MTV’s Love At First Lie winners on coming out, queering TV and doing the sex position challenge

A photo of MTV's Love At First Lie winners Stephanie wearing a black and white-check shirt and Arabella who is wearing a grey bra vest top as they stand against a grey background. (Provided)

In an exclusive interview with PinkNews, the winners of MTV’s Love At First Lie open up about coming out on TV, the reality of doing the sex position challenge, and making the dating show world more diverse.

When it comes to the world of reality TV, it’s no secret that most mainstream dating shows have tended to ignore the LGBTQ+ community. Whether it’s a scant sprinkling of queer contestants or popular programmes that claim embracing the full spectrum of sexuality is “logistically difficult”, representation over the past few years has been painfully slow.

So when MTV announced their new dating show Love At First Lie last October, curiosity among queer lovers of reality TV was definitely piqued. Hosted by Tori Spelling, the first-ever relationship mystery competition series featured a cast of trans, non-binary, gay, lesbian and queer contestants right off the bat, reflecting the true diversity of the world around us. 

The aim of the game? To try and figure who is in a real relationship and who is faking their romance. Over the course of the series, the couples must eliminate one of their own from the competition. Every time they manage to vote out the counterfeit couples, they add $25,000 to the prize fund; but ultimately, only one couple can take the jackpot home.

As twelve couples fought to prove their love was real, the finale of the show saw Stephanie and Arabella emerge triumphant; and, as one of the first queer couples to land first prize on a mainstream non-LGBTQ+ specific dating show, they’re blazing a trail in more ways than one.

Although the jaw-dropping final episode proving Stephanie and Arabella’s love was true only aired in December, it’s a moment that has been almost two years in the making. 

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“I got asked quite a few times over the years to try Love Island and things like that,” Arabella told PinkNews. “But I’ve always kind of denied it. This one I thought was different”. 

Stephanie (L) and Arabella (R) on Love At First Lie. (MTV)
Stephanie (L) and Arabella (R) on Love At First Lie. (MTV)

When they first entered the show, their relationship was only four months old. Needless to say, the show was a truly immersive experience for the still-fresh couple.

“You’re put in an environment where you are literally together 24/7,” says Stephanie. “It was a challenge.”

There was added pressure for Arabella, too, who was in her first queer relationship and wasn’t yet out to the world when she went on the series. “It was big,” she remembers. “A lot of people were shocked because I had to keep it secret as well. The whole time.”

It wasn’t so much her relationship being shared with the world that concerned her the most, though, but the TV edit.

“You don’t know what they’re going to show or how they’re going to edit it,” she explains. “We had conflicts with several people on the show [particularly Brandi and Lawrence].

“We had to do the sex position challenge and I’m there like crouching on [Stephanie’s] face. I used to wake up praying they didn’t put that in, but they did.”

For both Stephanie and Arabella, being able to express love and intimacy on television in a way that wasn’t sexualised for the male gaze was of utmost importance.

“People should be more educated and should be more open,” Arabella explains. “Men will be men and I don’t think that’s going to change. But it’s nice to show that it’s not just this fantasy. These are actually real people’s lives and people have these relationships.”

“The older generation, they might want to turn their face,” Stephanie jokes.

MTV, of course, has form when it comes to breaking trends in the realm of dating reality shows, notably featuring an entirely sexually fluid cast in their 2019 series Are You The One?. Aside from the positive LGBTQ+ representation on Love At First Lie, the series also posed serious questions about how sexuality is weaponised in the dating reality world. 

During the first episode, gay contestant Chantz tried to accuse fellow contestant Yuriy of being gay in order to deflect attention from himself, prompting outcry from the group. 

“It’s a very risky route to go down,” Stephanie reflects, “because you don’t want to offend them. Yuriy didn’t mind what anyone had to say because he knows himself so well.”

Arabella, meanwhile, says the whole saga was “incredibly offensive”.

“Just because someone is flamboyant and a dancer doesn’t mean they’re gay. I think that’s really naive and very narrow-minded. I think if that was a heterosexual man saying that to him there would have been a lot more backlash, and it would have been much more unacceptable.”

Although there were no shortage of clashes on the show, Stephanie and Arabella have left with lifelong friends, with Arabella now giving trans contestant Brixton training lessons post-top surgery. Outside of the show, the pair have also had gay and lesbian couples come up to them and thank them for “giving them hope” that things are changing. 

Arabella (L) and Stephanie (R). (Provided)
Winning couple: Arabella (L) and Stephanie. (Provided)

Given the diversity of Love At First Lie, both Stephanie and Arabella hope that it’s only the beginning of LGBTQ+ people putting themselves forward for mainstream dating shows. That being said, Stephanie warns that any contestant considering doing so must “be ready for your relationship to be judged on live TV”, and that there’s a risk of being misgendered, even if “by accident”.

The couple, who split their $175,000 prize money, have now decided to go their separate ways. “It’s like a plant, if you give it water it blossoms, if you don’t then it’s just a twig,” says Stephanie.

Even so, Stephanie is proud of the impact they have made. “It has been nice being able to contribute to a side of the dating reality world that’s more diverse. It’s almost like leading the way and how we can reimagine these shows.”

Love At First Lie season one is available to stream now on MTV.