Drugs, Abuse, Imprisonment: A Secret ‘Love Is Blind’ Legal Battle Spills Out Into Public View (EXCLUSIVE)

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In November 2021, a “Love Is Blind” casting agent reached out to Renee Poche on Instagram to see if she would be interested in participating in the Netflix reality phenomenon that encourages romance between participants before they see one another other face to face. After passing a grueling interview process, the Texas veterinarian began filming in April 2022, joining the Season 5 cast of 15 men and 15 women in Los Angeles.

On her first night, production staff seized Poche’s phone, passport and driver’s license, she claims in legal filings, and kept her locked in her hotel room, unable to leave without a cast wrangler accompanying her. Poche wound up in a so-called showmance with Carter Wall, who landed a spot on the series despite being allegedly broke, jobless, unhoused, violent and addicted to amphetamines and alcohol — a stunning feat given the thorough vetting done by Delirium TV, the show’s production company. Poche says she was forced to spend long stretches of time alone with Wall, who she describes as abusive on and off camera.

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Once filming wrapped, Poche ended her relationship with Wall and made a few public remarks about her “Love Is Blind” nightmare. As a result, Delirium initiated private arbitration against Poche for purportedly violating her nondisclosure agreement. Behind the scenes, the company is seeking $4 million from a woman who earned a total of $8,000 from her appearances on the reality series.

“My experience on ‘Love is Blind’ was traumatic,” Poche tells Variety. “I felt like a prisoner and had no support when I let Delirium know that I didn’t feel safe. I tried to deal with these emotions over time and eventually felt like I needed to share what had happened. I felt it was only right to let others know the truth of what all of the castmates had to endure.”

Now, Poche is fighting back with the help of Hollywood power lawyers Bryan Freedman and Mark Geragos and has filed an explosive suit against Netflix and Delirium that details her ordeal both during production and the ensuing arbitration battle with the show’s producers. The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles superior court, is seeking to nullify Poche’s contract and is claiming intentional infliction of emotional distress along with violations of various California labor and civic codes.

Netflix and Delirium did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

“These so-called reality TV contracts are, in reality, illegal,” says Freedman. “They are designed for an illegal purpose and are void as a matter of law. We have hundreds of clients who are ready to assert their claims.”

The Poche suit is part of a much broader war being waged by Freedman and Geragos against the reality industry, which has long been criticized for being exploitative. In July, Bethenny Frankel enlisted the pair to fight for basic workplace protections enjoyed by those who work on scripted fare. One month later, Freedman and Geragos fired the opening salvo by sending a litigation hold notice to NBCUniversal that accused NBC of “a pattern and practice of grotesque and depraved mistreatment of the reality stars and crewmembers on whose account its coffers swell” and said a “day of reckoning” was afoot. Freedman and Geragos are now representing several hundred reality stars and crewmembers who have been subjected to everything from false imprisonment to sexual violence.

“At first I thought that these reality contracts were some sort of prank,” says Geragos, noting that he began to see the full scope after working with Frankel. “What Renee suffered and Bethenny exposed is not just rampant but part of a dirty industry secret. We fully expect thousands of claimants to come forward when they realize that these so-called contracts are not just illusory but also illegal.”

Poche’s complaint is unique and could have far-reaching implications given that she is the first person to challenge the legality of the binding provisions that are ubiquitous in the reality space and thus nullify her contract. In fact, most cannot afford to mount such a fight. But Delirium took the battle to Poche when it initiated arbitration, exposing her to extreme hardship.

Tran Dang, another Season 5 participant, is suing Delirium and Kinetic Content — but not Netflix — for sexual assault, false imprisonment and negligence. Unlike Poche’s complaint, however, Dang is not looking to break her contract, marking a key distinction.

Studios have privately wondered when someone would challenge these provisions. NBC has already publicly backed away from enforcing confidentiality clauses following the August litigation hold letter written by Freedman and Geragos, insisting that “they are not intended to prevent disclosure by cast and crew of unlawful acts in the workplace, and they have not been enforced in that manner.” In Poche’s case, Delirium was attempting to enforce an agreement, according to her complaint.

If Poche is successful and her contract is unenforceable, it could create chaos in the multibillion-dollar industry, with the studios vulnerable to an endless stream of claims.

The studios and streamers have long tried to shift the burden of responsibility to the production companies on any given project and claim that they are not the employer. By naming Netflix, Freedman and Geragos have served notice to every studio that they are gunning for them, too.

“Renee’s contract protects Delirium and Netflix from liability for future intentional misconduct and includes ruinous penalties in the millions of dollars for participants who dare to speak out about the unsafe working conditions on set,” Freedman adds. “It is, in sum, a license to wreak emotional and financial havoc all while profiting for an eternity. For years, the studios, production companies, and networks have wielded these contracts as both a sword and a shield, in a conspiracy to ensure silence from those who know the truth. This is exactly what Bethenny Frankel was referring to when she selflessly shined the light on these illegal practices.”

As for Poche, who was facing an insurmountable $4 million penalty for breach of contract, she was willing to roll the dice.

She adds: “I believe Delirium is trying to silence the abuse that occurs behind the cameras and ruin me for telling the truth.”

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