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How Love Is Blind became a horror show

Netflix’s hit show had real romantic promise in the first season. Now, it’s sadistic.

Cole from Love Is Blind season three. Cole had flies in his toilet and almost married a woman named Zanab who alleged Cole fat-shamed her into not eating mandarin oranges.
Courtesy of Netflix
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

Like a desperation haircut you get while your stylist is on vacation, the third season of Netflix’s Love Is Blind will have you whispering over and over: This isn’t what I asked for.

Love Is Blind premiered in 2020 and was initially billed as both a three-week Netflix event and a social-romantic experiment testing whether or not humans could fall in love with each other sight unseen. “Experiment,” with its vaguely scientific and controlled connotations, turned out to be a generous description.

As the seasons went on, it became very clear that this process was anything but scientific — or controlled.

Here’s how Love Is Blind went from a sociological fairy tale to a reality TV nightmare in just three seasons.

Love Is Blind is supposed to be about finding love ... blindly

The gist of the show is that no one would ever buy a car or rent an apartment without seeing it in person, let alone marry someone they’ve never laid eyes on. Yet, Netflix producers found a bunch of people who said they would in fact marry someone they’ve never seen. These guinea pigs were lit generously, miked up, and put on our television screens.

Over 10 days or so, these romantics would enter “pods,” cozy little rooms with a couch and a shared wall, talk to their prospective spouses, and have their interactions filmed. The show calls those conversations “dates,” and multiple dates qualify as a boyfriend/girlfriend scenario (the couples on all three seasons are heterosexual). If those dates flame out, those strangers become “exes ” — but if they’re successful, the eventual goal is engagement after a mere four weeks.

Love Is Blind loves to call things by other names, creating (or at least trying to create) a surreal reality where conventional customs and definitions are suspended.

The first season resulted in two married couples — Cam and Lauren (very sweet and likable) and Barnett and Amber (less likable, but good for them) — who are still married to this day. Cam and Lauren’s coupling was the show’s best-case scenario of the “experiment” working out. They’re both very good-looking, possess regular-ish jobs (he’s a scientist, she’s a social media content creator), and have friends and family that are supportive of them. If these ostensibly normal, very hot people could genuinely fall in love under such wild circumstances, then this zany show couldn’t be that far-fetched.

The biggest breakout star, though, was Jessica, a woman who got engaged to a man named Mark in the pods but was actually more into Barnett.

Jessica, the breakout star of Love Is Blind season one. She fed her dog wine.
Courtesy of Netflix

Jessica tried to woo Barnett after the pods, which made things awkward for the rest of the cast, including her own fiancee. Jessica also got sad, got drunk, and fed her dog wine. Shortly after this, fans and cast members alike dubbed her “Messica,” a portmanteau to help triangulate her chaotic energy.

Producers seemed to notice this and used what they learned from Jessica to fiddle with their experiment. I predicted that the more seasons the show would go on, the more cynical it would end up becoming. And oh look, I was right.

The second season featured more face-to-face time with people who didn’t pair up in the pods, including Shaina, a hairdresser who seemed intent on sabotaging engaged couple Natalie and Shayne because she was attracted to the latter. Season two also featured Jarrette and Mallory, who had feelings for each other despite both being engaged to other people. Jarrette and his partner Iyanna were one of the two couples who got married on the show, but both ultimately dissolved.

Producers also found Shake, a man who by his own description was laser-focused on marrying a woman small enough to carry on his shoulders during a music festival. Nothing mattered more to him than this quality, and he was extremely rude to his partner Deepti because she was too big for him to lift at, like, Coachella. Shake was 33 at the time of filming.

The couples flopped, but the show thrived.

Producers added a follow-up, three-episode installment, Love Is Blind: After the Altar in September 2022. The supplemental epilogue caught up with the second-season cast to see if any romance had sparked since the initial filming. However, the show aired after the couples announced their real-life separations and divorces, turning the viewing experience into a dying relationship autopsy of sorts.

The Love Is Blind season two cast. No one in this cast (aside from the hosts Nick and Vanessa Lachey) are still together.
Adam Rose/Courtesy of Netflix

That brings us to this demented third season, a show that barely resembles its original self, but one that I’ve come to appreciate for different reasons.

Are there thoughtful pairings based on mutual respect? Not exactly. Are there potential couples digging deep to share their true selves without the burden of physical appearance? Not so much.

But there are more face-to-face moments between the contestants and more forced interactions between the couples and exes who didn’t work out. That’s led to an acute increase in men telling their partners that other women are hotter than them. Instead of a quest to find love, the show has become a will-they-or-won’t-they for dodging bullets.

And I cannot stop watching. Because have you ever wanted to see someone get their shit rocked so bad that you tune in week after week? If not, I encourage you to give it a try.

Love Is Blind season three is less about love and more about red flags


I was home alone when I screamed this. I didn’t do it for anyone to hear, but to reassure myself that I wasn’t hallucinating or having a stroke. This disgusting image appears in episode seven. Four flies are huddling together in the basin of Cole’s toilet, presumably eating the grime that hasn’t been cleaned in weeks.

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These are the flies in Cole’s toilet.

Cole, 27, is one of the male contestants in this installment and has become the show’s breakout villain. He was attracted to two women in the pods, Colleen and Zanab, but chose Zanab, he says, because of the emotional connection they forged. That didn’t stop him from telling Colleen, upon seeing her, that he was very attracted to her — much more than he was attracted to Zanab. At one point, he tells Zanab about his attraction to Colleen in more or less the same manner he expressed it to Colleen. To no one’s shock, it does not go over well.

Cole and Zanab’s other conflicts include her not wanting him to leave his wet towels on floors, on tables, and on beds. Her dislike of wet towels strewn around their living areas and her direct request to him to pick them up is, Cole says, her being passive-aggressive. On multiple occasions, Cole also tells Zanab that she isn’t the type of girl he’s usually dated (Colleen is) and that Cole’s parents have no intention of meeting her either. At one point, he asks if she is bipolar, not as a genuine question about her mental health but rather as an insult. Also, flies in the toilet!

If not for what seems to be each contestant’s contractual obligation to only dump their prospective spouse at the altar in matrimonial attire, these two people would not be together. And that’s exactly the point.

What makes Love Is Blind so compelling is that it amplifies the awful facets of dating — desperation, miscommunication, anxiety, arguments — to such an uncomfortable and outsized degree that regular, real-life dating feels like a relief.

This is Colleen. She is making the sad face that a lot of the women on Love Is Blind make.
Courtesy of Netflix

As bad as things get in the real world, it’s unlikely anyone will ever tell you that you’re being psychotic and passive-aggressive for wanting someone to hang up their towel. As bad as we’ve treated people, we probably have never told them — as Bartise, another male contestant, says to his partner Nancy — that they aren’t a “smokeshow,” and we would never — as Bartise also does to Nancy — squeal to our family about how our partners don’t share the same political views in the hopes said family members will bully our partners to change their minds.

These dysfunctional relationships exist to reassure the audience at home that we’d be smart enough to get ourselves out of these relationships. We would, of course, be aware enough to clock this kind of toxicity if it ever entered our own lives ... right?

What sets this season apart, though, is how much of it was spent waiting for Cole (and to a lesser extent, Bartise) to face some kind of comeuppance. The show’s dramatic tension hinged on the hope that these men would experience something worse than getting dumped. Perhaps I am a vindictive spinster, but doesn’t everyone have an ex like that?

Maybe, after the 30th time of her telling him to pick up his damp towel and put away his dirty underwear and him insinuating for the 29th time that she is a crazy shrew, Zanab would finally leave Cole. Maybe someone — perhaps our hosts Nick and Vanessa Lachey — would intervene and tell Cole that he is an overgrown baby and Zanab that she needs to love herself. But that never happened. Like a nature documentary that you can’t show young kids because a lion takes a chomp out of a zebra and the zebra is just walking around with its guts out, Love Is Blind keeps the camera rolling.

The closest thing the show gave us to some kind of justice was the reunion, in which Zanab and the female contestants said Cole was extremely immature and not a pleasure to date. At one point, they mention that the editors were extremely kind to Cole and didn’t show some of his more loathsome behavior — mainly fat-shaming Zanab. After telling Zanab that she is “insane” and “crazy,” fellow cast members urge Cole not to use ableist language, to which he responds that, fine, Zanab is a liar.

Just when I had made up my mind and thought I could put this season away, though, the nasty producers of this horror show included a post-credits scene seemingly designed to wreak further havoc upon my already-corroded brain.

Throughout the reunion, an anecdote about Cuties, the easy-to-peel, sweet mandarin oranges, kept coming up. Zanab said that she had wanted to eat two, but Cole fat-shamed her into not eating them. This scene had never been shown. The producers then included the footage as a post-credits scene, and it does show Cole is telling her not to spoil her “appetito.” The interaction doesn’t seem as awful as Zanab painted it to be, and the damage was done: I could no longer fully believe Zanab either.

Cole and Zanab. Honestly, maybe they deserved each other.
Sara Mally/Courtesy of Netflix

For the first time this season, it wasn’t clear who was in the wrong, who was in the right, and what the truth was about a seemingly very simple, obvious, terrible relationship. Having long established that love is not actually blind, this season’s revelation that relationships — even brief, made-for-TV ones — are not tidy made the surreal show as real as it has ever been.

I was left to choose between a man who has flies in his toilet or the woman who loved the man with flies in his toilet. A man who possibly fat-shames and a woman who may have exaggerated about the psychic violence of this Cuties interaction. It’s not an appealing choice but it affirms one thing: Being single is okay too. Well, until next season, of course.