If that isn’t just asking for trouble in your relationship, I don’t know what is. Perhaps that’s what makes the premise of the show so entertaining for some.
I’m not usually into reality TV or dating shows, but I will say I watched a lot more of the first season of the show than intended as I was distracted from doing work. The most intriguing and dramatic character in the show was Evan Smith, whose 10-year-long relationship is most on the fritz when he falls in love with someone else.
Evan left his girlfriend for a single woman named Morgan Lolar, according to Tamara Grant on Cheat Sheet. Evan later proposed to Morgan, but they are no longer together after they broke up in January 2020 after Morgan called Evan a “master manipulator” and cheater who had “nightly sleepovers” with young Instagram models.
Evan Smith is now suing USA Network and the showrunner of Temptation Island for defamation. And in the years since 2018, Evan’s behavior has been a subject of condemnation across social media. However, the condemnation has come too fierce and wide since Evan Smith is now struggling with his mental health, according to Grant.
Beneath Smith’s struggles with his mental health and relationships was the murder of his father nine years ago. Jill Robinson at The Sun writes Smith’s father was killed after his father cheated on his mom and then he was murdered by the husband of the woman he was having an affair with. This led Smith to feel he had to wait on marriage with his then-girlfriend, Kaci, which was why the two of them went on the show.
“I’m scared that I’m going to hurt you like my dad hurt my mom…If I don’t propose to her before 30, she’s going to leave me,” Smith said.
But the actual details of the death of Evan Smith’s father were very traumatizing, and a reason for people to cast less judgment on Smith. The story of Evan Smith’s father and his later struggles with mental health in the wake of Temptation Island is a sign of larger signs that reality TV does not care about the mental health of contestants, and the need for therapists and counselors for reality TV contestants.
Evan Smith was once a college basketball player for the University of Southern California (USC), but his career was significantly hampered by injury. At 6'7", he was a forward known for his good jump shot and hustle, and in high school, he played for Calabasas High School, averaging 17.7 points and 9.3 rebounds. Evan Smith won the Ventura County All-Star Dunk Contest and was the captain of his team.
Needless to say, Evan had incredible potential as a basketball player.
But Evan was not the first in his family to be an elite basketball player. According to Daniel Miller at The Hollywood Reporter, Smith’s father, Gavin Smith, played for the 1974–1975 UCLA men’s basketball team where he won a national championship with coach John Wooden. However, he always came off the bench at UCLA. He wanted more. At some point, one college basketball coach called Smith “the best white high school player in America.”
“I gave [the Bruins] so much and I don’t really feel I got much out of it. You put so much in there mentally and physically, but the mental part was the worst of it. When you think you should be playing and aren’t, well…” Smith said.
Eventually, during his senior year, he transferred to the University of Hawaii, where he averaged 23.4 points per game and 6.5 rebounds per game. In Honolulu, Gavin Smith was a fan favorite. Fans as high profile as the mayor would come to the stadium wearing his white trademark headband. Smith also brought his dog to practice. He became famous for his jump shot and would regularly have close to 40 point performances, and this came before the NCAA even adopted the three-point line.
However, the team only went 9–18 during his time in Hawaii. ESPN Honolulu notes Gavin Smith would play for two seasons in Italy, but never quite make it to the NBA.
After he was done with basketball, Smith went back to California and started working in the film industry. He had a couple of low-profile acting gigs, but Smith started working for 20th Century Fox. Eventually, Smith rose as an executive of 20th Century Fox, working within the distribution department of films. He helped movies like Titanic, Avatar, and Star Wars become successful.
Throughout adulthood, Gavin Smith struggled with drug abuse and infidelity. He also struggled financially after buying a house during the housing bubble and having the price of the house crash during the Great Recession.
There are different accounts of Gavin Smith’s character. But no one doubts his commitment to his three sons. According to Maria Elena Fernandez and Christine Pelisek in The Daily Beast, Smith kept a group of close friends over much of his life of middle-aged professionals to bond over parenting and coffee. Everyone in the group looked up to Smith for his “close and enviable relationship with his sons” that his friends wanted more of themselves.
In 2012, Gavin Smith disappeared. The family reported him missing after he failed to pick up his youngest son from school on May 2, which was unheard of.
Disappearance, investigation, and trial
Fernandez and Pelisek note that prior to Gavin Smith’s disappearance, he was having trouble with his marriage. Evan tweeted about his father leaving his family on April 14, 2012, cutting off communications with his father.
“Thoughts and prayers out to my amazing Mom and bros plz,” Evan tweeted. “My dad decided to leave the family last nite. Real family sticks together.
Many of Smith’s friends spoke with The Daily Beast to tell them the marriage had not been doing well for several years, ever since Lisa Smith became more religious and Gavin Smith subsequently “turned to other women.” He started to have extramarital affairs. However, the family later said they never believed Smith would actually leave the family.
Ken Lee at People Magazine, Smith was having a relationship with Chandrika Creech, who he met in rehab three years earlier. The family said he had a cellphone charger, shaving kit, and other items at a friend’s place. After he went missing, Evan Smith deleted his previous tweet. The family did not think he was going anywhere in public because he was wearing his son’s workout pants. He left Creech’s home at around 10 p.m. on May 1 in his car.
“He would never do anything like that. He’s a great father. My dad had no reason to leave. No reason at all,” Evan said.
Rheana Murray at ABC News, the next day, Smith was reported missing by his family after he didn’t pick up his son. One witness said he saw Gavin Smith with a woman on May 7 in Madison, Wisconsin, at a restaurant named Taco Temple. He noticed a tall blond man whose picture he saw on the main page of Yahoo to a news article of Gavin Smith being missing. A waitress confirmed the account and said Smith was with a woman as well, and that they were heading “up north.”
However, Smith would stay missing. Andrew Blankstein and Kate Mather at the Los Angeles Times note the family offered a $20,000 reward for any information about Smith’s whereabouts.
More information would not be revealed until almost a year later. In February of 2013, Murray says Smith’s car was found in a storage facility in Simi Valley, connected to a man named John Creech. Creech was the husband of Chandrika Creech, who Smith was having an affair with, and the investigation was reclassified as a homicide investigation. Investigators then named Creech as a person of interest.
On May 1, 2014, KABC reported Smith was officially declared dead, exactly two years after he was reported missing. CNN reported his body was eventually found in Palmsdale, California. Creech was still just a person of interest at the time, and he was still in prison for a drug charge. He was serving an eight-year sentence.
Creech was then re-arrested and went to trial for the killing of Smith. The prosecutor argued Creech killed Smith as an act of revenge, saying he killed Smith because of an affair with his wife. Creech’s defense attorney said Creech killed Smith in self-defense and Smith initiated the altercation. Both attorneys agreed Creech never called the police after Smith stopped breathing. In fact, he hid Smith’s car and buried his body in a forest, and Creech said he didn’t want to call authorities because he had already served time for dealing drugs. A coroner said Smith’s was beaten so brutally his skull was crushed on both sides.
However, Creech would never be convicted of murder. In 2017, he was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for the death of Smith, not first or second-degree murder, and sentenced to 11 years in prison. During sentencing, the judge called Creech a “ cold and cruel person.”
In 2019, Creech appealed his sentence to the California Second Appellate District Court of Appeals. He appealed on grounds that the court prohibited his attorney from questioning Lisa Smith about Gavin’s character. However, the appeals court shot down the appeal since Lisa Smith said nothing about Gavin being violent.
Throughout this tumultuous journey, Evan Smith and his younger brother, Austin, suffered a nightmare. According to the Los Angeles Daily News, they testified they pleaded with Creech to not hurt their father. They said they met with Creech in 2010 to discuss the affair. Austin was only in eighth grade at the time.
“I’m too young to lose my dad,” Austin said.
Evan also had a strong testimony, saying he knew “the husband of the woman that my dad was speaking to was dangerous.” He said Creech spoke extremely disparagingly about Gavin Smith, calling him “a predator” and a “scum of the earth.” Evan allegedly begged Creech not to hurt his family, apologizing for his father’s behavior. He promised his father would never speak to Creech’s wife again. As we know, however, Gavin Smith resumed his affair, leaving Evan greatly dismayed.
I’m not saying Evan Smith never hurt anyone. The reality TV show in Temptation Island and the subsequent revelations from Morgan Lolar show he is no saint. Kaci Campbell accused him of lying about his mental health history to get on the show. Lolar says he lied to her about his financial situation and then refused to get a job.
But I will argue we should be less judgmental and more understanding of Smith, who had a difficult relationship with his father in the midst of his parents’ marital problems and then saw his father go missing. He didn’t know where He then had to sit through the lengthy trial of his father’s killer.
“Hurt people hurt people” is obviously no excuse for Evan Smith’s actions, but the fallout from his drama in Temptation Island demonstrates reality TV capitalizes on tumultuous personal lives and has little to no regard for the mental health of its contestants and participants. While chaos within contestants’ personal lives drives up ratings, Charlotte argues reality TV and dating shows like Temptation Island and The Bachelor series would strongly benefit their contestants by employing therapists.
While Evan Smith may have lied on pre-show mental health screening, he is not alone in suffering mental health challenges following being on a dating show — Amber Dowling at Variety says almost 40 stars from reality TV programs have been found dead by suicide or overdose. In the words of clinical psychologist Brie Rosenfeld:
“Being seen is very different in your own personal life than it is on reality television. It can trigger a lot of the areas where we may not have a tremendous amount of resiliency and where, if there is a pre-existing condition in the face of that level of stress and discomfort, some people will not be able to move through.”
Reality TV is, by definition, putting normal, everyday people into a very public, all eyes on them environment. Dowling notes the biggest challenges are when contestants re-enter normal life and have to deal with newfound fame and being criticized by the public. Then, contestants are all on their own. Another clinical psychologist, Steven Stein, says a psychologist should always be around, and I agree.
Originally published on CrimeBeat on April 14, 2021.