A poster for 'Married at First Sight.' (FYI)
A poster for 'Married at First Sight.' (FYI)
By Anne Easton / December 25, 2017 5:00 am

“This is going to be a crazy, beautiful ride,” she says.

If history is any indication, this woman is right.

She’s a participant in an extreme match-making experiment. She’s going to meet the man she’s marrying the very moment that she’s actually marrying him, never having seen him before.

This is the reality series Married at First Sight, in which people agree to enter into a legal marriage with a complete stranger. Specialists — including a spiritualist, a relationship coach and a sociologist — use scientific matchmaking methods to match up each couple, who will not have met or had contact with each other until the wedding day. The series then documents these relationships with each couple ultimately deciding whether to remain together or go their separate ways.

Now in its sixth season, the series has continued to attract viewers, mainly because of its uniqueness, says Executive Producer Gena McCarthy. “I like to create shows with provocative concepts. What we’ve really done here is to arrest viewers imagination with the concept, but then we back that up with the credible entertaining treatment of the content and the characters. It feels unique and fresh.”

She contrasts the series to another reality show, saying, “This isn’t The Bachelor. It’s not a ‘TV marriage’ that these people are entering into, so we work really hard to show everything that these couples go through. Keeping the authenticity of what’s happening with them is really the most important thing.”

Getting people to take part in the show, and commit to actually getting married, isn’t exactly easy, explains McCarthy. “These are real, legal marriages and frankly that scares off a lot of people who are curious about participating in the show. So, the ones who do are really brave courageous people who really want to find a long-lasting relationship. That hasn’t changed in all the time we’ve been doing this.”

McCarthy admits that the casting of the series is the hardest part of the entire endeavor, revealing, “It’s a HUGE choice to commit to something like this. A lot of people do drop off – even people who want to find a loving marriage. It takes a very special person to commit and stick with it to the end. A lot of them come from parents who were divorced and there is this yearning to find true love. I’ve never experienced anything like this in terms of casting.”

One of the success stories from the franchise is that of Doug and Jamie Hehner who’ve been married for three years and who’ve just welcomed a child together. The couple now have their own series, Married at First Sight: Jamie and Doug Plus One.

Jamie cried immediately after she married Doug, saying that she thought she’d made a big mistake. She admitted that she wasn’t attracted to her new husband at all. But, Doug clearly prevailed in winning his bride over.

“I think there is something so relatable to that couple,“ says McCarthy. “People fell in love with them because their story is a bit of a fairy tale. It’s not literally ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ because Doug is a handsome man, but it took Jamie a long time to realize how special Doug is. I think people see themselves in this couple, they root for them and seem to enjoy being part of their journey.”

McCarthy is aware that there is a portion of the population who might take offense to the practice of marrying a stranger, feeling it’s an affront to the whole process of relationships and getting to know each other prior to committing to one another. To this she says, “Arranged marriages have historically existed for thousands of years and each person has a right to find love and marriage in their own way. This has been successful for couples like Jamie and Doug. I deeply respect people who have the courage to pursue real love in such an open transparent way.”

Just in the last few days, the Australian version of series has also stirred up some ire, according to DailyMail.com, as more than 2000 people have signed a petition to have a contestant removed due to his misogynistic views.

A campaign entitled “Take Sexual Violence Off Our Screens” is calling out a male suitor for stating empathically that he feels women should return to the ‘traditional roles.’ He says in the preview video for the series, “I like a girl who knows that I’m the man and I’m in charge.”

‘The oppression and abuse of women should never be used as a marketing tool. We’re talking about lives here, and lives are far more important than ratings or network profits…’ the petition states.

There has been no comment about this controversy from the producers of the series or Channel Nine, the network set to air Married at First Sight in Australia.

To up the success rate of the series in general, McCarthy says that there’s been some evolution in the process for the couples. “In addition to giving the participants some more time to make their final decision about remaining together, we’re also giving them a little more support this season. For the first time, we have the women meeting to talk about what they’re experiencing. We’re doing this for the men too and then we’re also having the couples meet. We found that that has helped because they’re the only people going through this experience at this particular time.”

All of this is in service to the ultimate goal of the series, says McCarthy “We really, really want to just see more happy people in successful marriages. It sounds simple, but everyone knows that marriage isn’t easy no matter how you go into it. So, we’re open to doing anything that we can to facilitate the creation of a lasting union.”

Ultimately, McCarthy believes that there are many paths to finding happiness in relationships. “This is one very unique path,” she says. “Yes, the conceit of the series is fascinating, but after they meet each other at their wedding what these couples go through is normal marital stuff that anyone who’s been married goes through. There are struggles, there’s lightness, there’s humor. It’s all there for everyone to watch, enjoy maybe even learn from.”