Review: Married At First Sight Australia, Season 10

Married couple with a large knife

I generally don’t watch “reality TV”. I remember when British television launched Big Brother. It was baffling. It was as if the contestants were lab rats in a maze and we were watching them eat, sleep, and claw each other.

The firm behind Big Brother, Endemol, apparently has gone in for an even more torturous psychological offering, “Married At First Sight”. On a rainy weekend when little else seemed fresh, I watched it. 

The premise of the show is straightforward, a panel of three “experts” have supposedly screened thousands of applicants. They selected twelve couples to take part in a “unique social experiment”. Specifically, these couples have never met prior to their “wedding day” (in reality, a “commitment ceremony”: if the marriages were legally binding, this would likely create enormous difficulties).  The couples go away on honeymoon for an unspecified amount of time, though it is probably no more than a few days. 

They then spend the bulk of the experiment living in tiny flats in a hotel in central Sydney. Each flat has a kitchen, a small living space, and a bed.  In order to squeeze 36+ hours of television out of the experience, a film crew records nearly every argument, disagreement, and yes, sweet moment.  The few furtive glances of the crew make clear that they are burdened with gear and unlikely to be a comfortable presence.   

The three “experts” compel the couples to perform a number of activities, some harmless, such as hugging each other for a few minutes. Others, such as rating the other brides or grooms in order of attractiveness are far more disquieting. The programme also makes the couples attend a weekly dinner party together: arguments often break out during these events. Following this, the couples meet with the “experts” to review what happened during the week. The “experts” then ask each couple if they wish to stay or leave the experiment. In the case of a deadlock, the couple is required to remain. In situations of catastrophic breakdown, the unhappy participant may be permitted to depart regardless.

It is highly addictive. However, I suspect I would have been less inclined to watch it if it featured any other country. In many ways, the programme is an advertisement for Australia. It appears to be a land rich with gorgeous landscapes, beautiful beaches, dynamic cities, and fashionable hotels.  Had all the action been in a far more mundane location, it wouldn’t have much of its appeal.

As I watched it, however, it became clear that this programme capitalises on the audience’s highest aspirations and its lowest appetites. To want love, to be in love, is noble in and of itself. It transforms life from a matter of mere survival into a meaningful journey that is shared with another. Simultaneously, the programme feeds the same instinct that enlivened the mob at the Roman Colosseum: to watch people make each other bleed.

We are led to believe that the three “experts” personally selected the couples and know them well.  Given the sheer number of applications this seems unlikely.  It’s possible that there is a research team which selects three types of couple. They may try to find a percentage who will be a good match.  Some may be in a more grey area.  Finally, there may be some that are likely to explode immediately.  It is unclear how aware the participants are of this potential calculus.

There are clues to this set up being in place. One couple, Ollie and Tahnee, provided a striking example of a well-suited pair: the cameras frequently went to them for relief from the chaos.  One individual, Harrison, appears to be a potential sociopath: he seemed to enjoy turning couples against each other.  He was so remorseless and unwilling to accept blame for his actions I wondered if he was considering running for public office. He has all the ingredients for a successful political career in the Trump Era.  His partner, Bronte, often wore a glazed, possibly brainwashed expression.

Perhaps a more obvious clue arose when two new couples arrived after a couple of relationships exploded early in the process.  The telltale couple was Hugo and Tayla.  A one-to-one conversation that Tayla had with one of the “experts” said much: she seemed controlling and demanding to a deranged degree.  They paired her with Hugo, a softer, more accommodating character.  I believe the producers were creating a “villain” narrative by putting such a couple together: Tayla made it obvious early on that she found Hugo unattractive and uninteresting, she was rude and dismissive, and even compelled him to sleep on a bench during their “honeymoon”.  Had the “experts” been trying to change Tayla for the better, they probably would have paired her with someone she found physically irresistible but would not tolerate her behaviour.  

The motives of the participants are not always clear.  When they are, the programme is particularly devastating.  For example, Season 10 saw the introduction of the first participant of Indian heritage, a dentist named Sandy.  She became involved despite her parents’ strong reservations, and stated she was inexperienced in relationships.  I believe her; I also believed her when she expressed her deep desire to find her person. 

Sandy’s match was Dan, a Digital Marketing business owner. His stated profession made me wince. I have worked with the internet since 1995, and seen many “Digital Marketeers” come and go. It is often a fly by night business, particularly because technology evolves so quickly. A quick look around social media later on provided potential evidence that his idea of digital marketing isn’t terribly clever, indeed, it could be rather tawdry. He has been accused of buying (fake) Instagram followers. Dan did not strike me as the sort of person suited to Sandy’s needs. He was not. I don’t believe the producers of the programme cared. Indeed, Sandy’s intense pain given what she sacrificed probably made for better television in their eyes.

The programme also presents a rather unflattering portrait of Australian men: I lost count of the number of references to “drinks” and a “boys’ night out”.  One fellow, Adam, who said he was an entrepreneur “in the crypto space” (which should be an instant red flag) went out on one of these nights. He kissed a bride that wasn’t his, went back to his apartment and had sex with his bride. He then tried to convince the wronged husband that he was imagining things and did not tell his bride the truth until forced to do so.  It was only when the betrayal was completely obvious that the other men turned on him.  There was an almost unspoken “bro-code” among the husbands: this rule compelled them to keep bad behaviour to themselves.  Only rarely was this broken; it was notable when it was.

Positives were few and far between. However, the few real relationships which have grown out of this programme have been tested to destruction. If you are still in love with someone despite having endured the aforementioned conditions and compelled to provide a running commentary besides, it is entirely likely you have struck gold.  But like striking gold, this is vanishingly rare.

I believe this programme should be discontinued. Its tapestry contains a distinct and unmistakable thread of cruelty. The truly lonely who are so unfortunate to be chosen will likely be broken, the malevolent will thrive, and the cynical will profit. It is compelling, like watching any other disaster. But we shouldn’t confuse calamities with entertainment: if we do, we could become desensitised.  This programme is on its tenth season. It is alarming to think what wreckage it will need to make a success of an eleventh.

And a final word….

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