This article contains spoilers for the finale of Love Is Blind. Save this for after you watch it!
A shocking thing happens at the beginning of the Love Is Blind finale. Damian and Giannina, who’ve had one of the rockiest relationships on the series, have finally made it to their wedding. For a while it looked like they weren’t going to make it, but they pushed through the conflict, and in the second-to-last episode, Damian appears at the wedding ceremony, ready to get married. Giannina walks down the aisle. It looks like they’ve decided to commit. Giannina says her vows, and she says “I do.”
Then things swerve. Damian’s lips tremble. Tears fill his eyes. He begins taking deep, gasping breaths. This is where the penultimate episode of Love Is Blind ends, and when the finale episode begins, the promise of those trembling lips is fulfilled. Does he take her to be his wife? “I do not,” he says. Giannina is floored. Damian starts to make an argument that he’s the inconsistent one, not Giannina, and she decides she’s had enough. She goes running out of the room, her dress’s long train streaming behind her as she spits “leave me the fuck alone!” It’s a perfect, disastrous reality-show climax; exit, pursued by cameraman.
What makes this turn of events particularly effective is that none of it makes any damn sense. Why on earth would anyone wait until that moment to break off an engagement? Is this how producers designed the show, and if so, how did Giannina have so little idea it was coming? How did we the viewers have so little idea? The show claims that these people have to get married immediately or say good-bye forever, but also they’re all autonomous adults who live in or around Atlanta, where the series was filmed. What power do the producers hold over them that forces them to accept the wedding ultimatum? There must be some kind of contract, but what is it? Are there any rules to this show? Is there a system? Does anyone know what’s going on?
The answer to that last question is “of course,” but it’s also “absolutely not.” Therein lies the key to the magic and the mess of Love Is Blind, and because of the specific nature of reality shows, it’s a distinct kind of magic the show will never be able to perform again.
Like other married-at-reality-show-gunpoint series (Married at First Sight, for instance), Love Is Blind is a combination of extreme structure and the total absence of structure. First there’s a lot of premise and restriction: People can only interact with potential romantic partners from inside the “pods” — small adjacent rooms that allow them to converse, but prevent them from seeing each other. They can only see each other after they agree to get married. But after the engagements, the show is mostly a slosh of feelings, uncontained by the mechanism of pods, eliminations, or the dubious guidance of Nick and Vanessa Lachey, the purported “hosts” of the show.
But even given the highly constrained setup of Love Is Blind’s opening episodes, the total experience of watching the series feels like that cliché about building an airplane while you’re flying it. Nick and Vanessa Lachey show up at the start to explain the rules of the series, but there are no details about how any of this will work. Everything is hand-wavy vagueness. Do the participants get to pick who they’re speaking with in the pods? Can they walk away from this whenever they like? How much time do they really spend together? After getting engaged, the only defined event is that they’ll get married a few weeks later, and even the details of that are fuzzy. What happens if they decide to break up before then? Is there any possible exit ramp? Are there hoops they have to jump through in the interim?
Damian saying “I do not” is the pinnacle of Love Is Blind’s undefined format free-for-all. It’s shocking because waiting to dump someone until you’re both at the altar seems sociopathic, and as far as viewers know, there is no reason for him to do it this way beyond being an asshole. But of course, there must be some structure that’s pushed him to this point. There must be a contract he’s signed, or a financial benefit, or some agreement he’s made with the production team that makes it worth his while to dump this woman in such a horrific way. It’s just that because Love Is Blind is so new, that kind of implicit format hasn’t been made clear yet.
The rest of the finale confirms that Damian’s not an asshole. Or, okay, he is an asshole, but he’s also an asshole who’s following the rules of the show, rules that viewers hadn’t previously known existed. Because after the first slap in the face of Damian’s at-the-altar rejection, there is more to follow. Jessica also dumps Mark, once again at the very last mid-wedding moment. By the time Kelly dumps Kenny, the surprise of that first mid-wedding rejection has faded. It’s still horrible, but it’s not an unforced display of human awfulness. It’s the game.
This is the conundrum Love Is Blind will fall into for future seasons. The show will run smoother next time. Producers will figure out how to make those early pod dates more interesting, and the format-free slide of the later episodes will get tighter and more organized. Participants will have a better sense of what they’re getting into, and viewers will go into the season with a model for how all of this is going to play out, so they can anticipate exciting moments like the wedding breakups, or the first time the whole group comes together post-pod. If they’re smart, producers will also learn from this first season to push the basic premise of the show to more interesting places. What if they cast people who don’t look like the cast members of every other dating show, for instance?
That future knowledge will be a benefit for Love Is Blind, but it will also be a huge detraction. Reality shows are designed; they have formats for a reason, and expert manipulation of that design is one of the pleasures of the genre. Love Island became a much, much better show in the U.K. once both participants and audiences knew what they were getting into, and the weakness of the U.S. version was in part because no one knew what to expect. At the same time, there’s an unrepeatable and undeniable delight to a reality show where no one knows what the deal is. Damian dumping Giannina at the altar is a kind of shock the show will never be able to get back again in quite the same way.
Sure, Love Is Blind will try. It’ll mix up the structure, and it’ll prod participants into different decisions. Like every other dating show, it’ll find new ways to be new. But you can never get back the exact same magic of that first sloppy season because the magic comes from the mess.