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UMBCisBlind is an Instagram-based dating show. Photo courtesy of @umbcisblind.

UMBC Is Blind helps students find romance amidst quarantine

Like most university students, University of Maryland, Baltimore County seniors Samar Behdin and Brian Woronowicz are trapped in their respective homes due to COVID-19 social distancing restrictions. Craving a release from all the tension circulating around the world, they consulted over the phone about how they might spread some happiness to the student body. Finally, an idea sparked: They would create UMBC’s first-ever online dating show, UMBC Is Blind.

The two of them laugh when recalling their conversation. “I think we were kinda just saying that we’re sad it seems like our last semester of being able to interact with people from UMBC was stolen away from us,” Woronowicz said.

“And just bringing joy to people in a time where everyone is all by themselves and bringing some sort of camaraderie among UMBC students,” Behdin said.

UMBC Is Blind is an Instagram-based dating show modeled after the hit Netflix dating show, “Love is Blind.” In both shows, contestants go on ‘dates’ but neither person can see their selected date for the night; only the voices of the contestants can be heard. The goal is to foster an emotional connection without physical attraction and create a long-lasting relationship.

In the UMBC dating show, contestants were asked to submit an application and an introductory video to the Instagram account through a Google Form in the bio. An equal number of men and women were chosen by Behdin and Woronowicz for their personalities and how well they diversified the cast in terms of class year, major and background. Woronowicz hopes to broaden the dating pool to include more gender-neutral contestants, but so far, no gender-neutral students have applied. 

For Season 1, running from April 13 to April 30, 18 candidates ranging from serious and soft-spoken to outgoing and charismatic managed to make their way into the first round.

These 18 contestants had a week filled with two 30-minute dates held over Zoom every night. Each contestant sent in videos before and after each date, revealing their hopes for the date and how they felt after it.

Behdin, unfamiliar with Zoom, found herself floundering as she and Woronowicz tried to establish a good method for these romantic dates: “The first two nights were really difficult. Brian and I would call each other and be like ‘Oh no, this didn’t go well at all.’” 

The unfamiliarity also created uncomfortable gaps in conversations for some contestants. Aniya Martin, one of the contestants on the show, said that “some of [her] worst moments were with other people when it just got really awkward and it was silent for an extended period of time.

On the more technical side of the process, Woronowicz explained how he handles most of the editing for the episodes. His first task is to listen to all the Zoom dates for each night, along with the pre-date and post-date videos. All of this totals over 45 hours of content for him to sift through.

“I enlisted some help from my little brother,” he admitted.

Selecting the content to be included in each episode proved to be surprisingly difficult. Paying attention to all of the heartfelt, funny and truly connected moments of the date is only part of the challenge. He also has producer concerns, such as:  “If I was a viewer, what would be interesting to me? What would entertain me? But also keeping in mind that if I were someone who participated, what would I be okay with having being shown?”

If he is not sure how a contestant will react to some information being public, he contacts them to ask.

Once the entirety of an episode has been edited, Woronowicz uploads the episode onto the Instagram account, @umbcisblind, using IGTV. While only 977 people currently follow the account, the episodes have reached a view count upwards of 3,000 — about one-fifth of the student population at UMBC.

Behdin acknowledged the uncertainty of the matchmaking process but hopes that “… at least a few couples come out of it and, if not, people gain some new friends and meet some new people.”

“I feel pretty good about the show,” Martin said. “I had no regrets with my decision. I thought some of the other contestants were funny and would make out to be cool friends, but I think my instinct led me to the right person for my personality. No regrets at all!”

According to its creators, the future of UMBC Is Blind looks bright. “We’re hoping to, after the reunion episode, do a Season 2 because a lot of people didn’t know about the show before when we had applications the first time but now they’re following along and they’re messaging us about hoping to be on Season 2,” said Behdin.

Simply put, Behdin said, “I love playing matchmaker.”