Just because it’s popular among fans doesn’t mean ’90 Day Fiance’ has a true moral compass.

During Season 2 of ’90 Day Fiancé,’ viewers were left in disbelief as they witnessed the tumultuous relationships of some of the show’s couples. Danielle Mullins-Jbali endured humiliation and ridicule at the hands of her husband, Mohamed Jbali. Nicole Nafziger’s desperate quest to win the love of her Moroccan boyfriend, Azan Tefou, yielded no reciprocation. Larissa Lima, from Brazil, and Colt Johnson, from Las Vegas, engaged in constant fights that resulted in Lima’s arrest on three separate occasions for domestic battery. The couple even went so far as to photograph themselves with their injuries. These are just a few examples of the eyebrow-raising relationships that, while defying logic, make for captivating television.”

Fans of the highly successful TLC franchise often find themselves pondering why the show’s stars willingly expose their private lives on television. While other reality TV stars are reported to earn substantial salaries (for instance, The Real Housewives rake in between $500,000 and $2.8 million per season), the cast of 90 Day Fiancé earns a relatively modest sum of $1,000 to $1,500 per episode.

While this might not seem like much to most people, it’s essential to consider that most 90 Day Fiancé cast members face financial struggles, and this added income enables them to travel to be with their loved ones (on 90 Days: The Other Way) or pay for the K-1 visa process.

The series made its debut in 2014 and primarily focused on showcasing the steps couples from different parts of the world need to take in order to be together in the USA. As the show gained popularity, it spawned various spin-offs, including ’90 Day Fiancé: Happily Ever After,’ ‘Before the 90 Days,’ and ‘Single Life.’ In total, the series now boasts over 20 spin-offs. While TLC is making a fortune from this low-budget reality show, the stars who contribute to its massive success are earning very little in comparison.

Many Relationships Appear Doomed From the Start

Many relationships on the show appear doomed from the start due to significant age differences, culture and language barriers, and tumultuous dynamics marked by constant fights, cheating, and emotional abuse. While these elements make for gripping TV, one cannot help but wonder if 90 Day Fiancé doesn’t take advantage of its cast members. Indeed, some former participants have expressed feelings of exploitation by the show.

Take, for instance, Russian-born Anfisa Arkhipchenko, who appeared on Season 4 with her now ex-husband Jorge Nava. She was one of the least favored cast members, often portrayed as a gold digger who frequently demanded money from Nava. Viewers were shocked to see her verbally abuse him and at one point it even got physical in front of the rolling cameras. After their marriage, Nava faced legal troubles when he was arrested with 293 pounds of high-grade marijuana. Many believed that Anfisa’s incessant demands for money and high-cost lifestyle pushed Nava into dealing with drugs.

But why does a successful franchise like 90 Day Fiancé compensate its cast members so meagerly, while Bravo reportedly pays ‘The Real Housewives’ cast hundreds of thousands of dollars? The answer becomes apparent when one compares the two shows. Some of the TLC cast members hail from modest backgrounds, and the payments they receive from the show serve as a much-needed financial lifeline. For others, it’s an opportunity to amass social media followers, translating into additional income, while some are driven by the allure of attention and celebrity status.

While it’s true that all reality show participants knowingly enter contracts that require them to expose their private lives, often in embarrassing ways, watching individuals from third-world countries desperate to come to the US, even at the cost of marrying someone much older or whom they don’t really love, raises significant ethical questions about whether the network should encourage these relationships for the sake of the show.

Some Cast Members Are Clearly Being Catfished

And there are other stories that raise the question of morality. Consider the case of Tyray Mollett, 33, who appeared on season 6 of 90 Day Fiancé: Before the 90 Days. It was evident from the start that his online girlfriend of four years was a catfish. TLC was clearly aware that “Carmella from Barbados” did not exist, but this fact did not deter them from including Mollett on the show and documenting his heartbreaking realization that “Carmella” was actually a man named Christian who had been catfishing him for money.

While these cast members are all adults who willingly participate in the show, some appear exceptionally naive and vulnerable. While the show undeniably benefits from these stories as its viewer base continues to grow, it can feel uncomfortable at times watching these trusting individuals being drained of their hard-earned money merely for our entertainment. One unforgettable cast member fitting this profile is 49-year-old Caesar Mack, who made his debut on ’90 Day Fiancé: Before the 90 Days,’ Season 4.

From the get-go, it was apparent to everyone except Mack that his love interest, Ukrainian Maria Divine, had little genuine interest in him. Over their five-year long-distance relationship, he sent her a staggering $40,000. Mack works as a nail technician and earns very little. “I was eating noodles, spam, eggs… I was barely surviving,” He revealed to host Shaun Robinson on “90 Day Bare All.” Mack made a few unsuccessful attempts to meet Divine in Mexico, booking a hotel room and paying for a flight, but she never showed up. While Mack’s friends and co-workers suspected that Divine wasn’t real, it turned out eventually that she was. During the ‘Tell All’ reunion episode that marks the end of each season, she revealed that she wasn’t attracted to Caesar and was communicating with other men.

A similar story unfolded with David Murphey from Las Vegas, who had been sending money to Lana from Ukraine for seven years. David had traveled to Ukraine numerous times before appearing on the show, but Lana consistently stood him up. TLC signed Murphey as a cast member, fully aware that Lana, who eventually turned out to be a real person, was extorting money from him and had no intention of being with him. And those two are not alone. Over the nine years the show has been on the air, viewers have witnessed numerous stories of catfishing and financial exploitation.

So, would a larger paycheck make it morally right? Probably not. However, if you were to ask the cast members, they might argue that it would make the experience of airing their dirty laundry a bit less painful and a lot more worthwhile.

By Mo Mo

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