Much like the phrase, “the goodbye was in the hello,” the end of my latest reality show obsession, Netflix’s Love Is Blind, began before the show had even officially finished.
Why? Because I am a hater and a lover. I love reality shows but I loathe what comes after them—me, sucked into its universe, while its stars inevitably try to become my newest and shiniest influencers.
After the success of every reality show comes the almost high school yearbook aftereffects. Which of its stars are most likely to succeed by using their new fame as a springboard? Which is most likely to show up on another reality show…or ten? And the worse of all, who’s most likely to become a hocker, attempting to sell me, and their new hordes of social media followers, everything from multi-vitamins that will make our hair glossier to waist trainers?
Weeks before Love Is Blind debuted, I came across its promotional clips and smirked. Here was another outrageous dating show, this time revolving around single strangers earnestly searching for love by communicating via dimly lit pods. “You’re not getting me this time!” I promised myself. I was not going to let myself get sucked into this new dating vortex. I had already been reluctantly drawn into programs like Married at First Sight, Love Island and Bachelor Paradise.
However, due to my minuscule will power, and insatiable curiosity, I clicked on episode one and hours later I had binged watched the first four episodes. I was officially hooked and obsessed. Would Lauren and Cameron make it past the engagement? Why did I relate to Jessica so much? Was it our mutual fear of commitment, ability to obnoxiously push good men away or winning fashion choices?
The following week, I fervently awaited the next four episodes. Then there I was again, binge watching episodes 4 to 8. I was now also a member of an informal motley crew of investigators deciphering random Instagram posts for clues on which couples were still together. And I spent evenings musing about the state of love and connection in the 21st century with anyone who’d indulge me. It became 14 days of hope, love, anticipation and the oddest communal gathering of disparate strangers brought together by a reality show.
Reality shows make everyday people famous, and off-camera everyday people, like me, invested in their journey. The fact that their vulnerabilities and desires are laid bare, their joys are edited to peak perfection, and their fears shared with such openness, encourages me to commiserate with them. They feel like distant friends that I’m rooting for, relating to and, yes, judging. During LIB’s final wedding episode, I was enthralled. I gasped when Damian blindsided Giannina at the alter. I slumped in dismay at Jessica’s friendly, and very peculiar behaviour, while refusing to marry Mark. I sighed with relief at Amber and Barnett’s vows, and clapped with joy as Lauren and Cameron said “I do” with such confidence. But without the show holding us together, following the lives of these essential strangers feels one sided. The relationship dynamics between them, reality show cast, and audience, now followers on their exploding social media platforms, change instantly. It’s a relationship built to be exploited. We exploit them by our anonymity, watching them face emotional chaos and triumph. And they will exploit us on the backend.
Prior to the existence of social media, when a reality show ended, so did your time with the casts, unless they catapulted into fame. Today, you can find them all waiting for you on Instagram, primed and ready to welcome you into their real, “highly curated,” off camera lives. It often feels like you’re being corralled into a persistent infomercial. And that’s where the love affair ends for me. Now I watch them wearily. Do I care about Lauren and Giannina’s modelling careers? I don’t even care about the misguided modelling efforts of friends I know and love in real life. Am I interested in indulging Damian’s black and white thirst trap pics? Should I just skip the inevitable posts featuring bashful hawking of vitamins, shampoos and energy drinks that other reality stars regularly expose me to—I sense that coming in fitness trainer Kelly’s future. And then, of course, there’s the inevitable attempts at acting or entertainment journalism careers that just seems to come with the reality star territory. Hence, like Tinder, binge watching dating reality shows are quick sugar rushes for me, quick in, quick out. I rarely invest in a reality star past the show’s existence.
Yet, there’s an interesting exception to my fading love story with reality stars, it’s the talent competition reality stars. From fashion designer Christian Siriano, who I rooted for on Project Runway, to most recently fashion designer Minju Kim from Next in Fashion (Netflix) and Blown Away (Netflix) winner, glassblower Deborah Czeresko, I remain intrigued and invested. This may derive from the fact that my interest began because of their creative point of views and artistic talent, not their personal lives. Thus the “relationship” between them and I is not based on “will they or won’t they” but what they create.
So, for now, I quietly mourn the end of Love Is Blind, that thrillingly odd wild ride that gave me so much pleasure. At least I have one more time to say goodbye via this week’s reunion show.
And to you, season two’s Love Is Blind, I anxiously await you, though I know that I will just love you and leave you like all the rest.
Chaka V. Grier is a journalist and essayist.