In 1945, when television was black and white and barely there, a Los Angeles network launched a show called Queen For a Day. Different women were asked what they needed most and why they should be crowned "Queen For a Day". Their answers ranged from a new refrigerator to medical care for a chronically ill child, at which point the audience would applaud. Whoever got the loudest applause would be draped in velvet and their wishes granted. Thus, the first reality show was born.
You would have thought that, in the space of 80 years, reality TV would have gotten a little less batshit. Most formats – living on an island with minimal food and shelter (Survivor), swapping wives with someone else (Wife Swap), competing for the affections of ageing Poison frontman Bret Michaels (Rock of Love) – have been done. After the early to mid-2000s boom of getting anyone on telly for whatever reason, it might have made sense that we’d slow down a little. But no: enter Love Is Blind, a new dating reality show on Netflix which is, essentially, every single format mushed into one.
The premise is this: 15 guys and 15 girls live in separate houses. They speak through isolated "pods" in which they can’t see each other. That alone might have been enough as a concept, but then they must propose to the ones they “fall in love” with to reach the next stage. After this, they all hang out in Mexico for two weeks, where they finally see each other in the flesh and maybe have sex. Shortly after that, they move in together and meet the parents. Thirty-eight days after proposing, they actually get married (if they’ve lasted that long). In other words, it's Love Island, Big Brother, The Bachelor, The Circle and Married at First Sight all rolled into one.
There’s a lot unpack here, obviously. A lot of open-ended questions. Let's get straight to it:
How do they all fall in love so quickly?
Only a handful of people on Love Island fall in love after a few weeks. Nearly everyone on Love is Blind profess to falling in love after a few days. By day eight they’re in tears, telling each other they’ve waited their whole lives for this one person, gearing up to propose to someone they’ve never met. It’s understandable that they might forge a close connection under such intense, one-on-one circumstances with very few distractions. But this is… a lot.
“You have now become the most important thing in my life,” says one contestant, Damian, eyes brimming as he proposes to someone he’s spoken to five or six times and never seen. “Today I don’t just give you a piece of me, I give you all of me. I love everything about you, Giannina.”
Fast forward a few days and the two are screaming at each other because Giannina says says the sex “isn’t mind-blowing” and she’s lost her butterflies. These are people who have known each other for less than one month. And they're having the kind of argument that usually happens after five long years of sharing a flat with someone who'd rather watch a boxset than go down on you. Why?
Why are they always trashed?
They drink in the pods when they're getting to know each other. They drink in Mexico when they finally meet each other. They drink in their flats and drink while meeting the parents. Every group meeting occurs in a bar or a club, and very few episodes go by without at least one of them swaying from side to side, teeth tinged with red wine, eyes glazed from vodka cocktails, hands draped around their fiancé like a cat guarding a pigeon it just killed.
Most reality shows have boundaries in place when it comes to alcohol consumption. In Love Island, for instance, contestants are only allowed one to two drinks per night. I have no idea how much they're allowed on Love Is Blind, but from watching alone, it looks like they have a drink in their hand at least half the time. It makes you wonder whether some of these couples will wake up, desperately hungover, and realise for the first time that they are now legally married to a guy who wears double Casio watches.
Why are heterosexuals like this?
Or, more accurately, why are American heterosexuals like this? The whole concept of Love Is Blind hinges on an unwavering belief in the institution of marriage, even more so than a belief in love itself. Contestants talk about wanting to "finally settle down” and find a "good husband" or a "wife who wants kids” as if this is unequivocally everyone's ultimate goal in life. All of this is exacerbated by the fact that the winners aren't awarded any money at the end. That's right: nobody wins anything, meaning there is zero incentive to go through with this other than the marriage itself.
With that in mind, I'm not sure the concept would work if the contestants weren't A) American, and B) straight. To be able to take part in Love Is Blind, you need to be able to view the happily ever after fairytale / capitalist dream with the sort of earnestness that straight Americans are especially good at. None of these people treat the show as a joke. This is their lives. There are no winking asides, no camping things up for the sake of it. American heterosexuals are integral to not breaking the fourth wall.
Is love actually blind?
I don't know. The show doesn't tell us. All the contestants are conventionally attractive for starters. And while they do propose to someone they've never seen, they only go through with the wedding once they've spent time in each other's physical company, while looking at each other (the "blind" part only lasts for the first two episodes).
The social experiment is less about whether love is blind, then, and more about whether you can can fall in love and get married to someone you know nothing about other than whether they "like family" or "care about age" in the space of a month. It's arranged marriage with a reality TV sheen. But it's also the most gripping thing I've seen in months.