Committed to '90 Day Fiance'? Why TLC's reality show continues to romance viewers

Erin Jensen
The new season of "90 Day Fiancé" premiered Nov. 3. Tania and Syngin and among the new couples featured.

On "a boring summer day" a few months ago, Tatia Tate came across TLC's top-rated show "90 Day Fiancé" (Sundays, 8 EST/PST) in her Beaumont, Texas, home.  "I got sucked in," she says.

At first she was skeptical, assuming it was a reality show where couples were put together by the production team. Instead, the show tracks couples in which one partner is foreign-born and arrives in the U.S. on a 90-day visa that will force them to return home if they don't marry by the time it expires. The deadline creates pressure to forge a relationship fast. 

"I read the synopsis of the show, and I said, 'OK, let me just look at this one episode,' " she recalls. "It’s normally nothing I would ever watch."

But the self-described TV fanatic became addicted to seeing "what happened and how it ended and what the journey was." 

Tate "binge-watched every single thing I could on it," from spinoffs "90 Day Fiance: Before The 90 Days," which documents couples meeting in person for the first time, and "90 Day Fiance: Happily Ever After?" which follows partners featured on the original series post-wedding. (Older episodes of the series stream on Hulu).

Another series in the franchise, "90 Day Fiancé: The Other Way," tells the story of U.S. citizens leaving America for love.

Tate's fandom is not unique. Chrissy Teigen announced her own summer binge in an Aug. 26 tweet, telling followers her husband, musician John Legend, said “I do....not regret watching this.” 

"90-Day," which premiered in 2014, is the surging TLC's No. 2 series and biggest franchise – "Before," the most popular version, averages 3.4 million viewers – and president Howard Lee says he bought it  "on the spot." "It was just unbelievably real, and it had its own stakes and ticking clocks," he says. "I could understand what a finale of the series would be due to the premise ...  and either you are staying together or you don’t, and you go back to your foreign country."

Lee says fans celebrate the show's cast, stories and diversity, and are intrigued by the relationship highs and lows. 

With Season 7's pairings included, 40 couples have been part of the show, and TLC says the vast majority of couples featured on the show remain married. 

Tania and Syngin, introduced in last week's premiere, say the process produces pressure. Their story began in September 2017 when they met in South Africa.

Tania, 29, says settling in Colchester, Connecticut, isolated Syngin. "He’s here with no support or anything. I'm his only friend," she says. "I’m his only confidant. I’m his love ... So it feels overwhelming."

"It's so crazy," Syngin, 30, agrees. "Me and Tania went through a lot of paperwork. We waited a lot of time to be together, and for us to be able to stay together, you have to get married, or else you have to leave again. It's definitely a lot of pressure," he adds, "because who even knows if we’re even ready for marriage?" 

They applied for Syngin's K-1 Visa in August 2018 and later applied to be on the show. Syngin admits the cameras capturing the tense moments can be hard to handle.

"It's sometimes stressful when you’re having to talk about things you normally talk about in private and now you have cameras in your face," he says. "Somebody listening in. It feels weird."

Adapting to life in the U.S. has also proved difficult.

"I come from a very small town, and I used to go to school bare feet," Syngin says. "It used to be my life to see lots of wild animals just roaming around free and me just running around."

Tania chimes in, "Like Syngin, you gotta wear shoes in the grocery store."  

"Yeah, I didn’t even know that," he says. "I go in the grocery store without my shoes on and they deny me service and stuff. I’m like, 'What the (expletive) is wrong with you?' But, it’s just different. And it’s something that I’m not really used to."