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[This story contains spoilers for the second season of Netflix’s Love Is Blind.]
The vision for Love Is Blind appears to be a clear one, given that the popular Netflix relationship series, which recently dropped its second season, has been officially renewed for three more rounds.
Love Is Blind features single people who spend 10 days forming relationships in “pods” without ever seeing the individual in front of them, and then deciding whether to get engaged, sight-unseen. The first season premiered in mid-February 2020, just as the reality of the pandemic — not to mention the idea of interacting with people without seeing them face-to-face — was starting to hit home. Two of those couples remain married to this day, meaning the bar was a high one for the next season, debuting two years later.
Needless to say, season two, which started airing this February, lived up to expectations in terms of people finding love, but also by spurring discussions about what people really look for in a partner. Just as in the previous season, two couples — Iyanna McNeely and Jarrette Jones, and Danielle Ruhl and Nick Thompson — tied the knot and remain together. However, more of the conversation around the newest season seemed to revolve around those who didn’t find love — namely Abhishek “Shake” Chatterjee, who raised eyebrows with his questions to the women in pods about their physique and then made insulting comments about Deepti Vempati after choosing to propose to her.
“I’m not unhappy that Shake made it onto the show,” Love Is Blind creator Chris Coelen tells The Hollywood Reporter. Coelen is the founder of Kinetic Content, whose company has also produced such series as Married at First Sight and the Little Women franchise, and is behind Netflix’s upcoming The Ultimatum, a Temptation Island-type dating series that will exclusively feature queer couples in its second season. He adds about Chatterjee and Vempati, “Deepti chose Shake — I didn’t choose Shake for her. She chose him, and in that way, it’s very reflective of the real world.”
Ahead of the show’s third season, which filmed prior to the release of season two and is set to launch later this year, Coelen discusses questions about the editing process, his view on the prospect of increasing the show’s LGBTQ inclusivity, why he was initially “devastated” when Jones and Mallory Zapata parted ways and how he feels when developments — including Vempati and Kyle Abrams recently spending time together — take place after cameras stop rolling.
With two seasons under your belt, and a third one ready to go, what’s your take thus far on how Love Is Blind is working out?
This is what we always say: It’s an experiment first, and it’s a TV show documenting that experiment second. From the point of view of it as an experiment, I think it’s a terrific success. Everyone involved in it, or 99 percent of the people involved with it, feel like it’s made a huge difference in their life. It’s been a transformational occurrence because of the experience that they went through, because of the way that they learned about themselves and about other people in their lives. And obviously, for some people, they got married — they changed their lives in a really dramatic, radical way; in a way that they were hoping they were going to do when they first went into it. So from that perspective, I’m incredibly thankful that the participants really embrace the experience and really dive in and immerse themselves in it.
Secondly, as far as the show goes, I’m very happy with the show. It’s an incredibly intense experience that they go through, and we have something like over 30,000 hours of footage that we’re trying to make into a show. So to try to whittle that down into a viewing experience that accurately reflects the experience that the participants went through and the feelings that they felt and the journey that they had, I think we’ve done a good job with that. We really let their stories guide us. In producing the show, there are things that we might wanna see happen or root for to happen, and they don’t happen, and other things completely unexpectedly pop up that we’re not anticipating. As a producer, it’s a scary high-wire, but you just roll with it, and what happens, happens. The audience has really embraced the show in a really massive way, and I just couldn’t be more grateful for that.
It must be incredible to see the two successful couples from season two. But a lot of discussion about the season has centered on Shake. Is that a situation where he slips through the cracks in terms of the vetting process, or are you OK with it because it feels more like the reality of dating?
Listen, we vet people coming into the show. It’s not an infallible process. I’m not unhappy that Shake made it onto the show. The intention is that you invite into the pods people who go through a pretty rigorous process to be chosen, and they have a stated intention of being serious about finding someone. Now, they all say that none of them really expect that it’s gonna happen because there’s a high degree of skepticism when people walk into those pods. No matter how you come into it, though, you do get transformed.
And I will tell you that I remember talking to Shake personally on the day of his reveal when he saw Deepti for the first time, and I remember saying hello to him and wishing him good luck in the future. I was incredibly moved and blown away by what I perceived to be his emotional sort of maturation and transformation in the pods, that he had seemingly discovered things about himself in the pods that were very profound in terms of why he felt the way he did and about who he was as a person, and I think he felt that way. And of course, the point of view of the show is not “Love is blind.” The point of the show is, actually, “Is love blind? Can it be blind?” And when Shake was there and saw Deepti for the first time, he was very much in the mindset that, “Love is blind, and this is the woman that I’m gonna be with, and I have changed as a person.” Of course, then he gets in the real world, and that’s what the show looks at. You start with love — can it survive the real world that we live in? And for him, obviously, it didn’t, and I think that’s a real story.
And so, am I unhappy about it? No, I’m not unhappy about it. I’m certainly unhappy that Deepti didn’t get the happy ending that she wanted there, but I think even talking to Deepti after the fact, she has felt she has grown tremendously through this experience as a person, and I’m really happy about that. I’m happy for her. I’m hoping that Shake will feel the same way at some point, if he doesn’t already. Look, our duty as producers is to tell the real story — that’s it. We have no preconceived notions: “Oh, we hope that it’s people who look like this or look like that, or people who have this story or that story — they find each other.” We don’t control any of that. People have made comments like, “Well, the producers would like this to happen.” Maybe we would, but we don’t ever influence it — ever. We don’t tell anybody what to say, how to feel, how to think. Whatever happens, we’re gonna follow — and by the way, that might mean nobody gets engaged. It might mean, like in season one or season two, we end up with eight engagements. We set up the machinery, and we just let it happen.
But is it a tough process of figuring out who is worthy of this platform and knowing who the audience will want to root for?
We certainly vet people, and we do psychological testing — we do background checks and all of that — but we want to invite a broad array of people into the pods. Let’s say I thought that somebody was a jerk and a chauvinist. I am not making the decision. If you look at Shake and Deepti, Deepti chose Shake — I didn’t choose Shake for her. She chose him, and in that way, it’s very reflective of the real world. And she felt great about that decision when she made it, and obviously, again, the real world ended up showing them that they shouldn’t be together. My responsibility is to let people make their own decisions. Really.
Season one included a storyline involving Carlton [Morton] discussing his bisexuality. Is there a possibility of increasing LGBTQ inclusion on future seasons?
I’m a big advocate for diversity and inclusivity across all sectors and categories, and am welcoming to all kinds of human beings. The most important thing, when this topic comes up, is to echo what I always say to the participants: I always tell them, as I said to you a little bit ago, “We’re never gonna tell you what to think. We’re never gonna tell you what to say. We’re never gonna tell you how to feel. And in this same way, we’re never gonna trick you.” I never want to trick people, so from that standpoint, if we’re making a show that is about people’s relationships, it’s important for them to have us as their guardrails — to have a pool of people that, at least based on their stated intentions, they’re interested in. That doesn’t just mean in terms of your sexual identity. It means, in terms of your desire to be married, and to be married to a person like them. There are all kinds of fascinating love stories to tell. Being inclusive across different backgrounds and different ethnicities is something that we’ve done from day one on all of our shows, and we’ve done that with a variety of queer love stories [including The Ultimatum season two].
Love Is Blind’s third season, which filmed in Dallas, was shot before you knew what the reactions would be to season two. Is it tough to have filmed before knowing how season two would be received, or is there no real way to learn from a season of a show like this?
The most important thing to us in producing a show is to have it be authentic. To me, it doesn’t really matter what happens in season one or season two or season three, or beyond. All it matters is that we allow them a true space to have a real experience. What happens to them on these shows lasts far beyond the television show. These are real decisions affecting their real lives, potentially forever, and in terms of having kids, etc. So we take that part of it very seriously. I think we’ve been lucky. It’s not like we’ve been, “Oh, my God, we did something wrong in season one, so we have to learn from it and fix it.” What we got right in season one is what I hope we continue to get right in future seasons, which is, let it be real, and whatever happens, happens.
Season one certainly delivered a relationship in Lauren and Cameron that shows how well this process can work. I was really optimistic about the initial chemistry between season two’s Shayne [Jansen] and Natalie [Lee] before their big fight. As a producer, and as you plan for season three and beyond, do you like to see unsuccessful couples as much as you like to see the successful ones?
Of course, as a human being, I want everybody to have a happy ending. But a happy ending doesn’t necessarily correlate to getting married at the end of the day. I would say most people feel that Deepti’s happy ending was choosing herself. And so, for me, I root for people to have the ending that makes sense for them and to take something away from it. And so it’s not about, “Gosh, I wish there was more drama or less drama, or more people get married or less people get married.” If everybody gets married, great. If nobody gets married, great. To me, it’s not about that. It’s about following the real stories.
It was interesting to see viewers voicing appreciation for the way that Nick and Vanessa Lachey hosted the reunion, particularly their willingness to hold Shake accountable for his actions. Does your team encourage them to express their feelings?
First of all, Nick and Vanessa are phenomenal hosts. They do a great job of being real with people, and just like with the participants, we don’t tell Nick and Vanessa what to say or what not to say. And they are very invested in the participants, and they definitely have an opinion, so we absolutely don’t discourage anybody from expressing their opinion. Any of them can say anything they want again — that’s part of the exciting thing about the show.
Fans remain so invested in the participants and follow post-show developments, like Kyle and Deepti now spending time together, and Shaina [Hurley]’s recent engagement. Do you pay attention to where the show leads people after it airs?
Oh, absolutely. I’m absolutely curious to hear what happens next with all of the participants on all of the shows that we do. I always love to hear news about what happens to this one. I get surprised as anybody with some of the things that I hear that may or may not be going on with the people who have participated in the show in the past.
How did you feel about Jarrette and Iyanna, and Danielle and Nick, being the last two couples standing? Was that something that you saw happening, or is it more that it makes sense in hindsight?
Everything makes sense in hindsight. In the moment, you’re following along, and when Jarrette and Mallory broke up in the pods, watching that happen live, you’re as surprised and devastated on both of their behalves as anyone. And then to see how things turn from there is incredible. We just follow whatever’s really happening, and so yes, of course, you’re always surprised about who ends up with whom and why, and what their issues are that they run into, or they don’t run into. Everybody runs into issues, of course, because they’re human, but it’s always surprising to see how they handle those.
When you see the reality genre having been called out for tactics like “frankenbiting,” involving a manipulated audio clip, how does that impact your approach for editing and the goal of your show?
Obviously, every show is edited. We have over 30,000 hours of footage. I encourage people to speak their mind. Shake wants to call out that he’s worried about the editing? Great. I’m not gonna take that out — that’s how he feels. But you also see how everybody else feels, which is, “Actually, Shake, we think you got a really good edit. Actually, we think that you got off light — you’re actually more of an asshole than you come off as.” That’s how they felt. So I’m not gonna stop either side from voicing whatever their opinion is. My job, ultimately, is to try to convey a truthful experience of their journey.
In fact, it was expressed during the reunion that Shake may have made comments even worse than what we saw. What was your reaction to that?
Did he make comments that were worse? I would say, as much as we do film and as much footage as we do have, we’re not filming them 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Just like with Shayne and Natalie — he got upset at the bachelor party when they were supposed to sleep in separate places. They weren’t supposed to come back together till their wedding day, and he was upset and decided he wanted to go over her place. Nobody was there to film it. We want them to live their real lives, and that’s one of the reasons that this works. I am not personally aware of every single thing that Shake has said or didn’t say. We try to tell the truth, as we see it, of their experience.
Do you have any second thoughts about the engagements that didn’t appear in season two?
We only have so much bandwidth. We only have such a big production team, and we only have a certain number of episodes. The more couples you follow, the less time every couple then receives in the program. If we have more couples than we’re able to follow, then it’s kind of guesswork: Who do we want to follow? Maybe we make the right decisions, and maybe we don’t, but we just have to make a decision and move on with it.
Your company has had success on cable, with shows like Married at First Sight, and now on streaming. Has it been tricky to figure out the right release plan for the streaming shows and to make unscripted shows work with a binge model?
In terms of the strategy of releasing the show, that’s a Netflix question. They decide when and where and how the shows come out. What we can control is: come up with an idea, making a great show and deciding who we think a good partner could be. At the end of the day, a good partner is a supportive partner. You want a partner who really understands the show and supports your vision for it. We’ve been lucky to have great partners on all fronts.
Have you considered Love Is Blind spinoffs, possibly catching up with a specific couple, as you’ve produced for Married at First Sight?
We’re certainly open to anything, but it has to make sense. In season one, we did a short, three-episode After the Altar, but that’s more of a catch-up than a true spinoff. We pour ourselves into these shows; we have to really feel excited about it.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
Love Is Blind is now streaming on Netflix.
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