SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “Love Is Blind: After the Altar,” streaming now on Netflix.
Just weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic forced isolation and quarantining around the world, Netflix debuted a new reality dating show, “Love Is Blind,” that featured its hopeful romantics meeting potential mates from behind the walls of their own individual pods. The concept was simple: get to know someone based on personality before you ever see what they look like, and hopefully make a connection so strong wedding vows are exchanged by the end of the season. Spoiler alert: by the end of Season 1, two couples got married and are now back, along with the majority of the cast and a special guest from “Too Hot to Handle,” for a three-part followup entitled “Love Is Blind: After the Altar.”
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“We didn’t go into it with any explanation of, ‘We have to do this’ or ‘We have to do that.’ We were very thankful that there was — seemingly — a big desire to see where these stories went, and that’s what we responded to,” Chris Coelen, executive producer and CEO of Kinetic Content, tells Variety of the special followup.
“Love Is Blind” delivered an initial reunion episode immediately after the first season wrapped up at the top of 2020, but a lot could have changed in the year-plus since. Coelen, who is also behind the “Married at First Sight” franchise, knows that there is no standard time to check in on a couple. On that series, the show has followed up every where from a month to six months after the wedding and even chronicled “the whole first year because the first year of marriage is the toughest,” he recalls. What they are looking for on all shows are “real moments in people’s lives and tell them authentically.”
Ironically, while the first season of “Love Is Blind” introduced the pods as the perfect pandemic dating show set-up, it was shot months before COVID swept the globe and of course without any knowledge of what was to come. The three-part special was shot during the pandemic, with new health and safety protocols, including COVID testing, to allow the cast to come together for a combination of individual catch-ups and a large party featuring everyone reuniting to celebrate the second anniversary for the Barnetts (Amber Pike and Matt Barnett) and the Hamiltons (Lauren Speed and Cameron Hamilton). Coelen admits that if not for the pandemic, this followup may have come sooner, but there really is “no magic” about the timing of when to check in with the cast. “It’s what happens afterwards because we left them at a very dramatic place,” he says.
There was certainly more to explore for the newlyweds. The Barnetts sold Matt’s house to pay off Amber’s debts, are living in her old apartment with a roommate and she was diagnosed with epilepsy, while the Hamiltons have been facing pressure from family members to start their own family. On the singles side of things, Jessica Batten “internally processed her time on the show and the reaction to her on the show,” Coelen says, which put her in a place where she wanted to give the Barnetts a wedding gift, even though she was once gunning for Matt’s heart. And Carlton Morton had more to discuss about the way his bisexuality was received on the show and off-camera.
With regards to the latter, Coelen notes that it was Morton who told producers that although he dated people of both genders, he was looking to explore a relationship with a woman on the show. So when casting, they focused on potential heterosexual pairings for that first season.
“You need a pool of people who think they will be interested in one another. In the ‘Love Is Blind’ construct in Season 1, certainly there were a group of men and a group of women and if you were interested in that, then you were welcome on the show. We didn’t want to put anybody into a situation where they would find themselves where they were on an island; that wouldn’t have made any sense,” he explains. But, “on any of our shows I think the best thing we can do is never judge anyone or presume for anyone what they are or are not interested in.”
And then there was Damian Powers and Giannina Gibelli, the couple that didn’t make it down the aisle but announced they were still together during the reunion episode. As those who follow their social media know, their relationship has been rocky and Powers was even photographed holding hands with “Too Hot to Handle’s” Francesca Farago. “After the Altar” dives deeper than their social media posts have, following Powers and Farago as they dine out together, capturing a conversation between Gibelli and her mother about the relationship and seeing what happens when Powers arrives solo to the anniversary party — only for Farago to also show up not too much later.
Unlike Netflix’s other reality show, “The Circle,” intentionally casting a “Too Hot to Handle” alumna (Chloe Veitch), this “wasn’t meant to be a crossover,” according to Coelen. Since Powers really was friends with Farago, it played out naturally on screen. “By the way, he was also photographed with [Dillon Passage] from ‘Tiger King,'” Coelen points out.
While Coelen says he wouldn’t be against casting someone from another dating show — Netflix or not — on a future season of “Love Is Blind” if it was someone genuinely looking for a spouse, he also notes he isn’t going to stunt cast.
While Farago was a surprise addition to the “After the Altar” cast, one notable original sat it out: Mark Cuevas, who was all set to marry Batten at the end of the season until she couldn’t go through with it, is in a relationship with someone outside of the show (and they have a child together) and opted not to participate.
The show was able to go on without him because, as Coelen puts it, “If somebody doesn’t want to participate for some reason, you’re not in the position as a human being, let alone any contractual point of view, to try and force something that doesn’t make any sense for them.”
This is Coelen’s approach to future specials as well because, yes, there will be future specials. Netflix renewed the reality series for two more seasons in April 2020, and each season will have a “catch-up” attached to it that streams before the new season drops, Coelen says. While the length of time between each may vary, the one thing Coelen is not worried about is finding worthwhile content to film.
“If, ‘Oh my God, they’re having a baby,’ that could be something to react to, but to me they all have interesting things going on. Some of them leant themselves more to story and some of them it’s just, ‘Oh that’s good to know,'” he says. “I do think people are going to be hungry for more story about where people go after they make their decisions.”
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