Dating Show Contestant In a Bind With 'Love Is Blind'
Ever since households across the globe began making social distancing "pods" in the pandemic, the world of reality TV introduced a different type of pod to keep us entertained while in quarantine with the recently popular show, Love is Blind. But as it turns out, the show's producers may have been "blind" to some important details — including how they can legally treat their cast members. Now, one contestant is taking the show to court, casting a spotlight on the darker side of reality TV, challenging the authenticity of the love-seeking process, and raising questions about the responsibilities of production companies. As she battles legal obstacles in her quest for justice, the unfolding drama behind the scenes promises a revealing exploration of the blurred lines between reality and entertainment. Let's dive in.
A Match Made In Hell?
Reality TV fans across the country will be familiar with the popular Netflix series Love is Blind. In a world obsessed with appearances, this dating show flips the script; singles ditch traditional (read: superficial) dating profiles. Instead, they shut themselves in opaque pods for 10 days, building connections to other single people through conversation alone. The contestants are initially paired in a speed-dating format, but can later choose to have longer dates. The contestants can only communicate via a speaker in the front wall of the pod, while still being able to relax, drink wine, and chat.
One of those contestants was a veterinarian from Houston, Renee Poche. The production company behind the show, Delirium TV, found Poche on Instagram and reached out to her to apply to join. She was selected for the fifth season of the show along with 14 other women and 15 men. It began screening in early 2022. She fell for one of those men, Carter Wall, and the couple soon got engaged. But leading up to the altar, Poche began noticing more and more “red flags" about Wall. He was unemployed. He had a negative balance in the bank. He was homeless. He was estranged from his family. He was addicted to alcohol and amphetamines.
Poche claims that Wall regularly berated her, stole things off of the set and other places they went together, and solicited people to buy him drugs. She claims that he was “emotionally abusive on and off camera." How did Poche fall for him? She claims that he apparently “had lied about almost everything and who was, by any objective measure, far from 'marriage material.'"
Red Flags Visible to All
Wall's “erratic and alarming behavior and emotional instability" was obvious to not only Poche, but also the show's staff. Poche alleges that the show's producers not only knew about Wall's risky character traits, but were themselves concerned. For example, Wall physically threatened a camera operator in Mexico, who quit the show as a result. In Houston, other Delirium staff also allegedly warned her to make sure that Wall didn't have access to firearms or weapons “because they were concerned he would hurt himself, her, or others."
Poche claims that when she joined the show, Delirium told her that “all participants would be extensively screened through a rigorous background check process, psychological examinations, and a compatibility assessment." Poche herself, like the other participants, was put through a lengthy interview process and had to fill out various documents as part of her application to be on the show. These documents included a compatibility questionnaire of 200 questions, as well as wedding plans. Thus, she claims she was “led to believe that participants were selected based on compatibility and marriage potential," along with the background screenings.
After realizing that Wall as a “walking red flag," Poche wanted out. But, as she alleges in her complaint, “Delirium made it clear that she would subject herself to legal action if she were to discontinue her participation in the Program or otherwise refuse to move forward with the engagement." Furthermore, Poche felt isolated since the production staff had confiscated her phone, passport, and driver's license from the first day of filming. Poche claims she was also unable to leave her hotel room without a “cast wrangler" when not filming, and prohibited from interacting with anyone else, including the other cast members and also the hotel staff. Her complaint alleged: “In some ways, and this is a sentiment shared by many participants, Poche felt like a prisoner." She claims that she began to mentally and physically “spiral" in that “climate of fear and unease."
Poche Finds Herself In a Bind
Eventually, Poche and Wall's relationship storyline was “cut" from the show altogether. In the wake of the decision, Poche gave a series of public remarks and interview expressing her surprise at being cut. In them, she talked about her “distressing" time on the show and her “terrifying" experiences with Wall.
The problem was that apparently, Poche and the other cast members had signed what was titled a “Participant Release and Agreement," which was essentially a non-disclosure agreement that also tried to prohibit the cast from taking Delirium to court. Thus, when Poche went public about her experience on Love Is Blind, Delirium initiated arbitration against her. They accused her of four violations of the NDA, each with $1 million penalties.
But Poche's lawyers claim that the agreement Delirium had the cast sign was not legal in the first place, because it violates public policy. They say that the agreement “contains numerous unlawful provisions intended to further Defendants' shirking of their ethical and legal obligations," in particular, the agreement's “release of liability" provision. They cite California Government Code, which makes these kinds of provisions unenforceable. The attorneys point out the unfairness of having contestants like Poche pre-emptively giving up her right to hold companies like Delirium accountable by suing them.
What Next for Poche?
Poche has essentially asked a California court to rule that the agreement either entirely or in part violates public policy and, and therefore that Delirium can't enforce it against her. This would mean that Delirium's arbitration case against her would fail.
Recently, Poche asked an LA judge for an emergency ruling to stop the arbitration proceedings, but last week, the judge declined to give it. Poche is now forced to seek that in another court, or go through with arbitration after all. Delirium's lawyers intend to bring a motion to compel the arbitration, and asserted that "the issue of the agreement's validity is for the arbitrator to decide." It remains to be seen not only how this issue will play out, but in which forum. As per the nature of arbitration agreements, Poche might not literally get her day in court.
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