Like a golden ticket from eccentric chocolatier Willy Wonka to “visit” his factory, the fourth season of Netflix’s Love Is Blind is not what it pretends to be. It’s not an “experiment,” it’s not about love, and — like the international moppets who got sucked into Wonka’s chocolate pipes or exploded into something huge and blue — it’s only an opportunity to experience humiliation, destruction, and dashed dreams.
To be fair, little has changed.
This year, as the show has done for the past three seasons, contestants — men and women separated by sex but united by their search for love — still enter “pods,” small rooms with a Wayfair-looking sofa and a shared wall. There, they talk to their prospective matches, every interaction filmed, in the hope that they’ll find love through conversation.
“Positano is my favorite place,” one of the female contestants this season yells in her windowless couch room. She hopes that the person on the other side of the wall also shares a favorable view of the luxurious Italian beach town on the Amalfi coast.
I’m not entirely sure what she’s worried about. No one on the show has ever said, “I hate Positano,” or, “I love to vacation among sewer rats.” But she is worried, making sure a man she can’t see finds her acceptable.
The ultimate goal for the Positano-lover and her cohort is to find love (sight unseen), and then advance out of the pods and see their match. But to do so, contestants must first get engaged. After that engagement, they have a mini vacation to test physical attraction, and four weeks to decide if they’re going to get married. The first season yielded two couples that are still married to this day, proving that, in certain cases, love can be blind.
But as time has gone on, the show has pivoted away from its initial questions about whether it’s possible to find true connection under these unusual circumstances and whether that’s preferable to the current real-world dating economy. Not unlike Wonka’s factory, Love Is Blind has morphed into something fearsome and self-contained: a look at just how dysfunctional relationships created under these extremely unrealistic pressures can be. Season four, full of villains, backstabbing, and multiple addenda to the initial rules, is perhaps the most cynical yet. Obviously, I cannot stop watching.
Love Is Blind is leaning into its villain era
Unlike seasons past, the fourth season of Love is Blind goes into the depths of what life is like for contestants in the pod stage of the show. Not only in the pods, where cast members do things like draw or listen to music or play games with each other through the wall (if you consider a version of beer pong a game), but also in their segregated living quarters.
While watching a man and woman color together in the pods isn’t particularly romantic or stimulating, there’s plenty to see in their common living space, which effectively amounts to a college dorm.
In the women’s area, everyone lounges around at all hours, faux fur throws wrapped around their shoulders or waists. It seems that women who aren’t currently in a pod talking to a man are encouraged to hang around talking about what just happened in said pod with one or two of the other dozen female strangers they’re living with. There’s barely any kind of Bechdel test-passing conversation between the women, no talk about personal hobbies or what the FTC’s duties are or what day of the week it is — only the men have those conversations.
This familiarity with one another — and one another’s love lives — creates tension because, in many cases, multiple women are going after the same guy (and vice versa). More than we’ve seen in any other installment of the show, cliques are formed. The sharpest division on the women’s side is between the women who dislike a contestant named Irina and the two who like Irina, one of whom is Irina herself.
“I think I’m a bombshell, but when I was younger I had really, really bad acne,” Irina says in her introductory confessional. The show identifies her as “25” and a “business owner” but does not elaborate on what kind of business Irina runs. (In my heart, I believe it’s soup-based.)
“Like, really, really bad acne. And I would always be like, ‘Guys don’t wanna date me because I have really bad acne.’” she continues. While Irina goes on to say that it’s who she is on the inside that counts, all the audience knows about who Irina is on the inside is someone still preoccupied with how she had, like, really, really bad acne.
The other women in the house do not dislike Irina because of her past acne but because she is constantly gossiping with her bestie Micah. At one point, the two find out one of their castmates has been rejected. Irina cackles, then sneaks up closer to hear the woman detail the gory bits of her dumping. That gives us something else we know about Irina: She deeply enjoys other women’s failures.
Irina’s psychological warfare escalates when she tells Zack, her No. 1 match, that Bliss, her rival for his affections, is treating Irina poorly. Zack isn’t privy to what’s going on at the Love Is Blind women’s residence hall; he hasn’t seen Irina bully and gossip. She paints herself as the victim and Zack takes her side.
The show has had problematic contestants before — women who wanted the same man, couples with palpable incompatibility, men who deserve to be single — but a villain who is actively sabotaging her fellow contestants is a first.
I found myself rooting against Irina for all her sneakiness but slowly realized that that implies there’s actually some kind of prize to be won on Love Is Blind. The show is much more cynical than that. Given what we’ve seen over previous seasons — emotional terrorism, divorce, constant miscommunication, a man with flies in his toilet, a woman who forced her fiancé to wear a full-body corn costume — there are no winners on Love Is Blind. Even if Irina “wins,” she still loses.
How Love Is Blind abandoned its gimmick
The word that comes up in Love Is Blind over and over, no matter the episode or season, is “experiment.” It’s a convenient way of making the television show sound more scientific and less exploitative than it is. Over the course of the four seasons, however, that experiment has shifted somewhat as the results produced other findings.
The possibility of “finding true love sight unseen,” it turns out, makes for less addictive television than some of the other hypothetical outcomes of gathering together a bunch of people who want to be on TV and letting them know they need to fall in love if they want camera time. It’s possible to find couples that will get married and stay together, but it’s also possible that much more chaotic dynamics will form. In the case of first-season cast member Jessica, her unrequited feelings for an already-engaged co-star and her determination to stay on the show despite all good sense eclipsed the show’s happy endings. Sure, co-stars Cam and Lauren seem like actual soulmates, but during a bout of sadness, Jessica fed her dog wine. That’s what we all remember.
The messiness continued in season two with a love triangle between Shaina, Shayne, and Natalie. Shayne chose to marry Natalie instead of Shaina even though Shaina and Shayne talked about her crop tops a lot. Similar disaster ensued in season three when Cole chose Zanab over Colleen, but verbally told Colleen, the woman he explicitly did not choose, that he was more attracted to her.
Off the top of my head, I couldn’t name the happy couples from those seasons. But I could easily name all the unhappy people and their damage. I don’t think I’m alone.
Producers figured out that it was easy to manipulate these contestants’ feelings and expectations into spiky melodrama. In each season, the powers that be pulled levers, like increasing the amount of time the cast would hang out with one another or doing away with the unspoken assumption that contestants wouldn’t be in contact with their exes from the pods.
Seeing someone outside of the pods, being attracted to them, and then making a move on them theoretically defeats the entire purpose of the show. But man, it’s good TV.
Given the psychological drama, it’s not a surprise that none of season two’s couples survived and only two of season three’s couples are still standing (for now). The third season also featured the first time a couple — Raven and SK — didn’t get married at the altar, got back together after the show stopped filming, and then broke up because of a cheating scandal. Since producers amped up the emotional chaos and the number and type of interactions on the show, cast member animus and fantastically rancid relationships have also increased.
The fourth season follows suit, continually bringing together the couples in the hope of sparking unrequited attraction-fueled clashes. The show also, for the first time, allows someone to break their engagement and ask their second choice to marry them. That’s not how it’s supposed to go! You can’t just have do-overs! The title of this show isn’t Love Is Blind, But Whoa Did You Get a Look at Her?!
These wrinkles complicate the already-existing, extremely complicated relationships, stirring up the potential for even more drama and sabotage. Aside from one pair, everyone seems much better off single. I suppose there’s relief in failure because, if the gimmicks of Love Is Blind efficiently worked, then viewers at home would have to ask ourselves questions about our own ideas of relationships and romance.
This isn’t to say that the emotional terrorism of season four isn’t entertaining, because it extremely is — much more so than watching people gush about Positano to each other. But the experiment in season four isn’t about whether love is blind anymore. It’s about what people will endure to be on this show.