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The Netflix Dating Show Universe Is Still in Desperate Need of a Capable Host

JoAnna Garcia Swisher proved to be the absolute wrong person to host The Ultimatum: Queer Love.
  • The Ultimatum: Queer Love host JoAnna Garcia Swisher (Photo: Netflix)
    The Ultimatum: Queer Love host JoAnna Garcia Swisher (Photo: Netflix)

    [Editor's Note: This post contains spoilers for The Ultimatum: Queer Love season finale and reunion.]

    When Netflix revealed that actor JoAnna Garcia Swisher would be taking over for Nick and Vannesa Lachey as host of The Ultimatum: Queer Love, the announcement was met with widespread excitement. The Lacheys have become synonymous with the Netflix dating universe, but in recent months, fans have called for their removal, largely due to their disastrous performance during the "live" Love Is Blind Season 4 reunion. With public approval for the Lacheys declining, it made perfect sense to introduce a fresh face — especially alongside the streamer's first queer dating show.

    But while the bar couldn't have been lower for Garcia Swisher, she, too, failed to meet the moment. As is the nature of The Ultimatum franchise, which requires about 10 hours of work from its host over the course of six weeks, Garcia Swisher had little to do until the reunion, but even then she remained a non-entity. In a disappointing turn of events, she engaged with the cast only on a surface level, and when real conflict emerged, she froze, leaving the participants to do her job themselves.

    Early on in the reunion, which filmed in Spring 2023 (about a year after production on the season wrapped), it became clear that the Sweet Magnolias star believed her role required asking scripted questions, and then getting out of the way. As the cast members offered relationship updates, she posed generic queries to each couple, asking "What happened?" and "How does that make you feel?" over and over again, rather than address the specifics of their arguments. The repetitive nature of these questions created the impression, whether true or not, that Garcia Swisher didn't watch the season in its entirety, giving the entire reunion an air of unprofessionalism.

    When Garcia Swisher did get into the nitty-gritty of the season, she looked uneasy, as when she awkwardly pivoted away from Lexi and Rae's "happy ending" to discuss "Fingergate," or Rae's sexual encounter with Vanessa. Here, though, her lack of follow-up questions — which would require deviating from the script — led to a huge missed opportunity. While she was right to invite Vanessa and the rest of the cast to weigh in on "Fingergate," Garcia Swisher allowed the incident to stand alone, rather than place it in the context of the other sexual relationships that unfolded on the show, specifically Xander and Yoly's. Considering how involved Yoly was in Lexi's interrogation of Vanessa, it would have been interesting to see her acknowledge her role in the conflict, or at the very least, be confronted with her insincerity.

    The "Fingergate" discussion was the first of many moments that deprived viewers of deeper insight about the season and its aftermath. Yoly and Mal revealed that they broke up shortly after getting engaged in the finale, but Garcia Swisher let their fight about Yoly's "wild as f*ck" on-screen relationship with Xander play out, uninterrupted, for minutes. Not once did she ask Xander for their perspective, or whether Xander and Yoly rekindled their relationship; in fact, it was only when Vanessa remarked that the two "did try" to date after the show that the subject was addressed. "What? You tried in the wild?" asked Garcia Swisher. "Well, I would love to know about that!"

    After insisting that "nothing" happened between her and Xander at Coachella, a claim even Garcia Swisher didn't seem to believe, Yoly went after Vanessa for attempting to make her look bad. "Was that your big reveal, Vanessa?" she said, her voice dripping with contempt. Once again, The Ultimatum host failed to link the dig to Yoly's season-long beef with Vanessa, and the opportunity to get at the heart of the feud — and to see whether anyone's feelings toward Vanessa changed after watching the show — passed by the group.

    Garcia Swisher was even more lost during the second half of the reunion, in which Mildred and Tiff recounted the series of events that led to their breakup. Tiff proposed in the finale, but upon arriving home, they reverted back to old habits; in an incredibly tense sequence, Mildred revealed she was arrested for throwing a pet gate at Tiff, whom she accused of "sneaking around" with other people. After many minutes of yelling, during which the host and other cast members shifted uncomfortably in their seats, Tiff walked off the set in tears.

    This would have been the time for Garcia Swisher to step up, Andy Cohen-style, and speak to Tiff in hopes of getting them to return. But that didn't happen: The host remained glued to her chair, wide-eyed with shock. It was Sam, Tiff's trial marriage partner, who went after Tiff and encouraged them to walk away from Mildred (and the reunion) for good. When Sam returned, Garcia Swisher asked Mildred about her "healing journey" and promptly moved on, as if everything that just happened — including the revelation of Mildred's arrest for assault — hardly mattered.

    But Garcia Swisher's biggest failing as The Ultimatum host wasn't her refusal to follow up or her passivity — it was her unfamiliarity with queer relationships. (During the choice ceremony, she famously admitted, "I don't know what a power bottom is.") Nowhere was this more apparent than in the closing minutes of the reunion, when she caught up with Sam and Aussie about their relationship and Aussie's breakthroughs about gender identity and sexuality. The latter was an important part of Aussie's journey over the course of the season, but Garcia Swisher, who is straight, didn't seem to have the vocabulary or the confidence to effectively engage with that emotional struggle. "Aussie, during the experience, your family really didn't know... where you–" she said, allowing her voice to trail off. Clearly out of her depth, she focused on the relationship itself, asking whether Aussie's family "know[s] about Sam" and the engagement. The answer was "no," though that has likely changed since the show's premiere.

    In a recent interview, executive producer Chris Coelen defended the decision to cast a straight, cisgender woman as The Ultimatum: Queer Love host. "I don't think that you have to be completely aligned, identity-wise with someone, to be able to empathize with them, to be able to care about them, to be able to ask them questions, to be able to relate to them," he said. "Ultimately, all of us together in this boat are human beings, figuring out the questions in our lives, trying to tell the stories of these amazing participants. I put Joanna in that category as well."

    Coelen is correct, to an extent: You don't need to be queer to empathize with this cast and moderate a discussion rehashing the highs and lows of the season. But it certainly helps if the person in the hosting chair is knowledgeable enough about this community to ask the right questions, and comfortable enough to respectfully press the participants on their answers. Garcia Swisher proved to be neither, and both The Ultimatum: Queer Love and the Netflix dating show universe are worse off for it.

    The Ultimatum: Queer Love is streaming in its entirety on Netflix. Join the discussion in our forums.

    Claire Spellberg Lustig is the Senior Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.

    TOPICS: The Ultimatum: Queer Love, Netflix, Love Is Blind, JoAnna Garcia Swisher, Nick Lachey, Vanessa Lachey, Vanessa Papa, Yoly Rojas