The Ultimatum: Queer Love
After making it through only part of the original The Ultimatum, I did not have high hopes for its queer spinoff. The format is weird! It’s weird!! Some of the worst people I’ve ever seen on television were in the original version (note: I have never seen Jersey Shore or any of the various Kardashian vehicles). But, what a surprise, a group of queer women and nonbinary people, mostly in their 30s, handle things better than … let’s say, “a different group of people.” Everyone has feelings, and they deal with them (kind of) and talk about their need for better communication, and it’s a delight. In comparison, I should say. A delight in comparison. Because at the end of the day, it’s still people who choose to be on a reality show. Competed to be on it, one might say.
The premise of this show is that one partner has issued a “marry me or we break up” ultimatum. They go on the show, pair off with someone else for three weeks in a faux marriage, return to their original partner for three weeks, then everyone makes a decision. Do you know what starts a marriage on the best track? Beginning it with a threat! Good lord. So, already, this concept is a little sus, but I am open to the captivating nature of reality television and suddenly caring more about these people than anyone else in my life.
Our five couples are Yoly and Mal, both in their mid-30s. Yoly gave the ultimatum. Lexi and Rae, both in their 20s. Lexi gave the ultimatum. Mildred and Tiff — early 30s. Mildred gave the ultimatum. Sam and Aussie with the only real age difference — Sam is 31 and Aussie is 42 (which, whatever, that’s fine). Sam gave the ultimatum. Xander and Vanessa, both 30, and Xan gave the ultimatum. People call Xander “Xan” on the show, and I love it, so that is how she shall be known here.
Sidenote on pronouns! The participants’ pronouns are not addressed as of the first four episodes (sometimes a partner will use them), but Netflix has an article that includes them. The main thing I want to point out is that Aussie’s pronoun is “Aussie,” so be aware when you’re inevitably texting your friends about Aussie’s excellent suits and fear of commitment.
Having a queer reality-dating show is amazing, because in the first ten minutes, someone says, “She’s a Virgo.” In contrast to the show’s previous incarnation — in which a 23-year-old woman was complaining that her boyfriend of 18 months wouldn’t marry her — you have people in their mid-30s who are together, but one doesn’t want to get married yet because they want to save up for a down payment on a house and IVF procedures. I get you, Mal!! My wife and I are finally having a baby after I realized I would never feel like we’d saved up enough to be ready for kids. Kids are expensive! But, being lesbians, we could not proceed until we had many long, deliberate conversations, usually ending with hugs (there are so many hugs on this show).
Yoly and Mal are the “we need to save more money first” couple. Lexi and Rae are young, but Lexi seems very mature. Rae is not positive she’s ready to be married, which is very fair for 27. Mildred and Tiff keep breaking up and getting back together and solving their problems with sex, which both of them know is not great! Sam and Aussie are very cute and into each other, but Aussie gets anxious even thinking about marriage. Again, being queer people, they say things to each other like “I am fully participating in this experience.” Love it. Xan and Vanessa met as high-school seniors when their boyfriends were best friends (classic). Vanessa doesn’t want permanence and stability, she wants freedom, but Xan wants marriage and children. Sounds immediately irreconcilable, Xan! Spoiler: I cannot stand Vanessa, for she is a chaotic person.
After the couples meet each other, our host, JoAnna Garcia Swisher, shows up. I’m going to say something controversial yet brave: I like her. Did I know who she was before this show? No! It’s immediately addressed that, no, she is not queer. No one has any further questions. Nor do I! She seems nice, and she’s not Vanessa and Nick Lachey. The bar is low for romantically focused Netflix reality shows with bizarre formats.
Before people choose partners, they all hang out at a pool party. Everyone is drinking from Love Is Blind–style opaque glasses, so they can splice together footage any way the editors want. Vanessa says people fall in love with her pretty easily. Okay, Maureen (my wife wants me to say I have never seen Rent). Some observations: Lexi’s boobs are huge, and everyone comments on them, which she does not seem averse to. I concur with everyone. Mildred makes a Dinah Shore reference, which is how you know this show is super-gay but, like, lady and nonbinary gay. Tiff chats up Lexi and is like, “You’re 24? Hahahaha, wow.” Because they think Lexi is too young to date! My made-up quote from the original Ultimatum would be a guy hearing that and saying, “Little old but still pretty good.” Mal and Vanessa’s main criteria for a partner is “vibes.” People make pillow-princess references. These are my people. So weird to see a dating show that’s even semi-relatable as a queer person!
Okay, we have a bunch more episodes to get through, so let’s do a speed run of everyone’s situation. At first, Lexi is trying to choose between Vanessa and Mal for her three-week partner, but then she realizes Vanessa is a walking talking embodiment of unstable energy, says Vanessa is here for the wrong reasons, and peaces out of a possible fake marriage with Vanessa. (Lexi calls Vanessa Voldemort. Voldemort!) At dinner, Vanessa says it would be best if this experience became a polyamorous orgy. Everyone feels awkward. I just imagine the producers interviewing Vanessa during the casting process and rubbing their hands together with glee. Everyone falls in love with you, you say? Yes, excellent. That is a very normal thing to say. And you just want freedom, but you are going on a dating show to decide whether to marry your partner? Yes, good.
Aussie goes on some dates with Mildred and tells her that now Aussie does want to get married. Mildred is very psyched about being part of Aussie’s journey for this. Mildred, doesn’t this seem like a suspiciously fast turnaround?? And maybe Aussie just caves to peer pressure? Or something else is going on? Mildred does not think of this and remains psyched. Xan goes out with Yoly and informs her that Xan and Vanessa talked about having kids, but Vanessa says whichever child that person births belongs only to that person. As in: Vanessa gives birth to a baby, and the baby is only Vanessa’s and not Xan’s. Wow, that is a super-fucked-up opinion, Vanessa! Unless, again, there are extenuating contextual factors to what she’s saying. But what reality show would ever present things out of context?
After a bunch of dating, they choose partners. Yoly makes a joke about how even in her “U-Haulest moments,” she has never moved in with someone after only a week. My personal top picks at this point are Lexi, Mal, and Yoly. They’ve all got nice, stable energy, and they enjoy having calm but deep conversations about their emotions and relationships. Mm, so gay. The pairings are as follows: Xander and Yoly choose each other! This is good. I like those kids. Rae and Vanessa choose each other after Lexi gives an amazing speech about how Vanessa is the fucking worst. Mal and Lexi choose each other, which I very much support. Mal tells Lexi she’s a phenomenal person — she’s smart and brilliantly funny. Once again, I love queer women (and Aussie and Tiff!). Speaking of, Aussie and Mildred choose each other, then Sam and Tiff finish off the round. The only couples who have straight-up partner-swapped are the last two.
Vanessa tells Lexi she hopes they can be friends, and Lexi says she hopes Vanessa trips up the stairs. And we start the trial marriages!
I can’t even get into Rae and Vanessa, because the way it’s portrayed is Vanessa constantly being handsy and Rae looking uncomfortable. Basically, they have sex, and it creates a Big Problem between Lexi and Rae, because Lexi finds it concerning that Rae would have sex with someone like Vanessa. Understandable, Lexi!
Xan and Yoly vibe right away. They are into it. And Yoly has a French bulldog. If Yoly told me she had a French bulldog I got to live with for three weeks, I’d be like, Sold, let’s get fake married. Since Xan and Yoly are being all handsy, here’s something I wish we saw on the show: any discussion between partners about boundaries. What is okay to do? What is not okay? What are the ground rules here? If we agree we can have sex with our temporary spouse, are we supposed to tell the other person? There are a lot of things to cover in this basically temporary polyamorous situation, and even if people have had those conversations, they aren’t modeled for us. And it makes me uncomfortable.
Lexi and Mal are vibing, but I can’t tell yet if it’s, like, sexy-time vibing. They seem like very close roommates. A;though these couples all say “I love you” to this person they’ve known for a week. Did they all spend a ton of time together that we didn’t see? It seems like they’ve spent hours talking, and I know a situation like this will probably cause some intense bonding, but damn.
Aussie and Mildred get along very well until Mildred meets Aussie’s best friend and Aussie starts backtracking on being totally ready for marriage. Then Mildred starts confronting Aussie about things, like Aussie said Aussie would cook for them and that Mildred wouldn’t be the only one cleaning. Aussie very much hates confrontation and shuts down when Mildred brings these things up. What a great opportunity for them to bring in an on-call couples therapist to help them through this conflict in order to better show up for each other, themselves, and maybe their original partner! Lol, no, the show doesn’t have this. The two must just stew in their conflict.
I neglected to mention that I really like Sam, and I would want to be friends with her maybe the most out of anyone here. She has a really grounded energy and somehow deals with Tiff freaking the fuck out about Sam not immediately being all in on Tiff’s dog sharing the bed with them. They have a good conversation after this fight (again, it’s mostly Tiff yelling at Sam), but gosh, I really just want the best for Sam — whether that’s with Aussie, alone, or a third option.
We end on a group dinner where Lexi is asking way too many details about Vanessa having sex with Rae, but again, Lexi is 24, and sometimes, no matter how mature we are for our age, we have to learn the hard way — asking for specific info from the person who banged our girlfriend about how that all went down. So to speak.
Next time! People are living with their people again! And thank God, because I need to see these queer people in their original environments. Except Vanessa. I’m fine not seeing her again.