The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

Jeremy Hartwell from ‘Love Is Blind’: The intersection of ethics and reality TV

Shavonne Chin

I’ve been watching reality television for as long as I can remember watching television.

Watching these shows with my family became a ritual of sorts, a way to wind down after a long day, and something for my mom and I to bond over. As I got older, I started discovering other reality shows that I enjoyed watching, like “Dance Moms,” “The Bachelor” and all of Netflix’s original shows, including “Love Is Blind,” “Too Hot To Handle” and “The Ultimatum.”

All along, I’ve known that what I’ve been watching probably isn’t accurate to what happens in real life. The amount of editing, footage manipulation and framing done behind the scenes of reality shows has never been a secret. 

I probably even had suspicions that cast members weren’t treated the best behind closed doors, hearing reports from outlets like Bustle about how the first night of a “Bachelor” or “Bachelorette” season actually takes place, with 10-12 hours of filming straight. However, it took one Business Insider article for my view on the realities of reality television to change forever.

The piece, titled “‘Love Is Blind’ is Hell on Earth,” was published in April 2023 and included accounts from many of the show’s former cast members slamming Kinetic Content, the production company behind the show, for its unbearable working conditions. 

Briana Holmes, who appeared in the show’s first season, was filmed having a panic attack and decided to quit the next day. Danielle Ruhl and Nick Thompson, a fan-favorite couple from the second season, had a similar experience and were pressured to stay on the show after Ruhl had a breakdown and said she wanted to leave.

Fellow season two cast member Jeremy Hartwell decided to take legal action against Kinetic, which frequently teams up with Netflix to distribute its shows. He accused them of labor-law violations and subjecting contestants to unsafe and inhumane working conditions, including withholding food and water from them, but keeping the alcohol flowing at all times.

Hartwell also highlighted that the cast members’ $1,000 per week stipend while on the show translated to about $7.14 per hour, less than half the minimum wage in California, where most seasons were filmed. 

Hartwell said that contestants had their phones and passports confiscated, were escorted everywhere by silent production assistants and had their sleeping and eating schedules dictated by Kinetic. He even noted that some were forced to sleep in cockroach-infested one-room trailers with bunk beds for up to 15 of them.

After reading this article, I couldn’t bring myself to tune in to “Love Is Blind” anymore, even though there was a brand-new season out. I started to ask myself, “how would these cast members feel if they could see me continuing to enjoy a show that had extensively tortured them physically and mentally?”

I got the answer to that question when Hartwell sat down for an interview with the Chronicle last week.

“It’s important to understand the fact that just because someone conveys what happens behind the scenes doesn’t mean that’s believable (by the public),” Hartwell said.

Hartwell discussed how shows like “Love Is Blind” and “The Bachelor” can be comforting to watch, especially for long-time fans, and how it can be hard to let go of a piece of media you’re so attached to.

“I don’t fault anybody for watching reality TV,” Hartwell said. “(What’s happening) is so beyond belief that the initial reaction is, ‘that can’t possibly be true, it can’t nearly be this bad,’ but any normal human being who has full view of what’s been happening … would be horrified and never watch it ever again.”

However, he explained that these shows are designed to do exactly that: get you so invested that you can’t imagine changing the channel.

“When you watch someone on one of these shows, you feel like that person is in your tribe, and you feel a responsibility to act on that,” Hartwell said. “It really does hack into our psychology … (the shows) are deliberately produced to take advantage of the instincts that we have.”

Hartwell started the Unscripted Cast Advocacy Network in collaboration with Thompson and Dr. Isabelle Morley, a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in couples therapy and writes for Psychology Today. 

The UCAN Foundation’s mission is to support and advocate for reality TV cast members by providing them with legal and mental health resources, assisting them in knowing what they’re getting into on set, getting help if they need it and making well-informed decisions about their futures.

“We want people to understand that what’s happening truly is this horrific,” Hartwell said. “We want to be a key in implementing that change, becoming a trusted source in the industry.”

Some of UCAN’s goals include having mental health and legal specialists available for cast members before, during and after the production of a show and developing a certification course that people can take to become a UCAN representative.

Hartwell also explained that, even if it looks like conditions are better on-screen (like in the most recent season of “The Bachelorette”), they almost certainly aren’t in real life.

“Whitewashing, or showing a prettier picture, doesn’t cost money,” Hartwell said. “Changing what happens behind the scenes is what costs money.”

Hartwell shared that he has heard stories similar to his, not just from his “Love Is Blind” castmates, but from contestants on shows like “America’s Next Top Model” and even international versions of shows like “Big Brother.” He said that canceling your streaming service subscription is the best way to show your disapproval in the streaming age, but most aren’t willing to do that.

In terms of what you can do to help the cause, Hartwell cited engaging as a community on social media platforms and writing letters to shareholders as an effective way to make your voice heard. Constantly bringing up the topic, generating discussion and putting pressure on the companies to make a change is the key.

“It’s more profitable to produce these shows unethically than ethically … we need to flip that,” Hartwell said. “We’re trying to shine a light on this; it’s been covered up for a very long time. Ultimately, we’re trying to end the exploitation.”

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
About the Contributor

Comments (0)

All The Quinnipiac Chronicle Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *