Married At First Sight has switched up its format – but has it lost its sincerity in the process?
The series is copying its Australian counterpart – but at the cost of its groundbreaking premise, says Kimberley Bond.
By: Kimberley Bond
Married At First Sight UK has returned – with a new home and a brand new look for season six.
It’s no surprise Channel 4 has had a change of strategy when it comes to the ‘extreme’ dating show. Married At First Sight UK has been entirely revamped for 2021 to mirror the smash hit Australian version, which, thanks to its compelling cast and its jam-packed dramas, became a cult hit in lockdown.
Now on air four times a week, documenting the ups and downs of our eight couples through dinner parties and to-camera confessionals, Married At First Sight UK looks set to rival an increasingly tired Love Island – but its newfound popularity seems to have come at a price.
Married At First Sight first aired on UK television in 2015, but despite the extremity of its premise, it never quite reached a similar cult status.
The show prided itself on its rigorous matching process and its supposedly ‘foolproof’ scientific methods to see whether love could be fostered in almost laboratory-like conditions.
Its original panel of experts in the British version included an evolutionary anthropologist, a psychosexual therapist, a psychology professor and even a priest, to cover all bases. From the several thousand applicants, data would be collated from each individual based on workshops, interviews, background checks, various tests and personality questionnaires as well as scientific studies (including your DNA test and your body measurements) to pair you up with what science deems to be ‘The One.’ Once suitable matches were made, couples were expected to genuinely marry their alleged perfect partner when they first locked eyes at the altar.
The original format of the series was certainly unlike any other dating programme out there, and initially saw some viewers complain that its premise stuck two fingers at the supposed ‘sanctity’ of marriage. Yes, it yielded fewer couples to document – with some series only following two couples - but it was a truly ground-breaking social experiment: watching real people brought together by scientific methods get married, and doing their all to actually make it work.
These earnest attempts to use science to find true love, which were apparent in these early editions of Married At First Sight UK, have all but vanished in the revamp.
The rigorous matching process, and the variety of scientific experts that made this show so different to any other matchmaking series, have all melted away for more TV-friendly matchmakers to take to the fore.
Paul Carrick Brunson, a matchmaker who joined the series last year and has also appeared on First Dates, has lifted the lid on the matching process, telling his 109k Twitter followers: “[It’s a] very challenging process for matchmaking. We start with a massive pool (thousands), and they go through various tests (including psychological, STDs, etc.). You’d be surprised how small it gets. That becomes our viable pool. We match from that.”
But it doesn’t appear so rigorous or transparent just exactly how they’re matched beyond generic statements such as “shared values”. We’ve now seen couples with hugely differing expectations in a relationship being matched – for instance Morag and Luke. Morag said quite plainly she didn’t want children, while Luke literally runs a foster home.
Paul has explained this himself, again on his Twitter feed.
“A desire for children is taken into account,” he said. “If you see a mismatch in this category it could be because someone hasn’t fully disclosed their position yet.”
But that seems to be against the original concept of Married At First Sight, leaving us pondering just how rigorous this testing may be.
The faces in the revamp are also disappointingly familiar. The Australian version has made no secret that some of their participants are scouted on social media, and while none of the participants in the UK version have disclosed how they found themselves part of the process, several of our contestants are no strangers to the limelight. The previously mentioned Morag starred on Take Me Out in 2018, while Nikita featured on Comedy Central’s Your Face Or Mine and MTV’s True Love Or True Lies. Ant and his ex also featured on Your Face Or Mine, Amy tried to couple up with Spencer Matthews on The Bachelor under her glamour model moniker ‘Brandy’, and Josh was on Shipwrecked.
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There’s nothing immediately wrong in having contestants that have appeared on other shows before, but for the more cynical amongst us (namely, me) may question whether they’re really looking for love or to prolong their 15 minutes of fame. Nikita and Ant’s vicious argument on their honeymoon, in which Nikita accused Ant of wanting to be in an ‘Instagram power couple’ only reinforced my inner cynic.
It seems that the new editions of Married At First Sight UK has turned down the sincerity in order to ramp up the drama to levels bordering on comedic. Matt and Daniel’s ‘age-gap’ was hyped up in teasers, and interspersed with cuts of the couple looking serious as they posed for pictures, only for it to not be much of an issue at all.
Similarly, Bob’s ‘confrontation’ with Megan’s twin brother was somewhat over-egged, again spliced with cut scenes to make things look tense when their conversation was perfectly reasonable. These more dramatic scenes are perhaps to make up for the fact that each ‘wedding’ is no longer legally binding – meaning that couples don’t necessarily have the same determination to make their relationships work, and leaving Married At First Sight UK without any real stakes.
There’s no denying that the opening few episodes of Married At First Sight UK have been hugely successful among its audience, reaching 820k viewers (triple that of E4’s usual 9pm slot) and retaining that number throughout the week. It’s certainly addictive viewing and will likely only gain more popularity as the series progresses and more twists, turns and bombshells are unveiled.
The show has evolved from being almost documentary-like to yet another reality dating series. It may no longer be the grand social experiment it claimed to be, but judging by the reaction from fans, who love to see the high drama behind eccentric relationship dynamics, it hardly seems to matter at all.