Love is Blind is the year’s breakout reality TV hit, and is one of the biggest reality shows, in terms of cultural conversation, in years. That’s significant in 2020, when there are so few breakout hits thanks to the abundance of choices and our fractured attention. To have a common show to discuss is rare and a gift.
Love is Blind has undeniably permeated pop culture. But why this show, and why now? There are lots of shows to distract us from our virus-infested, overheating world, so why did this one jump to the forefront?
First, let’s consider how we know that it’s been a success. It’s hard to definitively, quantifiably define what a Netflix hit is. Last week, Netflix started labeling its top-10 most-watched shows in each region, and Love is Blind was immediately number one. (Today, March 3, it’s number two.)
Netflix did not explain how they’re defining popularity, and the service doesn’t release ratings numbers, except for a completely useless metric where it declares viewers to be people who’ve watched at least two minutes of a show. Two minutes! That is nothing, especially for a 10-episode series. I’ve accidentally or lazily let something play for two minutes but would never say that I watched that thing. So if Netflix’s top-10 is based on the two-minute number, that’s essentially useless and arguably deceptive.
Still, there are many signs outside of Netflix’s own platform that the show has truly broken through.
The finale went live Thursday and the show was trending all day on Twitter in the United States.
This weekend, SNL did a Love is Blind sketch—although it was cut for time from the actual show, alas. (It started with a great joke, that Netflix makes “movies too good for the theater, and now, reality shows too degrading for cable.”)
Search Google for “Love is Blind” and you’ll see an ever-increasing pile of articles (including this one!), thanks to content-generating websites which are trying to capture every possible combination of “Love is Blind” keywords to try to lure viewers to click on their articles, even when they have nothing to actually offer (perhaps including this one!).
More than five outlets, from Oprah to Men’s Health, have stories about the metallic wine glasses, for crying out loud—of course, they are spectacularly weird wine glasses (made by VonShef, for the record).
Celebrities from Chrissy Teigen to Shonda Rhimes tweeted about it (Rhimes said she was “addicted”).
Meanwhile, Love is Blind has generated its own toxic fanbase who are now harassing the participants, because it makes an empty life feel fuller if you can try to drain the life out of someone else with your misspelled Instagram comments that appear next to your avatar, which is inevitably a photo of your child or dog.
The show even has the attention of the people who have to announce that they hate all reality TV, which they insist is trash garbage, including the show that they just can’t stop watching. That means that when they talk about it, they have to disparage the show and/or genre and/or themselves first (for example: “I watched all of Netflix’s Love Is Blind and I hate myself“).
It’s a form of virtue-signaling: I’m too good for this, but since other people have lowered themselves, I’ll do it too, but I’ll apologize first so you know I’m not trash like the show I’m watching.
Tangent: This phenomenon is different than passionately debating aspects of a show and/or offering criticism of it. I found Love is Blind to be fascinating and thoroughly engaging, yet I also question some of its choices, from the lack of diversity in the cast to that pitifully cheap wedding decor that looked like it’d been bought on clearance at a dollar store. But I also don’t need to disclaim my viewership.
Netflix even seems to have been slight caught off guard by the popularity, judging by the addition of a reunion show that wasn’t originally announced as part of the show but will go live this Thursday. (The Circle filmed its reunion during production, as part of the finale, which certainly more sense for a competition show. And since Love is Blind filmed 1.5 years ago, an actual reunion now to check in and catch up makes more sense.)
So why did Love is Blind explode now? Why is it spreading as fast coronavirus, a metaphor I may regret using? I have a few ideas and theories.
Netflix’s strange release schedule
The reason the show really exploded last week was because Netflix treated it like—and this is revolutionary—an actual television show.
As Netflix did with The Circle, the show’s episodes were spread over three weeks. I found that to be frustrating with The Circle, because a lot happened in each episode, and conversation around the show never really clicked because everyone seemed to be at a different place.
But with Love is Blind, Netflix didn’t spread out the episodes in three batches. They split the season into two batches and one episode. That’s a critical but powerful decision.
The final episode of that second group of episodes, episode nine, ended at the altar, and cut off in the middle of Giannina and Damian’s decision. That means we all had to wait one week to see to resolve a cliffhanger and to see the finale.
Besides creating anticipation, that week also gave people time to catch up, and that momentum led right into the finale, when we saw whether or not this experiment actually worked. Starting the finale on Giannina and Damian was also an explosive start to the end, since he rejected her and she ran away.
Love is Blind was structured for maximum drama
As I wrote in my review of Love is Blind, I found the initial engagements and declarations of love to be silly, bordering on terrifying. I also found it to be absolutely stupid that they were getting engaged without ever meeting rather than, say, deciding to date each other, like normal humans.
Yet once the show got its participants out of their pods and to a Mexican resort covered in rose petals, I mostly forgot about that. Their relationships suddenly felt more normal, even though weddings were looming (we’ll get to that in a moment).
That’s not to say the couples’ relationships were perfect—hello, Carlton and Diamond, and internalized biphobia meeting the fear that your future spouse was hiding something— but watching the couples attempt to connect and communicate was fascinating.
There were highs and lows, sometimes at the same time, like that absolutely bizarre conversation/fight Giannina and Damian had while he was in bed and she was in the kitchen and they weren’t even looking at each other. It seemed like was going to be the end of their relationship until they jumped into each other’s arms.
So many reality shows—and Netflix shows, especially—stuff their shows with unnecessary filler and drag out the inevitable. I suppose you could argue that for Love is Blind, too (were Mark and Jessica ever going to work?),
But the format worked for me because it kept changing. We were in the pods and then out of them, in Mexico and then back in Atlanta, moving in and then meeting parents and then looking at wedding dresses. It all moved relatively swiftly.
The structure of the experiment itself gave us a compelling reason to keep watching, even if it made the participants’ lives worse.
The producers made the cast decide whether to stay together or not at their weddings, which is totally outrageous and unfair. It’s especially disturbing because Jessica told EW, “I had to stay. I definitely had a conversation about leaving and I wasn’t able to do that.”
I’m not quite sure why she had to stay and Diamond and Carlton didn’t. Perhaps it has to do with the reason the show basically cast off two couples who got engaged in the pods: More people got engaged than the producers expected, and they didn’t have the resources—actual production crew and time in the episodes—to follow that many couples. So perhaps when one of the six that producers decided to follow broke up, it took additional pressure off the production.
Forcing the cast to stand on a flimsy platform surrounded by their skeptical loved ones, a random officiant, and the cheapest decorations Netflix money could buy in order to announce whether or not they’d stick with the decision they’d made to spend their lives with someone they’d known for a couple days and had only talked to through a speaker—yes, that’s absurd.
But it also made for incredibly dramatic moments that caused me to talk to/scream at my television set more than once. It gathered all of the tension from nine episodes, shook it up, and uncorked it.
We’re obsessed with romance—and especially marriage
It’s been 55 years since The Dating Game premiered on ABC, and people are still tuning in to ABC to watch people connect, fall in love, and get engaged and/or married on The Bachelor franchise.
Dating reality shows’ failures don’t seem to affect people’s investment in them, nor do the layers of artificiality. The Bachelor is produced with such a heavy hand you can see fingerprints all over Peter Weber’s face, but whether people watch with knowing skepticism or totally buy into the fairy-tale fantasy, they still watch.
There have been more than 100 dating, marriage, and relationship-focused shows on TV over the past 20 years. And cable networks are increasingly cluttered with carbon-copy shows that have marriage at their centers, from Married at First Sight to 90 Day Fiancé.
Making engagements and/or marriage the pinnacle of a reality show, whether it comes during the first episode or the last, is the highest-possible stakes for a relationship series to have. That’s why it works, and is so completely compelling.
It’s one thing to watch people go on dates and connect with each other, and entirely another thing to watch them commit to each other in a way that is legally binding, never mind spiritually and/or religiously significant.
This plays on messages we’ve received since we were tiny children, when our relatives thought it’d be cute to talk about who we were going to get married to, even when we were still soaking our diapers.
Childhood is when our marriage training began, and we were taught that our wedding day would be the peak of our existence. Movies and TV shows, even Disney animated feature films, exalted the heterosexual union between one man and one woman above all else.
Our culture—advertising, television, friends, family—never stops telling us about how important this is. We’re trained to believe that our wedding day should be the best and most important day of our lives.
Of course, those messages often come from companies that want to sell us unnecessary shit like seat covers that have nothing to do with actually celebrating a relationship, but they’re still just as potent, even when the message is ridiculous. Just think about that: Is the peak of your life really the day you get married? It’s just downhill into a pile of shit and death after that? That’s depressing. I loved my wedding, but I sure hope I continue to have days that are even better than that in the coming years and decades.
The divorce rate is falling in the United States in part because people are waiting longer to get married, learning who they are before committing to another person. Yet the messaging persists that marriage is the most important thing ever, and also permanent.
Patience and time are not resources available to reality TV shows that have limited time and budgets, so they race to the altar, following—and helping to reinforce—this well-worn track. Love is Blind just threw itself onto the ever-crowded marriage-here-we-come bandwagon.
Love is Blind mined the best and worst of relationship reality TV
Love is Blind is…
- Blind Date
- Love Connection
- First Dates
- Dating Around
- The Bachelor/ette
- Bachelor in Paradise
- Paradise Hotel
- Love Island
- Temptation Island
- Are You The One?
- Married at First Sight
- Married by America
- Joe Millionaire
- 90 Day Fiance
- Love After Lockup
- and Bridezillas
…all in one. It took the key moments from all of those shows, and others that I’m forgetting about, and packaged them into one killer, end-all, be-all dating format.
Love is Blind also had a cast willing to try this out, and see what happened, and of course it wouldn’t have worked without them.
It also eliminated much of the unnecessary filler, like a host droning on about what’s coming up after the commercial break. (I realize it technically had hosts, but Nick and Vanessa Lachey’s absence was the best thing about their hosting.)
Love is Blind’s creators actually care
Months ago, people associated with the show and its production company, Kinetic Content, mentioned to me about how much creator Chris Coelen loved this upcoming series.
As he told me when I interviewed him, “I’m just really, really proud of and have been living with for a couple years. I just couldn’t wait for people to see it and discover it, and share in the experience I had, which was really extraordinary.”
I think you can feel that while watching Love is Blind. It’s not a perfect show, and it’s also drawing from a lot of other formats, but it also doesn’t feel like paint-by-numbers reality TV.
How much reality television is produced by rote now? How many of the people who work behind the scenes are passionate about a show, versus just working a job before going on to the next one? How many shows are exciting while they’re being filmed, versus having excitement forced upon us with overly dramatic and phony editing?
Obviously, it’s edited and condensed, and there are some editing choices we could discuss (like Gianinna’s magically clean wedding dress when she’s talking to Damian after running away). And obviously, it was produced, with producers making decisions that affected how things played out.
But my sense when watching the series was that we were mostly just watching things unfold, and that made it feel more real and surprising and raw than other shows in the genre.
Can Love is Blind do that in its second—or 20th—season? Based on the reaction to the first season, I’ll bet we’ll have a chance to find out.