Just recently, several Love Is Blind stars revealed how their struggles on the show were exploited and aggravated by the show’s producers.
Another couple, still together from season 1 of Love Is Blind, claims that they stayed together ‘in spite of’ the show and not because of it.
Following unsavoury revelations about the cast’s living and working conditions, there have been serious debates lately about the ethics of Netflix’s dating shows.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the debate. Are Netflix dating shows like Love Is Blind, The Ultimatum, and Perfect Match just pure fun and entertainment? Or are they a form of exploitation for television?
An Intense Experience for All
There’s no doubt that taking part in a reality dating show is challenging. Various Netflix stars have referred to the experience being traumatic and creating relationships in the form of ‘trauma bonds’.
For some contestants, keeping their relationship status secret after filming is emotionally taxing. Lauren and Cameron from season 1 of Love Is Blind, for instance, had to wait 18 months until their season finally aired and they could publicly announce their marriage.
For other Netflix stars, it is traumatizing to re-experience all the drama and heartbreak when their show is broadcast. This was the case, for example, for Micah from the latest season of Love Is Blind.
For other contestants, it can be scary and demoralizing to be portrayed as a ‘villain’ on their show and vilified as such by fans. Shayne from Perfect Match and Irina from Love Is Blind both had this experience.
Arguably, however, all of those potential outcomes were known to the contestants when they signed up for their respective seasons. And following the recent allegations, the real issues with Netflix’s dating shows run far deeper.
Potential Privacy Invasions
According to recent allegations, one common thread in Netflix’s dating shows is that the contestants have little privacy during filming.
Cast members of Love Is Blind, for instance, report being escorted everywhere by producers, even to the bathroom. They claim they were under constant surveillance at nighttime and couldn’t leave their bedrooms without permission.
Another privacy issue is that the cameras allegedly kept rolling when cast members visibly suffered. When Briana of Love Is Blind had a panic attack, for instance, she says she was ‘chased’ by cameras as she ventured off the set.
It seems the cast members are aware of the arguable invasions of privacy during filming. It is in a sense, what they signed up for: reality TV, by nature, involves going deep into human experiences and emotions.
And fortunately, the contestants are at least given a voice. In a recent episode of The Ultimatum, we see Xander speaking directly to the camera crew after the relentless filming of her breakup: ‘I think you guys got enough. I think you guys got enough’.
Some critics argue that certain aspects of privacy on the shows, such as the escorted bathroom trips, constitute ‘complete domination’ and create ‘inhumane conditions’.
The Provoking of Drama and Breakdowns
Another criticism concerns the manipulation tactics supposedly used by the producers of Netflix’s dating shows.
Recently, two Love Is Blind stars spoke out. Danielle and Nick claim that the restricted sleeping hours for contestants, the excessive alcohol, and the minimal food and water are designed to fuel breakdowns and drama. ‘They’re trying to break you. They want you on your edge.’
In addition, the pair claim that the show actively created tension between them. On multiple occasions, producers drilled Danielle about her anxiety and asked if it made her undeserving of Nick. Another time, Danielle was provoked by a producer into reliving an argument with Nick.
Ultimately, this became too much for the couple. Although they got engaged at the end of their Love Is Blind season, they had to split. In a recent podcast, they ask whether they would still be together if there hadn’t been so much interference.
Although Nick and Danielle’s story highlights hints of manipulation, it is just one story. The pair admit their experience was probably just down to being assigned a bad producer. Other couples on Love Is Blind (and Netflix’s other dating shows) had different producers and less negative experiences.
That being said, the possibility that any Netflix show producer plays with a person’s wellbeing to create ‘better’ television is hard to swallow. Appeals are now being made, by fans and even psychologists, for better welfare measures on the shows—such as more regular access to therapists.
Platforms to Toxic Cast Members
A final concern expressed by fans in particular is the alleged platforming of abusive and toxic castmates on Netflix’s dating shows.
On the one hand, casting people who display toxic behaviours can help to educate viewers and spark fruitful debates. It’s also a realistic reflection of society. However, when that comes at the expense of the well-being of other cast members, it is ethically questionable.
Particular outrage arose after Love Is Blind Season 3, which featured apparent gaslighting and aggression from several male castmates towards the women. One male participant, Brennon, had also been reported (but cleared) for a domestic violence incident before filming.
And the issue isn’t unique to Love Is Blind. In the recent reunion episode of The Ultimatum season 2, Mildred verbally abused her ex-partner on-camera after physically abusing them outside the show.
Questions were raised about why Mildred’s verbal tirade wasn’t interrupted and why she was permitted to participate in the reunion. Filming the reunion proved highly triggering for her ex-partner, who had to leave the set and broke down into tears.
Such incidents imply that the dating shows on Netflix exploit cast members’ suffering while not doing enough to condemn or prevent abuse.
Signs of Future Improvements?
In light of the recent controversies and viewer backlashes, Netflix should ideally try to limit the toxicity and trauma induced by its shows in the future. Fortunately, steps are being taken in the right direction.
Kinetic Content—the production company behind Love Is Blind, The Ultimatum, and Perfect Match—is now being held accountable. Lawsuits against Kinetic Content and Netflix have been filed, predominantly due to the working conditions and alleged unfair pay.
Furthermore, two former Love Is Blind cast members (featured in the video above) established a nonprofit organization that provides legal and psychological support to reality stars.
The nonprofit also acts as an advocacy group and recently promoted the creation of a code of ethics for reality TV, inspired by a similar development in Spain. Time will tell if the US and other nations follow suit.
So, there are glimmers of hope for the casts of Netflix’s future dating shows. On top of all that, we mustn’t forget that many Netflix stars enjoyed filming their show and directly benefitted from the experience.
The Rosy Side of Netflix Dating Shows
It isn’t all doom and gloom for participants in Netflix reality TV. Since appearing on a show, multiple stars have seen their social media followings skyrocket, while others have had the chance to start podcasts or expand a brand.
To fans’ delight, ongoing friendships have also formed between many ex-castmates. A sceptic might argue that the stars only bonded through their shared trauma of participating in an exploitative experience. Some of the cast even admit such themselves.
That being said, looking at the cast’s social media posts, many formed friendships appear to be positive and authentic. And Netflix can at least be proud of forging friendships among young people in our ever-more atomized world.
Lucy studied modules in cinema and visual culture at university. Her favourite genres include crime, reality, dystopian, and biopics. In addition to writing for Tbreak, Lucy writes and edits for various lifestyle publications.