Love Is Blind has already embedded itself in the gossip ecosystem, with interviews and SEO-baiting headlines littering the websites of tabloids. Billed as a new spin on a time-worn format, the series follows a variety of Atlanta “content creators” and “fitness instructors” as they date each other blindly, before rushing into an engagement and hurtling towards marriage. All of this, should each couple make it to the finish line, takes place in just a month. Amid the hype, Netflix released the hotly anticipated reunion episode, a year after filming had wrapped on the show.
The weddings themselves were a gross overplay of the producers’ hands, strings so visible on each contestant, you could see them extending up to the ceiling, where shadowy figures jerked them around like puppets. Kelly and Kenny, who broke off their wedding at the altar, have since revealed in interviews that they never intended to get married since before they were even engaged, and had rehearsed leaving each other at the altar on camera, multiple times. Kenny told ET, “We were adamantly never going to get married.” A well-produced reality show would have surprised me with this information, but Love Is Blind’s entirely too predictable over-producing made this obvious every moment the couple was onscreen. Going into the reunion with that information, I was filled with nothing but dread.
The reunion episode, sadly, highlighted most of my problems with the show itself, especially its weddings. Good reality television creates coherence out of chaos, shaping the randomness of its often overly staged format into compelling dramas and hysterical romps. In doing this, shows within the Real Housewives franchise have lived on as meme-able fodder and widely regarded Sunday night staples. Even if tables are flipped or wigs are pulled, the franchise at least respects its participants enough to attempt to tell interesting and compelling stories about their lives. In Love Is Blind’s own canon, 90 Day Fiancé has swiftly risen in popularity for weaving genuinely compelling narrative arcs from the wild and even mundane lives of its cast members. While its onscreen situations are often extreme, producers still endlessly chronicle the minutiae of participants’ everyday experiences with some level of respect, taking care to poke and prod and shape something human and moving. Love Is Blind lacks that respect for its contestants and its viewers to create what is, essentially, bad reality television.
If you go by the narrative pushed by Netflix’s aggressive marketing campaign, the show portrays extreme and often ridiculous scenarios between its contestants. Hosts Vanessa and Nick Lachey (who introduces himself as, “Obviously, I’m Nick Lachey”) repeatedly assert that Love Is Blind is a daring “experiment” to see if love, like the title of this competition, “is truly blind.”
But that thesis works within the logic of the show, only if said love is carefully and meticulously stage-managed, with contestants herded between locations like cattle to the slaughter. The main difference, maybe, is that cattle can’t be influencers, desperate to sign themselves up for an obviously cheap show. Still, contestant’s lives were afforded little decency while filming, and no better at the reunion. When interesting moments did arise, like the long-awaited reunion of Carlton and Diamond, who viciously ended their engagement after Carlton came out to Diamond as bisexual, producers did little to create any amount of engaging television with the bounty of neuroses they were handed. (During the episode, viewers were initially made to sympathize with Carlton for what seemed to be Diamond’s blatant bi-phobic reaction to her fiancé having slept with men, but that sympathy soon evaporated when Carlton devolved into calling her a “bitch” to her face.)
At that moment, in Mexico, Diamond was clearly ready to talk things out. That would have been good television! Instead, cameras remained with Carlton as Diamond ran off-set. Good producers would have followed her, and better producers would have brought her back to the group of other contestants. Instead, the two departed with little sendoff, only to return at the reunion, long after the show had wrapped filming in 2018. At the reunion, Vanessa and Nick called Diamond and Carlton “brave” for coming but were more interested in how the two could make up than the intricacies of their feud in the first place. There was an engaging conversation to be had on a widely popular television show about how there is still a rampant mistrust of bisexual people in heterosexual dating circles. Vanessa instead pleaded with the two to resolve their differences.
The Lacheys spent most of the hour-long reunion special talking over contestants or explaining how contestants felt, rather than letting them speak for themselves. Were Andy Cohen, or any other host to film alongside the cast, they might have lobbed a few questions once in a while, letting the cast speak and fight and make up as organically as one can when sitting on a soundstage with a production crew of almost 30 people. Instead, it was more of the same: Empty platitudes about how “grateful” the Lacheys are for everyone participating (and putting them on the map) and long, drawn-out monologues about love “being blind,” if only for the first hour of the very first episode, before anyone had actually seen each other.
Throughout Love Is Blind, cameras were quick to open doors and pry into the private lives of contestants, but producers did little to prod anything meaningful from the experience. Any interesting plotline was abandoned in service of mere crumbs of Twitter-ready clips and gifs. This show does not see these people as real, or even very interesting. It sees them as cash cows, maybe circus animals at best.
This format repeated itself in the reunion episode. Friends and family of the contestants were barely given any space at the reunion, although their puzzling glances to the cameras and each other were some of the more interesting moments on the show. I could have sat with Lauren’s dad for hours and watched him work through his mistrust of Cameron (like a good reality show would). Instead, both Lauren’s dad and the gaggle of other disapproving moms and perplexed friends were relegated to mere background devices, reduced to obstacles in the way of each couple’s true love as they hurtle towards the altar.
As mentioned previously, the weddings themselves only compounded this gross injustice. After 34-year-old Jessica left her 24-year-old fiancé Mark at the altar, the camera passed a bridesmaid on her side of the aisle who briefly whispered, “This is so embarrassing for her.” Why wasn’t that bridesmaid given a proper interview? Why didn’t she chase after Jessica, who instead was given 10 minutes of sitting in an empty room alone, staring into space, while her wedding dissolved elsewhere? Worse, why wasn’t she mentioned at the reunion, where Nick and Vanessa listened in rapture while Jessica curtly described her “learning experiences” since leaving the show. She discussed how she definitely drank too much for most of it and offered apologies, but little else. And when asked what she’d done since filming had ended, she revealed she had fled Atlanta for sunnier prospects in California. Why—and what level of devastation she left back home—are never answered. At least tell me what sort of wellness retreat she attended that invariably prompted her decision!
As for other intriguing moments on the show that went abandoned at the reunion, I was stunned that neither Nick nor Vanessa chose not to broach politics with the cast members, something producers seemed eager to cut out for most of the show. Even fan favorites Lauren and Cameron have said in interviews since the show that they discussed their politics with each other plenty in the hundreds of hours they spent together prior to getting engaged. It seems Netflix thought viewers would much rather sit through those squeezed in moments of Kenny and Kelly’s fake, sexless arrangement. Why abandon such an interesting plot thread? Considering the show pulled a gaggle of people from Atlanta and stuck ’em in a box, you’d think politics would be a more central fixture. Especially because most every millennial I know seems to prioritize them as much as looks or even personality.
Good reality television exists, and it’s too bad that Love Is Blind is anything but. There were spots of sheer brilliance—awkward dinner parties, tense family reunions, obsessive ex-reality show girlfriends—but they were lost in the desperate bid for cultural relevance and vitality. Netflix has at least attained that, so I expect I will be enduring many more awkward reunions where Nick Lachey futilely tries to explain who he is to everyone. And for prospective, producers looking to take their own dating competition show for a spin, Love Is Blind provides an excellent template in all the best ways to disrespect contestants’—and viewers’—intelligence until it is all but obliterated, everyone mindlessly retweeting that one GIF of Jessica feeding her dog wine.