As Temptation Island's final bonfire approaches, Esonica Viera has a big decision to make about her relationship of more than a year with boyfriend Gavin Rocker and her growing feelings for single Kareem Thomas. Ahead of Thursday's all-new episode of the hit USA Network dating show, Esonica opened up to PopCulture.com about the slow burn of her relationship with Kareem and her decision to turn their friendship romantic after a month of personal growth on her part.
Going into Temptation Island, Esonica admitted she expected her journey to be "a little bit more peaceful" than it ended up being, with the separation from Gavin in a house full of singles acting more as "a confirmation of my relationship than a question."
"But when you get there, you realize there's a lot of sorting out to do with yourself and your relationship," she continued.
Helping her with that sorting out process was Kareem, whose listening ear and genuine interest in Esonica's journey quickly made the two inseparable on the island. In last week's episode, that close friendship turned into so much more as Esonica invited him into her bed for the night ahead of their final date.
"Kareem was just generally a good guy with calm energy, and he was very patient," Esonica recalled of what first drew her to the former professional basketball player.
Spending so much time together before deciding to take that big step, Esonica explained that while she can't pinpoint a time her feelings for Kareem crossed that line, she knew coming down to the end of the experiment "it's now or never" to explore her connection with him.
"I definitely do think our bond helped me open up more," she told PopCulture.com. "He was more importantly a friend to me, which is most important in any situation that could have a chance of being romantic."
Struggling with Gaving's unwillingness to embrace her culture and prove himself following past infidelities, Esonica was also not impressed with what she saw from Gavin at the Bonfires — whether it be his questioning if she was "The One" for him or sucking on a single's toes during a drunken night in behavior she said was "acting like a college kid."
"It was a roller coaster of emotions, because part of me wanted to just walk away, but another part of me knows it's worth more and something we should work on and fight for," she explained to PopCulture.com of her thinking at the time, saying she was looking for anything to "convince" her he had changed and was ready to embrace her growth as well.
"Sometimes people, they grow on different levels," the former beauty queen noted. "I thought maybe he's changed; he's grown, but I know I'm becoming even more mature … so I have to make sure his heart is on the same level as mine."
Esonica can't reveal just yet the decision she made at the final bonfire, whether that be to leave with Gavin, Kareem or by herself, but she did tell PopCulture.com that her time on Temptation Island marked a major change in how she views relationships and her own self-worth.
"I think I learned a lot, just personally about what I should accept, the type of person I should spend my time with and just being able to draw the line," she said, explaining that she can now identify red flags in the way people treat her way earlier on. "You shouldn't be having to accept so much hurt to determine if it's good."
Temptation Island airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on USA.
Photo credit: Mario Perez/USA Network