Reality show drive-by: Wedding Island

There is always potential for a wedding to descend into screaming chaos

Wedding Island is set in the picturesque island of Vieques.
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Considering how many of us get married and attend weddings, you would think that someone would have figured out the magic trick to make weddings effortless. But no, there is always the potential for things to go completely awry, resulting in embarrassing public displays in front of all your friends and family — which, of course, makes weddings a perfect subject for reality television.

That's why someone like Sandy Malone has a show of her own. She's a husky-voiced wedding planner based in the tiny Puerto Rican island of Vieques — or, to be specific, she's the only wedding planner on the 20-mile-long, five-mile-wide island. Two-thirds of the island used to belong to the military up until five years ago, and since being demilitarized, it has seen a dramatic rise in its wedding industry, thanks in no small part to its bevy of picturesque beaches and dreamy wedding backdrops.

But Malone is not just a wedding planner. She's also the full-package in terms of a reality TV personality: Frantic, prone to angry outbursts, insanely dedicated to her job, and far from glamorous as she trots around in oversized t-shirts, flip-flops, and unkempt hair.

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In its premiere episode, TLC introduces us to Malone and her tiny staff of four (including her low-key husband Bill), while capturing her attempt to make wedding magic for two different couples. To be expected, both weddings have a laundry list of things that go wrong, setting up cliffhanger after cliffhanger in tidy and dramatic fashion.

First up, there's Laura and Wes from Colorado, who are having their wedding at a private home on a hill in Vieques. It's a messy rush for Sandy to get to the airport on time and greet the shy couple, thanks to a mix-up that has her forgetting to make her usual welcome basket, which is filled with items that are "hard to find on the island." The best part is that even through the show blurs out the products in the basket, one enormous bag of Tostitos is clearly visible as the centerpiece.

We learn quickly that the hardest part of being a wedding planner on Vieques is the fact that everything, from the food to the drinks, must be imported, including, most importantly, wedding day flowers. When Sandy finds out that thousands of dollars of flowers have been sitting on the tarmac at the San Juan airport, she loses her mind and must make half a dozen phone calls to figure out how to get the delicate delivery to the wedding on time without them wilting.

But that freakout is nothing compared to when she finds out no beer was delivered to the wedding location because her assistant Stephanie, a tough-looking woman with a helmet of platinum blonde hair and tattoos, forgot to add it to the list. Sandy's angry, fire-breathing face as she confronts Stephanie is one for the reality TV hall of fame, and a surefire reason to keep tuning in week after week.

The day of the wedding, all sorts of things go off the rails in just the way they should. There's a delay on the tables and chairs getting delivered, but Sandy reminds us that the rental company is the only one on the island so there's little she can do, especially because most everyone on Vieques adheres to a fanciful non-clock known as "island time." The wedding finally seems to be on the right track when rain starts dumping down on the dance floor, requiring Sandy and her staff to immediately rework the set-up and place the parquet under an overhang. The bride and groom get slightly doused, but the wedding is far enough along that she and her new husband seem just fine with a little tropical shower. All in all, it's a success!

While Wes and Laura's wedding is the meat of the episode, we also see Sandy pull together a more low-key wedding on the beach for another couple, Terry and Franco. This wedding requires several tents and enough electricity to light the entire beach. The customary panic attack segment involves the truly slapstick problems Sandy encounters with her staff as they attempt to build a bamboo chuppah — the simple canopy at the end of the aisle — that falls apart over and over again no matter how it's positioned in the sand.

Meanwhile, a checkerboard dance floor becomes a mess after her staff clearly gives up on arranging the parquet tiles in a black-and-white sequence, and just begins slapping squares wherever, creating a jumbled and hilarious end result that Sandy forces them to redo.

The prospect of catastrophe is, of course, the key to a show like this, and a basic premise that TLC has been trading on for years now. Wedding Island, alongside other TLC shows like Say Yes To The Dress, My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, and Four Weddings all remind us that we're in a cultural moment of wedding obsession that pours out of magazine stands, TV screens, and our own Facebook feeds. Perhaps it's not surprising, given that a wedding is usually the biggest event of a couple's life outside of having children, but it is interesting to see the multitude of ways a network like TLC approaches the event. And for that reason, it's smart to tackle destination weddings from the inside, and show the late-night flower arranging, frazzled phone calls, and old-fashioned hard work that goes into pulling off the whole shebang.

And when you've got a Tasmanian Devil like Sandy as your guide through that briar patch, you're in good hands for all the inevitable bumps and scratches you're bound to encounter.

More reality show drive-bys...

  • The Real Housewives of Orange County
  • Celebrity Wife Swap
  • Princesses: Long Island

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Jessica Jardine is from Northern California and has written for The Onion's A.V. Club, FILTER, BUST, Backstage, and She is also a performer at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Los Angeles and owns a Calico Persian cat named Beyoncé.