New reality dating series 'Love Undercover' turns international soccer stars into Average Joes to find love: 'You want to find someone who wants you for you'

What's more important: love or money?

Jamie O'Hara, a former soccer star from the United Kingdom, talks with a group of women.
Jamie O'Hara, a former soccer star from the United Kingdom, is one of several international athletes vying for love on a new reality dating show. (Casey Durkin/Peacock)

A new reality dating show is bringing the drama and excitement of international soccer stardom to the American dating scene — sort of.

In Love Undercover, premiering May 9 on Peacock, an elite group of international soccer players swap their glamorous lives for a chance at finding true love under the bright lights of Los Angeles.

There’s one twist: The American women they’re dating have no idea about their celebrity status at home.

The nine-episode series follows five Premier League stars — Jamie O’Hara and Lloyd Jones from the United Kingdom, Ryan Babel from the Netherlands and soccer royalty Sebastián Fassi and Olympic gold medalist Marco Fabián from Mexico — as they take on new identities.

The players are set up on dates with 18 unsuspecting women who believe they’re being filmed for a straightforward reality dating show. At the end of their Hollywood stay, the men must reveal their true selves before taking the women home to their respective countries.

While taking on a new identity could seem like a recipe for disaster when it comes to love, the athletes tell Yahoo Entertainment it was oddly freeing to date without the pressure of fame and fortune.

“Before becoming a famous footballer, dating was very reserved and low-key,” O’Hara explained. “Being thrust into the limelight changed that because it changes the kind of women who are attracted to you.”

Having played soccer for five different countries, Fassi said dating took a back seat so he could achieve his dreams. Being on the show was like a “second chance” at love.

“I can say now it was life-changing,” Fassi shared. “When you start your career, you put [soccer] first and you just kind of forget everything else. You’re starting to date and get to know someone, then it’s like, ‘Hey, I’m moving to the other side of the world to pursue my dream.’”

For Jones, dating undercover allowed him to rediscover who he was without the celebrity status: “Your mindset changes,” he said. “It’s not all about yourself. You want to find someone who wants you for you.”

For Babel, however, putting on a mask didn’t come without its challenges.

“I’ve been in disaster past relationships, so it was nice to be someone that no one knew,” he said. “But I realized very quickly, actually, that was even harder — and more of a disaster.”

Monetizing deception is nothing new for reality TV. In 2003, nearly 40 million people watched the season finale of Joe Millionaire, in which Evan Marriott disguised himself as a multimillionaire for 20 eligible women. In actuality, Marriott was a construction worker who made $19,000 a year. Its 2022 reboot, Joe Millionaire: For Richer or Poorer, welcomed two men — one rich, one poor — as the leads.

Shows like ABC’s Dating in the Dark (2009-10) saw contestants dating in complete darkness without seeing one another till the end. Similarly, the hit Netflix show Love Is Blind encourages participants to meet and get engaged without seeing each other until after the proposal.

Mexican soccer star Sebastián Fassi talks with two women.
Mexican soccer star Sebastián Fassi took on a new identity in an effort to find true love. (Casey Durkin/Peacock)

Although viewers seem to enjoy watching such deception play out on reality TV, dating coach Liv Talley told Yahoo Entertainment last year that it’s often at the expense of its participants.

“No, love is not blind and attraction matters,” she said about Love Is Blind. “Rushing them to the altar to either pressure them into a marriage or humiliate them is destructive to these singles.”

Kelsey Latimer, a licensed psychologist, said it’s important to remember that shows like these are an experiment first and foremost.

“We have to remember that the people who even apply to be on the show are likely 'romantics' in their personality style,” Latimer told Yahoo Entertainment. “They believe from the start this could work and that's powerful!”

Whether you love or hate the premise, O’Hara insists the show is an attempt to ask viewers what’s more important: love or money?

“Doing the show changed my outlook on dating,” he said. “It kind of opened up a little bit of my personality to be a bit more confident in the fact that you're not Jamie O'Hara the footballer. You are just Jamie O'Hara.”

Marco Fabián, left, and Jamie O'Hara during a scene on “Love Undercover.”
Marco Fabián and O'Hara during a scene on Love Undercover. (Casey Durkin/Peacock)

As for Babel, his experience helped him understand the real attributes he wants in a partner, and he hopes viewers learn from his journey on the show.

“All your life you're trying to figure out whether people like you for you, or for what you do,” he said. “When that’s totally stripped away, and you’re just another person in the room, it’s interesting to see how people change for the better or worse.”