Netflix has become a hotbed of reality television – of varying quality. One of its most successful shows, The Ultimatum, premiered last year, taking relationships to a new level. Hosted by Nick and Vanessa Lachey (who also co-hosted Love is Blind), the show followed five heterosexual couples who go through quite the ordeal to figure out if they’re meant to be together or not. The format proved to be a success. But the second season takes things in a surprising direction, going even bigger — and gayer.
The Ultimatum: Queer Love is exactly what it sounds like, taking Netflix’s prized format and adding a distinctly rainbow tint.
What joy it must be to get together and watch something so sweet, cozy, and queer.
There’s not a heterosexual person in sight, let alone a couple, as Queer Love focuses entirely on queer female and non-binary couples.
Get the Daily Brief
The news you care about, reported on by the people who care about you:
At the center of the show are five couples: Xander and Vanessa; Yoly and Mal; Rae and Lexi; Aussie and Sam; and Mildred and Tiff. In each pair, one has issued an ultimatum: Marry me or it’s time to break up. There’s plenty of drama to be mined from that scenario alone, but that’s only the beginning. The first episode finds all five couples breaking up and spending an entire week getting to know the rest of the group.
Then, each person must decide who they’ve connected to deepest and thereby agree to enter a three-week trial marriage with someone they’ve basically just met. But wait, there’s more! After that trial, there’s a second trial marriage for another three weeks to the person they originally came with. Then, each person will decide their fate: They’ll either walk away engaged to their original partner, engaged to an entirely new person, or leave single.
Ultimatum offers grade-A drama and frankly would benefit from scaling the music and close-ups and letting the relationships play out in a more straightforward, earnest fashion. But this is reality television, which sure, has elements of the real mixed with plenty of producing, but it’s hard to pretend that it isn’t a whole lot of fun to watch all the chaos unfold,
But there’s a reason the chaos in this all-queer season of Ultimatum is so valuable. Queer people have never really had the chance to explore opportunities like the one Ultimatum offers. And perhaps most importantly, we’ve never had the chance to see queer people on television like this before. And it’s particularly rare to see queer women on screen in such a vivid, honest, raw light.
There’s a veritable glut of dating shows available, but they’re overwhelmingly heterosexual. Dating competition shows like Ex on the Beach offered the occasional queer contestant, but the most prominent shows like The Bachelor and The Bachelorette have remained entirely hetero. Any promise of a gay Bachelor never materialized beyond an amusing Funny or Die sketch. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that women-loving women are rarely visible in dating shows: Lesbians weren’t even entitled to a happy ending in cinema until Desert Hearts in 1985.
But Ultimatum: Queer Love is different. The show offers fascinating insights into the unique experiences of queer people. Conversations about IVF and family acceptance, as well as the struggles of dating while queer and embracing self-love, feel especially poignant. These aren’t the kinds of conversations we’re used to seeing in reality television (or anywhere on television) and it’s wonderful to see them here.
This is reality TV, so things do get messy. The show has assembled a fascinating group of queer people, who come from many different walks of life. Some personalities are subdued, others feisty. One of the most intriguing characters is Vanessa, who was given the ultimatum by her partner, Xander. At first, Vanessa seems genuinely ecstatic to date everyone around her and experience everything the show has to offer. Her seemingly carefree approach draws the ire of pretty much everyone else going through the experience, and she’s clearly set up to be the villain from day one.
But the show offers an opportunity for growth, and Vanessa’s journey is one of the most surprising. Through the trial marriages, Vanessa genuinely seems to evolve, reaching a deeper understanding of who she is, and why she acts the way she does. People like Vanessa are at the core of what makes Ultimatum a special show for queer people. She’s open and wears her emotions on her sleeve, but she’s also accused of being conniving, manipulative, and being on the show only to bolster her own fame. She, like everyone on the show, is so much more than the kind of representation we’re used to seeing. Vanessa is messy, and that’s a beautiful thing.
After decades of being stifled on screen, it’s time to see every degree of queerness. Queer people are more than just supporting characters. We’re more than somebody’s best friend; we have more to offer the world than some valuable advice for our heterosexual counterparts. We can be funny, sassy, shady, and silly, but we can also be rude, chaotic, and ridiculous. Just like heterosexual people, queer folk are more than capable of being wrong. Ultimatum: Queer Love feels like a new beginning – a chance to really see queer people (specifically women and non-binary folks) be so much more than stereotypical LBGTQ+ characters.
There are no boxes in Queer Love. These people are encouraged to speak openly and honestly. Some get along brilliantly; some can’t stand the sight of each other; others fall madly in love with one another. Within the unexpected confines of reality television, queer people have rarely felt as vibrant and genuine as they are here. Let the era of messy, complicated queer representation begin.