I still remember the exact moment when a casting agent reached out to me about auditioning for a role on MTV’s “Are You the One?” I was in college and had been doing a little modelling. The casting agent said she liked my look and all I had to do was be single (check!) and be open to finding love (check!) and possibly winning money (check!!).
I really didn’t think I’d be cast because I’d never watched reality TV (except for the Food Network) and I’ve never been particularly dramatic. However, I am a strong believer that when an opportunity lands at your feet, you should be open-minded and give it your all. So, that’s exactly what I did. Two phone interviews and a couple of video chats later, I was being flown out to Los Angeles for a final round of casting in front of a panel of producers.
The show brings together 20 single people ― ten women and ten men on most seasons ― to try to find their “perfect match.” They have ten weeks to discover who they are meant to be with (as determined by the producers), and if there are ten pairs of perfect matches at the end of the show, the 20 contestants split one million dollars.
There have been seven more seasons of “Are You the One?” since my season, which was the first and aired in 2014, and they’ve all been a bit different, especially the latest season, which featured 20 pansexual individuals. But what made my season completely unique is that my fellow castmates and I had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. We had no idea what the budget for the show would be or whether it would even get a prime-time spot when it aired. The producers didn’t even know the name of the show until after filming and we were introduced to the premise of the series in front of the cameras at our first challenge.
My family thought I was absolutely crazy. My mom and dad, who are immigrants from Taiwan and fairly traditional, always try their hardest to support my decisions but they definitely lost some sleep over this one.
My friends were all extremely excited for me. Some were a little confused because I was never the type to want fame or try reality TV. I had always been that responsible friend who would volunteer to be the designated driver. But I do have a surprisingly wild streak.
At one point I pulled a producer aside and said I wanted to go home. I didn’t think I was cut out for reality TV and I felt completely over my head.
When I initially got to the “Are You the One?” house, which was located in Kauai, Hawaii, I was overwhelmed by the huge personalities of the other contestants. I thought I had a standout personality, but when I met everyone else, I immediately became more reserved.
There was no way I was going to fight for camera time ― that just wasn’t how I operate. Two days into filming I hadn’t yet had a real conversation with Ethan (who ended up being my perfect match and now my husband) and I was feeling really out of place. At one point I pulled a producer aside and said I wanted to go home. I didn’t think I was cut out for reality TV and I felt completely over my head.
I’ll never forget when another producer told me, “Watching you interact with everyone, it’s safe to say that you may be too normal for this.” Regardless, she talked me into giving it a few more days. That same night, I sat down with Ethan and we had our very first conversation. Something big and dramatic was going on with Shanley, another contestant, so the camera crew wasn’t hovering around Ethan and me, which probably made me feel more comfortable.
We talked about everything from our family values to our hobbies, which were remarkably similar. Honestly, we didn’t even have to say much ― the vibe and presence of Ethan was so warm and comforting that I immediately felt at home with him. I was surprised by that, but our almost instantaneous and seemingly deep connection gave me the motivation and confidence to want to ride out the rest of the show.
Beyond that conversation, there was a moment that didn’t make it on air when Ethan really took my breath away. While we were talking, we heard some of the other cast members getting ready to play spin the bottle. As fun as that sounded, I didn’t want my time alone with Ethan to be cut short. Before I knew what was happening, Ethan had a cheeky little smile on his face and he was leading me to the side of the house behind some bushes where he proceeded to give me the biggest kiss. It was what most people would refer to as a fairy tale kiss ― he spun me around, dipped me, and I swore the world was melting around me. He told me he took his chance right then and there because he didn’t want our first kiss to be during a stupid game of spin the bottle. I was officially smitten.
After that initial spark with Ethan, I felt more comfortable really being myself. Although committing to him might not have made for the most dramatic storyline, I know that it helped to lay a solid foundation for our future marriage and parenthood.
The funny thing about finding love on reality TV is that you’re getting to know people for who they are without any of the distractions that can come from prejudging them based on their social media reputation or their friends or sizing them up based on what kind of car they drive or job they have. Living in the “Are You the One?” house meant you could escape some of the superficial things that can play a big factor in making or breaking attraction in the “real world.”
The first time Ethan and I saw each other after the show was over and we’d left Hawaii, I was so nervous. It’s one thing to feel really connected to someone while you’re both isolated in some absurd alternate reality, but it’s quite another to take that connection and try to make it work in day-to-day life.
Still, as nervous as I was, Ethan was even more nervous. He had been driving an old beat-up car and was waiting tables to get through college. Did I care about any of that? Absolutely not! But it was not something he boasted about in Hawaii or even brought up. I think he thought the reality of his lifestyle would scare me away. But the exact opposite was true: It wasn’t until I visited Ethan in Colorado and saw him exactly as he was, living his life, that I actually fell in love with him.
Off-camera, Ethan was so much more himself ― confident, charming and so incredibly thoughtful. It was so refreshing getting to know each other better without cameras everywhere. I think things started getting really serious when he came out to visit me in Texas and I got sick with pneumonia. I stayed in bed and slept all day and Ethan just hung out in my living room by himself and took care of me until his flight home.
Although my parents were extremely hesitant about how quickly and seriously I was falling for my TV show boyfriend, the moment they met him they understood why he was my perfect match. I first introduced Ethan to my parents at a super authentic Chinese restaurant (one of my faves) and not only did he eat absolutely everything that was served, he loved it and proceeded to learn some Chinese phrases. My parents were definitely impressed. On top of that, Ethan and I were constantly finishing each other’s sentences during dinner. I had never been in a relationship that fit so perfectly and my parents could tell.
My friends also fell in love with Ethan the moment they met him. However, one thing that did concern my Texan friends was that he couldn’t two-step to save his life! We went to a country bar with one of my best girlfriends and when she took him on the floor for a spin, he not only stepped on her ― he fell on her. But other than the dancing, Ethan was perfect in my friend’s eyes.
Making a TV relationship work after the filming ends might be the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do. Fans might assume that because we were a ‘perfect match,’ our relationship has been nothing but a fairy tale. They couldn’t be more wrong.
Making a TV relationship work after the filming ends might be the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do. Fans might assume that because we were a “perfect match,” our relationship has been nothing but a fairy tale. They couldn’t be more wrong. When the filming was over, we weren’t supposed to be seen with each other until months later ― after the final episode aired ― to prevent any spoilers. But, of course, it would have been impossible to carry on a relationship without seeing each other for that long. So we snuck around to spend time together anyway.
As I noted earlier, it was during this time that we truly fell in love with each other. But what no one prepares you for is the time when your show starts airing, more and more people begin paying attention to you, and you can’t be public about your relationship. This is the period when many reality TV couples break up.
Fans were sending Ethan uninvited nudes on every social media platform and people were tweeting hateful things about us as an interracial couple. One of the most hurtful tweets was somewhere along the lines of “Golden boy Ethan deserves better ― go back to China to pick rice, Amber.” But that was only one of hundreds of awful comments that people posted in hopes of driving a wedge between us ― or just to be cruel. We had to be the bigger people and understand that being in a public relationship means our communication is that much more important.
Every time Ethan got an uninvited nude or sexy DM, he’d show me and we’d laugh together about it. Although being OK with that is something few normal relationships ever have to withstand, we had to put our jealousy aside and realise that we were not in a normal relationship. There was no guidebook for making a reality TV relationship work. We had to communicate, set our boundaries and figure it out on our own.
If you had asked me eight years ago if I thought I would ever be on a reality TV show and then get married to another contestant and have two children together, I would have laughed in your face. I never saw this coming, but I am so happy that I took the leap and embraced the opportunity.
Being on “Are You the One?” was definitely a wild experience. Not only was it a once-in-a-lifetime kind of fun, but I learned so much about myself and gained some real self-awareness about how I handled things under pressure ― while isolated with a bunch of strangers and having much of it broadcast to the world.
I’d definitely do reality TV again, although it would have to be the right kind of show. The moment Ethan and I became parents, we flipped a switch. Nurturing our family and raising strong children is now our priority, and that means we’d stay far away from any show that entertains viewers with catty drama (which is, honestly, most of them). However, if a more family-oriented opportunity were to present itself (like “Dancing With the Stars,” “The Amazing Race” or something on HGTV), I think we’d be up for it.
Finally, I never expected that reality TV would give us the crazy yet loving MTV family that we now have. No matter what kind of drama went down while in the “Are You the One?” house, being on such a unique adventure with these other people created a bond among us. Most of our cast is still on good terms with each other (minus the ones who had some ugly breakups), and I love that the show’s recent availability on Netflix, nearly seven years after Season 1 originally aired on MTV, has reunited a lot of us. Over the years, we’ve kept up mostly with Ryan, Adam, Shanley, Jessica and Wes. “Uncle Adam” lives in Austin and has come to our kids’ birthday parties and baby shower.
Eight seasons of “Are You the One?” later, we are the only “perfect match” from the series that is still in a solid and successful relationship.
Ultimately, even though being level-headed, understanding and patient isn’t the sexiest thing on TV, it is exactly what helped us become the only “perfect match” to survive whatever the world has thrown at us. It’s also provided a strong-as-hell foundation for us to build our amazing family on. Ethan and I believe that if we can stay together under the scrutiny of a very public relationship, there’s nothing we can’t do together.
Amber Lee Diamond is now married to Ethan, her “perfect match” from Season 1 of MTV’s “Are You the One?” They have two children. This article first appeared on HuffPost Personal
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