From the moment Married At First Sight made its debut back in 2015, an unspoken agreement has existed between the makers and watchers of the show.
MAFS, which airs on Channel 9 (Nine is the owner of this masthead), could position itself as a different type of dating show, led by a team of experts, and we would wink and nod, aware this was Just Another Dating Program.
It could bill itself as a “social experiment”, and we would agree, knowing it’s an experiment, in the same way dropping a Mentos into a bottle of Coke is an experiment. It’s juvenile, explosive, and unashamedly fun.
We were prepared to play along, provided the show stuck to reality TV’s golden rules: deliver happy endings and chaos in equal measure.
For the most part, MAFS has done a decent job of making it feel like they’re getting that balance right, even if the relationship stats paint a different picture. Across the show’s nine seasons, 83 couples have participated in the “experiment”, and only five are still together. That hasn’t stopped audiences from continuing to flock to the show, however, with this season’s premiere attracting 1.29 million – nearly as many viewers as reality competitors Survivor and Australian Idol combined.
But six episodes into the current season and the claims that MAFS is “a love phenomenon” seem somewhat questionable. Compatibility is at the core of the show’s format, with experts John Aiken, Mel Schilling and Alessandra Rampolla used to painstakingly match up couples. However, this season it appears that couples are being curated based on their potential for fireworks, not the good kind.
This season’s most talked about match is Jesse Burford, 30, and Claire Nomarhas, 31, a couple whose initial spark was extinguished by Burford’s considerable list of “icks”. Among the dealbreakers he shared with the experts before being matched were “star sign chicks” and crystal enthusiasts.
Jesse and Claire’s mismatched marriage has raised eyebrows.
Unsurprisingly, Nomarhas is big into star signs and an avid collector of crystals, so much so that she presented her new groom with a crystal hidden in her bra on their wedding night. Putting aside the validity of Burford’s dealbreakers – and he has copped significant criticism on social media for them – their match-up seems counterintuitive to happily ever after.
The same goes for Adam Seed, 35, and Janelle Han, 28. Han, the daughter of Singaporean-Chinese immigrants, values a stable career, telling producers, “In Asian culture, your career is part of your identity.”
Han detailed that previous relationships have broken down due to partners who lacked drive. So, when she was paired up with Seed, an online businessman who works in the crypto space (he also has plans for a podcast), she was less than impressed.
Again it’s not about who is right or wrong, Han is allowed to prioritise stability, and Seed is allowed to be a CryptoBro, but you have to question the intention behind the pairing. Sure, as the experts will tell us, finding true love requires a level of openness. But where is the line when it comes to toying with people’s emotions and seriously juicy TV?
To be fair, some couples seem well-matched, with the season’s two youngest pairings, Lyndall Grace and Cameron Woods (both 27), and Tahnee Cook, 27 and Ollie Skelton, 26, appearing to build a genuine connection.
Over the years, the show has slowly upped the drama and been met with stronger ratings and greater brand awareness.
Tahnee Cook, 27 and Ollie Skelton, 26 are one of this season’s more successful pairings.
The infamous dinner parties were introduced in season two, while seasons five and six were rocked by cheating and partner-swapping scandals. They remain the highest rating seasons of the show, with an average consolidated audience of 1.33 and 1.43 million viewers respectively, according to OzTam data.
Meanwhile, season six, which featured the controversial partner swap between Sam Ball and Ines Basic, helped take MAFS global. During its season broadcast on Channel 4 in the UK, the show reached an average consolidated audience of 1.4 million viewers. It was the top-ranked series on All 4, Channel 4’s on-demand service, every week during its run.
We’ve also had the addition of Confessions Week, the Photo Ranking challenge and the Honesty Box, all elements that are framed as learning experiences for the couple but also happen to make for scandalous viewing.
This season will see the MAFS format tweaked once more with the introduction of a partner-swapping challenge. Should this turn out to be true, it will undoubtedly make for gripping viewing, the kind of fireworks that have become the program’s bread and butter.
Ines Basic’s affair with participant Sam Ball helped catapult Married At First Sight to global success, with audiences in the UK embracing the format.Credit:Nine
But the problem with fireworks is that they only last so long before they fizzle, and the further Married At First Sight drifts away from its original intentions, the higher the chance of a burnout.
The reality TV landscape is littered with once-infallible shows that overdosed on drama and went from untouchable to unwatchable (see also: The Bachelor and My Kitchen Rules).
As it stands, Australia remains wedded to MAFS, but if the marriage is to last maybe the show requires growth, evolution and just a little more love.
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