Each year, couples apply to avow their love within the buff sandstone building standing at the center of Stanford’s campus. The choice to marry inside Memorial Church is reserved for university affiliates: from alums who knew back as frosh over a cup of coffee at CoHo to the grad students who connected during a study session at Arbuckle to any Tree whose romance flushed in the University’s ecosystem and decided to honor its roots in the booked cathedral. But in adherence to COVID-19 policies, wedding ceremonies at Memorial Church were postponed. A reflection of university life during quarantine, the church’s low-arches now face a campus sparse of anyone, let alone lovebirds.
Yet “Love Is Blind Stanford” fights to keep Cardinal love alive. Produced by Kellen Vu ’23, this adaptation of the original Netflix series introduces the former premise into the quarantine era: Can strangers fall in love without laying eyes on one another? But, amid the love triangles and flirtation, the jewel of the show is what it tells us about connecting with others while in isolation.
The series, run on Instagram TV, places 16 anonymous Stanford students together in a group chat to “interact and form alliances” for a week. Unlike the parent show, “Love Is Blind,” contestants aren’t stripped of their phones or access to social media — that would put a dent in the virtual romance — nor separated from the outside world. Singles social distance from their homes while they participate, but the show-runners block them from the official Instagram page. Viewers can watch the contestants’ daily diaries, text message screenshots and mini-game results throughout the season. On day five, contestants weed out their top interests from the crowd and hop on a phone call. On day six, everyone locks in their top choice and, if the feelings are reciprocated, the final pairs reveal their identities on a video call.
The daily upload schedule and “spicy mini-games” are prompt and entertaining enough to be compatible with the internet’s attention bandwidth while other features of the game show are, from the audience perspectives, unused. When contestant Papi Pablo ponders who to boot off the show — prompted by the show-runners in their thinly veiled attempt to expel a particular chaotic cast member from the mix — he bases his strategy on eliminating the competition. The Survivoresque monologue feels like Pablo’s playing on an island of his own; most of the cast spends little time discussing gameplay on screen, likely because of the show’s low-stakes. Without a wedding or a cash prize awaiting the winners at the finale, the real desirable participants vie for, other than the prospect of being “added to the LIB Hall of Fame,” is parting from the experiment with a meaningful connection independent of physicality. Whether any pair achieves that is moot.
Yet, three couples emerged out of the cohort of 16. While the participants play incognito, they are still allowed to reveal information such as their gender identity and their sexual orientation. In one instance, one participant, a junior, is reluctant to pursue a fellow contestant after discovering they’re a first-year student — “that’s basically a glorified high schooler,” he said. Another discerned the race of one of their suitors through the username and context clues during their direct messages; others presumed each other’s race after hearing their voices over the phone call. Even when faces are concealed, people map visuals through learned auditory and cultural cues.
But, whether love is blind isn’t a concern for most viewers, nor for the producers who admitted they were disenchanted by the premise from the outset. With quarantine, people crave intimacy.
College is routinely cited as the prime time to meet lifelong partners and friends. Despite the reputation Stanford students have for being busy, they’re not oblivious to this fact: Over 13,700 students signed up for the Stanford Marriage Pact between 2017 and 2019. The lowest participation rate was from the class of 2023 — 80.1% filled out a match form.
Remote learning creates a sense of missed connection. Last spring, some students took their shot through Link, a platform that matches mutual name entries into the system. First-year students enrolled in courses are trying to figure out how to establish meaningful connections virtually — two freshmen, Papi Pablo and Pineapple Princess, joined the cast of the series. One of the contestants commented on how brave it was for frosh to join a platform like “Love Is Blind” before cementing themselves on campus. In August, Stanford students moved into dorm rooms at Stanford’s virtual campus in Club Cardinal, coded by Sreya Halder, to help socialize in isolation.
Beyond Stanford, college students across the country are brainstorming ways to connect. In March, Yale students Illena Valdez and Patricia Gorska launched an online dating service for college students to look beyond the dating pool of their hometowns and to find a connection during the quarantine. In the early summer, the Zoom University website launched Zoom U, another platform that set up a user and their best friends on a blind date with two singles. In October, an intercollegiate dating show called “Love Is Campus” will premier where students from campuses across the country will virtually compete for love and a cash prize.
“Love is Blind Stanford” shows that right now students, including those in the Stanford community, are navigating ways to be connected in a virtual environment. While the series leaves the question at the center of the show’s premise unanswered, it shows that while optics may still be tethered to love, this campus is not ready to be untethered to each other.
Season 1 of “Love is Blind Stanford” is out on Instagram at @loveisblindstanford.
Contact Christine Delianne at delianne ‘at’ stanford.edu.
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