love is blind

Is It Time to Stop Watching Love Is Blind?

Photo: Netflix

Major spoilers for the sixth season of Love Is Blind below.

For the sixth time, Netflix has thrown a bunch of lonely singles into “pods” for sight-unseen speed dating, exploiting their hopes of finally finding true love. Love Is Blind claims to be a radical social experiment in human connection — can emotional bonds forged through a glowing blue wall translate into lasting companionship in the real world? — but that experiment, faulty as it has always been, broke down entirely during the fifth season last fall. The show’s latest offering, premiering this Valentine’s Day, attempts to pick up the pieces.

When Love Is Blind debuted, shortly before the world went into lockdown in early 2020, the show captivated and comforted millions with fun, juicy story lines and a genuinely surprising love affair (between Lauren Speed and Cameron Hamilton, one of the show’s rare success stories). By now, though, the spell has broken. Not only does a series of recent lawsuits against the show’s producers allege potential labor violations and questionable working conditions behind the scenes — reason enough to stop watching — we’ve also seen the same tired formula play out so many times with so many of the same types of clashing personalities that there’s nothing novel or intriguing about watching sad people try and fail to fall in love through a wall.

We all know that in Love Is Blind, the game is rigged from the jump. If love really were “blind,” casting agents might try throwing some people who aren’t considered conventionally attractive into the mix. Season six, to no one’s surprise, features a group of mostly thin, able-bodied, reasonably good-looking people from Charlotte, North Carolina. The first episode opens with Matthew, a front-runner for the season’s villain, who simply gets up and leaves dates with women he decides he doesn’t like while they’re in the middle of a sentence. The reveal at the end of the episode — Matthew was wooing two women, feeding them the same lines, word-for-word, about romancing and running away with them — is the most exciting twist all season, though where I might once have been reaching for my popcorn, I started to wonder whether I was watching the prelude to a future lawsuit.

The exploitative nature of reality TV is nothing new, of course, nor are reports of the devastating effects these shows can have on their participants’ mental health. But there are a mounting number of actual lawsuits that the producers of Love Is Blind should be worried about. Some participants from earlier seasons claim they were put through “inhumane” working conditions; others say they had panic attacks and were told they had to stay on the show even after confiding in producers that they had experienced “suicidal thoughts.” The recent allegations from season five stopped me cold: Tran Dang, a contestant whose story line was ultimately cut from the show, is suing production companies Kinetic Content and Delirium TV, claiming she was sexually assaulted by her former onscreen fiancé, Thomas Smith. She also alleges false imprisonment and negligence. (Kinetic and Delirium TV deny all of these claims.) Another season-five contestant who wasn’t ultimately featured prominently on the show, Renee Poche, claimed to Variety last month that she too had been emotionally abused by her fiancé, who she alleges was “not only broke and jobless but also homeless, violent, estranged from his parents, and actively addicted to amphetamines and alcohol.”

As I plodded through the first six episodes of season six, which Netflix shared with the press as screeners, I couldn’t stop thinking about those allegations. Knowing that producers would then go after Poche for a whopping $4 million for violating her nondisclosure agreement — despite the fact that she made only $8,000 from the show — made watching this season feel only worse. How could I justify sticking with the series now that we all know a little too much about how this messy-ass sausage gets made?

Reality television has to walk a fine line. You want the onscreen tension to be explosive and messy enough to be entertaining, but if a show gets too nasty, bingeing all that bad behavior can give you the equivalent of an emotional hangover. (I was pretty grossed out after finishing the latest season of The Ultimatum, another Netflix dating show, which ended in domestic violence and the cops getting called.) At least the Real Housewives franchise, which is experiencing a labor-rights reckoning spearheaded by Bethenny Frankel, remains a lot of fun to watch; the recent Salt Lake City finale was one of the best in Housewives history. Entertainment value can’t cancel out a show’s behind-the-scenes bad vibes exactly, but perhaps it can balance the scales. In Love Is Blind’s case, the potential for exploitation seems far too high for how little fun I’m having.

The main tension hanging over season six involves a few love triangles and could-have-beens. One participant, Chelsea, is extremely jealous of the other woman her love interest, Jimmy, was seriously dating in the pods, who turns out to “look like a Kardashian,” he later tells her, quite cruelly, after seeing the woman’s photo. Meanwhile, Chelsea discovers that another guy who professed his love to her in the pods is a big beefcake, more in line physically with what she usually goes for IRL. Laura and Jeramey, who are engaged to each other, hit the rocks during their trial marriage when he stays out until 5:30 in the morning “just talking” to Sarah Ann, another girl he was seriously considering proposing to in the pods. Kenneth and Brittany, also engaged, are both pleasant enough toward each other, but it quickly becomes clear they don’t really have much in common and they just sit there in awkward silence most of the time. Riveting!

Sure, the red flags this season feel more mundane than they have been in the past, but a contestant named Clay encouraging his eventual fiancée, Amber Desiree (she goes by “AD”), to disclose her body type in the pods reminded me of season two’s villain, Shake, asking Deepti if he would be able to pick her up before he proposed. The specter of misogyny and sexual harassment haunts this so-called experiment, which exploits straight people’s scarcity complex when it comes to love and dating. We’ve seen enough of it already.

By the time I’d finished the first half of season six, I struggled to find the point of it. If what some of the past participants’ lawsuits allege is true — that contestants are stripped of their passports and forced to keep talking to people who make them feel terrible about themselves, or might even physically harm them, because production won’t let them walk away — then it is clear why we’re watching vulnerable people put themselves in potentially dangerous situations under the guise of “finding love”: Without all of that, there’d be no show.

Maybe if producers took the time to cast an interesting, dynamic group of people and properly vetted them all, Love Is Blind would still be watchable. Did we really need six seasons in just four years? The show has already been renewed for a seventh edition — better for Netflix’s bottom line to churn out this garbage quickly and on the cheap — but I’ll be sitting that one out. In 2024, I want to be a little more intentional about making better consumer choices: eating less meat, relying more on public transit, and watching pretty much anything besides Love Is Blind.

Is It Time to Stop Watching Love Is Blind?