90 Day Fiance is a hit series-turned-franchise.
In fact, the brand is about to hit double-digits in terms of total spinoffs. The show cannot be stopped.
But ... is it real? Or is it fake?
We all know that there are areas of fakery in reality TV.
It's entertainment, not a documentary, and even documentaries are known to fudge things a little.
Take a look below as we walk you step-by-step through the ways that production can guarantee entertaining footage.
This includes an interview with people who appeared on the show but are free to speak up in ways that many stars are not.
Is 90 Day Fiance fake?
Fans have wondered about this for years. Sometimes, the drama seems impossible to believe. SHOULD we believe it?
90 Day Fiance is home to jaw-dropping one-liners
I quote some version of this at least once a week -- often to hype up my friends who are having a bad day (and who in 2020 is not having a bad day?). I'd hate to think that Larissa was fed this line from a script.
While most grandmothers would not say anything like this even under duress, could Asuelu's mother have been following a prearranged script when she said that she didn't care about her own grandkids -- while demanding that her son pay her absurd amounts of money?
The answer starts with David and Annie
David and Annie Toborowsky are one of the most beloved 90 Day Fiance couples. David is known for engaging with fans, and everyone loves them on Pillowtalk. But once upon a time, they were just two new stars among many others. Total strangers to the viewing audience.
A few years ago, on their first season, David and Annie met up with David's best friend, Chris Thieneman. They would be staying at Chris' house when they returned to the US, as David at the time had nothing. They met up before that trip and chatted.
It led to this memorable, creepy moment
During that scene, Chris at one point suggested that Annie might repay their hospitality by giving him a Thai massage. That was creepy, exploitative, and frankly a little racist.
But was it real?
According to Chris and his wife, Nikki (who was very much there for that awkward moment), this whole painful moment (seriously, just grabbing these screenshots was agony for me) was a total fabrication by 90 Day Fiance's production.
Well, he WOULD say that, right?
But no, he and his wife went into detail just months after this aired so that they should say exactly what it's like to appear on this massive reality show. Chris and Nikki held a chat on YouTube and answered fan questions, including a question about whether the show is scripted.
In a sense, yes
“Well, absolutely part of it is. No question," Chris answered. "Some of it is real and then teased with and added to, subtracted from.”
But in another, more real sense, no
“I wouldn’t say that there’s a written script that’s like, ‘Hey, read this line, read this line,'” Nikki clarified. “But there are times where there are different people or producers that come up to you and say, ‘Oh, I think it would be cool if you do this,’ or ‘I think you should say this.'”
As for the infamous massage question
“There isn’t any other excuse than stupidity,” Chris admitted. “The first scene, the original scene I never asked for a massage. Not until Adrienne, the director, encouraged me to say it in front of the whole cast and crew did I let a little peer pressure set in. Once I knew it was an open request, I didn’t have time to think (which in hindsight I obviously didn’t think at all). I wanted to be a team player and just went with it."
He regrets it
Chris continued: "Afterward, I even told Nikki, ‘I never felt comfortable saying that.’ But it was too late then. I was naive to think that since I wasn’t a real cast member that I wouldn’t be singled out. I will own up to my mistake. But as I have said before, we have been nothing but respectful and helpful to Annie.”
Wait, how is he free to talk about that?
Apparently, TLC never paid Chris or Nikki to appear on the show, and they never signed any contracts -- beyond perhaps a release so that they could be filmed and their faces shown. So unlike most of the stars, they are at liberty to discuss whatever they like.
So is everything that we see like that?
Yes and no. We should always keep in mind that 90 Day Fiance producers can prompt or ask whatever they like without telling us and only show us the end results.
But at the same time
There are so many ways for production to guarantee that the end results will be entertaining, TV-worthy footage.
It all starts with casting
Who will audiences love to hate and pick apart? A plus-size single mom with a small child dating a brown-skinned Muslim man who body-shames her on camera?
Who has obvious personality problems?
When they find an applicant who clearly has some sort of behavioral problems with very little self-awareness, they're going to take a risk and film someone who will never need a script because the way that they act is so much worse than anyone could imagine.
Who has an obvious story
A star applying for 90 Day Fiance may see themself as just someone in love, but whether it's there or not, fans are going to notice things like huge age gaps, discrepencies in height, and massive financial differences.
It's kind of like jury selection
Smart, educated people are often excluded during Voir Dire because they will think too much about the evidence for one side or the other's liking. Reality TV can absolutely have some smart people in its casting, but it always has to be balanced out by ridiculous buffoons who have no idea how embarrassing their on-camera behavior truly is.
It's not just about casting
Obviously, if they want a couple's storyling to be about, say, arguing about one particular topic, they can simply edit out countless other conversations -- throwing away hours of footage -- and highlight the, say, six times in two months that the couple discussed the topic. It makes them seem obsessed because that's what the viewers see.
It's also about what viewers never get to see
Like when Colt Johnson cheated on Larissa, trading nudes with random Instagram side pieces during their marriage while claiming to these women that his marriage to Larissa was "fake" for TV? That never came up on the show.
There was a famous instance of this in 2020
During the filming of the Before The 90 Days Tell All special, Usman Umar told his then-wife, Baby Girl Lisa Hamme that she knows better than to call him the n-word like she does. TLC never aired that accusation. The world wouldn't have known that Lisa called her own husband the literal worst word in the history of language if 9 hours of the Tell All hadn't leaked online.
Oh, and remember Drascilla's run?
During Season 2 of The Other Way, hateful viewers bashed Deavan and her mother, Elicia, even sending death threats about sweet little Drascilla, after both adult women expressed their fury to Jihoon after Drascilla -- so it seemed on camera -- ran ahead in the night but was caught safely.
But that's not what happened
The actual incident was not caught on camera and was much scarier. Production had told Deavan that they would put up a "card" to explain what had happened before they aired the footage of Deavan's tears or Elicia ripping Jihoon a new one. Instead, the higher ups apparently decided that the better angle was to make Deavan look like a bad mom who overreacted and gave Jihoon a hard time.
They also look for obvious conflict
A lot of fans support Chantel and Pedro but think that their families are wildly nuts. It's not difficult to see why they feel that way.
Sometimes, production understands the stars better than they know themselves
Brittany was obviously not thinking of the consequences of her actions when she hid her divorce from Yazan. Yazan was obviously lying to Brittany about his conservative family's expectations and to his family about Brittany's willingness to change her lifestyle and convert. Production knew this, it seems, before either of them did.
Still, some stories are real
It's these rare glimmers of true love, when all of the opposition and roadblocks are coming from outside of the marriage instead of from within, that help keep people hooked and coming back for more. Drama is necessary, but you have to have love stories to keep viewers invested.