Ukrainian Yara Zaya and Jovi Dufren, from Louisana, met in season eight.
Newlyweds on 90 Day Fiancé
Newlyweds on 90 Day Fiancé
Creator Matt Sharp, chief of Sharp Entertainment.
While fans of 90 Day Fiancé typically gather on social media to comment on which mixed-nationality couples they think have a future and which are likely to crash and burn, online conversations about the TLC reality series have been far more somber lately.
Ever since Russia invaded Ukraine, fans have taken to various platforms to fret about the families and friends of Ukrainian exfiancées such as Yara Dufren (née Zaya), who had a daughter with husband Jovi in 2020, and Natalie Mordovtseva, who appeared on the show in 2019 with Mike Youngquist (whom she married and divorced last year).
"90 Day Fiancé is one of the most diverse, multicultural shows on television," says series creator Matt Sharp, chief of Sharp Entertainment. "Over the last eight years, viewers have intimately gotten to know numerous Ukrainian love interests and their families. As a result, our audience has a personal connection to real people now suffering through this tragic invasion."
When he first pitched the series in 2013, Sharp was excited to share the idea with TLC president Howard Lee, a son of Chinese immigrants. The series follows Americans who fall in love with foreigners and bring them to the States on K1 visas. From the moment the fiancé touches down on U.S. soil, the couples have ninety days to marry before the visa expires. Meanwhile, the foreigners cope with culture shock, nosy parents, children from past relationships and the occasional ex who's out for blood. Lee committed on the spot.
"He appreciated that we wanted to tell real stories about Americans in a love space that was extreme," says Sharp, who also produces WE tv's Love After Lockup and Lifetime's Marrying Millions.
Several other networks had already passed. "There was a notion that people weren't interested in watching other cultures — that was reserved for PBS or National Geographic," Sharp recalls. "That assumption has been blown away," he adds, thanks to careful casting of couples with compelling stories and inherent conflicts.
The original 90 Day Fiancé draws more than 3 million viewers a week. Of its fourteen spinoffs, seven have topped 2 million viewers, including Happily Ever After, The Other Way and Before the 90 Days.
The war in Ukraine will likely generate even more interest in the franchise — and more social media commentary. "I'm always looking at Twitter to see how people react to certain couples," says Sharp, who often casts fan favorites in spinoffs. "Social media volume plays a huge role in who we choose."
It also shows that Americans care about more than romance. 90 Day Fiancé has heightened viewers' interest in the Ukrainian crisis and made it feel personal for them.
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine issue #3, 2022, under the title, "Wartime Reality."