A/N: Title from High School Musical, Start of Something New. Mary is Mary Crawford, not Bennet. George is George Knightley, not Wickham, and Elliot is Mr (William) Elliot from Persuasion. Apparently Mr Elton's first name is Philip but I'm not doing that; here, he's Elton.
NB In response to some wrongly-founded assumptions about my grasp of the English language: the title refers to both an aisle as in a church, and an isle as in an island. As this is a dating show set on an island, I thought the combination of those two things was appropriate.
Also, there is a tasteful watershed level of swearing ahead, so do turn back if that isn't for you.
Tom put his beer on the table, threw himself on the sofa and gave the TV an accusing look.
"I hate that we're watching this," he said. He sighed dramatically as he scrolled through Twitter. "Look, the hashtag is a horrible place."
"Don't be prejudiced," said Jane primly. "It hasn't even started yet."
He made a dubious face. "You really think I'm going to enjoy a show about the love lives of people I don't know?"
"You like Grey's Anatomy," said Jane.
"Slander," said Tom. "Grey's is a deep and thoughtful exploration of strength, suffering, tragedy, hope — "
"Nevertheless," said Jane, "Down the Isle isn't like other reality shows. The people on here aren't the dating show type. And there are psychologists and relationship experts on the production team. Anyway, stop talking. It's starting."
"I wasn't the one talking," Tom protested, but did as she said.
Everyone loves a holiday romance. The sun is shining, you look beautiful every day, and it's the easiest thing in the world to fall in love. With that logic, it shouldn't be too hard for some lucky singles to do the same, should it? For those chosen few, it's goodbye to the office, and hello to the isle.
This is: Down the Isle.
"Hello, darlings!" screamed Yvonne Leblanc-Wu, presenter of Down the Isle. She ruffled her rose gold hair and dimpled at the camera. "Less than two hours ago, five gorgeous gents and five lovely ladies were whipped — I mean, shipped, whoops, HR is going to have my head for that — onto a gorgeous villa on a secluded isle. They have one month to win each other's hearts — and yours! — if they want to be awarded a prize of up to £50,000. So, when this is all over, who'll be walking down the aisle? Run the tape, darlings!"
"I sort of love it when she says that," said Tom.
"It does go to show how old she is," agreed Jane.
Tom snorted. "Like four ex-husbands doesn't already?"
Jane huffed. "OK, here we go. That's Charlotte."
"I'm Charlotte, I'm twenty-seven, and I work in an art gallery."
"Classy," said Tom. "She's in the wrong place."
The second intro video flashed on the screen.
"I'm Emma, I'm twenty-four, and I work in PR."
"Do we like her?" asked Tom.
Jane had watched the brief intro videos of all the contestants, and had already formed strong opinions. "Me and no one else," she said.
"My friends tell me I'm too picky. But I know I deserve the best."
Jane eyed Tom as he finished his beer. "If you can't handle this, you might as well leave now."
"It'll be easier if I'm tipsy," said Tom. Then his phone rang. "It's Pauline. I'll be back."
Jane watched "I'm Harriet, I'm twenty, and I'm a student" , "Mary, twenty-seven, classical musician" and "Anne, twenty-six, doctor" without Tom, who was on the phone with his girlfriend. He came back with a bag of chocolate pinched from Jane's stash.
"What did I miss?" he asked, swinging an arm around her shoulders as he sat down and offered her an M&M.
She eyed his arm warily. "Harriet's at uni, Mary's a harpist and Anne's an doctor."
Tom whistled. "Maybe I should go on this show."
"So, what kind of guys are you into?" Charlotte asked the girls at large, when they were all settled on the patio chairs with glasses of champagne.
Emma shrugged. "Successful ones."
"Hear, hear," said Mary. "But it's so hard to find someone when you travel all the time."
"Oh? What do you do?"
"I'm the harpist at the Philharmonia," she said.
Everyone nodded and waited for someone to ask what the Philharmonia was.
Emma took up the gauntlet. "That's in London, right?"
"Technically, but God knows we don't spend much time there," said Mary. She smiled brightly. "Anyway, I'm sure I'm not as busy as Anne."
Anne blushed. "Oh, well, it's not that bad."
"Are you kidding?" said Harriet. "Being a doctor? It looks so hard on that show 24 Hours in A&E!"
Anne was about to reply when something much more exciting arrived.
"It's the boys!"
"I'm Will, I'm twenty-nine, and I'm a lawyer."
"He acts like one of us too," said Tom. "But if he has time to go on reality TV…"
Jane rolled her eyes. "And you have time to text me hourly updates of the pigeons outside your window."
"... Elton, twenty-five, personal trainer."
"The duality of man," said Tom.
It took the time for them to meet "George, thirty-two, accountant" , "Edmund, twenty-four, civil servant" and "Elliot, twenty-three, writer, but I think of myself more as channelling creative energy out into the world" for Tom to work up the courage to finally say, during an ad break, "Pauline and I just broke up."
"Oh," said Jane. There was a silence, interrupted by an advert; she rushed to mute the TV. "I'm sorry. I know you really liked her."
Tom shrugged. "It's fine."
"Are you sure? Do you want to talk about it?"
"Nah," he said. "I knew it was going to happen."
She waited for him to say more, but he didn't. "OK," she said. "You know I'm always here if you need me."
The boys made their way over to the kitchen where the girls were sat, and the girls stood up for hugs and cheek kisses. Elton could be heard introducing herself to everyone; Harriet couldn't be heard at all.
George, having circled the room enough times, finally made his way towards the Chinese girl in the green dress.
"Emma? Hi, I'm George."
"George," repeated Emma, with considerably less enthusiasm. She leaned up to kiss his cheek anyway. "It's nice to meet you."
On the other side of the room, Mary introduced herself to Edmund.
"I like your necklace," he said.
Mary touched the expensive chain and wondered if she should tell him where she'd got it.
He looked as if he could handle it. "Thanks, it was from my ex-girlfriend."
To Edmund's credit, he recovered from his look of surprise quickly.
"Women are better at gifting than men," Mary continued. "But in their defence, men know they're bad."
"I know I do," said Edmund. He paused, and said in a rush of words: "You'll have to help me get better."
Then came the amplified sound of Yvonne Leblanc-Wu's high heels clattering across the patio floor.
"Darlings!" she said, striding towards the front. The contestants formed a semi-circle around her. "I'm terribly sorry, but I'm afraid I must interrupt your getting to know each other. It's time."
"Time for the first coupling of this year's Down the Isle!" she announced, and spread her arms to the heavens. She lowered them before continuing. "Now, boys, if you'll line up on the places behind you."
"Girls!" she said. "It's time for you to choose. We all know that to be successful on Down the Isle, you need to win the public's love… and the easiest way to do that is to win someone else's. Trust me, I've done it four times. Now, one by one, I'll ask each of you to choose which boy you'd like to start your journey with. You can choose a boy who's already been chosen, but beware! There's only space for two in the bed — " She paused, raised her Greta Garbo eyebrows and said in a stage whisper: "I know where I've heard that before." With a dazzling smile, she continued. "Any boy with more than one girl will have to choose between them, and the castoffs will be left to pair together. Capiche?"
In the end, it was simple. Mary chose Edmund, Charlotte chose Will, Anne chose Elliot, Emma chose Elton, and Harriet chose George.
"You all look very comfortable," said Yvonne, once they had all sat down in their respective couples. She zeroed her gaze on Mary, whose hand was on Edmund's thigh. "Especially Mary."
Mary's response was to kiss Edmund in front of the whole villa. Everybody laughed, and when Edmund's face emerged with a sheepish smile the laughter bubbled up. The atmosphere was comfortable; there hadn't been any conflict over the couples; and Yvonne's double entendres and suggestive humour were familiar to everyone. They all felt relaxed and excited. It was going to be an unforgettable summer.
"What's everyone laughing about?" came a new voice.
Yvonne looked smug as a tall, olive-skinned brunette strode into the villa.
"You all looked very comfortable," she repeated, "so I brought in something to spice things up. That didn't work with my last husband, but anyway — everyone, meet Caroline. By the end of tomorrow, she'll be choosing a boy to steal from one of you. Good luck!"
And then she left in a blaze of white sequined pantsuit and purple feather boa.
Mary was the first girl to make nice to Caroline, but by this point Caroline had already spoken to all of the boys, so the damage had effectively already started.
"Caroline? Hi, I'm Mary. I'm coupled up with Edmund."
"Edmund…" she made an exaggerated motion of trying to remember who he was. "Oh, right."
Mary laughed. "Not the guy you're interested in?"
Caroline smiled. "Not yet," she said.
"Not ever," Mary agreed, still smiling.
Caroline's smile wavered.
Mary tilted her head. "So, tell me who you're into, and I'll tell you all about them."
"Oh, thanks so much. I like the look of the tall one in the grey shirt… Will, I think…"
"So," said Jane, as the credits rolled. "George is crushed, Edmund's delighted — "
"What the hell was Emma thinking in choosing Elton?" demanded Tom.
Jane snorted and folded her throw neatly. "Yes, what was she thinking by picking a hot personal trainer over a stuffy accountant?"
"I like George," said Tom. "What is he, thirty? He's like the Ken Clarke of the group."
"MPs on Down the Isle?"
"You'd call it Down the Isle: Politician Edition."
Jane smiled triumphantly. "I knew you'd like this show."
A/N: Now that you've made it this far, here's some background and some reassurances...
Where's Lizzy? Trust me, she's on her way.
This was a weird chapter because of merging the TV frame into text. (Side note: why the hell won't ffnet let me do two line breaks, to distinguish between switching between show-viewer and show-show scene changes?) But the ones from here on out should be simpler in form and have less of Jane and Tom.
Yvonne is inspired by four YouTube clips of Joan Rivers, Julia Quinn's Lady Danbury and James's mum on The Next Step. If you knew those two last references, you're my soulmate.
Hopefully you can tell that this deviates significantly from respective canons, though it follows the general outline for the main ships.
Please do leave a comment if you'd like, hit me up on Tumblr (loversinfiniteness), and badger me with questions! I think I'm going to update a few times a week so do keep your eyes peeled!