This article originally appeared on VICE US.
Five wise women once sang, "Love is blind, as far as the eye can see / Deep and meaningless, words to me." That message, delivered way back in 1997 by the Spice Girls, played on the old adage that we can't choose who we love. Today, those words ring true yet again, but perhaps not as you might expect on Love Is Blind, a reality show illuminating the way we form relationships through a bizarre social experiment.
Hosted by real-life couple Nick and Vanessa Lachey, Love Is Blind is the latest reality television series from the lab coats at Netflix. In its follow-up to The Circle, a binge-worthy exploration of social media influence and catfishing, the streaming giant now tackles an even messier human experience: our own biases while dating.
The premise is that a group of single men and women enter some sort of condominium-building laboratory where the men and women are kept in separate living quarters, then enter "pods" where they can interact with potential partners of the opposite sex while separated by an opaque screen that looks like abstract art stolen from a low-end Miami spa. In those rooms, contestants can talk without ever seeing one another, leaving attachments to be formed based on "emotional connections" to test the hypothesis that looks don't matter when it comes to true love. The couples can only meet face-to-face once a proposal is made—which happens in under a week—and once the engagement rings are on, the couples jet off to Cancún, Mexico, to get to know each other physically. Those who survive the tropical paradise (and not all do!) move in together, meet each other's families, and head to the altar. All of this is accomplished in 38 days. If that sounds completely unhinged and deeply irresponsible, it's because it is, and that's part of what has made this "three-week event" an internet obsession.
"In the pods, you guys all built an amazing foundation, and if you make it through these tests, I promise your marriage is going to move forward on extremely solid ground; a ground that you've built. It's as strong as or stronger than any marriage ever. We're giving you the absolute best chance for a lifetime success," Vanessa Lachey tells the cast. She should not be making these kinds of promises, and I say this as a divorced person.
The entire premise has one major flaw: Everyone on this show is pretty good-looking. Where are the terrible teeth? The massive underbite? The soul patch that extends into a long braid? If love is, indeed, blind, and this show aims to challenge us to see beyond physical attraction when it comes to finding a partner, where the hell are the uggos to prove their theory?
The cast of the first season is a barely-motley crew of conventionally attractive saps, drunks, and blank-eyed doll people delivering canned one-liners (looking at you, Giannina and Amber) whose weirdness is hardly physical—it's found in their personalities, as they struggle with some of the most basic elements needed to build a lasting marriage. We don't get to find out whether love is blind to, say, severe acne, but we do get to explore whether it's blind to the person you're engaged to revealing late in the game that they're bisexual or have $20,000 in student debt and no intentions of working. (Missed those small details on date two, and now you're getting Beyoncé lyrics rightfully screamed at you!)
When cast members enter "the experiment," as they often refer to the television show they agreed to be on, they express excitement for the prospect of finding their future spouse, and often wildly underestimate their own shallowness. However, the notion that physical attraction shouldn't be a serious consideration when building a romantic partnership is ridiculous. It's not superficial to want to be attracted to someone's looks while simultaneously forming a deeper connection based on aligning interests, beliefs, food allergies—whatever matters to you! Everyone should absolutely think their partner is a babe, even if they look like Adam Driver got stung by a bunch of bees. Whatever your respective 'types' may be, the person who loves you should think your stupid face is the sun shining down upon them.
But naturally, this is impossible to prove in a version of this experiment where everyone is good-looking, leaving no real physical barrier to overcome. Ultimately, in some cases, cast members caught the ick—that thing where you suddenly find someone repulsive over an inconsequential thing, mainly because you just weren't that into them to begin with. On Love Is Blind, this unfortunate process manifests with 34-year-old baby voiced Jessica, the wine-chugging villain of the series, faulting her doting partner—24-year-old Latinx king Mark, whom she only chose after being rejected by tall, charming fuckboy Barnett—for being slightly short, 10 years younger than her, and too emotionally available. Or there's Kelly, a "health coach" who may or may not be a BeachBody MLM rep, who's decidedly less villainous but can't help but prefer brunettes to her sandy-haired fiancé, Kenny. They just can't shake the ick, even if their partners are caring, love them deeply, and are, by most measures, pretty physically attractive. In Jessica's case, when she realizes that she settled for Mark because Barnett has zero romantic interest in her, she gets wasted, feeds her dog red wine (don't do that!), drags Mark around as he willingly acts like her doormat, and eventually dumps the poor dummy at the altar. Kenny, too, finds himself jilted, as does Giannina, a modelesque blonde whose brattiness, constant fighting, and focus on social media leads Damian to say "nope" in front of their visibly upset families.
In terms of love, this is bad. In terms of TV, it's mesmerizingly awesome. When it comes to whether love is blind, the results of the experiment are: clearly not, and if you think it is, you're in for a world of hurt.
On the other end, there's Lauren and Cameron, a 30-year-old Black content creator and 28-year-old white scientist, respectively, who are the sweet, emotionally functional center of the show. They seem meaningfully connected from the get-go (although, of course, they're both hot) and they thoughtfully communicate to address the concerns they'd face as an interracial couple. While the conversations they have with each other and with Lauren's family illuminate the often-harsh realities of interracial dating (and introduce us to Cameron's not-as-bad-as-they-could-be rapping skills), they still face challenges on the horizon—but their wedding is shockingly heartwarming, and it's impossible not to root for them to make it.
Barnett and Amber also say "I do," though it's clear there are a lot of issues they'll need to figure out, like Amber's mounting student loan debt from a college she didn't graduate from, her unapologetic aspirations to be a stay-at-home housewife, and her mildly menacing assertions that Barnett is stuck with her and never getting away and if he tries she'll beat him up. They dive in anyway, and we'll have to see what comes of that possibly future Dateline episode.
In the end, we never learn if love can conquer an uncanny resemblance to Beavis and/or Butthead. If anything, Love Is Blind teaches us that love is only actually blind if you're unwilling to see the bright red flags waving in your face. Your catalog-model-ass-looking face.
Alex Zaragoza is a senior staff writer at VICE.