reality tv

So You’re Ready to Explore the World of 90 Day Fiancé …

The hit franchise is addictive and ever-expanding. To keep up, you must choose a path.

Illustration: by James Clapham
Illustration: by James Clapham
Illustration: by James Clapham

When 90 Day Fiancé premiered on TLC in 2014, its title invited confusion about its premise. Was it a competition where people had 90 days to get married? Was it about people who knew each other for 90 days? Until you actually watched 90 Day Fiancé, it was pretty hard to describe the appeal behind its interesting and drama-filled look at the K1 visa process. Yes, some of the couples featured on the series have only known each other on the internet or for a short amount of time, but some of the couples have been together for years and are just finally getting married. It’s this mix of couples who truly, really love each other and the absolute train wrecks that has made 90 Day Fiancé a hit franchise with multiple spin-offs. Once you pick your favorite couple or story line, you are forced to follow them across this vast universe.

So complex has the 90 Day Fiancé universe become that my friends, tired of me constantly talking about it, demanded I write a guide so they’d know where to start in the show’s long history. So, last November, I crafted a 2,220 word guide to explain the nuances of the show. In the time since I wrote that, 90 Day Fiancé has aired four more spin-offs (Self-Quarantined, B90! Strikes Back, Darcey & Stacey, and HEA! Strikes Back), bringing the franchise to a total of 11 different series covering 31 seasons’ worth of broadcast television … or 36 if you count the technical “seasons” of Pillow Talk and Strikes Back … and even more if you count the digital only seasons … My guide not only felt irrelevant now, I didn’t even feel it was capable of containing the intricacies necessary to truly appreciate 90 Day Fiancé.

Then, this month, Discovery announced the new Discovery+ app that would include access to the entire 90 Day Fiancé franchise, in addition to promising, yes, even more spin-offs. How could one single guide capture this vast universe? I turned directly to TLC for help. They vetted and checked my lists. They double-checked timelines and couple appearances. They added new spin-offs and spin-offs best left forgotten. (No one knows how Just Landed was a thing!) I now had the most thorough and complete 90 Day Fiancé guide in existence and I could not expect a single sane, healthy person in the world to watch it all in order.

I clearly needed a new approach to explain what makes the show so captivating you’d watch 13 different versions of it. You can’t just sit down and watch a season of 90 Day Fiancé to understand its hold on audiences. You have to figure out what you want from the show and follow its flow accordingly. Do you want emotional goodbyes and heartbreak? Do you want Big Ed memes? Are you just interested in a terrifying exploration of American exceptionalism’s hypocrisies? Or do you just wait patiently for Shaun Robinson to swoop in and force couples to confront uncomfortable truths during the tell-all reunion? When it comes to 90 Day Fiancé, we all must choose our own journey. And after watching every episode of the show, writing about the show, following nearly every 90 Day Fiancé star on social media and being banned from three 90 Day Fiancé Facebook groups, I believe I found the best possible routes for anyone to follow on their 90 Day journey.

90 Day Fiancé

Core Programming

Before beginning your 90 Day journey, you’ll need to become familiar with every planet in this solar system and how they differ. Let’s review.

90 Day Fiancé: This is the original version of the show. It started with four couples (although real 90 Day Fiancé insiders will remember Len and Alina, the fifth couple that was only featured on and eventually gave birth to all you read here today. You might think it would be easy enough to start here, but the show’s first season is incredibly different from what 90 Day Fiancé would eventually become. Those first four couples were pretty boring and well-adjusted; it would take another season before the series would figure out that instability was the secret to success. Most of the OG Couples got their start on this version of the show and couples from other versions sometimes make appearances, so if you really can only handle one version of this show, just watch this one and stop reading this guide now.

Happily Ever After?: Once TLC realized 90 Day Fiancé worked better as a launching pad for new couples, they needed another show to continue the stories of couples who actually got married at the end of their visa period. By the time Happily Ever After? launched, TLC had already figured out that the secret ingredient to getting people addicted is two-hour long episodes, secrets, and people who actually hate each other. Few couples on this version of the show actually have happy endings, and the drama has higher stakes as these people try to make a life together. Most of the couples from this franchise end up on the Pillow Talk variations (see below), and since you usually watch these people deal with the worst betrayals and problems, this version really does feel the most like “family.”

Before the 90 Days: The most controversial of the franchise, Before the 90 Days was TLC’s first blatant attempt to make money off of pure drama, because most of the couples aren’t even real. These aren’t engaged couples, they’re mostly people who’ve only been talking on the internet and are meeting for the first time. They’re thinking about proposing, but they want to meet before they decide to begin the 90-day visa process; this format gives rise to couples like season one’s Cortney and Antonio, who seemed like they agreed to do this just to be on TV. It’s also the version of the show where Darcey, 90 Day Fiancé’s leading queen, reigns. You might wonder how a woman who has not gotten married stays on a show about getting married; well, the drama of Before the 90 Days is the answer. Most of the relationships here don’t end in a proposal, but you get to watch a lot of entitled Americans act a fool when the person they met on FilipinoCupid a month prior asks them to respect their culture. The rare couples who do leave Before the 90 Days actually engaged usually make for the best drama on 90 Day Fiancé, as seen with Tarik and Hazel and their current weird bisexual, polyamorous unicorn threesome hunt.

When 90 Day Fiancé: The Other Way premiered, it seemed like an even more chaotic version of Before the 90 Days. The couples didn’t seem genuinely in love and some of them acted like they just wanted to be on reality TV (Jenny and Sumit). But it premiered with Paul and Karine, one of the most entertaining couples on the show, so we all had to watch. In its second season, the show toned down the turmoil and took a more serious look at Americans who decide to move across the world to live with their partners and the consequences involved. It also features Kenny and Armando, the franchise’s first male couple, as they adjust to the cultural shock of being openly gay in Mexico, a story that’s treated with care and depth. The show has found a tone that sits between sentimental and shocking, proving itself worthy to be considered among the best of the franchise.

90 Day Fiancé

Essential Companions

If those four versions of the show are the main planets of 90 Day Fiancé, these are the absolutely unnecessary moons that orbit them. You do not need to watch them, but you most likely will once the show pulls you in:

Pillow Talk: When you hear about Pillow Talk, it doesn’t make sense. You watch people from 90 Day Fiancé watch 90 Day Fiancé? Yes. That is the entire premise of the show. Various couples (or now-single people hanging out with a parent or friend) sit in bed or on their couches and watch the season that’s currently airing and add colorful commentary. Obviously you’re not going to find the couples very charming if you don’t know who they are, so this spin-off is purely for the expert-level fans who love watching Loren get snacks for Alexei.

What Now: I am not one of the viewers that complains about how outrageous 90 Day Fiancé has become. I love the mess. But some viewers miss the boring days of season one and Russ and Paola and episodes that were only an hour long. Some people believe 90 Day Fiancé should be an educational look at an important process that impacts a lot of people — it is on The Learning Channel, right? Well, that’s what What Now is for. The show was originally digital only, but some episodes did air on TLC, so some couples might be familiar. What Now follows up on the couples who weren’t interesting enough to get their own spin-off or stay in the big four rotation. It does offer conclusions to some wilder stories, like Danielle’s and Melanie and Devar’s, but it’s the best version of the show if you just want to see happy couples who go on to lead boring, normal lives.

Just Landed: At some point, the people over at TLC realized they had a gold mine in 90 Day Fiancé and they started greenlighting spin-offs without any real thought to what the point of the show was. Or at least I think that’s what happened with Just Landed. Just Landed focused on brand-new couples but only followed them for the first 24 hours after landing in America. It seemed like a great way to introduce couples for Happily Ever After without investing in them for an entire season on Before the 90 Days or 90 Day Fiancé, but then the show just kind of disappeared and none of these couples were heard from again. Perhaps the producers realized you see the first 24 hours after someone lands in pretty much every other version of the show already.

Self-Quarantined: If TLC believes there is money to be made from 90 Day Fiancé, they will make it, and Self-Quarantined is an example of that. There’s no real reason for it to exist and it’s pretty uncomfortable. Most of the couples and families are filmed from their cell phones, but it feels more staged than intimate. There are some interesting couples featured and Cortney makes an uncomfortable reappearance, but also you have to see Caesar’s feet, so I can’t say it’s worth it. Yes, I watched it, but I have a problem. Do you need to watch Darcey try to give herself a manicure? Probably not.

The Family Chantel: Pedro and Chantel seemed like a dream couple when they came on the 90 Day Fiancé scene. They were both young, attractive, and genuinely bad communicators who made dumb mistakes that were great television. They seemed like an obvious choice for a spin-off, especially once their families — who were pretty awful on both sides — were introduced. But once they got their own show based in the U.S., the spark fizzled. Pedro just seemed tired of all the drama. Their parents just seemed interested in creating drama for a paycheck. Chantel just had a vicious focus on revenge against family members who’d previously embarrassed her. The best moments of Chantel and Pedro’s relationship happen in the main course of the show, but The Family Chantel is a reminder of how far people are willing to go to sell their families out on reality TV. So far, though, season two is definitely showing signs of improvement!

Strikes Back: The latter of these three premieres on Discovery+ on January 4, but I can already tell you it’s probably a waste of time if it’s anything like the other Strikes Back spin-offs. In B90! the cast members of the newest season of Before the 90 Days rewatch their season and the Pillow Talk of their season, where they watch people watch them. They make fun of themselves, reply to tweets, and defend themselves against jokes. The same format then applies for couples recently featured on Happily Ever After and The Other Way. Season four of Before the 90 Days didn’t feature particularly charismatic couples, but they were in the franchise’s highest rated season ever, so TLC’s choice to expand around them makes sense. Couples from The Other Way and Happily Ever After tend to lack the theatrics of the Before the 90 Days crew. Anyway, I watch in the hopes that one of my tweets is read one day. Save yourself.

Darcey dated two men on Before the 90 Days and her sister joined her on the show while her last relationship imploded. Darcey & Stacey gives them their own spin-off, because TLC knew Darcey breaking down at her sister’s wedding was going to be pure gold to watch. Now Stacey and Florian are in a mess of a marriage and Darcey is the one who looks emotionally stable. The show’s second season renewal wasn’t shocking, it’s honestly one of the best spin-offs in the franchise. You can’t help but root for Darcey, as everyone says: she just wants love. Also it’s so clear their family and friends want nothing to do with reality TV which makes for a pretty hilarious dynamic as Darcey’s daughters constantly roll their eyes at her.

90 Day Fiancé

Best Ways to Watch

Okay, now that you know the intricacies of the landscape, you’re ready to choose your journey across this great terrain. One of the best parts of the Discovery+ app is the creation of 90 Day Journeys, which allows you to pick specific couples and follow their descent into madness. You no longer have to sit through 22 two-hour episodes just to get what’s so funny about Paul and Karine. Still, there are a lot of couples, so it’s best to pick an approach.

1. “I’m just here for the memes”

Illustration: by James Clapham

These days, most of the 90 Day Fiancé uninitiated know about it because of Twitter and various memes. Maybe you’ve seen Big Ed and you wonder, “what’s that all about?” Maybe you’ve heard someone say “Babygirl Lisa” and you have no idea what they’re talking about. You’re curious, but you also don’t want to dedicate a significant amount of time to a TV show just so you can laugh on the internet.

First, you’ll want to focus on the show’s most viral couples: Danielle and Mohamed, Colt and Larissa, Ed and Rosemarie, Paul and Karine, Angela and Michael, Lisa and Usman, Jenny and Sumit, Laura and Aladin, and Nicole and Azan. Why are these the 90 Day Fiancé’s most meme-able couples? Despite everything making it clear that these people should not be together, they persist to great frustration. They also gift us some of the best moments in the show. Paul running into the woods after telling Karine his big secret? Memeable. Big Ed’s mayo hair? Memeable.

In order to follow this path, you’ll need to watch four versions of the show in this order:

• 90 Day Fiancé, Seasons 2 and 4–7: Danielle and Mohamed, Nicole and Azan, Angela and Michael, Colt and Larissa

• 90 Day Fiancé: Before the 90 Days, Seasons 1–4: Paul and Karine, Angela and Michael, Ed and Rosemarie, Lisa and Usman

90 Day Fiancé: The Other Way, Seasons 1 and 2: Jenny and Sumit, Paul and Karine

• 90 Day Fiancé: Happily Ever After, Seasons 1–5: Danielle and Mohamed, Nicole and Azan, Colt and Larissa, and Paul and Karine

2. “Actually, it is the LEARNING Channel, so it is kind of educational …”

Illustration: by James Clapham

Okay, so maybe you’re a well-adjusted person and you just want to celebrate people who managed to find love across the world? Fine. This is the boring person’s guide to 90 Day Fiancé. What makes a couple on 90 Day Fiancé boring? Romance, chemistry, and a well thought out plan. There aren’t many couples that have all three, but these few do: Russ and Paola, Loren and Alexei, Alla and Matt, and Kenneth and Armando.

Congrats, your focus on the best aspects of human nature give you the least to watch:

• 90 Day Fiancé, Seasons 1 and 4: Russ and Paola, Matt and Alla

• 90 Day Fiancé: Happily Ever After, Seasons 1–4: Russ and Paola, Loren and Alexei

• 90 Day Fiancé: The Other Way, Season 2: Kenneth and Armando

• 90 Day Fiancé: What Now, Seasons 1 and 3–4: Loren and Alexei, Matt and Alla

3. “No, really, I’m a purist, just let me start from the beginning”

Illustration: by James Clapham

Some people don’t trust me when I say the best way to enjoy 90 Day Fiancé is by following along with your favorite couples. They insist on watching the entire series and all of the seasons in something that approaches chronological order. This is kind of difficult to do, but it is possible if you dedicate yourself. I don’t recommend this, but this is your journey. Melt your brain. It’s hard to watch it all because there’s pretty much always some version of the show airing on television — as an up-to-date 90 Day fan, I’m currently watching four different versions of the show.

Consider this The 90 Day Fiancé Challenge:

1. 90 Day Fiancé Seasons 1–3

2. Happily Ever After Season 1

3. 90 Day Fiancé Season 4

4. Happily Ever After Season 2

5.Before the 90 Days Season 1

6. What Now Season 1

7. 90 Day Fiancé Season 5

8. Happily Ever After Season 3

9. What Now Season 2

10. Before the 90 Days Season 2

11. 90 Day Fiancé Season 6

12. Happily Ever After Season 4

13. What Now Season 3

14. Pillow Talk Season 1

15. The Other Way Season 1

16. The Family Chantel Season 1

17. Before the 90 Days Season 3

18. Pillow Talk Season 2

19. 90 Day Fiancé Season 7

20. Pillow Talk Season 3

21. Just Landed Season 1

22. Before the 90 Days Season 4

23. Pillow Talk Season 4

24. Self-Quarantined Season 1

25. What Now Season 4

26. Happily Ever After Season 5

27. Pillow Talk Season 5

28. The Other Way Season 2

29. Pillow Talk Season 6

30. B90 Strikes Back! Season 1

31. Darcey & Stacey Season 1

32. HEA Strikes Back! Season 1

33. The Family Chantel Season 2

34. Pillow Talk Season 7

35. 90 Day Fiancé Season 8

If you watch all of that, in the above order over your holiday break, you’ll be ready for the new spin-offs premiering with the debut of the Discovery+ app on January 4, 2021:

1. 90 Day Bares All
You’ve probably noticed one mesmerizing star that makes its way across the 90 Day Fiancé galaxy and that’s Shaun Robinson. Robinson, who hosts all of the franchise’s tell-all reunions, is part therapist, part viewer catharsis as she calls people out and calms people down. Maybe it’s because Robinson only shows up at the end of the season, but she’s somehow managed to remain an impartial judge to the most chaotic of 90 Day Fiancé’s shenanigans. The couples trust her and that’s probably why she’s finally getting her own spin-off. Bares All is hosted by Robinson and will focus on her encouraging couples to reveal pivotal information and speak uncensored in the way that only Shaun Robinson can. There will also be exclusive and uncensored footage, which is shocking considering how much 90 Day already shows on camera.

2. 90 Day Journeys
These are mini-stories for people who believe me when I say sometimes it’s best to pick your favorite couple and dedicate your time to them! Every single scene a couple has appeared in across the franchise will now be offered in one collection. Never worry about missing a Paul and Karine scene again!

3. The Other Way Strikes Back! 
You already know the deal here.

4. 90 Day Diaries 
If you want the entirely unfiltered access to your favorite 90 Day couples without the glitz of producers or the superficiality of social media, 90 Day Diaries is a new spin-off where couples and ex-participants can film themselves and provide updates to anyone watching. This did provide some pretty great entertainment in Self-Quarantined when people like Courtney had to film themselves having awkward talks with their Sugar Daddy, so this will probably be a must-watch.

Again, I warn you: please take caution if you try to watch this much television.

4. “I have become 90 Day Fiancé, actually”

Illustration: by James Clapham

Okay, so you’ve already seen all of the above and you’re already waiting patiently for the new spin-offs to premiere on January 4. None of this is new to you. You even watch the episode sneak peeks that air on Fridays and in the TLC Live app. You’ve watched every season, every update, every Pillow Talk recap, every Self-Quarantine front-facing video, and now … for some reason, you need more? Have you already listened to the official 90 Day Fiancé podcast that launched this month? Well, there are Twitch shows where you can watch regular people watch 90 Day Fiancé. There are also some great unofficial podcasts like Nicole Byer’s 90 Day Bae, where she and co-host Marcy Jarreau offer some of the funniest takes on the show. There’s also 420 Day Fiancé, from comedian Sofiya Alexandra and Daily Zeitgeist co-host Miles Gray, where they offer the highest takes on the show. There’s also 90 Day Fiancé Cray Cray, where two obsessed 90 Day Fiancé fans offer their conspiracies on the show when it comes to break-ups and departures. There’s even, ahem, my podcast, TV I Say, where I interview couples from the show and talk about everything 90 Day with people like Seth Rogen and Roxane Gay. And if you still need to yell at people about 90 Day Fiancé, you can turn to incredibly active Facebook groups where 90 Day Fiancé fans share their theories and sometimes people from the show make appearances. A warning, I have been kicked out of three of these groups for hardcore fans. It’s a scary world.

5. You’re My Mom

Illustration: by James Clapham

You’ve heard about 90 Day Fiancé because everyone talks about it, but you refuse to use Hulu, the TLC app, or your DVR to actually watch the episodes in order. You also don’t want to download Discovery+ because you already have too many apps you don’t understand on your phone. Instead, you just turn on your TV that still has cable and just enjoy whatever version of the show TLC is randomly airing non-stop. Maybe it’s a rerun. Maybe it’s a new episode of a spin-off with couples you’ve never seen before. It doesn’t matter, you’re going to watch and enjoy it anyway. You are more free than the rest of us. 90 Day Fiancé exists on your timeline. Also, you know you can always text your daughter all of your questions: “Wait, I thought this couple already broke up? How come they’re moving in together? What happened to the blonde girl I liked? The one with the eyes?” and she’ll patiently explain that you’re watching a season from three years ago.

So You’re Ready to Explore the World of 90 Day Fiancé …