‘Love Is Blind’ sexual assault lawsuit: Creator Chris Coelen says he was ‘never told’ of any of the complaints
AsLove Is Blind‘s fifth season gets underway, the show’s creators are defending the reality dating series against criticism that it takes advantage of its contestants as well as a lawsuit alleging assault, false imprisonment and negligence.
The runaway hit premiered on Netflix in February 2020 and skyrocketed to success. Some 30 million viewers tuned in to binge-watch contestants looking for love in the first four weeks of its release. Hosted by Nick and Vanessa Lachey, the show positioned itself as a social experiment that chronicled men and women falling in love and getting engaged, despite never having seen each other in person beforehand. Since then, four seasons of the show have aired, and the Houston-based Season 5 kicked off on Sept. 22.
However, the new season is airing amid intensified criticism, particularly from former contestants who claim they were exposed to everything from “emotional warfare” to unsafe working conditions during their time on the show, in which they attempted to find a love connection while physically isolated in pods. And then a former contestant who filmed for the season that’s currently airing, but does not appear onscreen, filed a lawsuit alleging that she was attacked by Thomas Smith, her fiancé at the time, and that the incident was captured on film yet no one from the production intervened.
Sexual assault allegations against the show made and denied
According to Deadline, contestant Tran Dang this week filed a lawsuit against the show’s production companies, claiming that she was “intentionally sequestered for two weeks” while filming the show and that, on May 3, 2022, she was attacked by Smith. “Due to Delirium TV and Kinetic Content’s 24-hour surveillance of Plaintiff and Defendant Smith, most if not all of these traumatic acts were filmed by the production crew and within their knowledge,” states the filing, which Houston law firm Wallace & Allen LLC made in Harris County District Court. They’re seeking a jury trial.
Smith, who also does not appear on the show, is reportedly named as a defendant too. People reports that his lawyer, Kip Patterson, said he does not comment on ongoing litigation.
“Delirium TV and Kinetic Content producers made attempts to mask Plaintiff’s sexual assault by characterizing it as a lack of attraction on part of the Plaintiff,” the court document reads.
It also notes that Dang attempted to reach out to an assistant producer about her experience, and she was made to feel that “she was at fault for what had happened with Thomas Smith by not communicating effectively or somehow not taking the ‘relationship’ seriously.”
In response, creator and CEO of Kinetic Content, Chris Coelen, told the magazine that he supports those coming out with their stories of sexual assault, but that production was “never told that she felt unsafe or experienced any of the allegations that she made.”
“If anybody ever came to us and said they felt unsafe in any way, we would immediately remove them from the experiment and talk to them, and try to get to the bottom of it. Unfortunately, in this case, that kind of sentiment was never addressed to us in any way, nor was any alleged wrongdoing brought to our attention ever,” he claimed.
Coelen said Dang’s accusation of false imprisonment is “preposterous,” because contestants are free to leave the show. The companies also denied the allegation in a joint statement.
Meanwhile, Dang’s lawyers allege that cast members were given limited food and plenty of alcohol amid awful conditions.
“This combination was designed to encourage them to engage in striking conversations and actions that would increase viewer ratings. While on set, for up to 18 hours per day, [Kinetic Content and Delirium TV] required Ms. Dang to request permission to do virtually anything, including use the restroom,” the lawsuit alleges. “She was prohibited from leaving her hotel room without express permission and kept under 24-hour surveillance.”
Coelen said that was “absolutely false.”
Production also refutes allegations of ‘inhumane’ conditions
Before all this, and shortly after last month’s premiere of the fifth season, Coelen fired back against allegations from cast members who claimed they were exposed to “inhumane” conditions during production that ranged from sleep deprivation to providing an excess of alcohol.
The response comes following several complaints, including Season 2 cast member Danielle Ruhl’s statements to Insider in April, in which she claimed that she was “surprised” she passed the psychological screening required to start filming the series since she had disclosed “her history of mental illness and that she had attempted suicide.”
“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 told Variety in a story published this week.
When Variety reached out to Ruhl for a response, she told the outlet that “it wasn’t something I specifically noted in the application itself. 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 said. “I will admit that, at the time of filming, I did say that I was in a really good mental space.”
A representative for Kinetic Content referred Yahoo Entertainment to Coelen’s statements in Variety. Yahoo reached out to Netflix for comment but did not immediately receive a response.
Cast members reveal frustrations with production
This wasn’t the first time the show’s producers defended themselves against criticism from former contestants.
“The well-being of our participants is of paramount importance to Kinetic,” Kinetic Content told Entertainment Weekly in April, in response to the Insider report. “We have rigorous protocols in place to care for each person before, during, and after filming.”
However, former cast members have stated that the opposite was the case. For example, Ruhl alleged that she wasn’t permitted to leave the production after suffering a panic attack, saying she told producers that she didn’t think she was in a stable enough place to complete filming.
In July 2022, Jeremy Hartwell, who was a Season 2 contestant, sued Netflix and Kinetic Content citing “inhumane working conditions,” according to Variety. Season 1 contestant Danielle Drouin told Insider that sleep deprivation was a problem on set, as contestants were forced to work up to 20 hours a day because they “want you on your edge.” Others, including Ruhl, claimed that the food and water supplies were insufficient, while the alcohol was plentiful.
The post-production period also caused significant trouble for former contestants, who claim they weren’t given enough support from Kinetic as they assimilated back into the normal world.
Fans call for the Lacheys to be fired
In addition to controversy over the show’s production, hosts Nick and Vanessa Lachey have faced backlash as well. In April, a Change.org petition urged Netflix to terminate the duo from their hosting duties. To date, the petition has more than 45,000 signatures.
“From the initial season, the hosts felt pretty useless and out of place. They seem to be much more concerned with directing as much attention at themselves and their personal lives rather than focusing on the contestants that are actually participating in the experiment,” the petition reads. “Many enjoy the show but it’s being held back from its full potential with cringy Nick and Vanessa Lachey.”
The petition also criticized what it claimed was Vanessa’s attempt to control each conversation, as well as how Nick “shaded his ex-wife Jessica Simpson by claiming ‘second marriages are always the best’ on the Season 3 reunion.”
On Friday, four more episodes of the show’s fifth season were released, bringing the total number of episodes available to stream to eight.
All the controversy and criticism doesn’t seem to have affected production, which is busy dealing with other unexpected issues. In the first four episodes of the season, it was revealed that two contestants previously dated as recently as three months ago. This revelation was completely unknown to production beforehand, with Coelon telling Variety he was “totally blindsided” by the discovery, which was not unearthed during the application and interview process. The two contestants were permitted to continue their participation this season.
Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on Sept. 29, 2023. It has been updated to include new information.