Initial Thoughts on Netflix’s Newest Reality TV Show
The Ultimatum is both completely absurd yet irresistibly enticing. Netflix presented their new reality show at the reunion of the second successful season of a different Netflix original reality dating show, Love is Blind.
The Ultimatum follows 6 different couples in which one person has issued an “ultimatum”; that the couple either must be engaged to marry at the end of the process, or break up and move on FOREVER. The “process” that’s been designed for them is one night with their original partner, then the official “split” happens effectively making 12 new singles. They all have a week to mingle to ultimately decide WHO besides their original partner they want to go into a “trial marriage” with for three weeks – Including living together and functioning in their normal lives and relationships… After the three weeks of the “trial marriage”, the original couples then go through 3 weeks of living together, for a classic scientific experiment: control vs. variable group – Do you realize you like the person who’s not your partner more? Do you realize everyone has quirks and flaws, but that your original partner is still the one for you? It inherently brings so much drama and intrigue as the stakes are heightened to marriage, but within couples that have long standing relationships. There’s a lot of history, these are real relationships, and there’s a lot of passion – both good and bad.
The genius of the show is that they’ve managed to eliminate flaws existing in other reality dating shows. Flaws including clearly produced storylines and drama, and an ending where typically couples fail to transition their “show love” into real-life love.
Take The Bachelor for example. Out of 26 Bachelors, 1… ONEEEEEEE… man has married his first choice for love, season 17’s Bachelor, Sean Lowe married to Catherine Giudici.
Now granted, TWO men have married their SECOND choice for love – Season 13 Bachelor, Jason Mesnick, married his second-place finisher, Molly Mesnick (previously Malaney), who together live in Seattle and have 2 kids. More recently, season 22’s Bachelor, Arie Luyendyk, married his second choice for love, Lauren Burnham, and the couple has 3 children.
But the point remains that TWENTY THREE other Bachelors in a show that is designed to end in forever love and marriage has failed 88% of the time… That’s a B+ in failing…
This begs the question… has the show ever genuinely cared about creating long-lasting love and relationships??? Absolutely not! They only care about good TV!!! And while to the casual viewer the show may seem like a “love story”… Once you start digging deeper, some would even say.. Falling into the pit (@ Game of Roses podcast), you begin to understand the tactics and levers the show makers and producers pull to create these moments illusioned with love, but in reality, are mostly manufactured drama.
Recently, whether it be because I’m older, have more insights into the makings of reality TV, or a combination of both… It seems to me the recent seasons of The Bachelor/Bachelorette have been DRIPPING, REEKING, just FINGERPRINTS ALL OVER the show of producers weaving their Machiavellian webs of deceit and chaos. They never wanted to create love, even in the beginning, even in the very first season. It was always about breaking people apart.
Say on a typical season of The Bachelor there are 25-30 women? And only one “wins”, i.e. all other women get broken up with? … That’s again… a 97% chance of failure… an A+ in failing. There is almost NO CHANCE you will be chosen at all, and there is an incredibly HIGH chance, an almost absolutely CERTAIN ending of demise … This show was never about love because inherently it’s about breaking apart people & breaking them down, with the guise of “happily ever after”, almost always leaving relationships in inevitable post-show doom.
The inevitable post-show doom includes but is not limited to – Bachelors “taking back” their proposal ie. Arie initially picked Becca at the end of his season, only to break up with her months after the final proposal to go after his second choice, Lauren. This created an ultimate victimization edit for Becca so strong & compelling, that it would grant her the next crown or lead of the next Bachelorette season, and a beloved one she was, indeed!
Hannah Brown, season 15’s Bachelorette, ended her season choosing Jed Wyatt over BELOVED Tyler Cameron, only for her to ALSO break up with him months later after rumors of him being in a relationship came out.
Peter Weber, season 24’s Bachelor, got dumped by Hannah Ann, his winner, at a secret meet up post-show (typical for the winning couple to do before the entirety of the season is out, before the “winner” has been revealed).
She said Peter was still in love with his second choice for love, Madison. This results in Chris Harrison (host at the time) FLYING TO MADISON’S HOMETOWN IN ALABAMA, and talking her into coming back to LA to see Peter after she already DUMPED HIS ASS in the DESOLATE MIDDLE OF AUSTRALIA DESERT WITH A BUNCH OF FLIES. In LA they have a moment of reconciliation, but then at the live show after it airs, Peter’s mom rips Madison a new butthole about how she doesn’t like her because she’s (the mother) in love with Hannah Ann. News of Madison & Peter breaking up comes out LITERALLY the day after the live show, lmfaoooooooo. (See my recap of Peter’s finale and extraneous juicy tea surrounding it below 😉 )
You see the point I’m trying to prove here? … Then say it with me now, This (clap) show (clap) was (clap) never (clap) about (clap) LOVE!
So all this to say… The Ultimatum provides a refreshing counterpoint to the long-standing and most dominant reality dating TV show… It creates a world with an innovative premise, the likes of which we’ve never seen except for whispers of shows like “Wife Swap” or that TLC show where parents would send their bad kids off to shovel horse shit in a barn when they’re from like Chicago or some shit??? Is this a fever dream???
But the point remains – I don’t think there’s ever been one of these Freaky Friday switch shows, or at least one with national recognition, that has contestants not only just switch “lives” in the sense of taking over their responsibilities and relationships, but also… potentially falling in LOVE, the TRUE role with whom they’ve switched… Now that’s absolutely, fascinatingly absurd. Something I’ve never seen before, so naturally, I’m immediately in awe & curiosity, I want to see more!
A similarity to Love is Blind is how all the contestants are cast from the same city. In Love is Blind, all contestants were from Chicago. Some of them still hang out to this day, naturally lending to much easier “parasocial play” with each other (posting pics of them all hanging out, etc.), propelling their gain in followers, and resulting in increased influencer income. Bingo! The same casting process is applied in The Ultimatum where the entire cast hails from Austin, Texas.
I’m both surprised and impressed that casting producers/directors, etc. were able to get such dynamic characters from a small group of people (ie. vs the entire USA and honestly world in some cases in the casting for The Bachelor). I think that’s a testament to the genius of this show – it’s both provocative & unnatural, but yet, something about it feels distinctly real. It plays into “real” relationships, but more so, relatable “real” people who are simultaneously struggling in love, but have the chance for new love. People who are in one way or the other being forced to constantly think about engagement & marriage, and question whether they really want those things and if they want them with their current partners, or perhaps, with someone new. It makes every situation and every relationship that much more heightened.
Another PERFECT element the show possesses is the intensity sewn into every step of the process. When contestants are in the “trial marriage” for three weeks, it’s not that they are just casually dating someone new. No, they are LIVING with them. In what world do you live with someone, ANYONE, you’ve known for a week, much less, a romantic partner??
But also… The person you’re living with, as well as yourself, are in serious OTHER relationships that are on the precipice of marriage, and those other people are ALSSOOOO doing this random living situation!!!!!!! So many inherent possibilities for conflict – It causes a strange dynamic between the original partners. A strange dynamic between the new “3-week trial marriage” partners. Strange dynamics between the group of women and men when they hang out separately because they’re all DATING EACH OTHER. It’s an absolute fireball of a show, and I’m simply OBSESSED.
The Ultimatum respects the notion that we viewers aren’t idiots. They let us know that they know WE know the show we’re watching is… well, just that, a show! That there are things that may not be real or may be exaggerated … so while the structure of the show and the “game” of it is unnatural, not normal. They acknowledge, hey, we know this is weird, but we think this is a way to ultimately find out and accelerate the “process” of understanding if you should be with the person you entered the show with, or move on to someone else. It acknowledges the absurdity of the show, and by doing so, it propels viewers into a greater state of suspended belief. This allows viewers to be in on the “joke”, to be in on the process, ultimately permitting us to see what we came to the show for – Amidst the structure & absurdity, we came to watch real people in real situations & relationships falling in real love. A love that we can see on the screen as viewers because we feel it, we can sense it. On the contrary, The Bachelor tells viewers, hey, this person is in the top four of the group of 30 people, so you MUST know that the lead feels strongly about them… yet we haven’t seen anything of an authentic relationship develop in the past few seasons (Caveat: Nayte & Michelle are everything).
All in all, my initial reaction to this show is that Netflix has somehow figured out how to usher in the new age of reality TV. An age with ubiquitous social media, an established past of reality TV, and a viewership of smarter reality TV watchers that despite all their knowledge of behind the scenes and producer manipulation, can still somehow believe and feel entranced by the love or lack thereof on their screen.