Warning: Spoilers ahead for “Love in the Jungle.”
The best way I can describe “Love in the Jungle,” a new reality dating show from discovery+, is that it’s a mixture of “Survivor” and “Love Island,” with a dash of “Naked and Afraid.”
And, surprisingly, I love it.
Besides 2006’s “Flavor of Love” on VH1, dating shows normally don’t really appeal to me. But the admittedly corny premise of “Love in the Jungle” spoke to me in a way that the Christian-infused and very popular “Bachelor”/”Bachelorette” franchise never has.
Each episode follows 14 unlucky-in-love single people in the Colombian wilderness using “animal instincts” to find, as the show puts it, a mate. But, like the animal personas they’ve chosen to represent themselves, they aren’t aren’t allowed to speak. The pack — which includes personalities like Paige, a former collegiate athlete (starfish) and Dylan, who has a manbun and giant Jewish star and cross tattoos (mandrill) — can only connect through body language, unintelligible noises and, inevitably, a lot of physical touch.
However, the contestants have the ability to “become the alpha” (win dates where they’re allowed to speak) by participating in competitions modeled after bizarre mating rituals specific to species like the mustache toad and the flamingo.
At the end of each episode, the pack goes through a token exchange ceremony wherein everyone pairs up with someone else based on chemistry. The catch? The one person who is left without a mate is “banished from the jungle” — and then a new single is introduced, wreaking havoc on the established pairs. Ultimately, the goal of the show is to make it to the final token exchange having found love.
The premise and execution of “Love in the Jungle” is undoubtedly entertaining. But I think the larger reason I gravitated towards the show is because I instantly had someone to root for: 36-year-old Jewish single Jordan Rosengarten.
Jordan, who chose the turtle to represent him due to its “tough shell on the outside and soft, mushy inside,” immediately makes an impression in episode one through sheer size. “I feel like people would first look at me on screen and be like, oh, he’s a bear,” the Goliath-sized Jordan told me when we spoke over Zoom recently, “But that would not fit me at all.”
To his credit, where other reality show contestants famously lack self-awareness, Jordan is right on the money. Despite his bulging muscles and self-described meathead appearance, Jordan’s approach in “Love in the Jungle” is a slow and steady one. Instead of relying on immediate intimacy or physical touch, Jordan’s strategy includes eye contact and humorous noise-making and gesticulating to make connections with the women.
His approach serves to set up a dynamic in the show wherein Jordan is in stark contrast to the other men on “Love in the Jungle.” While contestants like Austin (koala) have no problem leading with physical intimacy and approaching playboy status, Jordan gives off the vibe of the quintessential nice Jewish boy.
Though he wouldn’t call himself that. (But he does admit his mother would.)
If you know Jordan’s background, I think you’ll agree with his mother, and me, that he is absolutely a certified NJB.
Jordan hails from Woodmere on Long Island from a Modern Orthodox family. Thus, his upbringing mixed traditional elements of Orthodox Judaism — like keeping kosher, regularly going to shul and attending yeshiva at the Hebrew Academy of Long Beach — with more secular lifestyle choices. For example, Jordan was allowed to watch TV and his mother wore pants. Eventually, Jordan drifted away from most kinds of religious Jewish life. Now, he’s a fitness coach in New York City and maintains a close relationship with his nearby family.
“By the time I was of dating age, I already had a foot and a half out of the community,” Jordan tells me, explaining that he never abided by the stricter Orthodox Jewish rules on romance.
Still, that’s not to say that Jewish culture hasn’t affected the way he dates —remember Jordan’s slow and steady mantra?
“Orthodox men and women don’t have sex before they get married. And I don’t practice that,” he described. “But I think there’s something interesting about really getting to know someone before you’re intimate with them. And while it can be challenging, I think that it’s very important to know somebody and have a mental, emotional connection there, before you have a physical one.”
Jordan still finds meaning in his Jewishness, even though he doesn’t identify as Modern Orthodox anymore.
“I’m more of a spiritual person and I connect more to Judaism on a cultural level,” he said, adding, “I’ve kind of found [a relationship with Judaism] on my own terms, to be honest. It kind of took me a while, but I kind of came back to it in a way where I really, really love doing certain things. I actually put on tefillin every morning, even though I don’t keep kosher or Shabbat. I just feel like, for me, that is something that I connect to and I can’t really rationalize it to anybody else. But it’s something that works for me.”
Jordan’s decision to participate in “Love in the Jungle” was reflective of a dating life that wasn’t working for him. About a year ago, Jordan had just gotten out of a three-year relationship. “I was emotionally lost and didn’t really know how to date anymore,” he relayed. “I felt like I was back at square one.” Instead of doing what other Jewish singles might do and call a matchmaker, Jordan happened upon a casting call for “Love in the Jungle.”
Though initially laughing at it, Jordan was drawn to the proposed physical aspect of the show and the possibility of connecting with someone through the literal wildness of the experience. “I was like, OK, this might be where I can find the love of my life. At the very least, it will be awesome. And then maybe hilarious. Who knows?” Jordan delineated for me. “I think everybody you know, post-lockdown was like, wow, it’s kind of a new world now. Let’s try new things that we’re uncomfortable with and get comfortable with them.”
About a week later, Jordan was already on audition three with the “Love in the Jungle” producers, who found his honest candor amusing; he recalled a moment for me in which he described how much he dislikes reality TV and the entire room cracked up. It’s this aspect of his personality, in combination with his physical appeal and desire for love, that surely won him a spot on the show.
Unfortunately for me and anyone else on Team Turtle, Jordan only makes it through episode four. After not making an immediate connection with any of the women, Jordan finds an alliance of sorts with Mikaela (wolf), exchanging tokens with her in the first two episodes when she is also left without an obvious mate. (In episode two, the decision is even more heightened when Jordan exchanges tokens with Mikaela, ultimately banishing Stephanie the peacock.) Finally, in episode three, Jordan makes a little progress. He very nearly wins the mating ritual, which includes him rolling in the mud, winning a shouting match and sexily sniffing the blindfolded female contestants.
Though Jordan doesn’t win a speaking date, he is later able to make a non-verbal connection with Rachel (butterfly), leaving the audience to wonder if this could finally be a budding romance for our turtle. Alas, it’s not meant to be. In the token exchange, Austin the koala pairs up with Rachel before Jordan has the opportunity to do so; then, the episode ends. At the beginning of episode four, the action returns in time for us to see Jordan offer his token to Paige (starfish) who ultimately banishes him in favor of more compatibility with Sal (otter). In his last moments in the jungle, Jordan is given the opportunity to address his fellow contestants. He says he wishes the women would have given him more of a chance, but ultimately gives a very dignified goodbye.
In his final talking head, Jordan tells the audience that the experience has taught him a bit about his dating approach. “I can’t move like a turtle, I’ve got to move faster sometimes,” he says. “Sometimes I let things play out too long, as opposed to just making my move.”
In our conversation, however, Jordan says he still believes his method is still his preferred process. “While I do think that there are certain moments where you’ve got to be a little quicker, I also still think that there’s something nice about really taking your time to discover your person,” Jordan explained. “Post-this experience, that’s something that’s still me.”
On the plus side, ladies, he’s still single. Well, maybe. In spite of coming home from Colombia without a mate, Jordan still “can’t say” if he’s seeing anyone.
However, he is able to give me some insight on whether Judaism is important to him when looking for a partner.
“That’s an interesting question, and it’s one that my mom hopes I answer correctly,” he responds, in his classic serious-yet-hilariously-candid tone. “Right now, in my life, I’m more about finding someone that I connect to. Now, if that person happens to be Jewish, do I think that that would be better? Yeah, on many levels.”
He continued, “Putting that aside, I think that I’ve really just been looking for the person that I connect with the most. I mean, obviously, it’s icing on the cake if they’re Jewish, but yeah… I go back and I do wrestle with it. As you can tell, I’m wrestling with it right now, because I do want to have Jewish kids.”
He also tells me that he “absolutely” believes in the idea of bashert, citing his parents’ long and happy relationship as a model for what he’s looking for in love. Yet another point in favor of his NJB status.
In wrapping up our conversation, Jordan conveys that it took him a while to get to a place where he would’ve been confident enough to even audition for a reality dating show. Growing up, Jordan dealt with body image issues that he was eventually able to remedy through working out and finding a “zen of fitness.” Additionally, Jordan dealt with severe dyslexia as a kid and was put in special education classes at yeshiva.
“I thought my life was going to be so limited,” he reflected, giving some final words of advice to the Hey Alma audience. “Whatever people are telling you at that age, I’m not going to say it’s meaningless, but it really doesn’t matter. The only person who can control what happens to you is you.”
He concludes, “Keep on going, just like a turtle. It might take a while to get there, but remember to make a statement.”
The season finale of “Love in the Jungle” drops on June 12, 2022. All episodes are available to stream on discovery+.