Every Burning Question About 12 Dates of Christmas Answered

We broke down every detail about HBO Max's festive reality dating series, including how they cast the leads and where they found that stunning castle.

By Tierney Bricker Dec 10, 2020 6:00 PMTags

"It's Christmas on heat."

How it took until 2020 for a reality dating series centered around the most wonderful time of the year is beyond us. But HBO Max's 12 Dates of Christmas filled that void, focusing on three singles—Chad Savage, a 28-year-old straight man; Faith Fernandez, a 25-year-old straight woman; and Garrett Marcantel, a 29-year-old gay man—trying to find someone to bring home for the holidays. Oh, and they are doing it while living in a gorgeous castle and going on seasonally-appropriate dates straight out of a Hallmark Channel movie. 

Like whipped cream and chocolate shavings on your cocoa, 12 Dates of Christmas felt a little over-the-top and decadent, which is exactly what showrunner Sam Dean was going for when creating the whimsical world. 

"We're not the most serious show in the world," Dean explained to E! News. "We wanted to wink and nod to the audience and to not take ourselves or the experience so seriously because there is a sense of ridiculousness about it. There's so much Christmas." 

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But for fans of cheesy holiday rom-coms and lovers of seasonal peppermint mochas, it was the perfect amount. 

The eight-episode first season came to an end on Dec. 10, with—spoiler alert!—all three leads finding their own version of a happily ever after in the grand finale.

Faith and Anthony Assent professed their love for one another and she committed to moving across the country, while Garrett ended up happily single and more than ready to mingle. But it was Chad who delivered the biggest surprise of all when he proposed to Kate Steinberg.

As an early Christmas gift, we got Dean on the phone to answer all of our burning questions about 12 Dates of Christmas and give us an interesting tease about the upcoming reunion special, which will premiere on HBO Max on Thursday, Dec. 17.

When was it filmed?

Christmas came super early for the cast and crew as production took place during February of this year, wrapping just before the ongoing coronavirus pandemic halted filming on many series in March.

Where did it take place and where have I seen that castle before?

Schloss Leopoldskron, a historic palace-turned-hotel that is currently open, was the perfect setting to create the "really romantic, snow globe fantastical wonderland" atmosphere the production team was going for, said Dean. (It also happened to be one of the filming locations for The Sound of Music.)

"We spent a couple of months doing various locations scouts and we looked in various places around Austria and there were some real practical reasons why we didn't want to go to other places," she explained. "There's so many old buildings and castles...where they look so huge but everything is so small inside. When we went to Schloss Leopoldskron, it really ticked all of our boxes. It was beautiful, the landscape was gorgeous, it was practical, we really felt it did create the world we were trying to encapsulate."

Wait, whose voice was that as the sarcastic narrator?

That would be Insecure's Natasha Rothwell, who was the ultimate stand-in for viewers, snarking on the cheesiness of it all but also not being above falling, just a little, for the saccharine-sweet sappiness of it all.

"We explored so many kinds of voices internally without going out to anybody, but we just listened to so many different voices and analyzed and overthought it to the extreme," Dean said of their search. "When we landed on Natasha, it just seemed so perfect."

Why did they have three leads?

Unlike Hallmark Channel and Lifetime, who only introduced their first LGBTQ+ romances this year, 12 Dates wanted to "represent all types of people and be as diverse" as possible with their casting from the beginning.

"It's Christmas," Dean said. "It's a time of celebration, it's a time of love, so let's represent that."

And why Chad, Faith and Garrett?

"We loved their openness," Dean said of what drew production to their three stars. "We really looked for people we felt were really quite open-minded and also people we felt we could match and people would come in and enjoy their personalities and attributes and find them attractive."

But the most important quality they shared?

"They are kind people," Dean detailed. "We didn't go into it looking for people who were going to be really contentious or creating a negative atmosphere."

And aside from wanting to see sparks fly between the leads and their love interests, Dean was also looking for chemistry among the trio. "We wanted them to create a team together and have support between themselves." (Though Chad and Faith did get along a little too well at first, sharing a kiss early on before deciding to ultimately be friends.)

So how were their love interests cast?

After the three leads were selected, the 12 Dates of Christmas team set out to find people they felt had "compatibility or matched some compatibility at least on some points."

Feeling pressure as a producer to set the main trio up for success, Dean said, "We did thorough interviews and then we put together a really long, more psychological questionnaire that really looked at people's character, attributes, desires and dreams and attractions. Then we tried to position the cast that we felt ticked some compatibility point with each of our main cast members."

Was there a set line-up for each lead's suitors?

Dean explained they did have somewhat of a plan in advance when it came to the order in which suitors entered the castle, but the producers were also open to sending someone in if the moment felt right. "We had a loose structure...but sometimes that would change depending on if we felt someone was going to have more success than somebody else."

But the "most fun" part of the process for Dean and her producers was coming up with all of the unusual entrances for new suitors. (One crashed a date on a snowmobile, while another jumped out of a cake.)

"We still text each other about that, with other ideas, like, 'Oh we can do this next time,'" Dean said with a laugh. "Ideas were coming from everywhere. It was the one thing guaranteed to make the team laugh, have a break and smile."


Did the cast really get along that well?

At times, it felt as though 12 Dates of Christmas was really a group of friends who rented out a castle on Airbnb to celebrate the holidays together. Sure, they were technically there competing for the affection and attention of Chad, Faith and Garrett, but it never really felt like their main objective—in a good way.

And maybe it was the spirit of Christmas because Dean admitted the camaraderie on-set with the cast members almost felt "bizarre" and "surprised" her at times.

"I'd walk through and just see how happy everybody was," she said. It used to make me laugh so much because I'd walk through where anybody was filming and naturally you would always just hear, 'Merry Christmas!'"

Um, were they really expecting a couple to get engaged by the end of the season á la Chad and Kate?!

In a word: no. While Chad had expressed his strong feelings for Katie to Dean and her team "a lot" prior to getting down on one knee to offer up a vintage-style Ritani engagement ring, they "didn't know until the very last minute if he was going to do it. We knew there was a possibility."

While shows like Love Is Blind and Married at First Sight, both of which Dean has worked on, are completely centered around getting married, that wasn't the ultimate goal for 12 Dates.

"They knew ultimately the object was that they would choose one person to take home for the holidays and then to see if they thought there was a future together beyond Christmas," Dean explained of what the leads knew of the show's premise. 

Still, who can resist the magic of a proposal at Christmastime? "We were standing up screaming in the control room," Dean admitted.

But what about Garrett ultimately choosing no one?

Not every happy ending requires a proposal or even a relationship, with Dean pointing to Garrett's unexpected journey on the show as the perfect example of a different kind of love story.

Dean said the team was more than OK with Garrett's initial decision to not choose one suitor to bring home to Louisiana to meet his family in the penultimate episode. But she did confirm it was his idea to invite all of his love interests from the season to enjoy, in Garrett's words, a "merry gay Christmas." (Dominick chose not to make the trip.)

"It was really lovely," Dean said of the group's time with Garrett's mom. "I was there and it was really moving for us just being there and watching. There was so much love and celebration in the air. There was so much warmth...it was a really nice rom-com moment, I felt."

Will there be a reunion special?

Obviously and it's dropping on Dec. 17. HBO Max announced that RuPaul's Drag Race fan-favorite Shangela hosted the festive affair, which was filmed in early December.

In a press release, the streaming service promised Chad, Faith and Garrett will reunite with their love interests to untangle all of their Christmas drama, "from settling scores and revealing juicy behind-the-scenes stories to unmasking secret hookups and answering whether our couples stayed together…or said goodbye. With her trademark flair, humor and insight, Shangela stokes the Yule log fire."

As for what viewers will see go down when almost the entire cast came together for the first time, Dean teased, "There's definitely a few unexpected surprises...there is definitely a surprise to one of the leads."

12 Dates of Christmas is streaming on HBO Max and the reunion special will drop on Thursday, Dec. 17.

For everything you should be watching right now, don't miss BingE! Club hosted by Erin Lim on Snapchat!