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Think Dating Is Hard? Alumna Tries ‘Swiping America’

New Max Streaming Show Features Four Thirty-Somethings Navigating Eight Cities in Search of Love

By Karen Shih ’09

four people sit on rock and raise glasses for a toast

Kesun Lee '08, second from right, celebrates a successful hike in Boulder, Colo.—one of 140 dates she and her three castmates went on as they filmed "Swiping America," a reality show available now on Max.

Photos by Greg Endries/Max

Maybe you’ve been sucked into watching the bed-swapping antics of the “Love Island” singles, or eagerly followed the tearful rose ceremonies of “The Bachelor” over the years. But if you’re looking for a feel-good reality series about love and friendship minus the over-the-top drama, a University of Maryland graduate’s new dating documentary could be the perfect breezy summer binge.

In “Swiping America,” an eight-part Max streaming series that airs its final two episodes on Thursday, Kesun Lee ’08 dates her way across the country, visiting places as varied as Miami, Santa Fe, N.M., and Seattle.

“I was ready for a really fun adventure,” said Lee. “I was so sick of the dating scene in New York.”

She filmed for three months in spring 2022, joining three fellow singles from the Big Apple—all initially strangers to each other—in traveling together to eight cities for 30-minute blind dates with locals. Rather than swiping for matches on dating apps, they let producers do the picking in this “rom-doc” (romantic documentary), a concept designed by creators and executive producers Stephen Warren and Johnnie Ingram.

“Kesun is a total catch and had us at hello,” they told The Baltimore Sun via email. “Her success, optimism, personality and eagerness to find a husband had us excited to be the ones to help her find him.”

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First dates are easy for Lee, a real estate agent who’s quick to laugh and loves to chat; she likens it to meeting new clients. She usually knows “within the first 15 seconds” if there’s chemistry. During filming, a select few came back for a second rendezvous, such as spending an afternoon on the beach or foraging wild mushrooms for dinner, as one castmate did in Asheville, N.C. “I thought it was the funniest thing I ever heard, but it totally worked,” Lee said. “Doing an activity on a date is smart, because you can see different scenarios.”

Kesun Lee smiles while looking at her phone

Discussing her criteria with producers, she mentioned only two dealbreakers: Her partner must have a job and can’t be a picky eater, because she’s a proud Korean American who is passionate about her traditions and dishes.

Lee’s traveled for love before. She trekked to Australia on a whim after graduating from UMD, where she studied philosophy and enjoyed Terps football tailgates, but only dabbled in dating. Down Under, she met a man and ended up staying there with him for four years.

When she returned to the U.S., she had other relationships, but never quite found the one. Her sister, who is “obsessed” with “The Bachelor,” “was always threatening to nominate me for the show,” Lee said—and she actually got a call from a producer at the long-running ABC show at the same time that she started interviewing for “Swiping America.”

“But the idea of 30 people competing for one person is a nightmare!” Lee said. “I would never do that.”

The Max series, featuring a racially diverse, queer-inclusive cast, takes a different approach. It delves into serious issues, including parenting a child with disabilities and rallying for trans rights in Austin, and is also a little raunchy—sex toys make a (comical) appearance in the first episode. It’s sweet as well: The four singles stop at a retirement community in Florida to seek advice from long-married couples.

Whether or not Lee found her future husband—she can’t spoil the ending, where she and her castmates each picked someone they dated to fly out to Hawaii for a final get-together—she treasures the lifelong connections she made.

“You don’t get to see genuine friendships forming on television,” she said. “The show is really about love, and the love between the four of us is my favorite part of it.”





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