When “Love Is Blind” made its debut on Netflix in 2020, the series introduced a completely new way for people to find love, without all the rules of usual dating. On the show, the single contestants begin dating individuals through a wall, unable to see what the person on the other side looks like. Throughout the process, they can’t meet until they get engaged. Those who do then come face to face, move in together and decide whether they want to go through with their commitment.
In 2022, Season 2 participant Jeremy Hartwell sued Netflix and production company Kinetic Content, citing “inhumane working conditions.” A year later, Season 2’s Nick Thompson and Danielle Ruhl alleged a lack of mental health support in a report by Insider.
While Kinetic Content has broadly denied the allegations from both the lawsuit and the report, its CEO Chris Coelen is exclusively responding in detail for the first time to Variety, and says the cast is both physically and mentally protected — from the moment they join the experiment to long after the cameras stop rolling.
One of the most shocking claims made by a past contestant were those by Ruhl — who got married in Season 2 — as she alleged that she disclosed past suicidal ideations before filming began, but was cast anyway.
“These are very serious issues that she describes, and if her recent allegations about her mental health history are true, unfortunately she didn’t disclose this before filming,” Coelen says of the allegation.
Following his response, Variety reached out to Ruhl. “It wasn’t something I specifically noted in the application itself,” she says now. “I had conversations with producers. I had conversations with therapists, but to their point, it was nothing that had been written down, so whether or not something had been communicated to them, I don’t know,” she says. “I will admit that, at the time of filming, I did say that I was in a really good mental space.”
While filming in Mexico, Ruhl says she had a panic attack and told producers she was having suicidal thoughts, didn’t trust herself and wanted to leave the show. According to Coelen, that did not happen.
“She didn’t inform the production team that she was having any thoughts of self-harm. If she had, we wouldn’t have continued to film with her,” he says. “She never asked anyone in production ever to leave the show. She was free to leave the experiment at any time, as many participants have in the past. I urge all potential participants to always prioritize their own well-being, above being on TV, or participating in this experiment, no matter how great the upside might potentially be.” (Ruhl stands by her claim that she had informed producers, and that she asked to leave.)
Though participants claimed in the Insider story that they weren’t in touch with therapists on set, Coelen says this is untrue, noting that during the pods, two psychologists are present, watching everything that happens from the control room. He says that on the getaway trip, and once the couples move in together, cast members are given a hotline for a specialist who is available 24/7. Kinetic also has a dedicated talent management team who can be a point of contact for all participants, who are available as a resource to talk anything out.
Coelen says that Kinetic encourages therapy after the show and covers the cost. Variety has viewed email correspondence between the production company and multiple cast members, assuring them they are there for any help needed and that sessions are paid for.
“We’ve consistently offered to reimburse the costs of Ms. Ruhl’s post-filming therapy,” Coelen says. “And although she hasn’t taken us up on this yet, she should know that we support her, and our offer still stands. We’ve reached out to her privately, and we’d love to be in contact with her.”
He continues: “We consistently reiterate to people at the end of their time in the experiment, ‘We really urge you to seek aftercare.’ Even for people who don’t feel like they ‘need it,’ I encourage it, because I think you’ve spent a lot of time here talking about your feelings, and to all of a sudden just stop talking about your feelings, to me, would not be the best course of action.”
Coelen says he personally checks in with the cast each morning and night of filming, ensuring everyone knows that they’re free to leave at any time. So, what about the $50,000 penalty that Ruhl claimed she’d incur as a fine if she left the show early?
Coelen says that in the early seasons, there was a clause that did state there would be a “$50,000 penalty if they quit — a clause that goes back to the earliest days of unscripted television, and it doesn’t apply to our show.” He points toward all of the contestants who’ve left the show since Season 1 including Diamond Jack, Carlton Morton, Shaina Hurley, Kyle Abrams, and says they left without being fined: “We never have enforced it. We’ve never threatened to enforce it.”
In the fifth season, which is currently airing on Netflix, Aaliyah Cosby quit right before being proposed to in the pods.
Coelen says that in recent seasons, the company removed the penalty from contestants’ contracts. “Frankly, it is contradictory to everything we do on any of our shows,” he says.
In most competition reality shows in which the cast live together as a group — such as “Big Brother” and “The Challenge” — cast members are individually sequestered ahead of filming in order to avoid the cast getting to know each other beforehand. For “Love Is Blind,” that’s important, since the entire premise of the show is based on falling in love without having seen your partner. In Hartwell’s lawsuit, he claimed the “isolation” was on another level, with the Netflix cast being left alone for hours “with no access to a phone, food, or any other type of contact with the outside world.”
According to Coelen, the production is “really transparent about the detail of what participating in ‘Love Is Blind’ entails.”
He continues: “We tell them that they won’t be able to travel freely while they’re in the pods. We tell them they won’t have phones or TV or internet service in the pods or in their hotel rooms where they stay or in the romantic getaways,” adding that Thompson’s claim of being held “prisoner” is “insane.”
“You’re asked to stay in your hotel to protect the integrity of the experiment,” Coelen says. “We disconnect their phones and internet so they can’t get online because people are tempted to look people up.”
While Hartwell’s lawsuit cited 20-hour workdays, sleep deprivation and a lack of food and water, Coelen says the pods have never been open for more than 16 hours a day. The production team tries to keep the pods open as long as possible in order to great a genuine dating experience. For example, some cast members want to fall asleep talking to their significant others, he says.
According to Coelen, participants are able to nap in the lounge or take a shuttle back to their hotel at any time. The cast has multiple catered meals a day, bottled water and working sinks in the lounge.
The sleeping arrangements have also come into question, as the Insider report quoted one former cast member claiming to have seen cockroaches in their sleeping quarters. According to Coelen, during the show’s first season, the set was not fully built yet and trailers were brought in for the men and women to sleep in. After night one, he heard a complaint was made about a cockroach. With that, he says he got rid of the trailers and decided to put each cast member in a hotel room alone, with producers standing outside so they couldn’t wander around and see other cast members.
“That’s what we did, starting night two of Season 1. We heard somebody saw a cockroach, so we upgraded. We’re always upgrading our experience of our participants,” Coelen says. “We have people that are there — around the clock, literally 24/7 — who can attend to their needs, if they have any needs.”
In his lawsuit — which is still ongoing — Hartwell made many allegations about the “inhumane working conditions” the cast faced the pods, citing “an excess of alcohol” on set.
Coelen says that while alcohol is available — and everyone is of age — he talks to the cast about the amount of drinking at the start. “Every season, I say, ‘Listen, we’re here to try to make you and this journey feel as comfortable as possible, so that you have the opportunity, for real, to fall in love with someone,” he tells Variety. “I personally recommend that you don’t drink to excess, because I personally don’t think that’s a good way to connect with your potential spouse — especially doing it through a wall. Whether you want to drink or don’t want to drink, it’s up to you.”
Coelen says he was shocked by Hartwell’s lawsuit, noting that during his four days on the show’s second season, he chose to spend a great deal of time in his hotel room and “started crying” when he was asked to leave since he hadn’t formed connections: “He literally begged and pleaded us to stay in the pods.”
So, Coelen says, he gave Hartwell another chance. The following day, Hartwell re-entered the pods for another discussion with the woman he was interested in. She, however, wasn’t interested in furthering the relationship, and he was sent home — as is the case with many cast members.
When Variety reached out to Hartwell for a response to Coelen’s comments, he sent this statement: “I affirm and stand by the allegations as stated in the lawsuit. I will continue to act in the best interest of the class in the pursuit of truth and justice. I have no further comment beyond this as the evidence and eventual outcome of the lawsuit will stand on its own merit.”
So far, the “Love Is Blind” experiment, which asks whether two people can fall in love without the distractions of everyday life, has paid off, in that nine couples have gotten married in the course of its first four seasons — seven of whom are still together. And Coelen points to the example of Season 4 alum Chelsea Griffin, who married Kwame Appiah in the finale, and has since joined the show’s casting team.
Coelen hopes that the show will continue to cast individuals looking for true love, as opposed to those who go on “Love Is Blind” seeking fame and camera time.
“It might sound hokey, but people we want people to walk away from this with personal growth, and I’d say the vast majority of people who participate, walk away talking about the transformational qualities of having been in the experiment,” Coelen says.
As for the claims made against the show, he finds them “insulting” to Kinetic, as well as to the mental health professionals the company hires — and “disrespectful to anyone who’s participated.”
From Variety US