To say reality juggernaut Married At First Sight Australia has outlasted most of the relationships forged on the show is something of an understatement.
Of the more than 80 couples matched since it was launched in 2015, less than 10% are still together.
“We have had success stories but relationships are unpredictable, particularly when you have two big personalities coming together under that intense scrutiny,” says Australian-based New Zealand psychologist John Aiken, who has been on the show since the beginning.
“It’s great for us to see the ones that have stayed together and decided to have kids because it shows you that (the experiment) can work.
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“However, I guess my focus, rather than on how many we get over the line, is on hoping that they all learn something. And if we get the fairy tale, that’s great as well.”
Based on a Danish series, couples selected by relationship experts Aiken, Mel Schilling and Alessandra Rampolla meet for the first time at the altar. The drama that happens next has kept millions of viewers in Australia, New Zealand and around the world glued to their televisions for almost a decade.
“I remember auditioning for the show back in 2014, thinking it might be one series and then it’d be over, but it’s just exploded and gone around the world,” says Aiken, on the eve of the launch of the series’ 10th season.
“For me, it’s just as fascinating now as it was back then. It’s since gone into over 100 countries so it’s really got a lot of people talking about relationships and I love that.”
And MAFS Australia definitely gets tongues wagging.
One of the most polarizing shows on television, it’s not unusual to read complaints in the media from contestants who feel they have been misrepresented. Meanwhile, social media goes crazy during the show’s 10-week run, with fans – and detractors – eager to have a say.
Former contestants have been abused in the street, received death threats online and, occasionally, needed psychiatric care.
However, none of that has done anything to reduce the number of people – generally more than 10,000 each season – hoping the show will help them find love.
Aiken promises this season, which features 10 new brides and grooms, will be just as explosive – possibly even more so – than its predecessors.
“The first wedding that you’re going to see featured was the biggest shock that we’ve ever had on the show,” he teases, adding he and his fellow experts were constantly surprised each week.
“We have a new twist to the show, which takes the couples into completely unknown territory plus the parents are back in person this year, which makes things much more tense and realistic as well.
“I think people are also going to be surprised at how hard the experts go at the couples this year because, after 10 seasons, we really have a role to play now, and that is to hold a mirror up to the contestants and their behavior and get them to change what they’re doing wrong.”
Aiken believes, for some participants, this will be the first time they have ever been held accountable for their behavior.
“They’re surrounded by people who say ‘yes’ to them or are intimidated by them or, when people have said something to them, then they’ve cut them out of their lives,” he says.
“But they can’t cut me out when they’ve got to look at me once a week and get my thoughts on what’s going on. It can make an impact and, if it doesn’t have any influence on them during the show, my hope is that maybe after the show, they sit down and they go, ‘You know what? I’m ready to hear that now and I’m going to do that differently’.”
Aiken is well aware that he is often seen as the villain – by the participants and viewers alike – but makes no apologies for his approach.
“I’m very blunt with my feedback. I’m not there to make friends. I have a very short period of time with the couples each week so I really have to hit them between the eyes with home truths,” he says.
“My role is very much to make an impact in a short, sharp way and this year, I really had to step it up even more, because they push back and they don’t want to admit their problem behaviors.
“For some, it’s the first time they’re actually hearing someone external to them saying, ‘That’s not going to work’ and I love being able to give them that sort of direct feedback.
“I don’t know what I’m going to say when I’m sitting in front of them. I just wait to hear what they tell me. And then I jump in and it’s exhilarating. It’s exciting.”
Married At First Sight Australia – Three, Waitangi Day