Dr. Claire Spain-Rémy and her husband, Claude Rémy, spent six weeks in the English countryside last year, but couldn't tell friends and family where they were.
"I said we were on a mission," Dr. Spain-Rémy told TODAY — and she wasn't wrong. The mission? To guide their youngest daughter, Nicole Rémy, as she courted 16 suitors in Regency-era costume, and tried to meet her match.
"The Courtship," a "Bridgerton"-inspired dating show that premiered on NBC, differs from other dating shows for a more significant reason than the costumes and the manor.
Whereas most leads are isolated in their romantic decision-making, Rémy, 26 was flanked by her "court," a group of the people who know her best. As she sorted through suitors, she could consult with her parents; her older sister, Danie Baker; and her best friend, Tessa Cleary.
Baker and Dr. Spain-Rémy both entered "The Courtship" with a vision of the man they would like to see Nicole end up with one day. “I was looking for somebody who would absolutely adore her,” Dr. Spain-Rémy says. Baker was looking for someone “down to be down,” who was "willing to change and grow." They also wanted a man "there for the right reasons,” code for on reality TV to find love — not garner a following on social media.
Did Dr. Spain-Rémy's mission to help her daughter find such a man succeed? New episodes of "The Courtship," airing on Sundays on NBC, will answer that question for us. For now, TODAY caught up with Dr. Spain-Rémy and Baker to learn what it was like to be on a dating show.
'We finally came around'
Dr. Spain-Rémy never expected to be on reality TV — let alone a dating show. A former military doctor, Spain-Rémy now works as an obstetrician/gynecologist in Lakewood, Washington.
The first (and second) time Rémy approached her about coming on "The Courtship," Dr. Spain-Rémy said no. "I told her, 'I can't do this.' I really value my private life," Dr. Spain-Rémy recalls.
Dr. Spain-Rémy was also skeptical about the idea of falling in love in six weeks. The premise ran counter to everything she had taught her children about taking a measured approach to relationships. "I worried about whether she would get to know the person well enough to make a good decision," she says.
"She’s just been such a gem her whole life, there was no way that we could say no."
Dr. Claire Spain-Rémy
But the premise of the show was contingent on the Rémy family's presence. If Dr. Spain-Rémy and her husband didn't agree to join her, then Rémy couldn't be the lead.
"We finally came around. She's just been such a gem her whole life, there was no way that we could say no. We said, 'We're going to go there and support you,'" Dr. Spain-Rémy says.
Dr. Spain-Rémy and her husband ended filming with a new appreciation for their daughter’s character. “She was so strong, and kept such a calm demeanor and was so gracious with people under all of that stress. We were very proud,” she says.
An opportunity to see a 'Black princess' on TV
When evaluating whether to go on the show, the Rémy family was also aware of the opportunity "The Courtship" presented in terms of representation. "The Courtship" chose a Black woman as the lead for the first season. In comparison, it took 13 seasons for "The Bachelorette" to find its first Black lead in Rachel Lindsay.
"People who are watching will see, 'Here is a Black princess.' You can't even put it into words how wonderful it is, that she was the one that was chosen," Baker says.
Dr. Spain-Rémy thought of "The Courtship" as a showcase for her family, too. "To have a show that focuses on a family of color and shows them in a positive light, as as connected, loving, and supportive family, is so important. It's important for everyone to see the kind of love you can have in your family," she says.
Going full Regency
Ahead of their time on “The Courtship,” Baker and Dr. Spain-Rémy had seen nearly every English period piece, from “Bridgerton” to “Sense and Sensibility.” In fact, Baker watched "Victoria" on the way ride to the York castle to get ready. "I'm a total period geek," Dr. Spain-Rémy says.
It’s one thing to watch Jane Austen adaptations — and another thing to live one. Suffice to say, getting into costume was a process. Baker says up to four people would help the women prepare for filming. “Every layer of the clothing was Regency style,” she says, including the slip, the corset, the dress, the shoes, the bows, the capes, the shawls, the umbrellas. “You name it, we were in it.”
The clothing, according to Dr. Spain-Rémy, was essential to creating a tone of respectability throughout the cast, for both the court and the suitors. “You feel like a different person. You stood taller. You lengthened your neck,” Dr. Spain-Rémy says. "You had a different air to yourself. A different carriage."
Their down time at the manor was also spent with Lizzy Bennet-approved activities, like strolling the grounds, dining outside, and stargazing. "The stars were gorgeous. We'd always look for the Big Dipper. It was always a vibe," Baker says.
Asking the tough questions
Prior to going on the dating show, the software engineer didn't introduce “suitors” to her family until the relationship had become serious. That changed with "The Courtship," when Rémy's family had access to information about all the potential matches.
Dr. Spain-Rémy, for one, was pleased by the newly hands-on approach to Rémy love life. “I was happy. These guys have had medical screens, psychological screenings, and background checks. We knew that no loonies were going to get through,” Dr. Spain-Rémy jokes.
But were the suitors happy? Well, at first, they were surprised: They had no idea Rémy's family would be joining them. "When they introduced us the first night, you should have seen the jaws that dropped," Dr. Spain-Rémy recalls. "You shouldn't take pleasure in people being nervous, but it was kind of fun watching some guys up their game."
“You shouldn’t take pleasure in people being nervous, but it was kind of fun watching some guys up their game.”
Dr. Claire Spain-Rémy
Upon seeing Rémy's family, some suitors quickly revised their strategy. “You could constantly see them trying to make contact with my husband. I think that they were trying to get extra points,” Dr. Spain-Rémy says, without giving away whether their plans worked. “They even let us know this was how they were going to Nicole’s heart.”
As the process unfolded, Remy's court took an active role in screening the suitors. “I was in the business of finding her the right guys as well as getting rid of the wrong ones,” Baker says.
To do so, Baker asked "the tough questions:" The suitor's five-year plans; whether they wanted kids; their life goals. "I also always asked if there were skeletons in their closets, or any girlfriends we didn't know about," Dr. Spain-Rémy adds.
Though Rémy was making the final calls, her court would inform her about what they had witnessed in their own interactions with suitors. "A couple times, I did let her know things about people who I thought really weren't going to be a good fit for her," Dr. Spain-Rémy says.
"I was in the business of finding her the right guys as well as getting rid of the wrong ones."Danie Baker
The court turned the elimination ceremonies into a private game, comparing Rémy decisions with their own predictions. Usually, though, they weren't surprised by who Rémy chose to send home.
"We compared notes after the elimination balls to see how many we got right. We were pretty well aligned with the decisions she made all along," Dr. Spain-Rémy says.
"You just want to jump in and help her"
A week before leaving for England, Dr. Spain-Rémy says she and her family made a pact about how they would approach the show. “This wasn’t about us. We wanted to make this the best experience for Nicole, and keep anything that was a stressor to ourselves,” Dr. Spain-Rémy says.
While on the series, Dr. Spain-Rémy and her husband had to strike a balance between support and, well, nosiness. They resisted the urge to interfere or interrogate.
Still, looking on as Rémy make decisions between her growing bonds, Dr. Spain-Rémy's commitment to remaining on the sidelines became difficult. She says it was "tough" to watch her daughter having a hard time, emotionally.
"As a mother, that really hurts you. You just wanted to jump in and help her. But she's a grown woman. And you know, you can't just run in and fix things. So we really had to stay on the sideline a bit and only intervene when she needed us to where she asked us to, and it was hard. It was really hard," Dr. Spain-Rémy says.
With that in mind, Baker emphasizes that the connections Rémy formed with the suitors were "100% real," and reminiscent of past relationships she had.
Similarly, Baker and the rest of the court also formed real relationships with the suitors. "Many of the guys like have texted me or FaceTime to me to say, 'Are you so excited for episode?' The bonds are very real," she says.
These bonds meant the elimination ceremonies could be painful for the court, too. "We never knew exactly who was going to go home. So you sitting there can saying, 'I hope he stays, I hope he stays.' There were a couple of times where someone that we really liked went home. It was very emotional. And we were even a little teary-eyed about it,” Dr. Spain-Rémy says.
Turning away from the camera
Dr. Spain-Rémy and her husband were more involved with their daughter's dating process than usual — which sometimes led to moments of discomfort. At one point in the pilot, Dr. Spain-Rémy turns bright red while reading a letter from a suitor that mentioned "sexual tension."
"I almost couldn't read what was on (the letter) out loud. So embarrassing," she recalls.
That scene hinted at the tension to come as Rémy explored her physical connections with the suitors — occasionally in her parents' line of sight. "I remember at one of the events, we were watching Nicole kissing some guys. My husband got so upset, I had to literally pull them off to the side and make him turn around," Dr. Spain-Rémy says.
Now, with the show airing, Dr. Spain-Rémy and her husband are privy to seeing eve they had been shielded from (see: even more kissing).
"Looking at some of the previews, I'm nervous about what's to come. But she's a grown woman. I have to know that regardless of what happens that she respects herself, and that she will do the right thing," Dr. Spain-Rémy says, acknowledging the importance of physical compatibility in a relationship — including her own. "Certainly, we were young. We kissed!"A bonding experience
Whether Rémy found romantic love on "The Courtship" or not remains to be seen — but she definitely grew closer with her family. The six weeks spent filming "The Courtship" was a bonding experience for the Rémy's.
The self-described "close-knit family" lives within 15 minutes of each other in Washington. Still, "The Courtship" was the first time the family had spent that much consecutive time together in over a decade. "(The show) reminded us how much we enjoy each other’s company," Dr. Spain-Rémy says.
In retrospect, given their closeness, the family's presence on the show makes complete sense. "It would be weird if whoever she chose didn't like us. We do everything together," Baker says.