Love Is Blind, which wraps up its 10-episode run on Netflix this week, is the trashy reality show America loves to hate-watch. Besides a lurid and ridiculous concept (couples date in sight-proof pods and get engaged sight unseen) the dominant feeling of watching it is similar to a horror movie where we know something the characters don’t know. We see an obvious relationship pitfall coming a mile away (no physical chemistry, one person is actually a robot, etc) shout “DON’T GO IN THERE!” but the characters ignore us for three episodes, giving naively cheerful one-on-one interviews in which they tell the camera, wide eyed and innocent, why they think it’s a really great idea to run up the stairs, actually.
In the show, which waffles between “way too real” and “incredibly fake” (whenever Kardashian wannabe Gianinna is onscreen), the initial appeal came largely from Diamond and Carlton, who had a blow out fight by the pool in Mexico in which Carlton transparently projected his feelings of inadequacy onto Diamond and ridiculed her wig for it. Once they left the show, the big draw was Jessica and Mark, a 34-year-old “regional manager” and 24-year-old fitness trainer, respectively, the former of whom clearly was not attracted to the latter. Yet for some reason, they persisted.
As a friend put it recently, “the show should just be called ‘Mark Is Blind.'”
It’s tempting to say “poor Mark,” but I think we’ve all been Mark. At 24, he was the show’s youngest competitor (contestant? guinea pig?), and of all the pieces of wisdom one gains in one’s twenties, chief among them is knowing not to chase someone who isn’t into you. Run away! Run away and count your blessings.
Now, imagine if your own learning experience had been televised. It must be a little like that for Mark Cuevas, who filmed Love Is Blind in late 2018. He spent 17 days in the Love Is Blind petri dish, his access to the outside world greatly restricted (no phones, no TV) and now he and his fellow reality show stars’ stir-crazy relationship drama is distraction fodder for sickos like me.
To complicate matters, one of the things that made Love Is Blind different from other dating shows is the cast all lived in the Atlanta area. Which would seem to make anonymity even harder. I got the chance to speak to Mark this week, about what it’s like living through this bizarre experience, and just what the hell he was thinking when he signed up for it.
So how did you get cast in this show?
Well, they actually reached out to me. They found me on Instagram. It’s not that I had like a big following or anything either, I had like 1,200 followers or something like that at the time. They’re like, “If you’re interested, fill this out, questionnaire, we’ll be on a tech call, whatever.” I just said like, “Why not?” And the process kind of started from there.
What did they tell you about the show?
I mean, they were very upfront. They were like, hey, this is an opportunity to find a love of a lifetime, and find out if someone can propose sight unseen. And I looked at it as, like, I’ve always been a bit of a hopeless romantic. I looked at it like, yeah, why not like go into it being myself and if I find that love, like how lucky would it be to find it at 24? And if I don’t, then I don’t, but at least I know that I was being 100% myself.
I assume this is the first a dating show that you’ve tried out for?
I’ve never done a reality show, man. I never thought I would do one. Growing up, I was an athlete so I really just thought I’d just keep pursuing that and never thought reality TV would be the one thing that I’d be known for.
What sports did you play?
I played football in college. LaGrange College. I played corner and wide receiver. I started off at a D-3 school. I had transferred to Georgia State to play football as well, but ended up not going through the camp and just decided after the concussions and the knee injuries, I’m like, “Eh, I think I’ll stop here.”
How many concussions did you have?
I’d say about four or five that I’ve had in total. Yeah, it’s something that my parents and I had to sit down and be like listen, we got to figure this out. There was one where I actually did go to the hospital. I gave up a lot for that. Football was the love of my life before. It was kind of weird to kind of not have something like that because it’s always been a part of my life since I was a kid. And fitness kind of gave me that thing of like, I can work on my craft and get better just like football. You can see the results as you get better and get comfortable coaching. I felt like I had something missing for a while, but finally found it through fitness and I’ve been doing it for about three years now.
Once you make the decision to go on the show, it turns out it’s not really just you, like they have your parents on the show and some of your friends on the show — did you have to discuss any of that with your people before you went off to film?
There was only so much that they gave us. My parents have always been super supportive of what I do and I just kind of was like, “Hey guys, I’m going to go do this thing. I’m not going to have my phone for X amount of time and I need y’all to trust me and here’s the emergency contact in case you need me.” And like I said, my parents have always had my back and at first they were a little like, “What is this about?” I tried to explain it the best way I could. Even now it’s like hard to explain, after it’s been released and everything. I tried to be as transparent as possible, but they were very supportive through it.
How long was the initial round of filming? Did you have to take time off work?
I had told them I needed 10 days off. And they’re like, “Okay.” I figured I’d be back because I’m like, “Ah, we’ll see if might get engaged or not.” Well, I ended up getting engaged and I had to call them like, “Hey, I might need an extra week off.” And so they gave me close to I think 17 days off. But luckily I had a really good relationship with the owner. We’re really cool. And I just told him like, “Hey man, I’m doing this thing. I’d love it if you supported it.” Again, super supportive. It was 10 days of being in the pods and then we had to be in Mexico. We didn’t get our phones back until we came back from Mexico. It was about 17 days total without a phone.
What did you guys do all day when you weren’t pod dating?
Well, there were chill times that we had where we’re just hanging out around in the living room area. And luckily, I had my guitar. Kenny would sing, Barnett had his ukulele. We were all just like a band of misfits, just hanging out because we didn’t have music, we didn’t have anything else to rely on. It was really cool because we built those relationships together and we went through it together, but the downtime that we did have, we were just kind of like hanging out. And funny thing, I brought a football with me because they told me to bring something that represented me. And so we had this football and I still have it and it’s like just one football that didn’t have enough air in it, but it always helped us kill the time just throwing that thing around when we were outside, not filming, inside. It was like the therapy football.
Did you make other friends besides your fiancée during your time on the show?
Oh, for sure. I believe I think I have like brothers and sisters. I’m super thankful for it. A lot of the guys and a lot of the girls, we all stayed super close.
And then how did it work with the pod dating? Did you have to request time with people and was there like a set amount of time for dates?
We had a ranking system. The first day is speed dating. 15 guys, 15 girls and you’re going through these dates because you have seven minutes. They narrowed it down on the first day, and you have to really pick what questions you want to ask because you only have seven minutes to get to know this person. And after the first day you rank these people 1 to 15 on who was the person that you want to see again the most. And so after that, they would connect people based on the ranking system that they had.
Was this experience different than regular dating because of you having the expectation that you would maybe marry one of the people?
Oh yeah. You don’t see the person so you’re out of the physical touch and you’re trying to like picture what they look like. I think it was a different experience, but a good one because we got to really connect with those people for who they were. And I think it was one of those things of like, once you take out the physical, you can kind of really be as vulnerable as you could be and it was one of those cool experiences.
After the show, do you still think that like appearances and physical connection should be taken out of the equation during dating? Has it changed your opinion of how that affects relationships?
Yes. Coming out of his whole experience who I am now, like I’m a better communicator. I communicate what I want and I am as open as I can be. And I think that that’s what I look for, too. It’s like, you don’t just want someone that’s pretty on the outside, you want someone that’s pretty on the inside. Someone that like can have that connection. Like can we just talk about things like life and the things that have made you the person who you are today? I think that that’s what I look for, not just in my dating life, but my friendships and my relationship with my family. And it’s one of those things where you learn how to ask those tough questions because I’m in a very intense situation, what’s there to lose? You might as well do it with the people you love and the people you care about and eventually trickle down to the people that you want to date.
How many days had you guys known each other when you proposed?
You waited the whole 10 days before you proposed?
Yeah. We had a lot of funny moments in there. Like Jess and I had a chips and queso date. We had a (few) beautiful moments– like, we had a gift-giving day and she gave me the daily devotional book that had daily verses and quotes, and I gave her like my grandmother’s bracelet. And it was one of those things of like we really connected. And I think that a lot of times people didn’t get to see that and like, Oh, they’re just both from Chicago.” It’s like, no, we connected as real people and got to open up.
What do you think was most misleading in the editing, or what do you think has been the most common misconception about what people saw of you guys on the show?
I think the whole Barnett situation. I think that that was blown up. Granted, what was said was said. And after me and Jess we talked about it right after Barnett’s birthday party and we were fine. I think that that was not as big of an issue as people thought it was and it was just like us two trying to figure out what we’re doing in the situation.
The way the show makes it seem, when you guys got out of the pod, she was standoffish and you had to try and re-win her over almost.
And I don’t think it had anything to do with Barnett. I think it just had to do with what we were dealing with, like the emotions of the entire thing as a whole.
You guys didn’t have your phones the whole time, what could you do during the day? Just drink and hang out?
Yeah, pretty much. We just had a guitar, a football, and a ukulele, that’s it. No TV, no nothing. And that’s how we tried to entertain ourselves. It was one of those things where everybody probably started drinking a little bit more, but like as the days progressed, no one drank because it was just such an emotional kind of intense journey. And so after a while we’re just kind of like sitting around together like, “Guys, what the hell is going on?” And we’re just trying to figure it out. And it’s weird because a bunch of guys sitting around talking about their feelings, but it’s one of those things that a lot of people have never experienced.
With the weddings and dresses and the bachelor parties, were you guys paying for your own rings and suits and stuff or was the show covering that?
Oh, the show provided all of that.
Be honest, who was the most annoying person on the show?
Looking back at it, I think we were all pretty annoying. No, I’m just kidding. We were all just, like I said, man, there was no like one person that to me stood out. I think, again, everybody handled things different and I think that everyone just deals with things their own different way. And so I don’t think that there was anybody like annoying. I think that we were all just trying to figure it out.
Are you able to watch yourself on TV? Did you actually watch the show?
Yeah. I watched all the way to episode nine. I haven’t seen the finale, but it’s, honestly, it’s not weird to watch myself. It’s just kind of like reliving it like, damn, we just went through this and going back to it and it is what it is. I wouldn’t take anything back. It was really cool to see it. There’s a couple moments where you’re like, eh, but I was myself the whole time.
No big cringe moments?
Only the brown sheets! Those were not my sheets. I feel like I got set up. No, I was gone for three weeks and my roommate’s fiancée’s mom stayed there and they changed the sheets and I walk up to my room and I’m like, “What is this?” I’m like cringing, no, this is going to be on TV. Funny thing, that’s the one thing that I cringed about.
Had you dated older women before the show?
I went to prom with a senior when I was a sophomore. I don’t know if that counts as dating.
I think that just means you were a cool in high school.
Oh, dude. I’m dusting off that tux now, I look pretty good.
Are you still training? Do you still have the same career goals as you had before when you were filming the show?
I think it opened my mind up to new opportunities. I’ve worked in this new studio that I work at now in Buckhead and I’m an operations manager, but also a trainer as well. It definitely opened my eyes to being more bigger picture of what I want out of what my career. And I’ve really worked on my craft and become a better, just again, leader and coach and just overall business partner. It’s really opened the door for me to really pop in my field.