‘Ultimatum’ Producer on Casting ‘Queer Love,’ Vanessa Becoming a Villain and Selecting a Straight Host

The world of “The Ultimatum” has officially expanded with the new spinoff, “The Ultimatum: Queer Love.” Following the same format as “Marry or Move On,” the first season of Netflix’s reality show, five pairs are at a turning point in their relationship and one has given an ultimatum. At the end of the eight-week experience — during which they enter a trial marriage with someone new — each individual must decide if they want to marry their original partner, be with their new match or leave alone.

In “Queer Love,” the group is made up of women and nonbinary cast members, half of whom are looking to marry their more reluctant partners — or so they say. Here, executive producer and Kinetic Content CEO Chris Coelen breaks down the differences in casting, the inconsistency in pronouns throughout the season, the choice to cast someone straight as a host and much more.

How was casting this season different that “Marry and Move On?”

It’s very, very similar to a lot of the other relationship series that we do, in that we are looking for a group of people who we think are going to be interested in one another. We were a little bit wider with a region for this particular case; it’s mostly West Coast. We started out with looking for mostly women or nonbinary people who would be interested in one another and a long-term commitment. I think from the very beginning, when we first sold the show to Netflix, we said we want to do a straight version and a queer version. We could have done it in many different ways, but we just we just decided to go down the road with this particular group of mostly women first.

This season filmed during Spring 2022 and the reunion filmed about a year after that. Is it a worry for you at all that there is so much of a gap between filming and air?

Well, there’s a couple of factors that go into that. Working with Netflix is different than working with most linear networks. With a lot of linear networks, you can be delivering right up to the moment before air. Because Netflix is a global service, they want a lead time of several months, because they want to do subtitling and dubbing for their viewers all around the world. But I don’t think it really makes a difference in any way, shape or form. It’s the stories that are the most compelling thing.

So in the show, the cast are not labeled with pronouns but when press received the press release of the cast, they all have them listed. In the show, most refer to each other as “she” and are not corrected. What conversations did you guys have behind the scenes?

The way that we approached it was we want to let the participants be addressed by one another and address one another in the way that they want. There are two people in the show who are nonbinary. It’s really interesting in terms of Aussie’s story. Aussie didn’t start filming, identifying entirely in a nonbinary way and Aussie’s partner Sam addresses Aussie by “she” and “her.” Through the course of the show, Aussie is changing, and talks about it a little bit. I think that’s really interesting. I don’t think by the time that filming the show wrapped that Aussie had figured everything out.

Just like life, things can be sometimes a little complicated, and they’re not all neatly defined. We just want to let them talk about themselves in the way that they want it to be.

Tiff was was more aligned with being nonbinary, but even with Tiff, I think there would be moments where Tiff would identify as she/her during the show. Mildred would also talk about Tiff as they but also as she.

So, I want to talk about Vanessa a bit. She’s an early villain — was that surprising to you? It seems like most of the cast didn’t like her.

I think that’s true. We can’t include everything. We try to portray the essence of the story, and I hope that some of it comes through, and even in shadings where I think some people didn’t like Vanessa because Vanessa didn’t have her head in the process in the same way that other people did. They felt like Vanessa wasn’t authentically participating in the process or that Vanessa wanted to be there more for fame. Other people felt like Vanessa is not really buying in to this process, especially when Xander started to develop feelings elsewhere. Vanessa would describe Xander as being asexual and “Xander would never have feelings for anyone else so I’m just going to be here being on TV, not really putting my relationship at any risk because I don’t think Xander is ever going to be interested in any anyone else by me.” And there was a big resentment around that.

So at one point, there were some comments about her wanting to be an Instagram influencer, which I found funny because Lexi has a huge following on Instagram, TikTok and OnlyFans. Did you guys talk about her following beforehand and were you surprised that that never came up?

I’ll be honest with you, that’s the first time I’ve ever heard that. I have no idea about their social media. Literally, I have zero idea, I don’t know anything about it. I’ve never personally been on any of their social media. Ultimately, I think my job and the team that I work with is to tell the story that the cast is participating in. If somebody accuses Vanessa of being there because she’s an influencer, then show that. To my knowledge, I don’t remember seeing anyone ever accusing Lexi of that.

Can you talk about the rules of using a phone during the process? We see that Rae calls Lexi, but can they see their original partners?

We try not to make any rules that we can’t enforce. So there’s no rule but you’re living in a trial marriage and usually you’ve agreed that the person you’ve arrived to the experience with is your ex. You have broken up with them. So normally in a marriage, it would be odd — if not against the quote unquote “rules” — to be texting your ex married to somebody else. That would be weird. And I think I think that’s part of what makes the experience interesting. There’s some people that really embrace the idea of being in a marriage. It’s difficult sometimes to be able to just completely excise your original partner from your mind. That’s something that becomes part of the journey for some of these people. Jake from Season 1 was very resentful that April was as present as she was. That sort of resentment, probably was a contributor to their split. In the same way here, I think some people are more controlling, and that’s something it’s really interesting to see come out, especially when they all go in the same way, saying, “Hey, we’re breaking up, and so you’re gonna go off and live your life.”

I know we briefly touched on JoAnna Garcia Swisher hosting in the past but there are some viewers wondering why a straight woman is the host. Are you prepared for any of that backlash?

It was really Netflix’s idea to have her and have a different host than Nick and Vanessa Lachey, who will be back for the next season of “Marry or Move On.” I think was a good idea to have a different person. I think one of the big takeaways for me about this, or any of these shows that we do, is that we’re all human beings. I don’t think that you have to be completely aligned, identity-wise with someone, to be able to empathize with them, to be able to care about them, to be able to ask them questions, to be able to relate to them.

For people who feel like, “Oh, I’m a straight person, I might not relate to the stories on this show,” they are wildly mistaken. I would urge you to watch the show. I’m a straight person — I don’t think that has anything to do with being able to tell the story. At the end of the day, I’m dedicated to telling the story and understanding the people whose stories that we’re telling. We certainly have a tremendous amount of diversity and representation behind the camera, as well as on camera, but ultimately, all of us together in this boat are human beings, figuring out the questions in our lives, trying to tell the stories of these amazing participants. I put Joanna in that category as well.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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