An romantic experiment inspired by a Netflix reality show is coming to Philadelphia. If you pick up a ticket, you’ll get to watch your fellow citymates go on blind dates in real time.

Of 250 people who applied, 20 were selected for the contest, called “Philly Is Blind.” Mostly in their 20s and 30s, the contestants “definitely encompass the Philly vibe,” said show creator Beth Cormack. They include a single mom, a Southern belle turned loyal Philly girl and 18 other lovelorn hopefuls.

Netflix premiered “Love Is Blind” earlier this year, pairing up contestants and sending them on IRL dates where they were separated by a wall. They couldn’t see what their counterpart looked like, just hear them. The ostensible goal? To figure out if people could fall in love sight unseen.

Producers probably had no idea how relevant their idea would become in the time of coronavirus quarantines.

The localized version premieres Sunday. It’s basically a few rounds of speed dating, held via Zoom for a week straight — with video turned off. The 20 Philadelphia contestants will narrow down their favorites day by day.

Like the Netflix show, there will be an audience. People can pay $8 to join the Facebook group where the dates and reality TV-style confessionals will be published.

“Obviously dating has been weird, because we’re supposed to socially distance,” said Cormack, who came up with the localized idea and runs her own marketing agency in Washington D.C. “It’s really cool to see people still put themselves out there.”

Finding your ‘quarantine bae’

When Cormack piloted the idea in her hometown, it went pretty well.

By the time the first D.C. “season” started a few weeks ago, there were 3,000 paying members in the Facebook group. Now she’s making a second season, which features queer contestants, and she’s expanding to cities like NYC, Boston, Baltimore, Denver and Philly.

She’s grateful the idea was a hit — because the coronavirus cut her restaurant/hospitality marketing biz by about 90%.

“I had to think quick on my feet,” Cormack said. “I love hosting events, building community and doing fun stuff for people, so how can I turn this into a virtual experience? I also host dating events, so this was kind of on brand for me.”

To be clear: Her virtual broadcast isn’t affiliated with the actual Netflix program, where the contestants are supposed to get married in the end.

Cormack’s version works like this: The show starts with 20 contestants, who all go on quick, 15-minute dates with each other on the first night. Then each contestant has to pick their top five dates.

The next night, Cormack and her partners match the contestants based on their mutual top fives, and they get 20-minute dates with each of them. The next night, it happens again with their top three on 45-minute dates. And then the third night, they pick their absolute favorite.

If contestants mutually choose each other as their favorite, then on the last night, they’re dropped into a Zoom call with each other — this time, with the video turned on. Will sparks fly when they can actually look at each other, albeit through a laptop screen? That’s the name of the game!

“That’s when they make the big decision, they pick their quarantine bae,” Cormack said. “No one knows if they’re really going to match or not.”

All the while, contestants record personal confessionals each night, discussing their dates on video to share with viewers.

Meanwhile, the audience will see different Philly is Blind content every night — like a meet-the-cast style video, contestant confessionals, footage from the dates and a tell-all with the entire cast.

Five days out, Cormack said so far 120 people have bought tickets and requested to join the Facebook group. She plans to start approving them later this week.

Want to watch? You can buy a ticket here.

Michaela Winberg is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She covers LGBTQ people and culture, public spaces, and transportation and mobility. She also sometimes produces radio and web features...