Everyone wishes for a best friend; or if you’re lucky, a group like the Fab 5 who will walk around complimenting every aspect of your being. “You’re gorgeous!” Jonathan Van Ness would shout at you from a distance, despite you clearly being at your ugliest. “You’re the best,” Karamo would beam to you, with a smile. The Fab 5 like to charm their Queer Eye subjects into oblivion, ensuring that no one walks away from a makeover experience without falling in love. For people who’ve never been surrounded by such seemingly infinite affirmation, this must feel unsettling at first, and then seductive.
Each season, a handful of subjects, including tragically-bearded men, develop a bond with the Fab 5. Each season, the Fab 5 disappear from their lives forever, never to be seen again. When five strangers acting as gay-BFF proxies take the time and energy to make you a hotter, suaver version of yourself, there is no other payback than to vow to love them forever. People want to be friends with Tan and Karamo and Bobby, maybe Antoni, and especially Jonathan. But they will never be friends outside of that moment, and isn’t it sad and nice. Whenever connections are made and gratitude is expressed (usually during an ending monologue), it makes me feel a little bad for them every time.
Being lovable helps when you’re trying to get people like Season 4's Brandonn to be vulnerable and open up to the idea of transformation. Brandonn is a former soldier who co-founded an organization that helps homeless veterans. Jonathan will soon remove the chin hair hiding layers of stress on Brandonn’s handsome face. But first, Brandonn has to experience the joy of Karamo providing him guidance under the vague guise of “culture.”
During a soul-to-soul with Karamo this season, Brandonn dreams out loud about extending their friendship beyond the moment. “I feel like a hundred pounds have been lifted off my shoulder,” Brandonn tells Karamo, who in his usual doting tone, responds with, “Yeah.” Brandonn: “Did we just become best friends?” Karamo nods and lies through his beautiful teeth: “Oh, for life.” What else do you say to someone you just met who tells you they want to be best friends? Here’s the face of someone who wants to be friends with someone asking to be friends.
Brandonn, you adorable baby. They are wrapping you in a cozy, emotional blankie, and then they will be gone.
He and Karamo follow up with a stupid handshake that’s actually sweet, and Karamo professes, “Okay, now we’re truly bonded for life.” They are bonded for life, as such an experience is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. But it’s in the same way summer camp friends are made: brief, intense interactions that seem eternal but exist only as blips, and both of you know it and yet promise to be best friends anyway. (I have never been to summer camp, but this is what I imagine from reading books.)
Of course, I’m mostly oversimplifying things. A friend in 2019, to some people, can be a person you meet once and develop an occasional textual relationship with or a colleague you engage with via Instagram Stories, never to speak in real life. The Fab 5 are the people you meet on vacation and then go home and follow each other on Facebook to acknowledge the shared experience.
John Stoner—the misguided dad with the awesome figure-skating daughter who calls him a man-child—describes his journey this season as the “best week ever, and tells the guys, “I hope to stay in touch somehow. You gotta check on me.” The Fab 5 all assure him, “We will,” and one of them mentions Instagram.
It’s obvious that friendship is at its most hypothetical on this show, mostly a way to acknowledge there was some deep, life-altering exchange that will continue in smaller or nonexistent form. It’s nice to see this camaraderie, even if it’s under a suspension of disbelief; it is scientifically impossible to reject the Fab 5 and their explosion of positivity. As Bobby Berk, the show’s under-appreciated home renovator, once told Variety, “For the most part within an hour we’re connecting. When we walk in we shower these guys with love. It’s really hard for a person to not accept that. It’s hard for them to not want to soak that in, especially because a lot of them don’t really get a lot of that.”
The Fab 5 say they keep in touch with some of their new friends to an extent. Karamo claimed he texts with Season 1's Cory, the police officer and Trump supporter whom Karamo described as a “lifelong friend” during the episode. Antoni said in the same 2018 interview with E! News, “I get on the regular charcuterie and cheese platter photos from our friend Neal. This is a guy who loved cooking and for a decade he lost that interest; he lost that spark.” Does that qualify as “friends”?
I supposed it’s something. A normal person sending a photo of their charcuterie and cheese platter might get scrolled past, but a charcuterie and cheese photo from Neal is news. They will never be friends, so it’s nice to have something to hold onto. I imagine there are some exchanges between the Fab 5 and their new Queer Eye friends post-makeover after the high wears off and the carriage becomes a pumpkin, and the Fab 5 become more so associates. I like to think I’m bonded for life with Karamo and Jonathan, too.