Introducing: '90 Day Fiancé' recaps

90 Day Fiance: Where else to start but in season 5?

With three months of Bachelor-less wasteland in front of us, TATBT has been looking for something to snack on until the New Year where Colton will be waiting for us in what promises to be some kind of awful jacquard blazer.

The overwhelming recommendation from my most trusted trash associates has been 90 Day Fiancé…or 90 Day Fiancé: Before the 90 Days…or 90 Day Fiancé: Happily Ever After?...or 90 Day Fiancé: What Now?...because apparently there is a whole other reality franchise that runs year round, matriculating the same dysfunctional romance-seekers through it's every decayed branch. Who knew?

In the Bachelor interim, I plan to lend TATBT's longform recapping space to familiar territory: examining human behavior at the intersection of love, despair, romance, rejection, and that telltale undercurrent of pitch-black desperation. If you’d like to watch along, I'm dipping into season 5 of the original-flavor 90 Day Fiancé, but just as with The Bachelor — I'm watching so you don't have to. 

When setting out into the unknown world of 90 Day Fiancé, I purposefully learned very little. So, imagine my surprise when, one episode in, I realized that it is exactly the same show as The Bachelor, if you just took a giant Neutrogena makeup wipe to the whole Chris-Harrison-headed franchise.

The teeth aren't as white, the triceps aren't as defined, and all the group dates are replaced with tense family dinners at an O'Charley's off the highway, but make no mistake: 90 Day Fiancé is just a higher stakes Bachelor.

I've long decried The Bachelor for operating on a glaringly unsustainable construct [ed. note: I am known for investing both my time and talents well!] because there is no real life scenario where you would ever be forced to commit to a potential partner in a matter of months. But just like when I thought I was investing in my future one Beanie Baby at a time, or conjuring up scenarios where Lance Bass and I might fall in love and be wed — on this matter, I have evidently been very wrong for a very long time…

I simply had no idea that 22 seasons, five spin-offs, and one live-action emotional trauma ago, Mike Fleiss based the entire premise of The Bachelor on the actual K-1 visa process.

The titular 90 days in question on 90 Day Fiancé are that of the K-1 visa which can be issued to the foreign fiancé of a United States citizen, and requires the couple to marry within 90 days of the foreigner's entry into the country. If they do not marry in 90 days, the foreign fiancé loses the K-1 visa and the option to become a permanent U.S. resident via a Green Card once married. That takes ABC's little ol' you-better-get-engaged-after-two-months-of-knowing-each-other-or-else-Chris Harrison-is going-to-be-really-super-rude-to-you-on-the-after-show bit, and basically says, Bless your heart.

Over on ABC's wrong-side-of-the-tracks cousin, TLC, they've shed the glamorous façade of mansions and hot tubs, sanded down the romance, lowered the aesthetic bar for entry, and stripped the blindly-commit-or-else premise right down to the studs of desperation. But where The Bachelor trades on the false idea that all women are so desperate to get married to an eligible bachelor — any eligible bachelor (although that premise has long been thrown to the wind, huh?) — that they'd get engaged after only knowing each other for a few months, 90 Day Fiancé wallows around in the stereotype that non-Americans are so desperate to live in America that they would be willing to marry an American — any old (literally) American — in a matter of months.

Of course it isn't true that every person from another country planning to marry an American is either manipulating or being manipulated in order to score a green card — TLC is simply implying that's the case by only showing us couples that are nearly impossible to explain otherwise. In the premiere, we mostly hear from the American halves of the K-1 hopefuls who do their best to convince us and their families that their various relationships are true love, they're not being used, and it's very reasonable that they would move a 24-year-old man that no one in their family has ever met, into a house with their children.

They generally do a pretty bad job!

On The Bachelor, friends, family, and fellow contestants worry that potential life partners are on the show for the Wrong Reasons, meaning that they might be seeking fame and a future in the lucrative field of promoting gummy hair vitamins and rubbing charcoal on their teeth, rather than being solely focused on finding a lifetime commitment. On 90 Day Fiancé, there is a different, slightly more nuanced Wrong Reason: American citizenship. If there is even a whiff of desire to live in America, somewhere, Chris Harrison’s veneers start tingling, just dying for the chance to chastise.

Watch, as these couples battle judgment and all logic to prove themselves the real love-at-first-sight deal…

And the 90 Day Fiancé editors revel in flashing from the face of a 50-year-old American with an Eeyore vibe, to the SnapChat screenshot of a gorgeous 22-year-old with spirit to spare, an upper thigh tattoo, and an oxen dowry that needs filling back in her hometown.

MOLLY & LUIS

Now, I'm not entirely sure how this show works, on account of deciding to start watching it five seasons and three spin-offs in; I'm not sure if Molly and Luis have ever cycled through this franchise before, so this might be a bold statement, but — Molly is an icon and a legend, and nothing anyone says or does can convince me otherwise.

"I would say I'm, like, a local rock star when it comes to boobs," Molly tells us in her introductory package.  (Damnit Jodi, pivot your life in a direction where you might one day be able to confidently call yourself a local rockstar when it comes to boobs, I write in my notes.)

Molly is not referring to her own boobs — although I would like to state for the record that them thangs is lifted — but to the custom bra store she runs in Woodstock, Georgia. Apparently she and her business partner used to have a show that followed them fitting bras for the biggest boobs in the world at their lingerie shop on TLC's cigarette-smoking-older-cousin network, Lifetime. The series was called — wait for it — Double Divas. Incredible stuff. And that's just Molly's professional life.

Personally, Molly is 41-years-old, she has two daughters from two former relationships, she speaks like a helium tank ate a Beverly Hillbillies boxset, and at this point in her life, she thought marriage just wasn't for her…

Until Molly took a girls trip to the Dominican Republic where she locked eyes with 25-year-old Luis behind the bar where he was working.

Listen, everyone has a friend who falls in love with the bartender on group trips, and if you don’t, just think back on your last group trip, remember that bartender who made you download WhatsApp because he didn't have a real phone, and realize — you're That Friend. Typically, your bartender-bagging friend probably isn't in her 40s with two children, but let me tell you, I could watch an entire episode of these photos of Molly and Luis looking mismatched as all hell, having a grand ol’ time in the Dominican Republic.

But Molly is back in America now, telling us how Luis informed her on that very girls trip that he was going to marry her.

She knows people thinks she's crazy, "but for me, it's like when people saw Pamela Anderson running down the beach; if you flip that on a man…oh yeah, he's hot!" Molly is very into how hot Luis is and, as far as we know, nothing else. She calls him "this man" a lot — as in, "after months of knowing this man, he proposed to me and now he's my fiancé" — which I’m always weary of, but I'm suuuure all is well here.

In the premiere, we only meet Molly, not Luis, because even though most of the couples have applied for or received their K-1 visas, they have not both come to America yet, triggering the titular 90-day fiancé period. We do at least meet Luis on Facetime, which is more than can be said for…

NICOLE & AZAN

Nicole and Azan have definitely been on some incarnation of 90DF before because in their story, we get lots of flashbacks to Nicole — my own personal worst enemy, the anti-Molly — on a trip to Morocco that didn't seem to go so well.

And yet, here she is six months later: back in Florida but still engaged to Azan, saying they want to go forward with getting a K-1 visa. "We're really stronger as a couple now, and honestly, I feel like we're so in love," Nicole says as she tries and fails to get Azan on FaceTime.

The Creative Arts Emmys should create a category for "Shame Cuts" and the 90 Day Fiance editors should win for the next 30 years for every time they cut from Nicole talking about how in love she and Azan are to the dink-dink-dink that represents another FaceTime going unanswered. Azan could very well be awful, but I'm considering putting him on my Christmas card list for all the calls he rejects from Nicole.

And why is Nicole the worst, you might be asking? Let me count the ways:

  1. Nicole is 22 and the mother to a precious toddler named Mae, but she has the overall presence of an eight-year-old on the verge of a tantrum, mixed with teenage indifference. Adorable!

  2. Every time Nicole calls Azan, she asks Mae if she wants to call "daddy," and then places the baby in front of the phone to be constantly disappointed that her calls are not being answered by a man she's never met and who, the last time her mother saw him, said, "When I see all of her body, I was surprised…"

  3. Nicole is using her parents' desire to have their grandchild in the same country as them to blackmail them into sponsoring Azan's — a man who will not answer her calls — K-1 visa.

Oh yes, that last one is a doozy. Nicole explains that she doesn’t make enough money to meet the K-1 requirements to bring Azan to America, so she has to find someone else to sponsor him. Her mom has flat-out refused already, so Nicole has now asked her dad and stepmom, which she relays to the camera by innocently saying, "If I don't find a way for Azan to be sponsored, then there's a possibility I might go live with Azan abroad in Morocco, and that means uprooting Mae and — <eyelash bat, eyelash bat> — taking her with me."

Let me tell you what, there is about a two percent chance of this adult-sized child taking her child-sized child to live in Morocco with a teen-sized adult. But her dad and stepmom can't be sure of that, so we see them deliver their decision in what I think will be a signature 90DF setup: having a sensitive family discussion in some public outdoor space that appears to be at a picnic table behind a Motel 6.

I guess that what happens when your network doesn’t want to rent out and entire club space and fill it with trinkets and candles so that you and a date can trade the phrase "I just want someone who’s honest" back and forth into each other's mouth holes for three hours.

Nicole's dad, clearly a kind and weak-willed man, says to the camera sadly, "It's hard not to feel bullied into it, but that's Nicole," shortly before telling Nicole that since they want to continue to have an influence on Mae’s life, they've decided they'll sponsor Azan for her. Nicole's response to this insane news is:

"Really? Aww!" As though her parents have just announced they'd like to take Nicole and Mae out for pizza later, as opposed to committing themselves to financially supporting a stranger for 10 years. TEN YEARS! Nicole's stepmom looks like a Floridian Toni Collette so I trust her immensely, and also because she's willing to push back in the face of Nicole's unbelievable apathy: "Do you understand what we're sacrificing? It's 10 years. If you get divorced after a few years, we're still going to be responsible for Azan."

WHAT?!?! I know I said I trusted Toni Collette, but adopting your daughter's adult boyfriend who you've never met and who won't answer her calls is far too illogical a decision for me to get behind.

I don't want to deny anyone love…but, actually, I do want to deny Nicole because she sucks and there is a darkness behind her twinkly Cabbage Patch eyes that sends a chill down my spine. If she is old enough to feel like she has to get married right now, then she is old enough to lie on a resume like Jennifer Lopez, work her way up a corporate ladder, and make her own damn money to sponsor her thus far invisible boyfriend.

ELIZABETH & ANDREI

A little more conceivable as just two crazy kids in love are Elizabeth and Andrei, who met while she was visiting Dublin (after first chatting on Tinder), though he is originally from Moldova. If only they were at all likable, it could be very easy to root for them.

Listen, maybe they're fine, but Elizabeth spends a lot of the premiere describing Andrei as an "alpha male," which is almost always a red flag because I tend to find people just use that phrase as a more attractive way of saying, He's an asshole and a lot of people don't like him, but it's okay because it's DEEPLY ingrained in his psyche.

Elizabeth notes Andrei's alpha maleness both because it makes her super horny (like Pamela Anderson running on a beach, Molly might say), and because she's worried about how Andrei will respond to all the other alpha males in her life, especially her father. Elizabeth is from a large Tampa family, the youngest of 10 siblings, and she (somewhat begrudgingly) works as the property manager for her dad’s company. Elizabeth says her family is concerned that Andrei doesn't love her, and that he just wants to come to America.

One thing I do think these families often miss is that those two things are not mutually exclusive — Andrei could both love Elizabeth and want to come to America.

Elizabeth herself says that she likes that Andrei is from another culture because it opens her mind. I think, in the future, I could both love someone and want to lock down the opportunity to have a person in my life who doesn’t end up crying every time they have to get on the phone with Time Warner Cable. Marriage is about love, but it’s also about finding a partner who adds value to your life (like, oh say, American citizenship).

But instead of explaining that, Elizabeth…goes in the opposite direction, getting defensive about her family's fairly reasonably concerns regarding the financial realities of bringing Andrei to the States, and whining that no one is being supportive of her. Her sisters take offense to that, because unlike her dad and brothers, they have blindly supported her even though they think this relationship is most definitely a bad idea.

I am obsessed with everything about these sisters: how many necklaces they wear; how dressed up they get to go to dinner at what appears to be a sports bar; how they order bottles of prosecco at said sports bar; how they're a couple of blue prosecco flutes deep by the time we get to them, so they both carry on simultaneous streams-of-consciousness the entire time they’re talking to the camera…

But mostly I love them because they are the exact visual and spiritual representation of what I imagined the sisters from the Dirty John podcast to look and act like, and if even one person understands this comparison, it will have been worth it. <Jacqueline: “And I was like, none of your BUS-I-NESS”>

All that to say, Elizabeth's sisters support her feelings for Andrei, but her dad is more concerned with logistics. He's concerned that if Andrei isn't bringing anything to the table financially, he'll end up supporting both of them when Andrei comes over on the K-1. "Money doesn’t define love! It's about me being happy," Elizabeth exclaims.

And that is true — money does not define love. But it does kind of define marriage, the legally binding contract that is the whole goal of this K-1 visa. Elizabeth doesn’t necessarily owe her dad answers, but to glaze over it altogether when it seems like she might be used to a certain way of life that's not entirely accommodated by the salary she gets from her dad's business is…a little naive.  

Of course, compared to our next guy, Elizabeth looks like a regular Suze Orman…

DAVID & ANNIE

David and Annie are the only couple we see together in the premiere because they currently both live in Thailand where they met. Three years ago, David's marriage of 21-years fell apart, he lost his job, all his money, and had a stroke.

After losing over 100 pounds though, he decided to hit the reset button on his life, and book a one-way ticket to Thailand…and if you can believe it, that is when he fell in love with a 24-year-old woman named Annie.

Annie is a nonstop explosion of perfect soundbites and I love her because I truly believe she tells David all these things directly.

David explains his feelings for Annie thusly: "I'm in love, I feel happy, I feel young — she is 24, but the mindset she puts me in is I don’t feel like a 48-year-old." And how does Annie define her feelings? "I come from very poor village; I go to Bangkok, maybe I can find some job, new life — and that's why I meet David." Is this "why" a slip of the ESL tongue? Who could say?

Well, Annie could, so let's hear some more from her: "I mean his is…yeah, he's good I think. David, he's this, just old foreigner. He's not perfect. He's not handsome. But his heart is very, very big. I love him…"

Their plan is to move back to the States and get married. David says that Annie's biggest misconception about the move is that, "all Americans drive luxury cars, live in big houses, and have nannies, and maids, and that it's all Hollywood." Hmmm, David, I wonder who could help her straighten that misconception out and explain that she will be moving to Kentucky with very little money?

David seems to be toeing some line between letting Annie know that he's not loaded, but not letting Annie know that he's completely broke. Before they can leave Thailand, they need to get the approval of Annie's family — David's three children and five grandchildren seem not to be a concern — which means bringing a dowry for Annie's hand in marriage. David says he has $50,000 baht (about $1,500 which would, presumably, be all of David's money) to use right now, and Annie says she's worried about that being enough to fulfill the dowry: "If them say no, maybe our relationship is broke up with…I don't know."

But at least there's someone around here who's in the know — oh boy, is she

Before they leave for America, Annie's village is hosting a traditional Thai engagement party for she and David, and David's best friend Chris is coming for the party, along with his wife Nikki.

I know I said that Molly is an icon, and I deeply trust Nicole's stepmom, Toni Colette, but Nikki? Nikki is invited to my house for dinner—the good kind of dinner, where I use a recipe and Anthropologie serving dishes. I want to take a girls trip to the Domnican Republic with Nikki. I want to fall in love with a 23-year-old bartender and have her take my phone away from me, roll her eyes, and say, Let's see how you feel about this in the morning.

Nikki is both very nice and welcoming to Annie — even standing up for her when David says that Annie’s traditional dowry is like 'buying your wife" — while also being completely wise to David's bullshit. Chris seems like a very kind, jelly bean of a man, who tells the camera that David is like his brother to him, and when he heard about Annie, he said, "Hey I support you, I'm happy for you." Nikki's eyes are rolling around like there is a tea-spilling demon just waiting to be exercised out of her…

THERE IT IS! Nikki is finally tired of being polite and says, "I was not surprised when David said that he was engaged…because Annie is the third girl." #WUT

Chris tries to contradict Nikki saying David hasn't been engaged three times, but Nikki says, "This is the first actual proposal, but he's wanted to marry every girl he's dated."

"I'm not going to deny that," Chris concedes.

Basically, it seems like Annie is the first young woman David has dated who he thought might say yes to a marriage proposal, so he asked, and — she did. Now he's headed up into rural Thailand to ask for her hand in marriage and, as he explains to Chris and Nikki, offer her family "Sin Sod": a dowry.

And nooooow we understand (although we already fully supported) all of Nikki's eye rolling. It seems that Chris has "loaned" David quite a bit of money over the years and they sent him money right before they left for this trip, and now she thinks he is gearing up to ask for some more. Chris says that at least they can rest assured Annie isn't marrying David for the money:

And now I like Chris too.

TLC has chosen to put a magnifying lens on these couples, not because they are a snapshot of the typical K-1 visa process, or representative of what it means to fall in love with someone from another country…

But because their desperation to get married before the bottom falls out of their relationships pushes them to act irrationally. They are the Bachelor producers of their own lives; it is really something to behold.

And we haven't even gotten to the 90 days yet.

If you have other shows or pop culture you'd like to see TATBT to focus on in the Bachelor interim, you can respond directly to this email, and I would welcome your feedback!

See you back here on Friday for more of the Best Things, and if anyone wants to try Molly's bra shop on for size, I would love a review. There are only so many ThirdLove ads one podcast-listener can take before she needs to switch it up.