These ‘Love Is Blind’ stars left toxic romances on national TV: ‘It was gonna be a no’
The second season of “Love Is Blind,” Netflix’s dating binge-fest, spent much of its 10 episodes developing an emotional connection to cringe.
The season brought a windfall of baffling moments, many courtesy of two couples the internet couldn’t stop talking about. One was chaotic and constantly bickering: Natalie Lee, the mellow yet goofy consultant whose love language is sarcasm, and Shayne Jansen, an extremely energetic real estate agent/notebook scribbler who covets validation. The other was downright toxic: Deepti Vempati, an optimisitc data analyst with a lot of patience, and Abhishek Chatterjee, better known as “Shake,” a smarmy veterinarian with motorized drapes whose fat-phobic, misogynistic views of women doomed the relationship from the start.
Ultimately, Lee chose not to marry Jansen after he drunkenly berated her the night before their wedding, while Vempati proclaimed “I choose me” at the altar.
Chris Coelen, the creator of the Netflix reality show, talks Season 2 expectations, why certain couples aren’t featured and those casting criticisms.
Because “Love Is Blind” is meant to explore and test the promise (and limits) of an emotional connection in an increasingly superficial dating world, it’s easy to get swept up by its success stories — and the first season set high expectations with two happy marriages: Lauren and Cameron Hamilton and Amber and Matt Barnett. But though the sophomore season also resulted in two marriages, Lee and Vempati emerged as fan favorites, showing that self-respect can be the better happily ever after. Who needs to sit on a dude’s shoulders at a music festival when you can hold your head high?
In separate interviews via video conference, Lee and Vempati discussed the reception to the season, the turning points in their respective journeys to find love on the show, and walking away from toxic relationships. (Where the questions were the same, their responses are combined.)
How would you describe what the last few weeks have been like?
Lee: This experience has been crazy, overwhelming. It’s been really fun, though. It’s been so amazing to just feel the love and support from viewers and from fans. Before the show came out that Friday, I was just working a 9 to 5 and just doing normal things. Once the show came out, my social media is blowing up, I have people stopping me in the streets. It’s been quite an experience, for sure.
Vempati: It’s been so emotional, it’s been a lot. I’m in a glass case of emotion because, on the one hand, I’m so, so happy that it’s done and I can move on and put this chapter to rest. But at the same time, it’s disappointing and sad that I just have no idea who this person [Shake] is anymore. I cared for him. And it just doesn’t seem like that emotion was reciprocated.
Let’s talk about the reunion. The energy toward Shake felt very hot, from all sides.
Lee: We’ve all had our individual experiences with him and so, based on how he was acting at the reunion show, we just felt very protective of Deepti. But also, we were very surprised he wasn’t taking accountability for the actions and the things he said, not only during filming but afterwards as well.
In the pods, I only had one date with him, and then I cut him off my list. I didn’t speak to him again until we got to Mexico, so I didn’t really have an experience with him in the pods. That first date I had with him was only 10 minutes long. We just did brief introductions. But after filming, the cast did and still continues to hang out with each other. I’ve just heard that he’s said some things that are unnecessary or inappropriate.
Were you surprised that Shake sort of doubled down on his behavior at the reunion, Deepti? It felt like he was leaning into trying to play the villain.
Vempati: I think that’s exactly what it was — he thinks he’s playing a character on a TV show. And it’s like, these are our real lives and our real feelings. He doesn’t have the self-awareness to know that his words have impact and that we’ve all worked really hard to be in a good emotional state and put good out into the world, and for him to just derail us was really tough to see. I have no idea who this person is. I thought he was way different. But his true colors are kind of showing and the fame or the attention is really getting to him.
How was the ‘Love Is Blind’ group chat after the reunion? Is Shake still on it? Is there one without him?
Vempati: We have a group going without Shake. I don’t think any of us are gonna have Shake in our lives ever again.
In Screen Gab no. 25, we unveil a new TV podcast, break down Season 2 of ‘Love Is Blind’ and add two Oscar hopefuls to you streaming queue.
Do you feel like you got to express your truth, your piece, at the reunion? Natalie, you got pretty emotional. It seemed like it was still fresh for you.
Lee: It’s been a few months since I’ve seen Shayne, and I don’t think there’s any feelings there that I have. I still have a lot of love for him, but that door’s closed for me. The reason why I got so emotional is because I watched the show like everyone else around the world. And so that brings back a lot of memories and emotions, especially my wedding day, just watching the episode with my dad and how my answer impacted Shayne, and just how emotional that day was. So I think that’s what I was really sitting with at the reunion. I watched that episode and those old memories came up and those old feelings.
I do have closure. We didn’t necessarily have that closure talk. But I’ve just really moved on from that relationship and the experience itself. I’ll always hold that experience close to my heart. I’ve learned so much about myself through it. But I’ve also moved on from it.
Vempati: I didn’t have to say much because Shake was talking the whole time. And he was kind of digging himself into a hole. There’s just nothing left to say. I’m just so ready to close this chapter and move on. I wish him well from afar, but I just don’t have any more energy to give him.
Shake posted an apology afterward. What’s your reaction to that, Deepti?
Vempati: It’s just a little too late. If he was sincerely apologetic or cared about me in any way, and knew that would hurt me, he would have reached out to me when the first set of episodes dropped. And he never did that. And I feel like because he’s getting so much hate online, and so many people are reaching out to him saying that his behavior wasn’t OK, I think that he’s just saving face and the apology didn’t seem sincere to me. So I ignored it.
Natalie, some viewers expressed their frustration that the reunion did not directly address the moment where Shaina called your relationship a joke at the beach. Obviously, we get an edited version of the reunion — did it come up?
Lee: I don’t have any hard feelings about that day on the beach anymore. I watched it happen like everyone else around the world. I also need to keep in mind it did happen several months ago now. And it’s not worth my energy to have any frustrations or anger towards it. We did have a short discussion, but really, it was more: I saw what happened, I’m confused why it happened, but I’m over it.
It was revealed at the reunion that Shayne and Shaina hung out after your split. Shayne’s reaction to that reveal made for an incredibly awkward moment.
Lee: To be honest, I didn’t really care at the end of the day. I’m not with Shayne, I don’t care who he hangs out with or what he does. I was surprised, for sure. But I was kind of, like, “Well, it doesn’t impact me anymore, so I’m moving on with my life.”
One of the more shocking revelations was when Kyle revealed that he had wished he proposed to you, Deepti. Your connection wasn’t explored on the show. Where do things stand? We’ve seen the TikTok tease...
Vempati: We spent a lot of time in the pods with different people, and Kyle and I did connect and we had a lot of amazing conversations. A couple months after filming wrapped, we started talking again, and he’s my best friend. Honestly, he’s my best friend and he’s really been such an amazing support system for me while all of this has unfolded, and me for him, along with the other [contestants].
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Another male participant actually proposed to you early on, Natalie, and you rejected it. Why do you think we didn’t see that part of your journey? And can you share who the mystery man is?
Lee: I think the reason why it wasn’t included in the show came down to timing. You’ve got 10 episodes and so much content and six love stories to show and tell. That proposal was a very small part of my story and didn’t really have a benefit in telling mine and Shayne’s story. In terms of who it was, I haven’t asked that person if he’s OK with me sharing his name. So I’m going to keep that private for now. But, you know, I’ll ask him at some point to see if he’s comfortable. And maybe it’s something that him and I can share.
In my mind, it’s the guy with prematurely gray hair.
Lee: [laughs] You are a great interviewer. I am keeping my mouth shut. My lips are zipped.
During the pod phase, what were some of the the notes you jotted down in your notebook? What were the things that were meaningful to you in determining your compatibility?
Lee: A big one was [Shayne’s] loyalty and love for his family. He’s very close with his mother, he’s very close with his brother, and I’m very close with my family. That’s where we were in terms of our values, that’s where there was alignment. I know it doesn’t seem like it on the show, but we do have the same sense of humor. He’s also very sarcastic, and in Mexico, I know that sometimes we weren’t on the same page with it, but we got into a rhythm and talked things through in Chicago. We had a lot of fun together. We laughed all the time.
As the days progress in the pods, the dates get longer and longer, so near the latter half of our time in the pods, the men that you choose to continue to date in the pods, you’re speaking to them several hours a day. I think the longest I was with Shayne was maybe like, five, six hours a day. You are really having those deep conversations about your beliefs, your values, politics. I know it’s not highlighted on the show, but I understand why because in the relationship, there weren’t any deal breakers. Even with the conversation I had with Shane on the 401(k) and our finances, we did have deeper conversations about that. It wasn’t just light-hearted conversations throughout.
Fan-favorite couple Cameron and Lauren of Netflix’s buzzy matchmaking reality show “Love Is Blind” take us inside their “crazy adventure.”
Vempati: When I first started talking to him [Shake], I actually rated him pretty low on my list. But the more I started talking to him, I realized that we do have similarities in the way we grew up. He was also overweight, we both moved here at a younger age and we tried to fit in. We talked for over 40 hours in those pods. And I was struggling between him and one other person [Kyle] in the pods. But I realized that having cultural similarities — understanding Hindi songs, having the language and having our parents go through similar experiences — I just felt like we could get there; there’s potential, especially when you see in that episode where he’s kind of having some self-awareness and realizing that the way he’s talking about women and focusing on the physicality is not always the best thing to do. Especially when you’re trying to find a wife, right? But there are a lot of things in my notes like: “Oh, OK, he had this conversation with this girl — I don’t know, I need to address it.” We did have those hard conversations, but we had a lot of fun too. I think I was naive to think the change could happen so quickly, because in the moment of it all, I’m so heightened with the emotions, and I was hearing the things that I wanted to hear. But I forgot that actions have to line up with those words. And it takes time to rewire your brain to think differently. It takes time to change.
What were your deal breakers going into it, Natalie, aside from the jean shorts?
Lee: It’s so funny because Shane owns a pair of jean shorts and when we got back to Chicago from Mexico, he like pulled them out of a suitcase and I was like, “Oh, interesting ... I just talked about jean shorts in the pods.” But my deal breakers were anyone who exhibits any racist beliefs — that was a big one for me. Anyone with a criminal record — like any felonies, things like that. When the cast was introduced on social media, we had these taglines with our photos, and one of the things I say is I don’t like men who boast or show off and so I thought that’d be a deal breaker for me, but it wasn’t.
In the beginning, so much was made about Shayne’s voice. I’m curious, what did you picture from hearing his voice?
Lee: If I’m going to be honest, I had a journal during filming, so I actually wrote this down. I was like, “This is what I think Shayne may look like ... .” I just pictured someone who was a bit lanky, skinny, like very goofy, maybe some, like, curly brown hair and glasses. That’s what I thought he’d look like based on his voice and his personality. Obviously, I was completely wrong.
Do you think the show did a fair job in how it depicted your dynamic?
Vempati: I think to a certain degree, but I think what viewers don’t see is that I had a lot of hesitation as well. And I had a lot of doubts throughout that entire process as well. It’s not like I was just so into Shake and I just knew, “This is it, this is the person for me, I’m going to get married.” I had a lot of reservations and I struggled a lot with that relationship.
Lee: I think the struggles we had in Mexico with our love language — that was real and something we did struggle with. And then when we got back to Chicago, we did have really, really good times — of course, we did argue during that time, but it was nothing major like it was the night before our wedding. But I think they did a pretty accurate job in portraying our relationship, just the evolution of it from the pods up till our wedding day.
It was interesting, Deepti, to see how Shake initially reacted to seeing you for the first time and how that changed over time. He aggressively grabbed your butt seconds into meeting you for the first time. At the time, you said you liked it because it did seem to show the physical and emotional connection were aligned. Has your view of that moment changed?
Vempati: The whole proposal and reveal moments, for me, were really, really special. There’s so much adrenaline and there’s so much love there. He touched feet, he was very sweet. But, of course, watching it back, I’m like: “Oh, man, I wish he didn’t objectify me.” Because otherwise, it’s such a beautiful moment. And our parents are watching it, our grandparents are watching it. And so I wish he didn’t do it. But in the moment, I know that we get carried away. So I don’t fault him for that.
He let me know in Mexico that he wasn’t that physically attracted to me, or that there was chemistry lacking. But we wanted to give this experience a shot and see: Can that physical connection grow over time, especially when you’re living with somebody and you’re just now getting used to their behavioral things? The way we got engaged is so different that we wanted to give it a shot, at least from my perspective, even though he said, “The physical thing is lacking for me.” I thought that’s something we could grow into. Because I wasn’t completely gung-ho on Shake either. He’s not my physical type whatsoever. But I knew I cared about him already in such a quick amount of time that, for me, I could have gotten there if he would have been able to too. But there was a pivotal moment, a few days right before the wedding, when we were trying to grow our intimacy with that massage date and I just thought to myself: “What am I doing? Like, why am I doing this? There’s absolutely no way a physical connection can grow here because it just seems so forced. It shouldn’t have to be this way.” I was also realizing that there are certain characteristics that I wanted in a husband or a partner and he didn’t possess those characteristics. One of the biggest ones being self-awareness.
Natalie, I want to talk more about the love language issues. It was clear that Shayne struggled with your sarcasm. It was interesting to see the discussion on social media where people identified with growing up in households where there was less verbal affection. What did that illuminate for you?
Lee: I never put so much thought into my love language and my sarcastic sense of humor. I really got it from my parents. My mom and dad joke with each other all the time. I’ve been like that in my past relationships; it’s just the way I flirt and kind of how I show my love in this, like, sick, mean way. But I am never serious about it. I think what had happened was, when we got to Mexico, I wasn’t used to Shayne physically — like physically being with him and interacting with him. And so I think he felt a bit sensitive about the relationship, he felt a bit self-conscious; he thought I was pulling back. That was interesting to see. But what I did learn is I have to have that talk with my partner first, just make sure we’re on the same page and make sure they’re comfortable with my sense of humor, and just checking in because I know a lot of people aren’t going to be.
Natalie, we know there was the blowup fight before the wedding in which Shayne said some really hurtful things. But with some hindsight, I imagine the red flags have become more apparent. What seemed to be a moment that, looking back on it, should have been the turning point?
Lee: It’s been helpful watching the show. The first fight that we had in the pods when he accidentally calls me Shaina — watching that, as a viewer, I was like, “Wow, that was a really unhealthy conversation.” And I didn’t realize it at the time. So I feel like I think that was a sign that we had very different communication styles that don’t match. You see it — he’s very reactive and emotional. And I tend to take a step back and need some time to think about how I’m feeling and what I want to say. And so when we had arguments, it was like that. It’s just such a mismatch. And because we don’t communicate the same way, specifically during arguments and fights, it would cause a lot of misunderstandings. Looking back and thinking about those arguments, and those hard conversations, I think those were signs that it wasn’t going to work long-term.
Matt Barnett and Amber Pike, who met on Netflix’s matchmaking reality show “Love Is Blind,” reveal how they handled his wedding-day freakout.
A lot of the conversation about your relationship, Natalie, was the gaslighting that was happening in the relationship. Were you aware it was happening as you were in it?
Lee: When Shayne and I continued our relationship, when we gave it another shot after the wedding, those instances of gaslighting continued. And so that’s when I started to realize, “OK, these aren’t healthy arguments, these aren’t healthy conversations.” And I don’t think that he purposefully does it. I think when he’s emotional, he’s just very reactive. And I think my first reaction is, “OK, I need to de-escalate the situation,” and I think that leads to these unhealthy situations.
Deepti, you and Shake both acknowledged that you had only dated white people before this. And I know you saw how viewers commented that it seemed like you both struggled with internalized racism — what’s your reaction to that?
Vempati: It’s funny, because it sounds like I’ve dated so many white guys. I’ve had two boyfriends my whole life. And they’re all long-term — one of them was three years and one was six-and-a-half. I haven’t dated that many men. It just so happens that they were white. Obviously, I connected with him [Shake] on a cultural level. I wasn’t forcing myself to go specifically to any race. It’s just, that’s my history. I’ve dated two white men and I’ve never dated an Indian man because of, you know, circumstances. But here is an opportunity for me to date an Indian man, maybe I should go for it. Because there’s this connection that we’ve made.
Tell me about the wedding-day stuff. How is it decided who will talk first at the altar?
Lee: It’s not. Whoever the officiant is will just ask, “Shayne, do you ... “ and then go to me. I don’t think there’s a — at least, I don’t know how they choose.
And is it a requirement, at that stage, that the decision not to go through with the marriage has to happen at the altar? Was that something you struggled with having to do?
Lee: It’s tough because at the end of the day there is a TV show component. Yes, it’s our real lives, but this is kind of what we signed up for. I will say, production didn’t force us into anything. So they didn’t force us to go down the aisle. Why we decided to go down the [aisle] and make that decision — our friends and family all flew in for the wedding and, so, by the time I really made the choice to say no, people are just showing up to my wedding and so you just feel like, OK, I’ve got to go down and make the decision. I did give Shayne the heads-up I was saying no, and he was very aware that that was gonna be my response. I think in his head he was hoping that it might change, that I would change my mind going down the aisle, but I was very transparent it was gonna be a no.
There have been like reports or rumors, Deepti, that producers urged you to be the one to say no at the altar or gave you a heads-up that Shake was going to say no in dramatic fashion, and they wanted you to have this moment before he did? Like, is there any truth to that?
Vempati: Production really doesn’t get that involved. I already had made my decision and I told my producer right away. There’s absolutely no way I could marry somebody who’s not physically attracted to me. Editing-wise, it seems like I’m so ready to go there, but I had so many reservations the entire time. Production knew that I wasn’t gonna say yes.
Your “I choose me” declaration at the altar was quite the moment. Knowing it was going to be sort of televised for all to see, what went into your decision of what you wanted to say then?
Vempati: You can kind of see when I’m talking to Iyanna at the bachelorette night, I already started having reservations in that moment, because I was like, “This person doesn’t see my worth at all.” And maybe he did, but there was that physical thing lacking. So for me, I was just like, “I can’t be this person anymore. I can’t be the only one that’s seeing the potential in the relationship.” I guess I was holding on to some sort of hope that we could build the physical connection and it could grow. But I was seeing that it just wasn’t. So I just knew that I had to choose myself and I just had to be strong and realize that I have confidence and I have self-worth. And this is not a relationship that’s serving me anything.
Have you been surprised by the way your story has resonated with people, particularly women, more than the couples who got married?
Vempati: I honestly didn’t think that it would be like this. I’m so, so grateful. I’m getting so much love and so much support from people. And people reflecting on their own relationships and realizing: Oh, I deserve better, I deserve more, you should choose yourself. And so I think I planted a seed in their heads, and so did Natalie, about making sure that you really choose somebody who’s going to complement you in life and that’s going to give you the love and support that you deserve.
As someone who experienced it, are there any changes you think the producers should make to the show?
Vempati: It’s interesting, because the reason why I continued on with the casting process was because [of] how serious all of the questions were — it was lengthy interviews and lots of questionnaires that would take almost an hour to do. Plus, there were hundreds and hundreds of questions we asked ourselves about what we’re looking for in a partner: Are you ready for marriage? Are you ready for this type of commitment? And so it was an intense process. I feel like the producers did their job in trying to find the right people. But maybe people just didn’t answer it authentically and honestly. You can’t really do anything about that. I don’t know how else you can vet it down.
Netflix’s new reality show “Love Is Blind” mixes up the matchmaking format. From “pods” to hosts, creator Chris Coelen explains how they made it.
What’s the learning lesson to be had from “Love Is Blind” aside that it should be called “Love Is Blurry”?
Lee: This may sound cheesy, but love can be blind. I really did fall in love with Shayne blindly. What I’ll take away from this is that I’m going to stop focusing on the physical attraction when I get back into the dating world. I have to focus on building that emotional connection. I know everyone’s sick of that phrase, but really falling in love with the core character of someone, the core of who someone is — I think that’s so important. I think also the biggest takeaway for me is knowing my limits and boundaries, know how far am I willing to go for love and that it’s so important to put myself first.
Vempati: I always tend to put other people above me when it comes to meeting needs. I’m such a giver. I’m really realizing that I need to be a little bit more selfish with myself. It’s OK to care about somebody and say you’re not the person for me because you don’t possess the characteristics that I’m looking for in a husband. I think I’m really going to try to be a little bit more selfish. And really make sure that I find a person that is going to give as much as I give and has the characteristics I’m really looking for.
[And] let’s all move through life with compassion and kindness. There’s a lot of hate going towards my fellow cast mates and Shake — as much as he’s hurt me or whatever else, I just hope that he learns from this. And that we all provide a good environment for all of us to grow and become better people.
Deepti, before I let you go, can you let us know if you’re eating the sushi the proper way now?
Vempati: I stay away from the wasabi altogether now! Yes, I’m doing it the right way. And my experience is elevated.
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