her true love from a group of sixteen straight men and sixteen lesbians. However, in the third season, Tila was replaced by bisexual twin sisters, Victoria and Erica Mongeon, stylised in the series as Vikki and Rikki, or the Ikki twins. Both sisters were dating twelve straight men and twelve lesbians, each in search of love. [4] As the first and only reality dating show to feature a bisexual individual as the main star [5], all three seasons modelled off of other popular reality dating shows, where there were various group-date outings as well as one-on-one dates between the star and the suitors.

However, unlike other reality dating shows, A Shot at Love based itself within voyeurism and sex appeal. In particular, the main stars of the series — Tila Tequila and the Ikki twins — are all petite, sexy and outgoing. A primary focus of the series promoted these aspects of their looks and personalities by showing them dressed in revealing outfits, partaking in sexually suggestive events and, of course, by referencing their bisexuality in often stereotypical ways. Aside from the few similarities this series shared with other reality dating shows, viewers were reminded from the beginning that this was not an average dating show, and conventional, normative romance was not its main focus.

In the first season of the series, none of the potential suitors were aware of Tila Tequila’s bisexuality. Each group met Tila and assumed that they were either on a traditional ‘straight’ reality dating show or a cutting edge ‘lesbian’ dating show. After finding out that Tila was bisexual — much to the surprise and excitement of the suitors — the show primarily consisted of a series of ‘opposite sex’ competitions and tasks to win the heart of Tila, and later, the Ikki twins. Each episode was primarily comprised of a group competition between the men and women, where the winning group gained the more favourable date, while the losing group won a shorter, less fun date with the stars. During the dates, the stars often chose one or multiple contestants to have one-on-one moments, while the others stared on in jealousy and planned ways to win one-on-one interactions themselves.

At the end of each episode, Tila and the twins contemplated who still had a ‘shot at love’ with them. An eviction ceremony would be held, and the stars would hand out keys to their heart(s) to those they wanted to remain in the competition. As the series progressed, the stars eventually went on one-on-one dates with the suitors, and then when there were four left, they visited each remaining suitor’s hometown to meet their family. In the last episode, the stars had final dates with the two remaining suitors and then chose who had ultimately won their heart. It was then up to the chosen suitor to agree to date the star. Throughout the entire show, each episode featured of a series of ‘confessionals’ from both the stars and the contestants that worked to illustrate to the audience their ‘true feelings’ about a given situation. Their voice-overs and confessionals were then paired with specific scenes to allow the audience multiple characters’ perspectives from which to view and understand what was occurring. Each season ended with a reunion special, where the star and the suitor of her choice interacted with the other contestants, as well as answered questions from the host and audience members.

The star of the first two seasons of the series, Asian-American Tila Tequila (also known as Tila Nguyen) was born as Thien Thanh Thi Nguyen in Vietnam and emigrated to the United States shortly after birth. As no stranger to notoriety and controversy, [6] Tila first became successful as a model for Playboy and various import car magazines, and later utilised social media to further her celebrity status, which included rebranding herself as ‘Tila Tequila’ in reference to her apparent alcohol allergy. (Brown n.d.) Joining the then-popular social networking site Myspace, Tila quickly gained fans through posting both music and sexually explicit fashion shots. By 2007, she had over 1.7 million fans subscribed to her page and became the most popular individual on Myspace. (Brown n.d.) Stemming from this increasing popularity, Tila quickly gained the attention of mainstream media, including a profile in Time magazine and making numerous lists of ‘hot’ women in men’s magazines, including Maxim and Stuff. From there, Tila continued to remain marketable and viable within the popular culture imaginary through selling calendars and posters, creating a clothing line, making guest appearances in mainstream films and maintaining a music career. (Grossman 2006) It was because of this popularity that she was offered the starring role in A Shot at Love.

As mentioned, at the beginning of the first season, the contestants only knew that they were on a reality dating show; they did not know who they would be meeting. In the voice-over that accompanied the scene in which Tila was about to come out to all the contestants, she stated that she was nervous about how they would react, but also how she would be perceived in general, as she had not yet come out as ‘bisexual’ to her parents. (‘Surprise! I Like Boys and Girls’ 2008) Once Tila came out to the contestants, she was met primarily with positive reactions from the men who thought that bisexuality was ‘sexy’. Upon finding out that Tila was bisexual and not, in fact, a lesbian, some of the women contestants felt betrayed, while others were upset that there were men involved in the process at all. In the scene when the contestants found out about Tila’s bisexuality, some of the men took it upon themselves to test and question the other women. Although they were introduced as ‘lesbians’, Tila’s attraction to men and women suggested that perhaps the other women’s sexuality might be a ‘lie’ too since they previously thought Tila was straight. (‘Can’t We All Just Get Along?’ 2008)

Describing her bisexuality in the popular understanding of the word, Tila stated that she likes men and women, but for different reasons. Emphasising normative gender ideals, she continued verbally confirming throughout the series that she was attracted to masculinity, but only in men, and femininity, but only in women. She said that she usually liked ‘girly’ or ‘lipstick lesbians’, as opposed to more androgynous or ‘butch’ lesbians, and traditional masculinity in the men on the show. The entire series complied with this understanding of sexuality, especially in the hypersexualized competitions,  [7] where women were tasked with being the sexiest, while men were required to prove their strength and reliability.

As the series progressed, Tila dated multiple people and ultimately selected two final contestants: Dani, a white, lesbian, who described herself as ‘futch’, a cross between ‘feminine’ and ‘butch’, and Bobby, a white, straight man. Tila chose to be with Bobby in the finale, although she later told the media that she wanted Dani but the producers made her opt for a man. (‘Interview: Tila Tequila’ 2009)

Season Two followed the same format, with Tila stating at the beginning that things did not work out with Bobby and that she was searching for love again. This time, the contestants were aware of who Tila was and that she was bisexual. Season Two ended with Tila taking Kristy, a white, out-bisexual, feminine-presenting woman and Bo, a white, straight man to the finale. Ultimately Tila chose Kristy, but Kristy declined her offer of a ‘shot at love’.

Following Tila’s departure at the end of Season Two, the third season gave the audience not just one new star but two. A Double Shot at Love with the Ikki Twins saw two white, attractive, identical blonde twin sisters, Erica ‘Rikki’ and Victoria ‘Vikki’ Mongeon as the bisexual stars on their quest for love. Earning popularity in similar ways as Tila, the twins had begun modelling in various calendars and motorcycle and car scenes/magazines and later, men’s magazines, including Playboy. (‘The Ikki Twins – Bio’ 2010) At the beginning of Season Three, they let the audience know that while they were both bisexual, they had never before dated the same people because they had very different tastes in romantic partners. In spite of any complications dating the same people might cause, they were still required to decide together who would be kept and who would be eliminated each week. (‘This Time, Let’s Make It A Double!’ 2008)

Screenshot from ShareTV.com


Although the contestants now understood that they were on a bisexual dating show, in keeping with the element of surprise, the twins first met the contestants individually, as they pretended to be the same person. This allowed the suitors to assume they were dating one woman as in previous seasons. It was only after meeting them all that the twins let the suitors know that there were, in fact, two of them and apologised for being dishonest — a common theme in representations of bisexuality. Maintaining the male, heterosexual fantasy of being with twins, Rikki and Vikki nearly always wore the same outfits, only with slight alterations and were often seen holding hands together, especially at the eviction ceremonies.

The twins continued to hold competitions for the contestants, and they went on dates both together and individually with the suitors. In the final episode, they chose Rebekah, a white woman, who had admitted to dating men in the past but was now looking for love with women and Trevor, a white, straight man. As there were two stars, each one could choose who they wanted to be with romantically from the two remaining contestants. Both Vikki and Rikki ended up choosing Trevor who ultimately chose Vikki, much to Rikki’s disappointment.

The Trope of the Hypersexual Bisexual

As previously stated, the series was structured around outlandish competitions that appeared to premise excessiveness as opposed to romance. One aspect of such excessiveness that became evident throughout the series was that of hypersexuality. References to hypersexuality were conspicuous in the intense close-ups of Tila Tequila and the Ikki twins’ bodies, as well as their revealing clothing, mentions of the stars’ careers as models, and the sexually charged dates with the contestants. In all of these instances, the stars of the series performed as always-already being sexually available and excessive. Such emphasis on sexual excessiveness was in part due to the series being produced by MTV, known as a hip and youthful network that focuses on sexuality more broadly. However, the shows’ framing of bisexuality worked to both perpetuate and reaffirm popular understandings of bisexuality as being a sexuality of excess, especially in relation to hetero- and homonormativity.

As many theorists of bisexuality have continuously noted, bisexuality is often conflated with hypersexuality, threesomes, and sexual adventure more generally. (Garber 1995; Pramaggiore 1996 (a,b); Burleson 2005; Eisner 2013; San Filippo 2013) And while hypersexuality is not problematic in itself, the ways in which it becomes regularly and often singularly used to define bisexuality often results in problematic outcomes. In more puritanical, traditional, and heteronormative cultural understandings, this stereotype works to produce a sexuality that is always at a distance, always ‘othered’. Regardless of the fact that people of all sexual orientations may subscribe to the sexualized labels used to denigrate bisexuality, this cultural framing instead positions bisexuals as often having to restate that they are not sexual ‘deviants’. If bisexuality is imagined as sexually excessive, intricately tied to popular fantasies of threesomes and polyamory, it is at a crux — denying that one is sexually excessive is made akin to denying that one is bisexual.

Therefore, representations of bisexuality most often become based on this stereotype to blatantly make bisexuality evident, as opposed to being confused with monosexuality. In A Shot at Love, this was most visible when the stars continuously dated and were intimate with contestants to make clear to the audience that they were really bisexual. Throughout all the seasons of the series, Tila and the Ikki twins kept stating how sexually voracious they were, often playing it up through sexually-charged competitions, dates and outings. Further, the house in which the series took place held a ‘secret’ sexy room with a dance pole. The house was announced as being Tila’s and the twins’ house in each respective season, again highlighting the sexual adventurousness of the stars and adding overall titillation to the series. All of these elements not only reified stereotypical gender binaries but also perpetuated assumptions about bisexuality as being hypersexual.

Finally — and perhaps this is the most obvious example of hypersexuality  the spin-off season had two stars – twin sisters – which not only reproduced the idea of bisexuality as being imagined in relation to threesomes but also intensified this through glorifying incest and the heterosexual male fantasy of being with sisters/having them fight over one man. In addition to having the twins literally sharing the same dates, the same contestant would often get kissed by the twins one after the other. In the final episodes, it was hinted that the twins were each sexually intimate with the remaining contestants; such scenes were often edited as though the encounters occurred in succession. The fact that the sisters chose the same final contestant only crowned the themes of incest/threesomes/sharing sisters in the series finale.

Hypersexuality x2

While there has been a substantial amount of work done on conjoined twins, particularly around historical documentation and critical disability studies in relation to critiques of ‘freak shows’, until recently, there has been little to no academic work on the sexualisation of twins in popular culture. [8] Two exceptions are Lauren Rosewarne’s Part-Time Perverts: Sex, Pop Culture, and Kink Management (2011) and Carmine Sarracino and Kevin Scott’s The Porning of America: The Rise of Porn Culture, What It Means, and Where We Go from Here (2008). In both sources, however, references to the sexualisation of twins in popular culture are limited. Rosewarne briefly references the twins in the Coors’ commercials that aired during the 2002-2003 NFL season; Sarracino and Scott discuss Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen in relation to the sexualisation of children as opposed to the sexualisation of their ‘twinness’. (Rosewarne 2011: 48-49; Sarracino & Scott 2008: 23-28)

A notable mainstream contribution that provides critical insights into the hypersexualisation of twins comes with Elena Carter’s critique of the ‘good girl’ vs ‘bad girl’ labels. In her discussion about the aftermath of being date-raped and how these labels are used to organise and control women, Carter highlights how being a twin seemed to exaggerate these sentiments even more. The author mentions that she and her twin sister were often asked to label themselves — or others would do so for them — as ‘a good twin’ and an ‘evil twin’, often with implied sexual undertones. (Carter 2014) In critiquing the objectification and overt sexualisation of this question (and others), Carter (quoting Elin and Hennie Weiss) situates these questions and sentiments against a larger cultural obsession with identical twin sisters, one that reads them as not being individuals and instead hypersexualises them as a unit:

‘Sometimes men ask us if we’ve ever slept with the same man, or even if we’ve ever slept with the same man at the same time. The sexualisation of identical twins is troubling to us because it suggests that identical female twins are not viewed as individuals, but as a pair or a twosome. It also creates the notion that identical twins are somehow more sexual than other women, or interested in having sex with the same partner. At the same time it endorses a creepy sexual or sensual bond between twins that borders on incestuous.’ (Carter 2014)

This quote points to many of the same themes available in A Double Shot at Love, namely that of hypersexualisation of twins through references to threesomes, fantasies of consensual incest, and the de-individualisation of Rikki and Vikki. [9]

These are themes that are also evident in Karen Dillon’s book The Spectacle of Twins in American Literature and Popular Culture (2018), whose Chapter Two, in particular, is dedicated entirely to the topic of ‘twincest’. Dillon’s discussion of ‘twincest’ and ‘triangulated desire’ offers considerable insights into these topics. Her conclusions also prove fruitful when applied to A Double Shot at Love and hypersexualisation. Throughout her chapter, Dillon carefully works through both themes by providing an in-depth examination of several literary and popular culture examples. In the extreme, twincest is made literal in these examples, with a romantic and/or sexual union occurring between twins in popular culture narratives, as, for example, Jami and Cersi Lannister from Game of Thrones. (Dillon 2018: 51) In many other examples, however, twincest is represented through triangulated desire, where a third party fantasises about having sex with twins.

Similar to Carter’s critique, the key to this sexual fantasy of twins in popular culture is de-individualisation. As Dillon notes, ‘In many cases, the fantasy of having sex with twins is simply the fantasy of doubling the sexual partner because, in the treatment of twins as indistinguishable from one another, one twin is as good as the next’. (Dillon 2018: 53-54) Drawing on the work of Sarracino and Scott (2008), Dillon effectively highlights the hypersexualisation of twins through a discussion of the ‘porning’ of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, which grew in popularity as the twins inched closer to their 18th birthday. While this overt sexualization was made most apparent in online porn engines and ‘twin tracker’ websites that counted down the days until their 18th birthday, mainstream media also took part in maintaining and perpetuating this fantasy, perhaps most notoriously through the 2003 Rolling Stone’s sexualized cover image titled ‘America’s Favorite Fantasy’. (Dillon 2018: 58)

Dillon further illustrates how twins lose their individuality through popular sexual fantasies by drawing on Shari Waxman’s discussion of the Coors’ commercials featuring twins Diane and Elaine Klimaszewski. (Waxman 2013) After interviewing several of her male friends in an effort to understand the allure of female twins, Waxman discovers that many men seem not to be aware (or perhaps choose not to be aware) that twins are, in fact, related despite their identical appearance:

‘It was astonishing how many times I heard this from men who had read and/or heard the word ‘twins’ while looking at the two physically identical women and still hadn’t put 2 and 2 together. Even men who knew that Diane and Elaine are real twins were dumbfounded when I pointed out their blood relationship. They had never thought about it that way; they had never thought about it any way’. (Waxman 2013)

Instead, many of the surveyed men viewed Diane and Elaine as the same due to their identical appearances, which was further amplified by their identical outfits. Within the heterosexual male fantasy, Diane and Elaine (and, arguably, other female twins) are seen as ‘a bargain. At least for fantasy purposes, men seem to perceive the pair as essentially one woman, with the bonus of two bodies. Two bodies servicing his body. Four boobs for the price of two’. (Waxman 2013)

Similar de-individualisation of Rikki and Vikki in A Shot at Love occurred most obviously in the first episode when the contestants were tricked into thinking they were interacting with only one woman, as Rikki and Vikki continuously switched spots with each other. Later in the episode, Rikki gathered the group to tell them that she had a secret to share, stating, ‘Yes, I am Rikki, but there is someone that I want you to meet’, cueing Vikki’s entrance. The group looked on in both shock and pleasure, and once the twins were joined together they stated in unison, ‘This season, we’re gonna make it a double!’, to which the contestants cheered and the men high-fived each other in congratulations. (‘This Time, Let’s Make It A Double!’ 2008) The sisters’ individuality was additionally hampered by the identical outfits they wore, their speaking in unison, their taking turns dating and kissing the suitors, and the fact that many of the suitors were falling in love with both of them, most obviously Trevor, who stated that he was in love with both despite only being able to choose one in the end.

With the reduction of two into one and the intimacy between the suitors and the twins, triangulation, or ‘twincest’, seemed to have been written figuratively within the scope of the season. This was perhaps further compounded by the threat that triangulated desire brings to the relationship between the twins themselves. According to Dillon,

‘[T]he introduction of desire into the closed twin relationship precipitates a crisis when twinship becomes conflated with romantic partnership. One twin’s desire for a romantic partner threatens the stability of the twins’ relationship and sometimes triangulates desire between twins and the interloping lover. The latter triangulation translates into a figurative twincest that signifies desire (rather than sex) between twins.’ (Dillon 2018: 53)

This threat to the stability of the relationship between Rikki and Vikki was evident throughout the season, but especially as the twins became more invested in the romantic relationships they were forming with the suitors. In the episode ‘Lickety Split’, Rikki and Vikki held a date with the suitors in a hot-tub. In Rikki’s confessional that accompanied this scene, Rikki stated that Vikki was trying to establish rapport with the contestants by making-out with them all, which then hampered any connection that Rikki was trying to build with them. (‘Lickety Split’ 2008) Upset by seeing her sister make-out with men and women to whom Rikki was also attracted, she ended the date short. This jealousy between the twins continued in many of the remaining episodes of the season and appeared most prominently when the sisters were debating which contestants should remain and whom they should ask to leave.

The threat to the stability of their sisterhood culminated in the season finale decision where both twins chose Trevor, but only one ended up with a match. Not only was this a betrayal to Rikki, as Trevor told her he was in love with her, but this decision also appeared as a betrayal or rupturing of the relationship between the sisters who both desired Trevor. Rikki was forced out of the triangulated relationship, transforming the relationship into a conventional, heteronormative pairing

It is important to note that triangulated desire was two-fold within A Double Shot at Love. In connection with Dillon’s work, triangulated desire and figurative twincest existed in the show through the relationship of the twins and the suitors with whom they romantically engaged. At the same time, it was ever-present because of the twins’ bisexuality. In a study of bisexual representations in media and popular culture, Marjorie Garber theorises the ‘bisexual plot’ in Vice Versa: Bisexuality and the Eroticism of Everyday Life (1995). In her analysis, Garber argues that in literature and film bisexuality is primarily represented in a triangular relationship with hetero- and homosexuality. This becomes most visible through an ‘erotic triangulation in which one person is torn between life with a man and life with a woman’. (Garber 1995: 456)

Similarly, Rikki and Vikki were each singularly triangulated (and othered or queered) through their simultaneous romantic connection with the men and women in the series. Their relationship with the contestants was queered because of their bisexuality, but it was also queered, as Dillon argues, through their twinship. Borrowing from David Halperin’s 2003 discussion of queer theory, Dillon ‘queers’ twins’ sameness through their positionality to normativity, especially in and through representations of their ‘intense identification with one another’, which leads to cultural imaginings of both literal and figurative romances in popular culture. (Dillon 2018: 52) In this respect, this imagined union renders twins within the popular imaginary as a non-normative relationship of sorts, thus queered. Rikki and Vikki were queered through popular imaginings of their twinship and their bisexuality, both of which were represented as hypersexual – the hypersexual twins, alluding to figurative twincest, and the hypersexual bisexuals, who were always-already made hypersexual through their bisexuality. In both cases, Rikki and Vikki were othered through their perceived challenge to hetero- and homonormativity. If they undoubtedly challenged conventional notions of heteronormativity, their roles in the show also questioned homonormativity’s quest for ‘just like you’ politics. At least, that is, until the final eviction ceremony, where Vikki and Trevor joined together in normative, romantic union sans Rikki.

The Racialization of Hypersexuality

While Rikki and Vikki’s apparent hypersexuality was developed simultaneously through their bisexuality, their careers as adult magazine models and their status as identical twins, Tila Tequila’s apparent hypersexuality was also composed of multiple, interworking parts — her bisexuality, her career as an adult magazine model, and through a process of racialisation. In fact, Tila’s rise to fame was in part due to her becoming the first ‘Asian Cyber Girl of the Month’ for Playboy. (‘Tila Tequila Biography’ n.d.) Her identity in the series, and in popular culture more generally, was thus in part constructed through her sexualised identification as an Asian woman, as envisioned through an Orientalist scope.

Rachel E. Dubrofsky’s discussion of race and racialization in the reality television show The Bachelor (and its spin-off, The Bachelorette) highlights how the Orientalist fantasy of ‘the harem’ occupies the space of this dating program. (Dubrofsky 2011) The culturally imagined space of the harem is one where white, Western men have a bevvy of Eastern women at their service. Within this Orientalist trope, ‘the powerful, masculine West dominates the weaker, feminised East’. (Dubrofsky 2011: 37) This trope is obviously evident in the fact that The Bachelor involves all-white male stars — minus Juan Pablo Galavis, the first Latino bachelor to be cast in all twenty-two seasons of the series — with a plethora of beautiful women, all living in the same mansion, seemingly just waiting to be called upon by the bachelor. Dubrofsky also notes the ways in which the harem theme and Orientalism more generally persist throughout the series as a whole, from the decor, date activities, travel destinations, and so on. (Dubrofsky 2011)

This critical analysis of ‘the harem’ trope on The Bachelor was also evident in all seasons of A Shot at Love. What is interesting, though, is how this concept simultaneously became reified and reversed through Tila Tequila. Tila, a woman of colour, was presented as the one in control on the series, including having a large group of potential love interests at her call.  However, in similar ways to how the trope of ‘the harem’ was used to produce a very particular, sexually-motivated imagining of Eastern women, representations of Tila Tequila also always-already existed in Orientalist imaginings.

In the Western popular culture, representations of Asian women often become based upon racialised, Orientalist imaginings, where Asian women are situated within the realm of sexuality. (Yamamoto 2000; Shimizu 2007; Rajgopal 2010) In particular, these imaginings, whether representing the timid and subservient, the coy and alluring, or the excessive and dangerous, often work to reproduce similar tropes of Asian women’s sexuality which exists primarily to uphold white, Western masculinity. As Traise Yamamoto notes, while these popular culture representations may appear to be diverse, they often conflate Asian and Asian American women into a homogenous category that all work to maintain ‘normative’ ideas of whiteness and sexual power and ‘the promises of liberal multiculturalism’. (Yamamoto 2000: 43) This is the space, then, in which representations of Tila Tequila’s sexuality need to be understood.

However, it is equally important to situate Tila’s agency within this conversation, as an active entrepreneur in the performance of her sexuality. In The Hypersexuality of Race: Performing Asian/American Women on Screen and Scene (2007), Celine Parreñas Shimizu analyzes performances, production, and consumption of Asian and Asian American women’s sexuality from screen to stage, artistic productions, and independent and mainstream film and pornography, in addition to other cultural sites. (Shimizu 2007) While recognising the gendered and racialised historical spaces of these representations, productions, and processes of consumption, Shimizu also highlights the subversive possibilities available, especially in accounting for variety and nuance in the consumption and performance of racialised hypersexuality. By articulating these representations only in terms of ‘good’ vs ‘bad’, ‘problematic’ vs ‘positive’, one risks simplifying the meaning to that of only racism, sexism, homophobia, as opposed to recognising the intricate ways marginalised communities interact with such representations. In articulating these nuances, Shimizu calls for an application of ‘productive perversity’, which involves productively engaging with these ‘bad’ representations to work towards establishing

‘a different identity along with established sexual images so as to expand racial agendas beyond the need to establish normality and standardisation. To engage hypersexuality as a politically productive perversity pays attention to the formulations of sexual and racial identity that critique normative scripts for sexually and racially marginalized subjects’. (Shimizu 2007: 21)

Returning to Tila, it is important to recognise the variety of ways in which her performance of hypersexuality can be understood. As a reality series star, in addition to her career in adult modelling and pornography, Tila’s performance of hypersexuality can undoubtedly be read as a very specific and purposeful representation of herself. Because the series was premised, at least at first glance, on her active role as the romantic lead, an alternative envisioning of her hypersexuality becomes a possibility. In this space, the active performance of her sexuality in connection with her role as a power-figure, who had a large group of potential love interests at her whim, offers a reversal of sorts to the popular Orientalist trope of ‘the harem’, as discussed above. Here, the simultaneous recognition and use of Tila’s sexuality as being ascribed to gendered, racialised, and biphobic imaginings offers the potential to create ‘new morphologies in representation and in history’. (Shimizu 2007: 26)

Shimizu’s concept of ‘productive perversity’ is radical and offers exciting opportunities to discuss representations of bisexuality more generally. However, while still keeping in mind the ‘productive perversity’ possibilities of Tila’s hypersexuality in the series, I want to return to how these representations, in connection to larger, recycled themes/tropes, do work to still maintain the status quo. This return seems especially pertinent in that Tila states that she is not as ‘excessive’ as she was made to appear on the series: ‘I want my real fans to know that the crazy Girls Gone Wild chick on the show, that’s not me. It was frustrating as hell. But I know how much it did for me, so I’m not complaining’. (Tequila 2008: 77) Here, Tila recognises the ways in which she was portrayed in the show as well as critiques that depiction of herself. While she ultimately does not seem overly troubled with that representation, acknowledging that such a portrayal has benefited her professionally, the fact that she states that it is not how she ‘really’ is further hints at the purposeful ways in which she was depicted by the series. As such, these depictions of Tila’s hypersexuality contribute to the maintenance of very limited, homogenous representations of not only bisexuality but gender and race as well.

Meet the Family: Bisexuals vs. Normativity

In all three seasons of A Shot at Love, the performance of hypersexuality/bisexuality became especially apparent when Tila and the twins met the remaining four contestants’ families in each respective season. In nearly all the visits, but especially when Tila and the twins visited the families of male contestants, hypersexuality and general excessiveness — arguably, loud, rude, uncomfortable behaviour — was performed to the extreme. It is not clear why this excessiveness appeared to be performed in such a manner, although it seemed to be done as a way to scare and make the more conventional families uncomfortable. Discomfort functioned as not only ‘playing up’ the stereotypes around the stars themselves — as adult/sports magazine models and reality television stars — but also worked to reaffirm mainstream understandings about bisexuality as being hypersexual, risqué, carefree, and above all, non-normative. This performance becomes particularly interesting in relationship to the countless times Tila and the Ikki twins claimed the legitimacy of their bisexuality, their need to be taken seriously, and their search for long-term love interests on the show.

While meeting the contestants’ loved ones, Tila and the twins were seen to be continuously flirting with not only the contestant they were ‘dating’— as their relatives often looked on in discomfort but the family members as well, often telling them how ‘hot’ and ‘sexy’ they were. This flirting sometimes escalated to provocative dancing with family members while their dates looked on. For instance, Tila offered an erotic lap-dance for Dani’s grandmother in Season One. Both Tila and the twins also asked many of the family members if they were also bisexual, and when told ‘no’ by most, the stars worked to encourage bisexuality in them. In Season One, Dani’s grandmother was asked by Tila if she was bisexual and on another occasion, Tila vocally wished Ryan’s sister had been bisexual since Tila found her attractive. In A Double, Scott’s entire family was asked about their bisexuality by the twins.

Overall, general sexually charged behaviour and debauchery were evident throughout the show. Additional examples of this include in Season One Tila ‘accidentally’ got whipped cream on her breasts and asked Bobby’s younger brother to ‘help’ her wipe it off, as Bobby’s mother appeared to look upset at the situation. In Season Two, Tila spanked Kristy’s father’s buttocks and rubbed her breasts in Kristy’s aunt’s face. When visiting Brittany’s family, Tila simulated performing fellatio on a pickle and then asked Brittany’s father, who was visibly uncomfortable, if he would like ‘some of her pickle?’ Finally, in the third season, Rikki had Scott’s mother and aunt take shots of Manischewitz from her breasts.

More specifically, two scenes stand out as examples of excessive hypersexualisation. In Season Two, Tila travelled to Paramus, New Jersey to meet the family of Jay, one of the last two male contestants (‘Keep It In The Family’ 2008). Almost immediately upon meeting them, she proclaimed how attractive they all were, stating that Jay’s mother and step-mother were ‘MILFs’ (‘Mothers I’d like to Fuck’). In addition to Tila’s sexuality being seen as intriguing and fun, Jay’s family, who is Jewish, also seemed to find Tila’s race to be an ‘exotic’ factor. In particular, while having dinner together, Jay’s mother noted that she had continuously told her son that marrying a Jewish woman wouldn’t do since ‘all day all you want is soy sauce and teriyaki sauce!’ and so marrying an Asian woman, like Tila, would be perfect for him. Tila laughed it off in the moment but in her confessional, she admitted that the comment from Jay’s mother was ‘weird’ and appeared uncomfortable by it all. In similar ways to how Tila’s sexuality on the show became understood through stereotypes, so did her race, resulting in a tokenisation of her identity, referencing larger cultural motifs of the fetishisation of Asian women.

Later, Jay and Tila began to make-out at the dinner table, and Jay’s mother commented on how her son should share. As they were eating dinner, this comment could have been made about something else, but the scene was edited in such a way that it appeared as though she was referring to Jay sharing Tila with her/the other family members. This was confirmed to the audience when Jay’s father then pointed to his wife, Jay’s step-mother, and said to Tila, ‘why don’t you come to her?’ Tila then went over to Jay’s step-mother, danced on her, and then proceeded to kiss her while the rest of the family watched and Jay yelled ‘get her!’. Tila then moved on to Jay’s mother and kissed her. In her confessional that accompanied this scene, Tila stated, ‘wow, that was kinda hot. It felt more like a family orgy and not so much a family dinner’. (‘Keep It In The Family’ 2008) The scene continued to perform hypersexuality, as well as references to fetishising incest, as Tila told Jay’s two mothers to show her their breasts, which they did, and then they kissed each other. The scene ended by having the group together in a hot tub, while the audience watched Tila get passed around from person to person, at times sitting on their laps, interspersed with clips of Jay’s two sets of parents making-out together and the two mothers kissing each other again, as well as Tila and Jay making out while his family watched. Tila’s confessional ended this scene by stating that Jay’s family was ‘wild’ and ‘unconventional’ and that ‘overall, being in Jersey with Jay’s family felt like a porn convention’. (‘Keep It In The Family’ 2008) Despite the perceived ‘unconventional’ nature of Jay’s family, however, the performance of their excessiveness was always done for and in reaction to Tila’s perceived excessiveness – it could not function as excessive without reference to Tila’s bisexuality and the series.

In A Double Shot at Love, Rikki and Vikki travelled to Pennsylvania to meet Trevor’s ‘conservative’ family, who were all shocked to see that he had brought home twin sisters as his romantic love interests. The topic of bisexuality quickly came up as the twins discussed the premise of the series and their sexuality. Evidently, this was an issue for Trevor’s family, as his father made it clear that he was uncomfortable with the fact that they were bisexual as he did not think it was ‘morally’ right’. (‘Family Matters’ 2009) The twins tried to express that just because they were bisexual did not mean that they did not believe in monogamy — a key moment where hetero- and homonormativity was enacted — and they stressed that their interest in Trevor was real. In spite of this proclamation of normativity, the remainder of this scene continued to present bisexuality as hypersexual, performed, amoral, and unconventional, especially in juxtaposition with Trevor’s family. While still all together at the dinner table, Trevor proceeded to kiss both of the twins in succession, much to his parents’ shock. The scene ended with the twins offering to ‘help’ with cleaning up, which resulted in them both standing at the sink rinsing dishes while Vikki continuously slapped Rikki’s buttocks. Rikki then continued to drop cutlery on the kitchen floor so that Vikki would have to bend over to pick it up and each time she did, her skirt rolled up to show her underwear. (‘Family Matters’ 2009)

All of these scenes existed within the larger context of the series, which saw Tila and Rikki and Vikki continuously stating their quests to find ‘real’ – read: ‘normative’ – love. In addition to this, they all declared– in their confessions to the audience watching as well as to the contestants they were dating – that they above all wanted to be taken seriously, especially in terms of having their bisexuality seen as legitimate. These proclamations of authenticity were performed not only through their affirmations but also by eliminating contestants who were seen not to be taking the experience seriously. And yet, while meeting the families of the final four contestants, Tila and the twins performed acts that could be read as unreliable and sexually charged/motivated, as opposed to a ‘pure’ motivation of traditional conceptions of ‘love’, again collapsing their bisexuality with these ‘inappropriate’ acts. In addition to the actions of Tila and the twins being read as ‘excessive’, within these scenes, they always existed in conversation with the other identities/sexualities, where the ‘traditional’ family structures, dinners, and actions fed into normalising heteronormative ideals in juxtaposition to the voracious, ‘othered’ sexuality of Tila and the twins.

A Lesson in Hetero- and Homonormativity

This reification of hetero- and homonormative ideals was undoubtedly central to A Shot at Love series through the overarching themes of monogamy and ‘settling down’. Here, both ‘monogamy’ and the idea that one must ‘settle down’ as in traditional romantic narratives became specifically linked with bisexuality’s apparent polyamory and instability. As Tila, Rikki, and Vikki dated and formed romantic connections with multiple contestants at the same time, bisexuality-as-polyamorous became further solidified within the larger popular imaginary. Moreover, as the straight and lesbian contestants were prohibited from dating anyone else but the main stars, the two groups became additionally connected through their shared monogamy. (Richter 2011: 131) Unlike bisexuality, hetero- and homosexuality operated as stable, rational sexualities due to their shared monogamy. This was even evident in A Double Shot at Love when the contestants dated both Rikki and Vikki; here, their polyamory was seen as an extension of the twins and their desires, as opposed to being out of the contestants’ own volition since they were not originally made aware of the twin-twist when auditioning for the series.

The ‘traditional’ romance narratives evoked through homo- and heterosexuality in the series, bisexuality’s ‘chic’ factor and the already-established popular understandings of bisexuality, and the series’ presence on MTV, all encouraged readings of bisexuality and Tila and the twins’ romances as being ‘trendy’, superficial, and temporary. As the straight and lesbian contestants were connected through monogamy, monogamy was maintained as the norm and homo- and heterosexuality became additionally presented as ‘truthful’ and ‘authentic’. When Tila and the twins confessed their bisexuality to the straight men and lesbians, their bisexuality was presented as ‘shocking’ to the contestants, with many of the straight men finding this a sexy and exciting addition to the competition and with many of the lesbians finding this to be deceptive. In both cases, straight and lesbian sexual identities were represented as stable and authentic, and not deceptive and out of the ordinary. It was through learning these confessions that the straight and lesbian contestants became intricately connected together and established as normative in opposition to bisexuality. (Richter 2011: 131)

The series further maintained hetero- and homonormative ideals through its sensationalism, its outlandish competitions and sexual provocation. The maintenance of hetero- and homonormativity was also realised through the dominant social and political gay rights mobilisation that was happening as the series aired [8]. Since bisexuality was presented in such chaotic, hypersexual, and ‘confusing’ ways, the adventures of Tila and the twins were presented as cautionary tales of debauchery. The frivolity of not only their sexuality but the entire presentation of the dating competition stood in stark opposition to the more ‘legitimate’ social, legal, and political mainstream movements that sought to gain status through the understanding that gay and lesbian individuals are ‘just like’ straight individuals. Ultimately, bisexuality in the A Shot at Love series appeared removed from the possibility of being ‘just like’ homo- and/or heterosexuality because of its perceived positionality of being ‘non-normative’ and excessive.


[1] My preferred definition of bisexuality aligns closely with that of Robyn Ochs’ (bisexual activist and educator) which states, ‘I call myself bisexual because I acknowledge that I have in myself the potential to be attracted romantically and/or sexually to people of more than one sex and/or gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree’ (Ochs n.d.), as well as the definition of ‘same and different’, which sees bisexuality as being ‘attraction to people of genders similar to and different from one’s own’. (Eisner 2013: 25) However, due to this analysis’ focus on mainstream, popular culture representations of bisexuality, I read and analyse bisexuality throughout this article using a mainstream, dominant understanding of bisexuality as being attraction to both men and women.

[2] While out of the purview of this article, Jasbir Puar’s 2007 Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times offers an excellent example of some of these ‘normalizing projects’ through an exploration of ‘homonationalism’.

[3] Important to note, the Canadian fictional show Lost Girl (2010-2015) while not explicitly about bisexuality, does feature a bisexual character (Bo) as the central character of the series. While equal attention has been paid to Bo’s attraction to men and women, bisexuality here still exists within the ‘imaginary’ and ‘monstrous’, literally, as Bo is a lethal succubus who straddles her humanity and monstrosity while interacting with both humans and other ‘fae’ (non-human entities).

[4] All contextual information on and discussion provided for Tila Tequila and Rikki and Vikki are made with reference to the series only and, in particular, 2006-2010.

[5] A Shot at Love series is also one of the very few reality dating series to feature non-heterosexuality as its central focus. One exception to this is the 2003 reality dating show Boy Meets Boy, where a gay man is the central star searching for love amongst a group of men, with the ‘twist’ being that the group of suitors is comprised of both straight and gay men (unbeknownst to the main star). Viewers are let in on the secret, learning that if the main star unknowingly chooses a straight man in the end the straight suitor wins a cash prize, and if a gay man is chosen the couple both win the cash prize and a paid vacation. (DiPasquale and Karnopp 2003) The series aired on the Bravo network for one season consisting of six episodes. There have also been reality series that replicate the ‘twist’ of Boy Meets Boy, where the main star must decipher whether the potential suitors are straight or gay men (2004’s Playing It Straight on FOX, and Gay, Straight or Taken? airing on Lifetime in 2007), although these series maintained heteronormativity by casting straight women as the ones searching for love.

[6] This analysis of Tila Tequila and bisexuality only includes her work up to and including the series itself, and not her public image thereafter. It should be noted, however, that due to the fact that the Shot at Love series is a “reality” series and that the series is seen as her main breakthrough into popular culture, it becomes impossible to separate herself and her public persona since the show (including disclosures of mental illness and public racist outbursts) from her bisexuality as illustrated on A Shot at Love. Combined, these instances further work to illustrate how both Tila and her connection to bisexuality (through the popularity of the series) are understood as excessive, unstable, and fake.

[7] Some of these competitions include: food eating competitions where contestants must eat pigs’ vaginas and bulls’ penises; the ‘bi-athalon’, a cleverly named competition that occurs in all three seasons of the series that sees the contestants competing in sexually-themed events like searching for a ‘pearl necklace’ (sexual slang for the ejaculation of semen on another person’s neck/chest) and diving into a pit of ‘blue balls’ (sexual slang for testicular pain caused by apparent sexual frustration); and a timed competition where contestants must lick icing off of the bodies of mannequins made to resemble Rikki and Vikki.

[8] While there has been little academic work on the sexualization of twins, mainstream journalism has paid some attention to this topic in articles exploring the popularity of incest and ‘twincest’ porn. (see Thomas Rogers’ 2010 ‘Gay Porn’s Most Shocking Taboo’ and Luke O’Neil’s 2018 ‘Incest is the Fastest Growing Trend in Porn. Wait, What?’)

[9] Interestingly, twins also appeared in Season Two of A Shot at Love, where twin brothers both compete for Tila’s heart. Tila decides to eliminate one of the brothers during the first elimination and in her confessional (which is played during the eviction ceremony) she states that it was strange to have brothers there and that it would be weird to kiss one and then the other, adding ‘I mean, who dates brothers?’. (‘Another Shot of Tequila’)

[10] These include: the Lawrence v. Texas ruling in 2003, which legalized same-sex sexual activity in every U.S. state by striking down Texas’ sodomy law (The Associated Press 2003); the gay marriage rights movement, where Massachusetts became the first U.S. state to legalize gay marriage in 2003 (although this ruling was not put into effect until 2004) (Lavoie 2013); and the repeal of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy in 2010 (although this repeal did not come into effect until September of 2011). (Bumiller 2011)



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TV Series

‘Another Shot of Tequila’ (2008), A Shot at Love II With Tila Tequila, ex. prod. SallyAnn Salsano. 

A Double Shot at Love with the Ikki Twins (2008-2009), ex. prod. SallyAnn Salsano and Scott Jeffress (one season).

A Shot at Love II with Tila Tequila (2008), created by Riley McCormick (one season).

A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila (2007), created by Riley McCormick (one season).

Boy Meets Boy (2003), created by Douglas Ross, Dean Minerd, and Tom Campbell (one season).

‘Can’t We All Just Get Along?’ (2008), A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila, ex. prod. SallyAnn Salsano.

‘Family Matters’ (2009), A Double Shot at Love with the Ikki Twins, ex. prod. SallyAnn Salsano and Scott Jeffress.

Gay, Straight or Taken? (2007), ex. prod. Julia Silverton, Jenelle Lindsay, and Joe Livecchi (one season).

‘Keep It In The Family’ (2008), A Shot at Love II with Tila Tequila, ex. prod. SallyAnn Salsano.

‘Lickety Split’ (2008), A Double Shot at Love with The Ikki Twins, ex. prod. SallyAnn Salsano and Scott Jeffress.

Lost Girl (2010-2015), created by Michelle Lovretta (five seasons).

Playing It Straight (2004, 2012), ex. prod. Ciara Byrne and Jeremy Mills (two seasons).

‘Surprise! I Like Boys and Girls’ (2008), A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila, ex. prod. SallyAnn Salsano.

‘This Time, Let’s Make It A Double!’ (2008), A Double Shot at Love with the Ikki Twins, ex. prod. SallyAnn Salsano and Scott Jeffress.

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