Millionaire Matchmaker: Was Patti Stanger's Show Real?

"The Millionaire Matchmaker" debuted on Bravo in 2008, following the exploits of titular matchmaker Patti Stanger as she fixed up her wealthy clients with their supposed soulmates. Over the course of eight seasons, the unscripted series generated a lot of viewers, but also a lot of controversy, particularly over how much reality the so-called reality show actually contained.

Of course, "The Millionaire Matchmaker" is far from the only reality show to be dogged by accusations of fakery. Comedian Dana Gould said it best when he joked, "You will never experience less reality than when you're watching a reality show." He's not wrong; While these shows may not technically be scripted, there has been plenty of evidence that they are often carefully manipulated to shape storylines, whip up drama, and keep viewers' eyes glued to the screen.

"The Millionaire Matchmaker" seemingly fits into that camp. Over the years, various tidbits of information have emerged, indicating that what viewers witnessed on the show may have been entertaining, but perhaps not as factual as they were led to believe.

Were Patti Stanger's matchmaking assistants actually actors?

When "The Millionaire Matchmaker" debuted on Bravo back in 2008, Patti Stanger was already running her successful business, the Millionaire's Club, which found potential romantic partners for clients whose net worth exceeded seven figures with the help of her assistants. But were those really Stanger's assistants, or actors hired to play them? That's not a question that Stanger has answered, but a glance at the IMDb profiles of her assistants throughout the show's run indicate that some of them had acting credits pre-dating their appearances on the show.

Destin Pfaff, Stanger's right-hand man until Season 5, has several acting credits under his belt, including acting, writing, and producing a 2007 film called "Porntourage." The same goes for fellow assistant, and Pfaff's real-life spouse, Rachel Federoff. Then there's Candace Smith — who served as Stanger's assistant in seven episodes of "The Millionaire Matchmaker" — who has numerous acting credits extending back to 2004, including in "Entourage," "Joey," and "Friday Night Lights," and after the show appeared in several TV series and the Netflix comedy, "The Wrong Missy." Meanwhile, Marisa Saks (one of Stanger's matchmakers during the seventh season), boasts screen credits including "Entourage," "All My Children," "Scary Movie 5," and many others. Those credits are certainly enough to raise suspicions questioning whether they were hired for their matchmaking skills, or whether "The Millionaire Matchmaker" was simply another acting role.

Were all the millionaires on the show really millionaires?

Just by looking at the name of the show, "The Millionaire Matchmaker," you would assume that all of the people who are looking for love connections have bank accounts amounting to at least $1 million. But apparently, that may not be the case. Podcaster David Yontef appeared as a contestant in a 2010 episode of "The Millionaire Matchmaker," during the series' fourth season. Interviewed by Guest of a Guest, Yontef claimed that Bravo didn't do any due diligence — such as checking bank statements or checking tax returns — to verify that a dater appearing on the show is actually a millionaire, but instead are deemed millionaires via the honor system. "I honestly think that if you portray yourself as wonderful and fabulous, and wealthy, I think you could get on this show even if you are completely not a millionaire," he said.

Meanwhile, Stanger herself has alluded to some vast differences between the clients who appeared on "The Millionaire Matchmaker" and those she works with through her company on a non-televised basis. "My clients would NEVER go on the show," she admitted in an interview with The Fashion Spot. The reason for that, Stanger explained, is because legitimately rich people whose difficulties in finding romance have driven them to utilize the services of a matchmaker don't really want to advertise that. "They're more discreet, living in places like Aspen and Monaco and want to remain private," Stanger said.

Did Stanger fake her own relationship?

While it's no secret that plenty of questions have arisen involving the veracity of "The Millionaire Matchmaker," it has been suspected that Patti Stanger not only faked elements of the show, but may have also fabricated her personal life.

Back in 2010, Stanger tweeted that she and her fiancé, Andy Friedman, were calling off their wedding. "I just ended my relationship with Andy," Stanger tweeted, claiming the split came down to their differing viewpoints about starting a family. "You have to agree on the non-negotiables," she stated. The couple, who met via a matchmaker, had reportedly been dating for six years before her breakup announcement. 

However, one of Stanger's former associates claimed to the National Enquirer in 2010 that the entire relationship was an "elaborate fraud" intended to drum up publicity for both her business and the TV show. "All the time I knew her, Patti never dated anyone," the anonymous former colleague told the outlet. As the ex-colleague pointed out, given that Stanger charges her well-heeled clientele big bucks to find an ideal partner, being single herself isn't exactly the best advertisement for her skills. "If she can't find a love of her own, it hurts her credibility. That's like hiring a personal trainer who's 100 pounds overweight!" the source added. "I think it's why Patti felt she needed to concoct this whole story about her and Andy."

Participant Jason Teich dissed Stanger's 'terrible' matchmaking skills

While some contestants alleged that various aspects of "The Millionaire Matchmaker" were staged — even Patti Stanger's witty comebacks were said to be written for her — former Season 4 contestant Jason Teich went a step further by claiming Stanger's matchmaking skills were also bogus. "I think she has no idea what she's talking about," Teich told NBC New York. "She set me up with somebody who wasn't for me, and it was a terrible match."

In addition, Teich claimed that he was inaccurately portrayed as drinking heavily on the show. That's even evident in the IMDb logline for the episode, titled "Brooklyn vs. Botox" — which described Teich as "a 30-year-old tough-talking, heavy-drinking Bro from Brooklyn who'd rather spend a night with his boys than look for the girl of his dreams." However, he insisted that what viewers saw on screen was the result of behind-the-scenes manipulation. "Producers fed me drinks and then Patti yelled at me for being an alcoholic," he told Page Six.

Stanger vehemently refuted Teich's recounting of events, claiming that the only booze he was guzzling was his own. "He brought his own beer to set and was drinking," Stanger told E! News (via Today), accusing Teich of making the whole thing up. "This is all lies. They're pissed they got on camera and they're not happy with what they saw."

Stacy Kessler's acting career flourished after bombing on Millionaire Matchmaker

To describe Stacy Kessler's experience on "The Millionaire Matchmaker" as a failure is an understatement; Kessler's first matchmaking experience went so poorly that she returned to try it again and ultimately made four appearances on the show during its fourth season.

Like others who were featured on the program, Kessler also claimed that not everything in the final edit was how it actually happened. However, she told interviewer Eliza Gale in 2013 that she figured that was simply par for the course in the world of reality shows. Asked if she felt that she was portrayed accurately on the show, she bluntly replied, "Not at all, but that's show business, particularly, reality television." Despite her on screen portrayal, Kessler — who was an actor brought onto the show by a casting agent — insisted that being part of "The Millionaire Matchmaker" had been worth it. "The show ratings definitely helped my career," she said. 

In fact, since her experience on the show, Kessler has racked up numerous screen credits in films and television series after her 2010 appearances, including the 2021 crime drama "Nightbirds," Netflix's "The Innocence Files," and many more. In fact, it was her background as an actor that prepared her for what to expect in reality TV. "Reality television sort of is a platform for setting up situations by pre-scripting, predicting reactions, and major post-production edit in order to create drama, create conflict, and evoke emotions," she told Bending Reality TV

Some of Stanger's clients were allegedly violent criminals

Not all the so-called millionaires looking for love on "The Millionaire Matchmaker" were fine, upstanding citizens. Take Michael Leslie Bernback, who appeared on the show in 2011. In 2015, he was arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting three women. He entered a guilty plea to the charges, which included forcible rape, rape including the use of drugs, and raping someone who was unconscious. Prosecutors eventually dropped the case in 2018; the reason prosecutors decided not to move forward was unclear, but Bernback's attorney claimed his client had been vindicated. "Moving forward, Mr. Bernback will attempt to regain his reputation and put this terrible ordeal behind him," the lawyer said in a statement to KCAL News.

Then there was John Bonavia. Weeks after Bernback's arrest, Bonavia — who was featured in a 2014 episode – was arrested for brutalizing a woman. He was given two felony charges, one of domestic violence with great bodily injury and another of making criminal threats. He was eventually convicted and sentenced to five years in prison.

According to Gabi Conti, who appeared on the show in 2013, cases such as these are indicative of how poorly "The Millionaire Matchmaker" vetted contestants. "It was a cattle call. I was found at a club in LA, other contestants were found through casting services," Conti told Fox News of how she wound up on the show. "They didn't do a background check to my knowledge."

If you or anyone you know may be the victim of sexual assault, or is dealing with domestic violence, contact the relevant resources below:

One purported millionaire was a con man charged with fraud

Alleged violence was not the only felonious characteristic displayed by former contestants on "The Millionaire Matchmaker." Michael Prozer was featured in the second season, purporting to be the CEO of a financial tech firm who claimed to be the South American equivalent to PayPal, and stated his net worth to be an impressive $400 million.

That wasn't actually true. Accusations later surfaced that Prozer had tricked a bank into giving him a $3 million loan, backed by collateral that didn't exist, obtained by hiring people to impersonate bank officials to verify that his account balance was more than $20 million. In 2011, he was hit with a federal indictment on fraud charges, claiming that Prozer took that loan and never paid it back. According to the Tampa Tribune, as reported by Forbes, Prozer was representing himself in the case. That fact led Federal Magistrate Elizabeth Jenkins remark, "Either you're the most unlucky person in the world or you don't have a good grip on reality or it's just unfortunate economic times."

He ultimately pled guilty of wire fraud and was sentenced to eight years in prison. During his sentencing, Prozer insisted he wasn't a bad guy. "I've done a lot of good things," Prozer said, reported Tampa Bay Online (via the Daily Mail). "This case makes it look like I'm a horrible person."

Did Millionaire Matchmaker deliberately make some clients look bad?

Enough reality show participants over the years have complained that they were made to look bad due to selective editing and manipulating storylines that it's kind of become an established fact. That was also apparently how it was done on "The Millionaire Matchmaker," according to a few people who appeared on the show during its run.

Speaking with Page Six in 2011, several contestants claimed that not only were they vilified on the show, but the way they were portrayed had resulted in real-world consequences for them after their episodes aired. Doug Kepanis, a divorce lawyer from Long Island, claimed that his business had slowed down due to the way he come across on the show. He also alleged that he was dumped from his role as TruTV's legal expert because the show made him appear to be sexist. "It's the busiest time of the year for divorces, and I haven't gotten any calls since my appearance," he griped. "I have a lot of female clients — it may have turned them away." 

Meanwhile, David Vroubel complained that Patti Stanger gave him the nickname "Creepy McCreepy" and, by his count, used that word to describe him eight times. "They backed a bus over me and then ran it over again," he told the publication. "She said she had a one-in-five success rate — come on, she can't even get married herself."

A doctor from the show had a strange dating past

Manhattan eye surgeon Dr. Emil Chynn alleged that "The Millionaire Matchmaker" deliberately portrayed him in a poor light when he appeared on the show in 2014. "She wanted me to argue with her on camera," Chynn told RadarOnline of Patti Stanger. "They wanted me to look bad. She set me up to fail!"

To be fair, Chynn had already demonstrated his ability to make himself look bad without any assistance from Stanger. Prior to being cast on the show, the New York Post reported in 2013 that Chynn was so desperate to get dates that he resorted to bribery, offering $100 to a woman who would go on a first date with him. If a woman returned for a second date, that would earn her a choice of either $200 or a free eyelash enhancer. The more dates, the bigger the bribes; a fifth date would result in $500 cash or free laser eye surgery (but only on one eye, reportedly valued at $2,000). However, Chynn's criteria were so high that he received few responses. "The yield is very low because I'm so picky," he explained to the publication.

Before that, back in 2010, Chynn posted an ad on Craigslist seeking a female assistant, who would receive a free place to live in exchange for walking on his back and finding him a girlfriend; if he wound up marrying someone he met via that assistant, he would pay her $10,000.

The Millionaire Matchmaker's bachelorette casting process seemed to be dicey

Were the women recruited to date Patti Stanger's clients on "The Millionaire Matchmaker" looking for love or television exposure? In an essay she wrote for Hello Giggles, comedian Gabi Conti recalled her own experience with the show, which began when she was approached at a Beverly Hills nightclub and asked if she was interested in appearing on "The Millionaire Matchmaker." She agreed to fill out an application and was then brought in for a brief photo shoot. Eventually, she was invited to meet Stanger, which didn't happen the way she had imagined. "I arrive on location where I am shoved into a van [with] a bunch of Hollywood types. Hair extensions, fake boobs and Botox galore. The van reeks of stuffy perfume, hairspray and desperation," Conti wrote. 

After her on-camera interrogation from Stanger, she was sent home, and came to realize the whole thing had been a setup — she had only been cast in order to be brutally rejected on-camera. "I was basically brought in to be like those rejects on 'American Idol.' You know the ones that think they can sing but really can't," she mused. "I am basically the William Hung of 'Millionaire Matchmaker.'"

Kenya Moore was enraged when her millionaire match got married

When it comes to debacles on "The Millionaire Matchmaker," it's tough to top what took place when Kenya Moore appeared on the show in 2015. Shortly after the episode — in which Patti Stanger matched her with a man named James Freeman — the "Real Housewives of Atlanta" star sparked rumors by posting a photo on social media of what appeared to be an engagement ring. She then posted a since-deleted Instagram message (via TheWrap) thanking Stanger.

However, Moore subsequently discovered some inconvenient news. "Unfortunately, I just learned today that the man I met and fell in love with from 'Millionaire Matchmaker' was married a week after the show aired," she wrote in another Instagram post, revealing she found out via social media.

Freeman's new wife, however, clapped back. She claimed that she and Freeman had met three months after he filmed the episode, alleging that Freeman and Moore only went on a few dates and had long since stopped communicating. She accused Moore of exaggerating the romance as a publicity stunt. "Kenya was humiliated," a source told OK! of Moore's apparent deception blowing up in her face. "She lashed out at both host Patti Stanger and 'Millionaire Matchmaker,' threatening to sue," the source said. "She was so embarrassed and wanted someone to blame, instead of admitting that she wasn't seeing James anymore and that she had faked their engagement. But Bravo told her to chill out."

Stanger's next matchmaking show was also accused of faking it

While "The Millionaire Matchmaker" was hit with allegations of fakery, that was also the case with Patti Stanger's near-identical follow-up show, "Million Dollar Matchmaker." Sonya Bright, who appeared in an episode of "Million Dollar Matchmaker," shared her experiences with InTouch. "The show is such a sham, and Patti is a fake," she posited.

Interviewed by RadarOnline, Bright said that she had signed a contract to appear on the show, but then met somebody and quickly fell in love. When it came time to film her episode, Bright was already in a committed relationship and informed producers she was no longer looking for love. "But they didn't care," she said. "They made me go on the show knowing I had a boyfriend who is my soon-to-be fiancé."

According to Bright, that was far from the only chicanery she encountered while shooting the episode. "There is nothing real about the show," she alleged. "Patty is fed lines, she doesn't even know what to say. They try to feed us lines. It was a pretty crappy experience." Bright also accused Stanger of using manipulative behavior on her in order to generate good reality TV. "Patti called me a w***e and a s*** and tried to use my father's death to provoke and emotional reaction from me," Bright told InTouch. "After spending time with her, I think she's unstable."

Stanger was reportedly a nightmare to work with

If there's a through-line that runs through the accounts of those who had bad experiences on "The Millionaire Matchmaker," it's that Patti Stanger tended to rub a lot of people the wrong way. "Patti's evil," declared Sonya Bright, who appeared with Stanger on her post-Bravo show, "Million Dollar Matchmaker," in an interview with InTouch. "She screams, yells, talks down to people and name-calls."

Beyond horror stories like that, Stanger was recorded having a temper tantrum while her stylist was showing her options for an upcoming appearance on "Today" with Joe Zee of Elle magazine. "This is Elle f***ing magazine! This is the big one!" Stanger shrieks at the stylist, via audio obtained by TMZ, and then offers advice on how to obtain measurements. "Count the f***ing measurement down to my f***ing knee!" she yelled.

In response to those who appeared on the show and criticized her for being rude, abrasive, obnoxious, or one of the many choice words used to describe her, Stanger clapped back. "They come on my show to get famous and brand themselves," she said, claiming to have no influence over how the show is edited. "It is not scripted. You are who you are," she told E! News (via Today).

Stanger's matchmaking track record isn't that impressive

After over 100 episodes of "The Millionaire Matchmaker," Patti Stanger's matchmaking credibility would seemingly be established. Yet the reality is far less impressive. In an analysis of what happened to the couples that emerged from the show, Bustle could only point to two success stories — one of which was a complete fluke. The first couple involved former NFL player Mitch Berger, who ultimately married his match, Bambi Lashel. The second featured Khristianne Uy, who had won NBC's culinary competition "The Taste," and was Stanger's first lesbian client on the show. While Uy didn't move forward with the woman Stanger had matched her with, she did reconnect with a woman she briefly spoke with at the mixer, with the two eventually moving in together. 

Meanwhile, Stanger's off-camera clients via her business, the Millionaire's Club, haven't always sung her praises. "Patti barely does any of the matching if any at all," one former client told HuffPost, claiming Stanger was so hands-off that she passed the actual matchmaking to others. Another woman who was set up with one of Stanger's clients — who said she dated until things went south — didn't even undergo an in-person interview. "They never even questioned his millionaire status," she alleged. "Her 'Millionaires Club' is totally bogus. As long as you can pay the steep fees you are good to go. They will set you up with as many girls as you want for that price."