Strangers marrying on TV? I think it's fair to say I'm hooked

A friend of mine recently told me that he thought Married At First Sight Australia was incredible television. He has a flair for overstatement, so when I asked him to qualify that, he conceded that it wasn’t as good as The Sopranos, but still: amazing.

I could fill this column with what I think of comparing MAFSA (the acronym of choice among fans) to The Sopranos, but the conviction with which he recommended the show made me decide to give it a whirl. The premise, like the British and US versions, is very much as it says on the tin: couples meet each other for the first time on their wedding day. They have been paired up by experts, who are definitely not a front for a set of producers putting people together for shits and giggles. After the wedding, they begin an experiment to see how that marriage pans out over the next two months. In the Australian version, all the couples meet for dinner once a week with the experts watching proceedings from another room; they also go to a “commitment ceremony” every week, where each person can vote to stay or leave. But a couple can only leave if they both vote to do so.

When the show first started, I have to confess to being absolutely gripped. The early shows were full of people reacting to first seeing each other at their weddings; some of their initial interactions were so awkward that my wife and I had to pause the show to allow our buttocks to unclench. We became invested in the couples, and it was great “discussion telly”.

It was a few episodes in that the cracks started to show. One of the wives decided that she hated her husband, but really liked one of the other men. She started messaging him on Instagram, and they began meeting up behind their partners’ backs. At one of the dinners, the two of them went off to have a flirty chat, with none of the other diners questioning where they might have got to. When they returned, the experts behaved as if they hadn’t seen any of the footage from the other room. Is it a secret camera that only we can see? Or were the experts so traumatised by what they saw that they couldn’t accept it happened? This is never explained.

When the cheaty couple eventually slept together, we watched them wake up the next morning. How? Was a camera crew in with them the whole night waiting for them to wake? At the next commitment ceremony, they decided to stay in the “experiment”, as they wanted to keep seeing each other. Again: what? Are we all expected to forget that meeting up and contacting each other off camera is a very real option? I think I would have actually preferred it if the show had announced that they had tracking chips implanted in them, or something. Anything to help me suspend my disbelief.

The other night we were watching (yes, despite all this, we still press play) and something so obviously produced happened that my wife paused the show and said, “OK, I don’t think I can watch this any more – they’re treating the viewers like idiots.” Moments later she unpaused it and we watched the rest of the episode. I think it’s fair to say we’re hooked.

MAFSA is a truly compelling show if you are willing to accept that some elements have been juiced up, and others are less realistic than a Bollywood fight scene. I know that many of you will have lowered your opinion of me for watching this stuff; for others this may have only confirmed what you already thought of me. But one thing is certain: it should never, ever be used in the same sentence as The Sopranos.

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