90 Day Fiance is many things.
For one, i's intensely popular.
It's incredibly dramatic.
It's always a hot topic.
The show is also frequently accused of being fake. To be clear, 90 Day Fiance is not scripted, and the couples are real people in real relationships before auditioning for the show.
But that doesn't mean that production doesn't have its finger on the scale. They have the usual tricks of smart casting, of editing, of asking questions and getting stars to repeat lines.
Sometimes, that's just what you need to make the show. Other times, the results are just plain dishonest. Have a look at some of the most inauthentic incidents in the franchise's history ...
David and Annie Toborowsky: The Massage Question
When David and Annie first joined the franchise, before they were universally beloved fan-favorites, they relied heavily upon support from David's friend, Chris Thieneman. They were even guests at Chris' home that he shares with his wife.
What we saw ...
Viewers saw Chris ask Annie, an Asian woman, if she might pay him back with a massage. One, that's a weird thing to ask for from a near-stranger unless you're a pair of 17-year-olds and it's the closest that either of you can come to hitting on the other (we've all been there). Much more seriously, Chris' request had undertones of racist sexualization of Asian women, from the way that sex workers at "massage parlors" are regarded by society to straight-up sex tourism. It was an awful, gross moment that no one enjoyed watching.
So what is the truth?
Chris and his wife weren't paid for their role on the show and never signed an NDA. They were on there as a favor to David -- which is also why he asked that question. The couple revealed that production had spoonfed the question to them, and that Chris had obliged to help his friend's storyline get more attention. For what it's worth, David and Annie still hold a cherished place in the franchise and in the hearts of fans, and being talked about a lot was part of what got them there.
"Baby Girl" Lisa Hamme's N-Word Scandal
Lisa was one of the most talked-about 90 Day Fiance stars to emerge in quite a while, making tens of thousands of dollars on Cameo and with a bright future ahead of her in the 90 Day Fiance franchise. She had been called out for using the N-word and the F-slur with fans on social media, which was of course inexcusable, but most fans were unaware and entertained by her relationship and marriage to Usman Umar.
What we saw ...
At the Tell All special in 2020, Lisa sparred with many other stars and in general seemed to set herself up for a lengthy reality career with her larger-than-life personality. She and Usman had their problems, but they were married, with Usman's career receiving a boost due to his reality TV fame. So that's good, right? Right??
So what is the truth?
During the Tell All, Usman confronted Lisa about calling him -- her husband -- the N-word. This was obviously appalling ... and yet no version of this confrontation ever made it off of the cutting room floor. It was deliberately excluded by editors to hide what had happened.
The good news is ...
9 hours of raw footage of the Tell All leaked, including that confrontation. While the leak was an accident, it was fortuitous because it's the only way that the truth could have ever gotten out. Between that leak and its timing (during 2020's historic civil rights protests), Lisa's contract was canceled even though she had already begun to film for future episodes. Usman divorced her.
Deavan Clegg's Blow-Up at Jihoon Lee
Before the truly alarming and upsetting context of their breakup and divorce, Jihoon spent most of the first part of The Other Way Season 2 seen as a failure, a liar, and a buffoon by viewers who were disgusted by his irresponsibility. Then, about halfway through the season, the attitudes of viewers changed sharply, and suddenly Deavan was seen as an overreactor who never gave Jihoon a break. What happened?
What we saw ...
In one scene, Drascilla -- Deavan's preschool-age daughter -- slipped away from Jihoon and ran ahead in the dark. Kids do that sometimes, getting "zoomies" just like cats do. They chased after her but she was just fine. Then, suddenly, viewers saw Deavan and Elicia tearfully lecturing Jihoon, Jihoon admitting that he'd done wrong, and then more tears from everyone involved. It seemed totally out of proportion to viewers.
So what is the truth?
It turns out that these were two different scenes, thematically related but not cause and effect. The lectures, the yelling, and the tears happened after Jihoon was messing with his phone and Drascilla ended up on a heavily trafficked street. Little kids need to be watched at all times, which any parent, babysitter, or older sibling could tell you. This scene was not caught on film and production reportedly promised to include a "card" explaining the context. Obviously, that did not happen.
It's upsetting to think about
Anyone can be made to look like a villain if production gets the right footage to string together ... and if they decide that it's more interesting. If the goal was to get Deavan talked about more, it succeeded in the worst way imaginable. The people who decided to "hate" Deavan bombarded her with death threats and even raised funds for Jihoon's legal expenses after he was accused of violent child-abuse.
Stephanie Davison's Belize trip to see Ryan Carr
Stephanie is a self-described cougar and may seem larger than life in terms of her personality and behavior, but her relationship with Ryan Carr -- which is now thoroughly over -- wasn't pretend or scripted. Mostly.
The breakup was real
Stephanie accused Ryan of sexually assaulting her -- specifically, by not actually wearing a condom but pretending to by crinkling the condom wrapper. This form of assault is known as reproductive coercion or "stealthing," and is illegal in many countries but does not appear to be illegal in Belize yet.
The anger was real
Ryan did not even seem to deny doing it, and it's unclear if he understood the severity of his actions (which of course is not an excuse). It also looks like, whether or not production nudged Stephanie to call anyone (that's unclear), everything that viewers saw with Harris was likely real.
This is a story of a wealthy cougar who travels to Belize to see her boyfriend of three years. Things have their ups and downs and they have a romantic dinner together, after which they go to bed together ... where he allegedly violates her consent and then flees when she discovers what he has done and calls him out on it. Production rushes over to film the aftermath, drawing outrage for unethically filming a woman immediately after her assault, and producers spend days following Stephanie's new story as she finds comfort in Harris, a friend and former lover.
So what is the truth?
Well, for one thing, Stephanie says that production pushed her to keep filming even though she was being ravaged by sandfly bites, and that they specifically requested the "one more romantic dinner" that came before the assault.
According to Stephanie's statements in an interview, she had decided to end things with Ryan after she had begun filming for the show but before she had traveled to Belize (which of course had to wait until borders opened, per the COVID-19 pandemic). She describes how production pressured her to not break up with Ryan, to give this a chance after how much time had already been invested in filming her. That's the producer's job, but ... in retrospect, not what was best for Stephanie.
So was the relationship fake? No
But it would have ended sooner without production meddling -- before she traveled to Belize, and likely before the "romantic" evening that ended in disaster and trauma.
Whatever happened to Geoffrey Paschel?
Geoffrey had the apparent makings of a reality star. He'd worked as a true crime reenactor for various true crime TV shows, he was reasonably handsome, he was a grieving father after his son's death, and he had a Russian girlfriend, Varya Malina. But ... for some reason, he and Varya weren't at the Tell All special for their season? In fact, their endgame has *never* been confirmed ... though fans hope that she is safe, and therefore that she is single.
So what is the truth?
The truth is that Geoffrey's criminal history is as long as his explosive temper is short. Now, none of us care about the drug charges (except for the accusation that he used one of his children as a mule for them), but multiple ex-girlfriends AND multiple ex-wives have shared the same horror story of brutal domestic violence. The child of Geoffrey's who died? That child was born in a hotel room where Geoffrey had allegedly imprisoned his pregnant partner to prevent her from escaping. His latest arrest was in June of 2019, where there was ample blood evidence and property damage though his then-girlfriend was fortunately able to escape and flee to a neighbor's house for safety and to call the police. According to the police report, which also mentions blood smeared throughout the house, Geoffrey had to be placed in manacles because his violent rage drove him to kick out the rear window of the police car despite being handcuffed. Every detail that fans have read about this man is gruesome and upsetting.
Some signs were apparent on the show
But not only was Geoffrey cast when doing so was not responsible or ethical, TLC never bothered to inform fans of his past or why he couldn't be at the Tell All. This is not on Shaun Robinson, who is an excellent host and contractually limited in what she can say. This is on Sharp and TLC. There are still thousands or even millions of fans who watched Geoffrey, wondered what happened to him, and have no idea what sort of man he really is. The thought that one might one day meet him, feel star-struck, and agree to date him is haunting.
Colt Johnson: Just a Mama's Boy Weirdo Looking for Love?
If you watched Colt and Larissa's first couple of seasons on 90 Day Fiance, you'd almost be forgiven for thinking that Colt is mostly just a normal guy who fell in love with a dramatic, emotionally volatile woman ... and that maybe Debbie's proximity to the situation didn't help.
I mean, things are definitely dysfunctional
Colt might not be reenacting Bates Motel any time soon (that feels like it's more Betty Gibbs' department), but he and Debbie have a co-dependent relationship. She has definitely caused problems (on purpose, we might add) in Colt's on-screen relationships with Larissa and with Jess. But is Colt just the shoulder-shrugging, slightly creepy dude caught between two women that he appears to be on TV?
What is the truth?
Editing is everything, and with a larger-than-life personality like Larissa's, it was easy during their seasons to make 80% of the focus be Larissa's memorable lines and 15% of the focus be Debbie. With so little screen time, and so much of that spent adjusting his glasses in a way that he must imagine is charming, Colt's actual behaviors were largely excluded from the show. That means his cheating. We saw that, finally, when he dated Jess and her memorable "good morning, my dick" line. His cheating scandal with Larissa, during their marriage, was never covered on the show. Neither was what has been described as his "notoriously expensive porn habit."
Colt is the architect of his own relationship struggles
He's not responsible for Larissa or Jess' behaviors, but he did very clearly enjoy playing mind games with his on-screen partners. Did he do it for reality TV or because it amuses him, it's not fair. But the guy seems like winding up his mother and partner and then setting them off against each other. Combined with the cheating and habitual lying, and fans who've followed his life outside of the show have a much clearer picture of his romantic history than viewers who've only watched what TLC chose to share.