Better yet, how do you explain that you won’t see your partner before actually saying “yes” to a marriage proposal, you’ll only have 28 days with them before you say “I do,” and you’re quitting your job to pursue an influencer career?
It’s a unique struggle that Love Is Blind Season 2 contestants Deepti Vempati and Natalie Lee know all too well—and one they couldn’t avoid. Broadcasting your dating life to Netflix’s 232 million-plus subscribers may be daunting for some, but for creators, it yields lucrative results.
Lee and Vempati, who sat down with Fortune in June to reveal what isn’t talked about on the show: How they balanced their normal 9-to-5s with instant stardom. Neither ended up saying “I do” at the altar, but their season’s finale was just the beginning of profitable careers as viral personalities. “As influencers after the show has aired, we both made over a half a million dollars each each,” Vempati said.
Lee, 31, has long been outspoken about her career, documenting her days in the Ernst & Young Chicago office on social media and revealing her yearly $234,000 compensation to her 700,000-plus Instagram followers. While she kept her job while filming Love Is Blind and after the season was released to Netflix, she said she recently decided to resign and pursue content creation full time.
Vempati, a 32-year-old former data analyst, also left her career that netted a yearly salary of “just over $100,000.” After the show aired, Vempati said she quickly realized how difficult it was balancing both content creation and her corporate job, acknowledging she wasn’t “showing up at 100% in both.”
“I decided to take a risk and to quit my corporate job,” Vempati explained. “Honestly, I think it was the best move, because without taking risks, you are not going to advance in life.”
Balancing office culture and fame
Securing a spot on a viral Netflix show is one thing, but convincing your boss to approve the time off is another.
Vempati revealed that she didn’t tell her boss the reason for taking her accumulated PTO days because she didn’t think it would have gone over well. “I was just like, ‘hey, I’m gonna be taking a long vacation,’” she explained. “Most of the filming of the second half of [the season], I literally just worked throughout it. So I didn’t have to tell them.”
Lee, on the other hand, said she was “honest” with her boss about filming a reality show, which she generalized as a “serious marriage show,” but didn’t explicitly tell her coworkers she was using her PTO to participate in Love is Blind.
“They were like ‘you don’t really seem like the type to do reality T.V.,’” Lee said. “They didn’t know it was Love Is Blind and then it came out and they’re like ‘you did the show on Netflix? We thought it was a documentary.’”
Both contestants said they didn’t expect their coworkers to watch the show despite Love Is Blind’s blockbuster debut in 2020 with 30 million viewers just one month after its premiere. “We thought nobody watched,” Lee explained, recalling a colleague telling her that their company’s global CEO said he was “rooting for her.”
But while the instant fame afforded Lee plenty of office icebreakers, she said her appearance on the show impacted her professionally, recalling meetings with clients and coworkers who recognized her from the pods.
“I’d be doing a presentation or something and they’re like, ‘so what was it like in those pods?” Lee said. “I’m like what? I thought we’re talking about this Excel sheet that I spent 18 hours on.”
“[Becoming a content creator] just never occurred to me because we are such normal people,” she added. But despite the support, both stars individually realized they could make a lot more as full-time influencers.
Life ‘Out of the Pods‘
The newly crowned influencers are making the most out of their fame, partnering together on a weekly podcast called Out of the Pods promising insider information and behind-the-scenes perspectives from the world of reality T.V. One episode breaks down how the pair has leveraged their influx of followers after their whirlwind romances and transitioned to careers in content creation.
Lee said she researched brand deals struck by Season 1 cast members by examining their Instagram profiles. “They were all doing ads and monetizing somehow,” Lee said on the podcast. “That’s when I started thinking, how do I monetize off of this experience?”
But participating on the show brought “emotional turmoil” for both cast members and didn’t yield a high payoff to actually film. According to Vempati, Love Is Blind pays its contestants a stipend every week, but after taxes, “it really doesn’t amount to much at all.”
Maintaining a relevant presence online after the show, however, can yield high results if contestants capitalize on their personalities with brand deals. Lee said 95% of her current income now stems from brand deals and said she currently earns three times her previous corporate salary as a content creator.
“It kind of blows my mind coming from the corporate space and getting into this content creation-slash-influencer world, the amount of money that you can make off of brands,” she said.
Likewise, Vempati has secured partnerships with Fenty Beauty, Stitch Fix, Taskrabbit, Eventbrite, and LAY’s potato chips, and told her podcast followers that she was paid an eye-popping $60,000 for just one Instagram Reel.
However, balancing big payoffs while maintaining authenticity in her personal brand is a responsibility she takes seriously. Vempati said it’s been “quite a journey” agreeing to the right brands instead of any brand that submits an offer. The podcaster said she’s more selective of partnerships to focus on brands she actually uses and believes in, and takes a hands-on approach by participating in strategy meetings. “I want to show up organically to my followers,” she explained.
Lee, on the other hand, revealed her biggest brand deal to date netted her a cool $50,000, but declined to reveal the company behind the gig. She’s had several business partnerships, including SoFi, Fidelity Investments, Burt’s Bees, Lulu’s, and more. Lee says she’s “extremely frugal” with her earnings, and splits up her savings into a 401k, backdoor Roth IRA, broad index funds, and more.
“What I’ve made from influencing content creation, I’ve saved all of it,” Lee said. “I haven’t spent a penny.”
Her career as an influencer may have a time limit, though, as she plans to return to the corporate world in the next few years. “I just can’t see myself doing it forever and sharing my life; I’m a pretty private person,” she said. “I know that it’s a short-term thing, but it’s really fun and from a financial standpoint, it’s worth it.”
While it’s an “uncomfortable position” to not be able to predict the future of her content creation career, Vempati said she plans to ride the Netflix fame longer, and has become an author and TEDx speaker since leaving the show.
“I have no idea how long this content creation or influencer life is going to last,” she said. “But as long as I show up authentically, create good content for brands, I feel like I can keep it going.”