We spoke to the reality dating show star about coping with online hate, being in the spotlight, and queer representation
BY ELLA GAUCI, IMAGE BY NETFLIX
Imagine going on a reality TV show because your partner has issued you an ultimatum – either you get married or you break up. Fast forward a year and a half, and all of a sudden your entire relationship is being watched and dissected online, people are sending you hate comments, and you’re part of the year’s strangest controversy known as #FingerGate.
Vanessa Papa doesn’t need to imagine it, because it happened to her. Love her or hate her, Vanessa got the internet heated when Netflix’s queer dating show Ultimatum: Queer Love hit our screens.
However, a year and a half after the show was filmed, Vanessa joined my zoom call with a warm smile. So, what was life like after Ultimatum: Queer Love?
I was such a huge fan of the show so this feels slightly surreal that we’re chatting now. I feel like I watched three months of your life! When you went on the show did you expect it to become so popular?
No! Going onto the show we had no idea what it was even going to be called – it was such a new show at the time. There was no expectation as to how big it would be because we truly didn’t know much about it. We learnt what was going on as we were filming!
After the first episodes were released, you received quite a lot of hate online. When you watched the edit, were you annoyed at the way you’d been portrayed?
I have a very vivid memory that happened during filming – and I kept a very detailed journal – so watching back and seeing how conversations were placed and where certain sentences were put was really frustrating. But I knew that was the name of the game. I was aware that was what I signed up for, so I had to accept it. It was pretty hard to watch back because I wanted to defend myself.
When the show finished filming, you were left in this limbo until it was released. What was that like?
The period between filming ending and the show coming out was definitely one of the weirdest in my life. The show didn’t even have a name until six months after we stopped filming. You’re not even supposed to tell anyone in your life that you even filmed this show. But I had gone through this massive break up with someone who everyone in my life considered to be my future wife, and I couldn’t explain to them fully what happened. It felt like everyone interaction I had with someone I was lying, because you have to keep this thing a secret. As someone who is very honest, that was really hard for me. I felt a lot of guilt during that time keeping things hidden.
You filmed the show so long ago that it must have been a shock to get all this attention online when it was finally released. What was it like to be thrown into the spotlight?
Nothing can prepare you for your first reality show! I wasn’t expecting as much hate as I got. When my cast mates chose to perpetuate that on their social media, that is what fuelled it. I think that was the hardest thing to accept. There shouldn’t be that much bad blood there. I’ve left everyone alone, and it’s been years. That was the ultimate frustration. But yet again, that is the name of the game.
I’ve seen that you and Tiff are good friends now. Did that happen on the show or afterwards?
My friendship with Tiff started after the show. During the show, Tiff – and I’m sure they will admit this too – got caught up in the hatred of me. But it took Tiff being removed from the show and also watching it back to realise what was going on. About a month after we had stopped filming, Tiff had reached out to me and apologised which I really appreciated. We’ve stayed in touch, and we see each other whenever we can.
The show created a great conversation about queer relationships which we haven’t seen before on reality TV shows. Why do you think that the representation in Queer Love was so impactful for audiences?
On the show you have these five couples and you have all these dynamics that show the complexities of our relationships and the depth of them. I think that is so important. It’s not just the stereotypical, easy U-haul lesbian for everyone. No, we have shit that we’re dealing with. We’re humans just like everyone else. Queer love is just as authentic and deep and messy as any love.
In the minds of most heterosexual people, they only see these TV versions or perfect social media couples of two gay girls. It looks so idolised and easy. It almost makes queer relationships feel not as deep. I know that [Queer Love] was messy – and sometimes trashy – but it showed the complexities of our relationships. Everyone has shit to work through. Every relationship between two people who are trying to love each other is hard.
What were the main things you learnt about yourself after the experience?
I learned that I’m very adaptable and that came in handy. It was a hard experience to survive. I went in with someone who I thought had my back, and that was ripped away so quickly. It was hard to live through that on its own, let alone being filmed.
What’s next for you?
I used to think that I wanted to do acting, but the attention and scrutiny that has come with the show has made me realise that it’s not something I want in my life. I’ve always lived a very chaotic life – I like to travel a lot. I just like to be my happiest. I have no idea what’s next on the agenda, but I’m just looking to be happy.
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