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Amber Lee Diamond: Reflections on Reality

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Influencer and Austin native Amber Lee Diamond chats about her life-changing experience on MTV’s Are You The One?

By Madelyn Geyer, Photo by Anton Komar

Though it contains the word “real,” reality television is anything but. This universally acknowledged truth does nothing to shrink the demand for new shows. We have MTV to thank for that. As it began to expand beyond music videos, MTV swung reality television into pop culture in 1992 with The Real World. Audiences were immediately intrigued by the raw, unrehearsed situations between these young people living together in a large house in a new city. Reality shows today cover every topic imaginable, but the most popular, of course, is love.

In 2013, MTV created Are You The One?, a dating show in which a group of men and women living in a large house (Are you sensing a theme?) are paired into algorithmic couples. Over the course of a few months, deprived of privacy, phones, books and contact with the outside world, each person must find their perfect match. Drama, broken hearts and broken bottles ensue. Austin native Amber Lee Diamond was a contestant on the first season and emerged victorious in more ways than one. Diamond reflects back on her Are You The One? journey, relationships, representation and what it means to her to be an Austin woman.

AW: Could you talk about the casting process?

AD: The casting agents actually reached out to us. There was nothing to audition for because we were the first season. I had never watched reality TV unless it was the Food Network. I wasn’t a drama junkie, and I was always the responsible one out of my friends. So everyone was shocked to hear that I was going to do reality TV. But as soon as I got there, after meeting all of the other personalities, I was immediately intimidated. I was living in this house with these strangers that I typically wouldn’t be friends with prior to the experience. And I was not about to fight for camera time or be extra catty.

I even tried to quit the show a couple of days in, but the producers talked me into staying for another day. That day is when I had my first conversation with my husband, Ethan. After I met him, I was at home and ready to rock the rest of the show.

AW: What was it like in the house?

AD: When it comes to reality TV, you have to capture a wide variety of personalities. I didn’t feel like I fit in because I’m a pretty low-drama person. I got along with pretty much everyone in the house. While other girls were literally fighting each other over boys or silly things, I just did not feel like I belonged. A lot of people think that reality TV is staged because there’s so much drama. I can only speak for Are You The One?, but it was not staged at all. I think anyone who’s spent time in isolation with strangers with no music, no books, no TV and a lot of alcohol, you’re bound to have drama and you’re bound to overreact.

AW: How did you stay true to yourself and navigate this strange environment with cameras and producers?

austin-woman-amber-lee-diamond
What are your some of your go-to places in Austin?
Although bit farther north, I love Lake Travis and the Hill Country. I actually went to Bob Wentz Park the other day and it was so beautiful. Growing up we always loved going to The Oasis too.

AD: We were on the first season, so it was really hard for us expectation-wise. Once we got to the house, we didn’t even know the premise of the show until they told us in front of cameras. It was just a really wild experience. I actually wish I had been a little bit more true to myself. When you’re in front of cameras, you start overthinking everything. You’re constantly thinking, “Are my parents going to see this? Everything is going to be aired, right?” Because of that, I was actually a little bit more reserved on my season than I am in real life. But with that, I was able to find my perfect match and learn a lot about myself through the process. Ethan and I are the only success story of the entire franchise. We became an instant fan favorite because we were so true to ourselves.

AW: Many relationships formed on reality TV don’t last. Why has yours lasted?

AD: I don’t have a glamorous or sexy answer for people. We worked really hard at our relationship. Now being an influencer for the last seven years since we did the show, we’ve kept a loyal following. I get a lot of messages [from]people asking how they can have a perfect relationship like ours, and I always want to be transparent and let people know that our relationship was extremely tough too. It wasn’t meet, fall in love, perfect match and everything’s fine. We worked really, really hard to make it work.

AW: Being on Are You the One?, you were a trailblazer for Asian-American representation. How has that impacted you?

AD: Growing up as a minority, most of my friends were not Asian. I found myself always wanting to be more white because it just seemed easier. My parents are immigrants from Taiwan, so my culture is different. It’s a lot of work for me as the first generation to live two different cultures. For example, I had to make a presentation to my parents in elementary school for them to allow me to watch the Super Bowl because they thought it was such a violent sport. I wanted to watch it so I could fit in with my friends. Going on the show, I had to deal with a lot of remarks when we were filming of, “Oh, you’re cast as the token Asian.”

I just shrugged it off. But through time, and especially after becoming a mom, I realized how important it is for me to embrace my culture and feel proud of who I am. I wish when I was younger someone had told me to be prouder of my culture. But it was going on the show and having people tell me they love seeing Asian representation on TV that wasn’t a caricature. I truly feel so grateful to be able to do that for people as I was able to stay true to myself and not let people pressure me to be a stereotype. It’s really nice that I’m able to build that community for a lot of people.

AW: You were born and raised in Austin. What does being an Austin woman mean to you?

AD: Being an Austin woman is being very compassionate and strong. The older I get, the more I realize that I was able to grow up in a bubble, but a good bubble. Austin has always been a bit more progressive, accepting and always supportive of small businesses and the arts. It wasn’t until college that I started meeting more people not from Austin. I realized that many people from other cities and states just didn’t seem as open-minded or progressive. Especially being a minority, I never really experienced a whole lot of racist comments growing up. But it wasn’t until college and going on the show and having people from all over the place tweeting at me that I realized there’s still a lot of people out there with heavy, racially stemmed hatred.

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