Nick and Vanessa Lachey are making headlines, for, once again, gushing about their marriage. Toward the end of the most recent season of one of their Netflix shows, The Ultimatum, Vanessa became emotional describing some of what the couple has endured in their marriage.
"Nick and I have been together for 16 years and we know each other — married for 11 — but it's so funny that for some reason we don't learn more about each other until we're in, like, a therapy session," she said, as she became teary-eyed. "And the reason why I'm choking up is because I've had to get through so much sh- to be the best woman for him.”
She went on to say that being able to confide in Nick about issues she’s had throughout their marriage and trusting him to “carry” her through led the couple to becoming “unstoppable”.
It all sounds wonderful, sure. But given the fact that it’s coming from the only couple PEOPLE seems to talk about just as much - if not more - than Heather Rae Young and Tarek El-Moussa, you can’t help but take it with a grain of salt.
Her remarks follow a series of articles published about the couple and their marriage since they became the hosts of Netflix hits Love Is Blind as well as The Ultimatum around 2020, which makes sense, considering both shows are about marriage. But even before that, their relationship always seemed to be a topic of conversation.
The hype around their marriage, specifically, in relation to these reality dating shows makes it harder to appreciate their sentiments knowing that they’re primarily motivated by two things: ratings and their bottom line. And nothing contributes more to those two things than remaining in front of the camera and in the headlines – something neither of them are strangers to.
Late last year, during the launch of the third season of Love Is Blind, Nick told PEOPLE that he knows he and Vanessa would’ve found each other in the pods on the show.
"I really do think we would've found each other. I think we would've gravitated to each other. That's what we did in life. Obviously, we knew each other,” Nick said.
Nick and Vanessa go around touting the “magic” of marriage. This is what they do, and they do it very well. They use their marriage as a vehicle to sell the idea of “unconditional love” to people. They are an attractive couple who met and married and now have the all-American family dream. So it’s no shock that people buy it hook, line and sinker time and time again.
The fact that they continuously mention “knowing each other” is super corny, but I think it’s also because they started dating so soon after his divorce to Jessica Simpson that they don’t want to get any flack or rumours of infidelity in his first marriage, which, by the way, was the subject of one of the very first reality shows centered on married life, Newlyweds. Since then, he’s gone on to do a ton of reality TV, including Dancing With The Stars, where he and Vanessa competed against each other.
In a way, commoditizing their marriage has helped them to stay relevant and more importantly, to stay paid. But it’s also helped them sell the fantasy behind not only their shows, but so many other dating reality shows that capitalize off of that fantasy of everlasting love, which, let’s be real here, you hardly ever find on these shows anyway.
When you think about shows like The Bachelor and Bachelorette, Married at First Sight, Dating Around, Love Island, Indian and Jewish Matchmaking etc, there have been a few couples that have defied the odds. Some remained in relationships, some went on to tie the knot (and actually keep it tied). But for the most part, people who couple up on these shows are on the express train to splitsville before, immediately after or within a year or so of wrapping up production.
A lot of that has to do with the protective bubble most of these relationships are built in. Of course you’re going to find love while you’re on a paradise island with a bunch of hunks and hot bikini-clad babes and don’t forget to mention, unlimited access to alcohol.
All of this breathes life into the idea that for some of the people on these shows, they understand the value of the visibility it brings them, which they can later begin to monetize. Consider a couple like Lauren Speed and Cameron Hamilton, who appeared on season one of Love Is Blind. You want to talk about overnight celebrity?
Watching this couple go from finding love in the pods as they discussed what an interracial marriage would look like to tying the knot was a journey I personally became invested in. Largely because as a biracial person myself, I wanted to see how they navigated their different identities and backgrounds, particularly at a time when racial tensions were at an all-time high. I wanted to see how their families would take to each other, how they would have certain conversations and whether their different lifestyles would be their demise. And so far, it hasn’t been.
I interviewed them when they released their book (yes, they got a book deal), and though I left that interview with no doubt that their love for each other is genuine, who’s to say I wasn’t eating up the fantasy they were selling us?
The pressure to stay together must be intense. Imagine being the face of the fairytale these shows are based on, starting to earn a crap ton of money, landing book deals and national TV appearances, having all these social media followers watching your life and marriage closely (yet from a distance) and then having it all fall to pieces? I don’t blame the people who fake it to get themselves a bit further ahead, particularly because a lot of the people who come on these shows are just everyday people in the first place. This is their 15 minutes. This is their shot at fame. And if they navigate it correctly, it could really pay off in the end.
There’s pressure during filming, sure, to find love and get coupled up, but I imagine that pressure only partially alleviates when the cameras stop rolling. By that same token, then, it’s why we see a lot of relationships collapse after filming. The proverbial bursting of the bubble takes place and gets people from reality TV to real life – where you have to cook for yourself and work through money problems and not spend your day getting drunk on beaches. No more romantic dates with helicopter rides, fireworks and random country bands doing intimate concerts for two (I’m looking at you, Bachelor).
So why, then, do we eat it all up? If we know that these are just environments designed by production teams and set designers as spaces to film entertainment, firstly, and find love second, why do these shows boast such high ratings, and viewership in the millions? Because of the parasocial relationships we build with the people on the show.
In this season of The Ultimatum, I found myself incredibly connected to the ideas shared by one woman, Riah, who is ambivalent about her future with her partner because she’s unsure she wants to have kids. I found myself in awe of her honesty and loved that she was normalizing non-maternity. I also found myself wrapped up in the drama of Lisa and Brian, a couple for whom things got testy after Lisa saw him flirting with another girl (which is the whole point of the show?). She struck him across the face and later told production she and Brian had to leave because she found out she was pregnant. I found it suspicious and went to her Instagram to see if it was true, and I found myself in the company of thousands of other internet sleuths – all disappointed that all these months later, there’s no sign of a baby.
The other thing that gives these shows longevity is how common it is for the contestants to ultimately couple up with other people they met on the show. Take 90 Day Fiance, for instance, which has 18 spinoffs. 18! One of them is 90 Day Fiance: Single Life, where past cast members mix and mingle with each other after the initial relationship they came on the show with ended. Or Bachelor In Paradise, where fans eagerly await the return of their favourite former contestants and watch to see who they’ll fall in love with this time. The crossover adds a layer of drama and interconnectedness that can make it hard to turn away.
Though Nick and Vanessa may be the cringiest couple there is for cheesily using their marriage to help sell their shows, it seems to be working. And though it’s hard to imagine that all of that gushing they do is sincere, perhaps the money they rake in hosting these shows is enough to fill the gap.