Is love actually blind? Watch Netflix’s new reality dating show and you’ll hear this question — plus the word “experiment” — countless times. “Love Is Blind” dubs itself experimental reality TV and reminds viewers often, perhaps because the premise of the series, hosted by former 98 Degrees lead singer Nick Lachey and his wife, Vanessa, sounds dubious. Thirty men and women date their way to true love, hiding away in “pods” for 10 days without their phones, access to the outside world or the ability to see the person they’re talking to until they’re engaged. Couples that do put a ring on it have to walk down the aisle in about a month — but beforehand they go on a short getaway to Mexico and briefly cohabitate in a condo complex in Atlanta. The series is not only testing contestants’ ability to fall in love sight unseen, but challenging reality TV fans to buy into the concept. From the response on social media, the gambit paid off.
Elena Nicolaou, the culture editor at O, the Oprah Magazine, was an early adopter of the show and has the alignment chart to prove it. (The chart comes from Dungeons & Dragons; when creating a character in the game, you have to decide if they’re good or evil, law-abiding or prone to chaos.) Nicolaou whipped up a “Love Is Blind” alignment chart and shared it on Twitter. Netflix retweeted her post on Feb. 13, the day the series premiered, introducing fans to the contestants they’d soon become obsessed with: the sweet interracial couple Lauren and Cameron, who were the first to get engaged; the evasive Barnett, who struggled to choose a mate; and Jessica, whose voice launched online investigations. (Nicolaou listed fan-favorite Lauren as lawful and good, and Jessica as chaotic and evil, a chart position that fairly or not casts her as the show’s villain.)
Nicolaou, an avid watcher of reality TV, found the show to be unlike anything she’d ever seen before. “I don’t know if ‘Love Is Blind’ is objectively a good or a bad show, but I don’t think that’s the point,” the New York City-based writer says.
The point, she notes, is to get people thinking about “the criteria that they’re looking for in a partner” and get off their phones long enough to discuss it. “I found it to be unbelievable,” she says of how quickly contestants fell in love with each other without physical distractions.“And yet,” ironically, “the most unbelievable part is that it is believable.”
She believes there’s truth to what she has seen over the course of the dating show’s 10 episodes. “You get to watch real love happen in real time which is so cool,” says Nicolaou, who is rooting for Lauren and Cameron to stay together.
Lizzy Buczak, the Chicago-based founder of CraveYouTV, a website dedicated to all things television, agreed. “It’s outrageous in the best possible way,” she writes over email. “I think people want to know if there’s a method to the madness — is it possible to fall in love that quickly, is this a new type of dating approach they should try — while also giving hope to the hopeless romantics out there.”
All this makes for an addictive show that many can’t help but want to discuss with other people.
“Twitter is actually what made me interested in watching the show,” Molly Cole, a Washington, D.C.-based engineer who has been tweeting about “Love Is Blind,” writes over email. That sense of community made it more fun to watch “because you can laugh with [fans] and share opinions and even see the show from another angle that you necessarily weren’t even thinking of,” she added.
Indeed, there have been countless angles, hot takes and perspectives shared across the Internet.
With its accelerated romances and artificial deadlines, the Netflix series is a unique mix of popular reality shows like “The Bachelor,” “90 Day Fiancé” and “Married at First Sight,” the experimental Lifetime series from the same producers as “Love Is Blind” that dares contestants to marry a complete stranger. However, Nicolaou appreciates that this series focuses on building an emotional connection before a physical one.
“I think the show is really a beautiful showcase of the importance of listening to people. It’s a reality show with heart,” Nicolaou says. “They’re surprised they’re falling in love, you’re surprised they’re falling in love and you’re wondering when you got so cynical.”
“Love Is Blind” not only feels like a throwback to a simpler, Tinder-less way of dating, but to a more innocent era of reality TV — back when it was less scripted and felt more real.
“They’re taking a leap of faith and hoping for the best without any idea of what’s going to happen,” Buczak writes of the contestants, who filmed the show in late 2018 with no guarantee it would air. “With shows like ‘The Bachelor,’ the contestants know that if it doesn’t work out, they can go on ‘The Bachelorette’ or ‘Bachelor in Paradise’ or become Instagram influencers.”
Those who signed up for “Love Is Blind” might only be looking for love, not fame. That’s refreshing.
This is not to say that the series is drama-free. One couple, Carlton and Diamond, fight over his decision to keep his bisexuality a secret until after they’re engaged. The argument gets heated, but never feels forced. Neither do the couples’ conversations about abortion, money and sexual dynamics, weighty topics that rarely crop up on other dating shows.
“They don’t waste time tiptoeing around what’s important (i.e. do you want kids? How many? What are your long-term career goals?) but rather get to the point to see if they’re compatible,” Buczak writes. “It has an honesty factor that I don’t think many reality TV shows have.”
It’s impossible to know whether everyone on “Love Is Blind” is there for the right reasons — to borrow a line from “The Bachelor” parlance — but Donna Driscoll, the vice president of casting at Kinetic Content, which produced “Love Is Blind” and “Married at First Sight,” tries to make sure they are. She works “to filter out people who are more interested in being on television than they are at finding love. I can’t stress that enough,” she writes over email. “The men and women have to be marriage-minded. It’s vital to come to the altar or pod with the purest of intentions for the experiment to have a true shot.”
Driscoll admits she’s surprised by how quickly the show caught on with fans, but thinks “the vulnerability and courage from the cast” is why viewers feel so connected.
Victoria Sanusi, the co-host of Black Gals Livin’ Podcast, was struck by how willing the couples were to fall in love with each other’s personality and soul without a clue about appearances. “Do I think that’s crazy?” the English journalist writes over email. “Yes, simply because it’s not how love traditionally works.” The question of whether this experiment could sustain itself is what kept Sanusi and many others tuning in and live-tweeting along.
A second season of “Love Is Blind” hasn’t been announced yet, but seems virtually inevitable. As much as she loved watching the series, Nicolaou, the Oprah Magazine editor, worries the magic can’t be replicated.
“This really might be lightning in a bottle. This might be a one-time deal. It was special and I may never see something like it again,” she says. “I know that sounds fatalistic, but I mean it.”