Small Part of Something Big - a Love is Blind Reflection, Part 1
Updated: Apr 17, 2020
"When I heard about this experiment, I knew it was for me. It was the opposite of what modern dating has become."
Forever, I'll be the guy on Love is Blind who said the above statement as the first sound bite of the hit series, then disappeared. Sure, I had a few other lines and a shot of me barefoot in a Brawl for a Cause tank top, my most natural of elements, but other than that, I have a very forgettable role in a Netflix reality TV show that was #1 in the USA.
People from all walks of my life; past jobs college, high school, summer camp, youth soccer, whatever, are reaching out when they turn on the show. The excited text usually comes, "Can't believe you're on the show! Do you find love?" Three hours later, a confused followup usually occurs, "Wish we saw more of your story line! What was it like, anyway?"
Well, the answer is yes. I found love through a wall, and no one will see it, including me... a whole different, albeit ironic definition for "love is blind." For those curious about what it was like to be a part of this social experiment turned reality TV show, here's my story, part 1.
Others have submitted applications for The Bachelor on my behalf a handful of times. For many reasons, I never went through with casting. I didn't like the premise of the Bachelor, or the kind of personalities that tended to be focused on and amplified. So, when a random DM dropped into my IG inbox about a reality TV dating show, I thought back to wine drenched nights on the couch watching The Bachelor with my ex, and I said, "no thanks."
The casting agent persisted to no avail, then went on to share that it was a big-budget project by Netflix designed to be the antithesis of modern dating. Instead of the dating app world of window shopping for human beings, we would be getting to know each other through a wall, forming relationship based off past experiences, core values, and vision of the future. Now, she had my attention.
I went through multiple personality tests, interviews with psychologists, and calls with producers and match-makers. I shopped for new clothes. I spent five days in a silent meditation retreat in Thailand right before reporting to set at Pinewood Studios south of Atlanta, Georgia. Then, the day finally came.
The first cast member I met was Rory, who turned into my best friend on set. We had the same producer assigned to us, Leif, and we had both turned our passions into our careers. Rory was a competitive gamer turned developer and face of a prominent gaming studio, and I took a college boxing event and grew it into a charitable vehicle for funds and awareness generation benefiting over 100 non-profits worth fighting for. We were both into positive psychology and transformation, so we became fast friends.
I met the others too. Mark was already a familiar face, having volunteered on our team for Brawl for a Cause 2018 in Mercedes Benz Stadium. I joked around with Barnett and Andy, and felt put off immediately by Damian and Taylor. They seemed like the class clowns and bullies right off the bat, and I generally butt heads with those types. Another instant connection was Kenny, a good dude who was really positive, supportive and well-spoken.
The show began with jitters. It was the first time many of us had been mic'd up, but as we'd soon learn, it'd be far from the last. We spent the majority of each day filming, all the while mic'd up. Gym time, meal time, bathroom time, all of it. They told us we were going to walk through a fake door on a fake wall and meet Nick Lachey. What the actual fuck was my life?
After giving an overview of the experiment to us, Nick opened the floor for comments about it. Damian chimed in, letting us know that dating apps weren't working for him even though he had over one-hundred matches on Tinder currently, earning him the nickname, "Hundo." With Hundo at the helm, we lined up for our first round of what would be dozens of dates over the following 10 days.
The first round was speed dating. We'd have seven minutes with all 15 women, and we were encouraged to pick our best, go-to question to get to know someone deeply. We were instructed that we'd be ranking our dates, and we'd only see eight women the following day. Equipped with my question, I walked into my first dates, and I only really remember one voice I heard on the other side of the pod wall.
"We only have seven minutes, so let's get to it," Danielle said in a voice I'd soon crave. Time was of the essence.
"If you had a plane ticket to anywhere, where would you go and what would you pack?"
"Oooh, good question. I love travel," she said, "Costa Rica." She went on to explain she volunteers there once per year, and it's one of her favorite places in the world. Less than a year prior, I was living and working in Monteverde, Costa Rica, and the shared interests set Danielle head and shoulders above the other women from the very beginning. Conversation was so easy with her. I immediately felt heard, comforted, and at home with her whenever she was on the other side of a pod.
We kept going deeper, talking about tattoos we got and why; hers to remember her childhood best friend who passed, and mine to commemorate coming back from an injury that required surgery and going on to win the 2018 chess-boxing world championship. We talked about past relationships, whether we wanted children, how to raise them, who the most important people in our lives were, and how we love.
As we drilled deeper and deeper, I fell more in love with Danielle soothing, sweet voice. Every story she told was like she was wandering through a vivid memory of it. I loved going on adventures with her through a wall, and I loved taking her on a few of my own. We uncovered more shared interests, like yoga, planning events, and cooking. We even found out that we lived across the street from each other for two years and never once ran into each other. It felt like fate.
Danielle was my #1 since day 1. I didn't tell anyone about it, because I made a few promises to myself and my inner circle before the show:
I wouldn't drink alcohol
I wouldn't talk about my dates with the other guys
I wouldn't succumb to group think or producer induced drama
In one way or another, I would end up breaking all of these rules, but that's for later parts of the story.
With those promises in mind, I started observing my cast-mates. Most were drinking, some in excess, even in the mornings. Most were talking about their dates, and I learned that others had Danielle ranked highly, including Rory. Finally, group think was spreading through the house, and a competition for who would be alpha male in the men's side of the house was underway.
The first night, my bunk mate Westley and I retired early to get some sleep, while most of the other cast mates played drinking games and came back to the bunks around 3am. They were loud and woke everyone up. At the climax of commotion, Taylor "sack-tapped" Damian and started a stand-off that got me out of bed and into the middle of two guys I was dreading to spend the next 10 days alongside. I told them that this was a marathon, not a sprint, and that every hour of sleep is going to help us stay clear, collected, and in the best position to find our potential partner while not completely embarrassing ourselves.
After that first altercation, the guys seemed to bond together a bit more. Taylor and Damian grew into close friends. We worked out together in the mornings before being mic'd up. We made smoothies, cracked jokes, and shared more of our stories with each other, both on and off camera. As the dating progressed, it became clear that certain guys were in deep for certain girls, namely Mark for Jessica and Cameron for Lauren.
One morning, after our first round of dates, I walked into the house's small gym and found Cameron sitting on a bench, crying. I grabbed him a drink and sat with him. He opened up about not believing the experiment could work, but being in the depths of emotional bonding with Lauren. He expressed his interest in proposing to her. He said he thought he was crazy, but that it felt right, and he was going to go with it. The first domino fell.
Soon after Cameron shared this with others in the facility, guys started professing love through a wall, and I felt myself starting to follow suit. In fact, I had been feeling stronger emotions for Danielle with every passing day, and Cameron's admission helped reinforce and validate those feelings.
Up to this point, we didn't really know who was dating who, and who was prioritizing who on each others' lists. We only knew what people talked about before/after dates. I got a feeling in my gut that soon, producers would reveal who was dating who, and because there were a bunch of guys all dating the same girls, there would be inherent drama and competition that arose because of it.
As a result, I decided to be direct with Rory. One night, after the cameras were off and we were back at our bunks, I went to his room. I knocked on his door, and he opened it, looking tired and confused. I asked to come in.
I shared my prediction with him. Then, I told him that Danielle has been my #1 since day one, and that we were on a collision course with drama. I told him I was only bringing this up to get ahead of it. As the information sunk in for Rory, I outlined what I had been thinking:
Since Rory was a competition gamer, and I was a chess-boxer, the producers would naturally expect us to compete over Danielle, given our backgrounds.
That situation was untenable because competition could lead to regrets for either of us. Plus, it's impossible to "win" another human being.
As a result, we had to find another way, and I had a proposition for Rory.
Instead of being on "Team Rory," or "Team Matt," I proposed we both join the same one, "Team Danielle." I suggested we do not compete or instigate any negativity. Instead, we show as much of ourselves to Danielle as possible, paint a vision of what the future could look like together, then let her decide. Knowing we are both good guys, she'd end up happy with one of us, and the other could be a friend to both. Neither of us wanted to be with someone who didn't want to be with us, so it seemed like the best path forward.
Rory looked me in the eyes, nodded, and held out his hand to shake. We made a pact, bro-hugged it out, and went to sleep. The next day, when we went to set, everything changed.
If you want to read part 2, let me know in the comments on social or this blog, and I'll make sure you get notified when it's live!