Only two squares remained on Ellie Rader’s computer screen. In each Zoom window, a man looked at her with a curious gaze.
Rader, a 20-year-old UF advertising junior, said she knew her decision from the beginning. It was solidified when one of the competitors contending for her affection wrote her a poem mid-episode.
She quietly whispered her thoughts to her friends, who sat on her leather couch just outside of the camera’s line of vision and sent in her final response.
The winner was announced.
Rader was the bachelorette on the Sept. 21 edition of “Love or Money,” a Zoom-based dating game show started by Stephen Elia, a 21-year-old UF finance senior, in May. What began as a boredom-induced quarantine endeavor became a sensation among UF students, he said.
“I was definitely – no matter what – was going to do at least a few episodes,” Elia said. “But when it started, I wasn't sure whether I was going to continue doing it in the Fall or not.”
Elia, the founder and host of the show, streams hour-long episodes on Monday nights at 9. Each week, he finds seven bachelors or bachelorettes to compete for a date with a featured guest, or sometimes guests.
Not all of the contestants are competing for love, though. About half of the competitors are instead vying for a cash prize.
Elia said the money comes from the show’s generous donor: his wallet. As a Twitch affiliate, he is paid to upload content, so “Love or Money” has paid for itself.
Viewers are unaware of the contestant’s intentions until they are booted off the show by the featured guest at the end of the round or are crowned the winner of the episode.
Rader found out about the show when she received an Instagram follow request from the “Love or Money” page, she said.
She said she decided to take a chance and become a bachelorette.
“I genuinely felt like I was there with them just hanging out with a big group of friends,” she said. “It felt like a real game show.”
Even though it started as a project among friends, Love or Money is now being streamed by 250 strangers on average, with many watching in watch parties or groups, Elia said.
Elia said interacting with fellow students was an important part of his life that he lost in March due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
By late May, the boredom was all-consuming, Elia said. One day, he found himself scrolling through social media influencer’s videos on Twitch, a live-streaming platform commonly used by amateur and professional gamers.
One video caught his attention, he said.
“Love or Host,” streamed by Twitch user AustinShow, is a Zoom game show where multiple influencers speed date for a chance at romance.Elia decided to put his own twist on the idea.
Determined to see his idea come to fruition, he reached out to a friend and asked her to be on the show, he said. She agreed.
Within a week of Elia’s spark of creativity, the first episode was uploaded on YouTube.
Danielle LeVine, a 19-year-old UF marketing junior and the first person to hear Elia’s idea, said she expected the episode to be a one-time thing.
“I know he had trouble finding contestants at first,” she said. “Now, people are asking him to be on his show.”
Elia said his direct messages are flooded with women and men asking to compete on the show. A project that initially started as a dream for one seven-episode season on YouTube is now filling the void the “The Bachelor” hiatus left in students’ television guides.
From the beginning, Elia’s goal has been to bring people together during strange times and illicit laughter — whether it is among best friends or strangers.
“The show is definitely not that serious,” he said. “It's a lot about just having fun and making people laugh, so that feels good, and it definitely validates what I'm doing. And during the tough times that we're in, it's definitely helped me, and I’m happy it's helped other people.”