As our reality gets crazier, it’s only fitting that reality television follows suit. Netflix is clearly willing to go there, and the streaming service’s new dating series The Ultimatum: Marry or Move On has the kind of manufactured all-or-nothing stakes that folks crave. Created by Chris Coelen, the reality TV veteran behind the dystopian smash Love is Blind (you know, the one where people have to get engaged before they get to see each other), Ultimatum focuses on long-term couples who have come to an impasse in which one member issues a, you guessed it, ultimatum.
Love is Blind hosts Nick and Vanessa Lachey return to chaperone this surreal series where the normal rhythms of a relationship are truncated to maximize drama. Netflix’s media platform Tudum has given us some handy infographics to keep everything straight. The six couples on the show have been dating for between one-and-a-half and two-and-a-half years, with the ultimatums in question—marriage or bust—being issued by two of the men (Colby, Nathan), and four of the women (Shanique, Rae, April, Alexis).
Right off the bat, two of the pairs (Lauren and Nathan, Hunter and Alexis) decided to simply get engaged. But the remaining eight choose to dive headfirst into a switcheroo scenario, becoming romantically involved with the other participants and even entering into a “trial marriage” with someone for three weeks. After seeing exactly how much greener the grass is (or isn’t), they return to life with their original partner and spend the same amount of time hashing out any issues or hangups before deciding if they want to move forward, split up, or pursue a relationship with their pod partner, honeymoon phase be damned.
Here’s what you should know about the couples who did participate, though bear in mind things do get Tenet-level confusing. The best action is between Rae and Jake–who seemed to hit things off in a physical and emotional way after entering the show with other people, leading Rae to break up with her boyfriend before the finale–and Shanique and Randall, who’ve had the messiest back and forth. After Shanique issued the ultimatum in the expectation that Randall would spend the duration proving his love by ignoring temptation, they both partnered up with others.Vulture and Glamour both have comprehensive looks at the cast members.)
Critical reception on the show has been mixed. The Guardian called it “reality TV so bad you will pray for the accelerated heat death of the universe.” ]
Much of the backlash directed towards The Ultimatum comes from the feeling that it’s mean-spirited in nature: hough it positions itself to be about the contestants growing both as individuals and romantic partners, the temptation it places in front of monogamous couples can be uncomfortable, even if both parties did consent to appear on the show. Vanity Fair wrote that it feels less like your prototypical cheesy reality binge and more akin to the famously cruel “Stanford prison experiment.” For my money, The Ultimatum registers as a little less disturbing than Bridalplasty, but certainly more than Love is Blind.
Regardless of the divisive reception, Netflix is throwing all of their chips behind the series: felt more confident than Steph Curry shooting a three-pointer with the series, because they greenlit a second season of Ultimatum before the first was even out. Per Today, the next installment will feature an all-queer cast, a departure from Love is Blind and the first season, which almost exclusively featured straight participants.
The series began airing on April 6, and will conclude with a final episode and reunion out on April 13.