TLC’s 90 Day Fiancé has been taking viewers inside the K-1 visa process since 2014. The premise — American brings foreign fiancé(e) to U.S. and, by law, must get married within 90 days for partner to receive green card — is ripe for reality TV, and the storyline potential is off the charts. There’s the challenge of adapting to a new culture, awkward Meet the Parents-like drama, pre-wedding jitters and, inevitably, questions about the foreign partner’s motives.
The show has been a ratings success for TLC, in case that wasn’t obvious from the fact that it’s constantly trending on Twitter and has produced four spin-offs. That’s right, four: 90 Day Fiancé: Happily Ever After?, 90 Day Fiancé: Before the 90 Days, the upcoming 90 Day Fiancé: The Other Way and the digital 90 Day Fiancé: What Now?. Because people clearly can’t get enough of the franchise, here’s the untold truth of 90 Day Fiancé.
90 Day Fiance was almost Bachelor Wars: Russia
It started with a magazine feature. Reality TV producer Matt Sharp read a piece on U.S. men and women going abroad to find love and figured he had found his next reality show. The networks, however, weren’t as pumped about the idea, so his team made the pitch more male-focused. Together they came up with the ultra macho-sounding Bachelor Wars: Russia.
Sharp told the Reality Life podcast the plan was to pitch male networks a show that follows men looking for love in other countries and keeps tabs on if they were successful. When the networks again passed, it was back to the drawing board. They figured they had struck gold when they focused the idea around the 90-day K-1 visa, but that ended up being strike three with the networks.
Sharp gave up on the pitch until he ran into a TLC higher up, who asked if he had any good ideas. Once Sharp explained the 90-day premise, the higher up was hooked and offered to buy the idea on the spot. So everything worked out in the end for everyone. Well, except for the networks that passed on the idea. They’re probably kicking themselves.
There’ve been rumblings of staged scenes
We’re probably not bursting anyone’s bubble when we say that much of what you see on reality TV is staged. Cast members are often nudged in certain directions for storyline purposes or asked to reshoot scenes. Most shows seem to do it, and 90 Day Fiance is allegedly no exception.
When someone on Instagram commented that the show makes season five’s Luis Mendez look not so nice, Mendez responded that the production does plenty of manipulating and "it’s fake more than real." Mendez might be exaggerating just how much is pre-planned, but it’s not the only time the show has been accused of fakery.
David Toborowsky’s pals Nikki Cooper and Chris Thieneman revealed on YouTube that some (but not all) scenes were pre-planned. That sleazy scene in season five where Thieneman asked Toborowsky’s wife Annie Suwan for a massage? Thieneman claims the producers suggested he say it and then asked him to say it again multiple times so they would have more takes to work with. It kind of makes you question what other drama was stirred up by producers, doesn’t it?
The show doesn’t play match-maker
The storylines might not always be real, but by all accounts the couples themselves are. By that we mean they weren’t brought together by some casting director simply for the show. Season four’s Anfisa Nava said in a since-deleted Instagram post (via In Touch Weekly) that, contrary to what some might believe, the 90 days don’t mark the time frame the couples have to decide if they like each other enough to get married. By the time the cameras start rolling, "you already know the person" and "decided you want to marry them," Nava said.
So how do the couples get in touch with the show? Executive producer Gabriela Tavakoli told Red Carpet Crash that "hundreds" apply via instructions given at the end of 90 Day Fiance episodes. And Matt Sharp said during the TCA press tour (via Deadline) that the show reaches out to some as well, including through immigration attorneys. "We don’t put people together," Sharp said. "Everyone we feature on the show, they found themselves organically." Whether those couples fell in love organically, that’s a different story…
"We’ve only had three divorces"
Say what you want about the validity of the relationships on 90 Day Fiance, but the majority of the couples are apparently still together. Yeah, we couldn’t believe it either. As any reality TV fan can tell you, romances that get the reality TV treatment aren’t known for their longevity. Think of The Bachelor, Newlyweds or Khloe & Lamar.
Executive producer Matt Sharp boasted (via Deadline) "that out of every 25 couples on 90 Day Fiance, we’ve only had three divorces," Sharp stated, explaining that those numbers are actually better than the current divorce rate in America. Impressive.
It helps that the couples have an extra motivation to walk down the aisle (the green card) and stay married for at least two years (again, the green card). But we’re not accusing anyone from the show of tainting the sanctity of marriage simply so they can live in the United States. Okay, maybe we are.
Green card doesn’t automatically equal citizenship
The U.S. government doesn’t just grant the foreign partner on the show citizenship after they walk down the aisle and cut the cake. The process to U.S. citizenship is a lengthy and complicated one. The 90-day visa allows the foreigner partner to enter the country and gives them three months to marry their fiance(e). Once married, they receive their green card with conditions, which can be renewed without conditions after two years. Contrary to what some might think, the green card doesn’t automatically equal U.S. citizenship.
In general, they need to be a green card holder for at least three years before applying for naturalization, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website. Also — and this is a big one — they have to have been "living in marital union with the U.S. citizen spouse" for those three years and up until "examination on the application."
Ex-cast member sued the show
There’s a reason you haven’t seen Mark Shoemaker on the 90 Day Fiance spinoffs. He was, uh, less than pleased with how he was portrayed on season three. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that Shoemaker came off like an uptight jerk when he told then-fiancee Nikki to not touch his car windows? Starcasm reported that Shoemaker felt the portrayal was so unfair that he and Nikki sued Discovery Communications, TLC’s parent company, and production company Sharp Entertainment.
Apparently the judge didn’t feel the same way as Shoemaker, because Starcasm stated that the case was thrown out in 2017. It turns out the contracts that the couple signed gave the show the right to edit footage however it pleases.
Luis Mendez apparently didn’t learn from Shoemaker’s case, because he threatened to sue TLC in 2018 for the same reason. He wrote on Instagram that "immigrant people only are trash for TLC, I want to meet a lawyer in NYC to sue those bastards." From the looks of things, Mendez never went through with the lawsuit.
"Everyone’s got some sort of history"
Couples under consideration for 90 Day Fiance are put through background checks, but that doesn’t mean all who appear on the show have squeaky clean records. Far from it. Executive producer Matt Sharp told Reality Life: "We’re obviously trying to do the right thing … [during casting, but] everyone’s got some sort of history." Sometimes that history comes up on the show, such as Anfisa and Jorge Nava having a hard time finding a place to rent due to the latter’s criminal record. And other times it’s fans or the media that uncover past charges.
Danielle Mullins admitted on Facebook to having been charged with fraud (via In Touch Weekly). "Yes, I used someone’s credit card and it was a mistake," Mullins wrote. "Yes, in the beginning I was charged with [four] or [five] felonies." Starcasm reported that Molly Hopkins has a DUI on her record, among other run-ins with the law. Starcasm reported in a separate article that fellow season fiver Josh Batterson also has a record — he was also arrested but not charged with assault and disorderly conduct.
Cast members make how much?
90 Day Fiance must be a huge money-maker for TLC to keep greenlighting its spin-offs, but it appears the show isn’t exactly spreading the wealth. Nikki Cooper — who appeared in multiple episodes in support of friend David Toborowsky — revealed on Facebook (via Reality Blurb) that cast members get $1,000 per episode and $2,500 for the 90 Day Fiance: The Couples Tell All special.
If you think that $1,000 number is low, consider that cast members without green cards don’t get paid at all. That’s right, zip, zero, nada. Matt Sharp told Reality Life "it would be illegal to pay someone" who doesn’t hold a green card. Suddenly $1,000-per-episode doesn’t seem so bad, does it? And to be honest, that number isn’t totally out of the norm. As an agent told Business Insider, "For those docu-ensembles, especially if they’re nobodies, per episode it ranges from low-end, like $1,500 an episode, to $3,000 at the high end."
Cast members are using fame to their advantage
The couples might not be getting the biggest paychecks from TLC, but they’ve found other ways to benefit from the show. The 90 Day Fiance franchise is on a roll and has turned these once unknowns into D-List celebs, making them desirable to sponsors and helping them promote various projects.
90 Day Fiance OG’s Russ and Pao Mayfield, season four’s Chantel Everett, and season five’s Molly Hopkins have all shilled Teami’s 30-day detox on Instagram. Loren Brovarnik of season three has also promoted the healthy tea line on Instagram, as well as Fab Fit Fun subscription boxes and Pranamat therapeutic mats. Danielle Mullins, on the other hand, went in a different direction. She spoke on Facebook about taking portraits for autographs, which, according to In Touch Weekly, sold out shortly after the announcement.
Evelyn Cormier was already a musician when she appeared on season five, but she has since launched a Patreon page where fans can help fund her independent music career. If you support her with $1,000 or more a month for a year, Cormier and her band will come play your party or private event. That’s way more than TLC paid her per episode!
Why the odd sitting position during interviews?
If you’ve ever noticed that the women on the show sit a little odd during confessional interviews, you’re not alone. One viewer asked Anfisa Nava on Instagram why the females are seated with both knees touching and raised up to around their chest. In other words, their feet don’t appear to be touching the floor.
Nava claimed the unnatural sitting position wasn’t their call. She responded that the "producers make all women on the show sit like this if you haven’t noticed. I hate it. So uncomfortable. Please somebody tell @tlc that you don’t like it."
Do the producers want the women to show off their yams? Or do they want the women to appear more feminine? After all, the men don’t sit with their knees up during confessional interviews. Nava didn’t give any explanation for the strange sitting position, so we can only make assumptions at this point.