[Warning: The following contains MAJOR spoilers for The Ultimatum: Queer Love Episodes 1-4.]
Even though The Ultimatum: Queer Love stars run circles around other reality dating casts when it comes to emotional maturity (mindful conflict resolution between lovers? What a concept!), that doesn’t mean this LGBTQ+-focused love story is devoid of drama. For better or for worse, reality dating shows always have a villain. And Vanessa Papa became that foe in the first four episodes of The Ultimatum: Queer Love, streaming on Netflix as of May 24.
From the creators of Love Is Blind, The Ultimatum: Queer Love brings five couples together for a life-changing experiment. One person from each couple has delivered an ultimatum to their partner: either they get married or they move on. The twist: Each couple breaks up, dates other people, chooses a “trial marriage” spouse, and then lives with them for three weeks. Then, they move in with their original partners for three more weeks. In the end, they all leave either engaged, single, or potentially with their trial partners (that nearly happened in Season 1, hosted by Nick Lachey and Vanessa Lachey, with JoAnna Garcia Swisher hosting Queer Love).
The trial marriages were in full swing by the end of Episode 4, but one of the most heated moments of the season’s first batch came during the trial marriage selection ceremony, which will always be tense no matter how many seasons The Ultimatum franchise gets. (Watching your ex choose their new boo right in front of you is an emotional minefield waiting to detonate.) Despite the difficult, only-seen-on-TV circumstances, most of the cast kept their cool as their partners chose other people, and then it came time for Xander Boger to choose their “spouse.”
Vanessa was given the ultimatum by Xander, her partner of four years. Xander entered this experiment ready to marry Vanessa and have children together. But Vanessa didn’t want marriage at all, nor did she want to parent with Xander. Throughout the dating process, Vanessa was boisterous, excited, and seemed more enticed by dating new people than by the idea of reconnecting with Xander later on. Based on her dates, it seemed Vanessa saw this as an exciting break from her relationship, which cast members saw as disingenuous.
In what would be her final date with Lexi Goldberg, Vanessa made her intentions seem questionable, prompting Lexi to break up with her, grill her for her comments about Xander, and question why she was participating in the experience altogether. From that point on, Lexi was convinced Vanessa was doing the show to get famous, and cast members like Yoly Rojas and Mildred Woody were vocal about their dislike of her. Mal Wright agreed, but was more subdued with their remarks (although I’ll be thinking about “I had one interaction with you, and I made a quick decision” for quite some time).
Based on what we saw of Vanessa (perhaps the edit did leave some key things on the cutting room floor), she seemed excited to have time away from Xander. She displayed a major change in tone in the Episode 3 selection ceremony. All things considered, Queer Love‘s selection process went much more smoothly than its predecessor. There were no surprise proposals or partner selection overlap, but the tension could still be cut with a knife, tears were shed, and fights did ensue. Things came to a head when Xander chose Yoly for their trial partner, the one woman Vanessa didn’t want her ex to date.
Vanessa repeatedly interrupted Xander as they explained why dating Yoly felt good. When a former fling Vanessa claimed not to know about was brought up, confusion and anger took over. She told Xander to “f**k off” in front of everyone, which the cast didn’t let slide. Xander came to Vanessa’s defense, but still looked uncomfortable themselves.
TV Insider caught up with Vanessa and Xander in separate interviews to get their sides of the story of that tense night.
The best word to describe how filming the ceremony feels, according to Xander, is “terrifying.” “You’re about to make this decision. The partner you came in with is there. It was very scary, very intimidating. But also it felt good, because I felt like I was making my own decision,” they said, noting that getting to “use my voice a little bit and speak for myself” was a net good.
The Bumble moment is “where it got a little bit confusing,” they admitted, but they’re not convinced that’s what Vanessa’s “f**k off” was really about. “I think she was more so angry that I was choosing Yoly,” Xander explained. “She knew that I was choosing Yoly, and she did not want me to do that because Yoly was the biggest threat to her.”
Vanessa, who was with Rae Cheung-Sutton in her trial marriage, told us something similar. “Leading up to that moment, I had four years with this person who told me they were very sure about me and they wanted to marry me. They literally brought me on the show saying, ‘I’m ready to marry you, you’re the person I’m choosing,’” Vanessa said. “And then, you know, we’re about a week in — not even a week in — and she’s saying, ”It’s crazy. I already have feelings for someone.’ And I’m like, what? I get that that’s the experience, but holy s**t, that took no time. So that kind of threw me off the first week.”
“And then we’re sitting there at this choosing ceremony and I hear her reference” the Bumble date, Vanessa went on. “I mean, I’ve known this girl since I was 17 years old. She’s been a part of my life. I hear her reference this ex who I’ve never heard of. I ask her, ‘Who is it?’ She doesn’t give any information. It’s very vague.” In the episode, Xander described this Bumble match as someone they went on a date with, not an ex per se. But Vanessa thought a lie was being uncovered in this moment.
“I was like, has this whole thing been a lie? Have I been, I don’t know, bamboozled to some extent?” she wondered, adding, “So I was just pissed off. I watched it back and obviously regret being so full of anger in that moment, but that was my genuine reaction.”
Vanessa said the selection ceremony made reality sink in. “That was when the shock fully set in for me that there was a real potential of not just like losing Xander for three weeks, but losing Xander forever,” she admitted. “I didn’t prepare myself. I’ll say that I did not come on the show fully mentally prepared to watch my partner potentially fall in love with someone. I was so secure in the relationship that I just didn’t think that was even an option. So it was just a lot of shock for me.”
She was surprised by the cast’s reactions to her throughout the season. Xander, not so much. When asked if they were surprised by the cast’s negative reaction to Vanessa, Xander said, “Not at all. I think that in a lot of ways they had complete reason to respond the way that they did. I think, you know, Vanessa’s not for everyone. I think she’s probably gonna have a lot of fans and people that are for her. But I think that everyone had a right [to] the things that they had concerns about.”
People’s dislike of Vanessa “was pretty noticeable from the beginning,” Xander added. “Even like our first cocktail party, people were not vibing with her.”
“I think Yoly mentioned she was kind of taking up like a lot of space, which I feel that to a certain extent. It didn’t feel good. It made me pretty uncomfortable, because it did feel like I was like almost like a villain by accomplice kind of thing, so yeah, didn’t feel great.”
Xander was surprised, however, that Vanessa got so visibly angry during the selection ceremony. That may already be clear, given Xander’s near stunned-silent reaction in the episode. But we dove into this a little bit more.
“I was surprised that she was allowing” that fight to be seen. “If she was having those emotions, I get it, but there’s a time and a place to a certain degree for things. It felt like a lot of her certain personalities coming out for everyone to see,” they said. “I mean, very vulnerable to a certain degree, but also like very cringey” to be on the receiving end.
Looking forward, Xander and Yoly’s trial marriage is going to cause big problems for them and Vanessa. “That was a huge conflict when Vanessa and I got back together,” Xander said. “It’s like we couldn’t even talk about anything else except for the most immediate thing that had happened.”
The drama unfolds in Episodes 5-8, dropping Wednesday, May 31 on Netflix.
The Ultimatum: Queer Love, Wednesdays, Netflix
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