Updated: February 18, 2022 5:42 PM EST | Originally published: February 18, 2022 2:25 PM EST

Spoiler alert: this article discusses the first nine episodes of Love Is Blind season 2 in detail

It took two years of waiting out the pandemic, but Netflix’s most addictive, frustrating, and occasionally moving dating show finally returned this month for a second season. Although Love Is Blind season 2 wasn’t quite as compelling as the 2020 debut—which charmed viewers with the still-flourishing love that blossomed between Lauren Speed and Cameron Hamilton—it has still offered plenty to discuss. How come none of the less conventionally attractive singles made it out of the pods? How much manipulation did the producers have to do to make the Kyle-Shaina-Shayne love triangle a carbon copy of season 1’s Mark-Jessica-Barnett fiasco? Also, well, is Shayne OK? With the finale due to drop Feb. 25, a pair of TIME writers weigh in the season’s highlights (and low points) and predict who—if anyone—will say “I do.”

Love Is Blind. (L to R) Iyanna McNeely, Jarrette Jones in season 2 of Love Is Blind. Cr. Aarón Ortega/Netflix © 2022
AARÓN ORTEGA/NETFLIX

There were no Cameron-and-Lauren-style perfect couples this year, but who was the best or most compelling duo?

Judy Berman: Unlike the first season, which immediately got everyone I know hooked on Cameron and Lauren’s incredibly sweet though not uncomplicated relationship, season 2 had me rooting for different couples at different times. At first, I was into Danielle and Nick, who made such a fast and profound emotional connection. His patience with her insecurities and overthinking? Saintly. Then, after pegging Shayne as a player in the pods, I came around to his and Natalie’s goofy, opposites-attract romance. They seemed to have a genuinely fun time together, and the scenes where each meets the other’s family—and the two moms meet each other—had me tearing up.

But by episode 9, Danielle and Nick were bickering too much about stupid stuff, and Shayne’s emotional outbursts were making me doubt that he was ready to dive into a lifelong relationship so soon after his father’s death. So, going into the finale, I’m backing Jarrette and Iyanna. After a worrisome start, with Jarrette kinda-sorta proposing to Mallory first in the pods, they seem to have developed a nice, flirty rapport, and as far as I can tell the chemistry is there too. Plus, they just come off as two kind, regular people who are ready to settle down and build a life.

Eliana Dockterman: I was not compelled by any of the couples this season. That may be a fault of casting. The casts in first seasons of reality TV shows—when the contestants don’t yet quite know what’s in store for them or how to game the system—tend to be better than those in the second. But this also may be a quirk of COVID: I suspect the cameras didn’t have as much access to the couples this season. Again and again, we saw an argument we’re told occurred the night before rehashed onscreen for the benefit of the camera.

That also may explain why some of the behavior, as you allude to, Judy, was so inconsistent. I was also baffled by Shake and Deepti. Shake seemed immediately sexually attracted to Deepti when they saw one another for the first time. He quite literally grabbed her butt and held on for dear life. So his confession that he was not physically attracted to her mere days later did not track. (Nor did it track based on objective reality: She’s beautiful!) The relationships this season left me confused and cold. I hope that none of these couplings end in marriage.

Natalie Lee (far right) with her mom and mother-in-law-to-be in Love Is Blind
Netflix

Love Is Blind is an unusual reality show, in that it’s not really a competition, but it does have a set structure, with each season split into different stages: the pods, the resort vacation, cohabitation in the couples’ home city and finally the weddings. Did any one segment feel like a standout—in either a positive or a negative way?

ED: This will be a very particular regional quirk, but I grew up in Chicago, and their decision to shoot in the blandest locations possible in that gorgeous city drove me insane. So by default I would say the bits in Mexico were the most compelling.

JB: Eliana, I’ve only visited Chicago a handful of times, but even I could tell they were showing us a really generic version of the city. Still, I’m always most interested in the homecoming episodes, because they feel truest to—and least manipulative about—the challenges of combining two lives that might be very different. A lot of the issues that came up this time around, from religious and cultural differences to the wide range of relationships people had with their parents, really resonated in ways that the more structured “reality TV” segments did not.

ED: I agree the “meeting the parents” segments were the most emotionally compelling. I particularly loved Natalie’s parents. Her mother seemed to be one of the few parents on any reality show ever to blatantly acknowledge that marrying someone you’ve known for a few weeks is an utterly insane idea. Her father’s unwavering support gave us the briefest glimpse into this loving family dynamic. They seemed like real humans, not just characters.

Love Is Blind. (L to R) Danielle Ruhl, Nick Thomas in season 2 of Love Is Blind
Netflix

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The show got some criticism in its first season for failing to include singles who weren’t conventionally attractive. Did the second season succeed in broadening the range of shapes and sizes we got to see?

ED: Lol. No. There seemed to be a greater diversity in terms of size and looks in the pods. But yet again, it was conventionally attractive, skinny couples that emerged. I’m honestly confused about how that could be statistically possible, so I am calling malarkey on the producers.

Another blind spot that stood out to me this season was sexual orientation. I realize that casting gay or bisexual contestants on the show might complicate the logistics of pod dates, but reality dating shows are so straight, that I wish Love Is Blind would try to be more inclusive.

JB: Agreed on both points. It would be cool to see the show figure out how to do a same-sex couples season, or a sexually fluid season, like MTV’s Are You the One? did so well (by which I mean so messily) a few years back. Love Is Blind can feel oppressively traditional at times, and I think having singles who defy sexual and gender binaries—but, I guess, still want to get married—would shake things up a bit.

And when it comes to appearance, I have to assume a lot went on in the pods that never made it into episodes. We saw some of the men asking women loaded questions about fitness, so clearly the producers allowed that. But we didn’t see what happened if the women who weren’t thin said so. That makes me inclined to assume the worst: that love is not, in fact, blind, even in the pods, and that singles who went on the show hoping to make a connection without having to pass some bar of conventional attractiveness got passed over. What I can’t decide is whether I think the producers’ choice not to show any of these interactions was ultimately for the best. I don’t want to see anyone get humiliated just for existing in their body, but I actually think the rejections would be more embarrassing for the people who reveal themselves to be superficial.

Abhishek Chatterjee, Deepti Vempati in season 2 of Love Is Blind
Netflix

Prediction time: Who will get married? Who won’t? And who will leave whom at the altar?

JB: With the exception of Jarrette and Iyanna, I’m not sure any of these couples should wind up together. That being said, I would really love to see the chemistry kick in at the last minute for Shake and Deepti. I found his dithering extremely frustrating, but when he explained that it wasn’t about her looks so much as the fact that their shared background made him feel like she was a member of his family, I kind of got it. When you’re part of a small cultural minority (I’m Jewish), you can get so used to dating people who aren’t like you that it can be an adjustment to see someone who is in a romantic way. Still: if he breaks her heart, I will spit nails.

The episode 9 cliffhanger teased Nick rejecting Danielle so hard, I actually think he will say “I do” in the end. But something has always seemed precarious about Mallory and Sal; not even the show’s editors seem invested in them. And I’ve been certain Shayne and Natalie aren’t getting married since we saw both of them, separately, confirm that they had already decided to go through with it. I’m thinking she’s the one who says “I don’t.”

ED: I agree Jarrette and Iyanna seem the most stable and genuinely into each other, despite Jarrette’s initial indecisiveness. Nick and Danielle absolutely should not get married—all they do is fight—but probably will for the fake-out reasons you cited, Judy.

I don’t know what to make of Mallory and Sal. The show has thrown them several curveballs—the whole silver vs. gold ring situation, Mallory’s sister disapproving of the marriage, and the specter of a girlfriend Sal may or may not have had when he was cast on the show. Bizarrely, the producers dropped those storylines quickly. (We never did really resolve the question of whether Sal is actually single.) Mal and Sal don’t fight much, which is maybe a sign of apathy. Or maybe a sign they are a good fit. It’s hard to tell. As you observed, Judy, they don’t get much screen time. Still, I could see them unexpectedly committing at the altar.

I hope Deepti says no to Shake. She deserves somebody who actually appreciates how cool she is.

And I’m betting that Shayne and Natalie will end up together. Given that Shayne acted like a big ol’ baby and threw a fit about not being able to hit a baseball at his bachelor party, I wish Natalie the best of luck with dealing with all of that.

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Write to Eliana Dockterman at eliana.dockterman@time.com.

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