Love Is Blind alum Abhishek "Shake" Chatterjee had a clear mindset going into House of Villains: "Expect the unexpected," he told Primetimer ahead of the October 12 premiere. With just one season of reality television under his belt, Shake is one of the more inexperienced cast members on E!'s new competition series, which sees 10 infamous antagonists go head-to-head in hopes of winning $200,000. But while Shake confesses to being "low on the totem pole" when compared to prolific baddies like Omarosa Manigault Newman, Jax Taylor, and Jonny Fairplay, he quickly adapted to the complex social dynamics within the house. "It ended up going from House of Villains to School of Villains," he says.
As villain origin stories go, Shake's is an interesting one. In Love Is Blind Season 2, the Chicago-based veterinarian hit it off with Deepti Vempati and proposed sight unseen. However, when they met outside the pods, Shake revealed he wasn't physically attracted to Deepti, who later claimed he body-shamed her during the course of their brief relationship. Deepti ended up leaving Shake at the altar, and at the reunion, she (and the rest of the cast, plus host Vanessa Lachey) accused him of speaking to women in an "extremely disrespectful" manner, as he defended his behavior and called his co-stars "fake as f*ck."
Shake freely admits he leaned into the villain role on the Netflix dating show, particularly when it came time to rehash the season. "I don't regret the reunion at all. I knew by then — I'm like, 'Alright, I see what you've done with me, the way you've made me look and everything. And you know what? I'm just going to call out all the bullsh*t that I see in the show,'" he says. "It wasn't the most eloquent way of going about it, but my back was up against the wall. We came to the reunion and all of the sudden, these people that I thought were my friends are coming at me, and they're letting all of their mistakes go unnoticed or un-talked about. So I'm like, 'If you're going to blast me like this, I'm just going to air some of your dirty laundry, too.' And I felt good about it."
Still, he believes he was misrepresented by producers. "The biggest thing is context. Love Is Blind, I sincerely feel, is an exploitative show," he insists. "It's a dating show — that's the background of it; the foreground is finding traits in people that they can take and manipulate and have their way with. That's kind of what happened to me."
Shake adds that "a lot of the nice things" he did over the course of filming were cut, which he found "disappointing." He continues, "I will say this: It made a hell of a show. So I can't go back and say it's the worst thing in the world. It was entertaining. Even though I knew I wasn't being accurately represented, I thought it was pretty hilarious. At least, a lot of it was."
In fact, it was Shake's desire to counter his Love Is Blind reputation that prompted him to join the cast of House of Villains. "My mindset was, 'I don't know how far I'm going to make it on this show. I at least want people to see a bit of a different side of me,'" he explains.
He sought to do the same with castmates familiar with his Netflix persona, like Flavor of Love's Tiffany "New York" Pollard. "[She] didn't hold back on her opinion of me, what she thought of me," Shake says. "I didn't mind that at all because I just feel honored to be included in this cast. When they say 10 of reality TV's biggest legends, I'm like, 'I don't know how I made it onto that list. I'm just happy to be here.' And I also knew spending time with these people, I would change their preconceived notion of me."
While many of his co-stars watched his relationship with Deepti implode on Netflix, Shake wasn't as well-versed in their exploits. "Admittedly, I'm not a big reality TV person, and I didn't recognize a lot of people outside the brand recognition. Johnny Bananas is a good example: I haven't actually seen his shows, but he's a household name," he tells Primetimer, adding that everyone in the cast is "a legend in their own right." Looking back, though, Shake acknowledges that he should have caught up on old episodes of Survivor and The Apprentice before entering the house: "I do wish I had some more familiarity because maybe it would've helped me in some way to understand how they work and things like that."
Shake's reality TV naivete proved difficult to overcome. Not only did Love Is Blind, with its emphasis on true love and honesty, leave him at a disadvantage among master manipulators like Omarosa and Jonny Fairplay, but his inexperience put "a target on [his] back" in the house. "Like, 'What does this guy bring to the table? He's a newcomer,'" he says of the other contestants' perception of him. "It was a battle of survival for me, more than anything else. Most of my time on the show is me hanging by a thread and just trying to survive to the next day."
Despite the obstacles — and his initial goal of presenting a different version of himself to viewers — Shake found success by embracing his dark side. "You can't be around this cast without learning some tricks of the trade," he insists. "You just can't play the game without getting your hands dirty and expect to make it in this house."
"There's definitely a villain inside of me, and he's alive and well, and the show kind of brought him out for the world to see," he adds. "So, I don't know how much of a redemption there's going to be for me, but at least it was fun."
House of Villains premieres Thursday, October 12 at 10:00 PM ET on E!. Join the discussion about the show 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.