In the age of dating shows, there seems to be a new series every day pushing the same reality TV drama that we’ve come to know, under the guise of love. From Love Island, to Love is Blind to Married at First Sight, there’s always somewhere to get your reality TV fix but one show that always ends up as a trending topic, at least here in the UK, is Married at First Sight Australia (MAFSAU). The Australian edition of MAFS seems to have captured the nation’s attention through its simple formula of marriage, misogyny and melodrama, if you glance back over the years each season implements this blue print and it has been successful in making it a hit in the UK. On the face of it this seems all well and good, but as the show has transitioned from unnoticeable background noise to a part of my daily routine I began to pick up on the concerning core of this show and questioned, how dangerous is this show and does it deserve the attention that it gets?
The show consists of couples being paired up by three relationship experts and, as the title suggests, being married at first sight, they live with their partners and decide each week whether to stay in the experiment or leave, until they reach the end of the experiment and have to make a final decision on whether they would like to continue their relationship beyond the show. It sounds relatively harmless, but having watched season 10 it’s become more and more obvious that some of the participants in this show have no place being on TV let alone being afforded the platform that this show provides. Like many other reality dating shows, it’s not really about the marriage but more so geared towards using the concept of marriage as a vehicle to create sensationalised relationships that breed dramatic and confrontational arguments to boost viewership and raise the profile of the show and contestants alike. Although there have been success stories that originated in these shows, they are far and few between with the majority using shows such as MAFS as a gateway to accessing a wider audience.
When watching the show, it’s very difficult to believe that the true intentions of the experts is to match up well suited people who are hoping to enter into a long-lasting committed relationship. There’s seems to be obvious disparities between a lot of the pairings right from the start, which surely could not have gone unnoticed by the experts prior to the filming of the show. There’s no denying that the purpose of reality TV is to fulfil the role of providing people with a comforting guilty pleasure that offers light entertainment which is fun to watch from a distance, but where do we draw the line? There have been moments throughout this season where show has become uncomfortable to watch however, if this is part of the appeal that helps MAFS increase its growing fanbase, it looks as though nothing is too far and anything goes as long at the ratings are on the rise. The biggest cause for concern is that when looking back of the previous seasons and iterations of this show, the visible emotional and psychological harm that is caused throughout the process is brushed off as entertainment but surely the shows bears responsibility for the brunt of the consequences that are inflicted on the participants.
If we take a look at the viewing figures over the years, the show’s ratings have seen a drastic increase as the reality series has taken a big step up in popularity, MAFS AU is currently dominating the viewership figures on Australia’s Channel 9, whilst it’s less popular UK counterpart still managed to break records for Channel 4. Given the amount of people that tune in to each series, this will ultimately dictate the shelf life of this show, which shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.
Moving on to the melodrama that is the beating heart of this show, there has been much criticism from viewers, experts and even contestants of the mental toll that this shows takes. Mental health experts have weighed in on this debate in support of the backlash that the show has been picking up, suggesting that it has been “intentionally set up to cause conflict, grief and drama” which could result in severe trauma and long term emotional issues. This has become more and more significant in the social media age as former participants have acknowledged how the show has left them ‘struggling to cope’ as a result of the online abuse that they received from viewers. There is a certain degree of accountability that one must take for their own behaviour and given the awareness of the show, a public reaction is to be expected, however there is a line that has clearly been crossed and it doesn’t look as though anything will be done to fix this if it means that MAFS will suffer from any negative ramifications. The prioritisation of views over the well being of participants is certainly alarming as it essentially sends the message that they are not important enough to be protected from the abuse that they receive as a result of appearing on the show, it also signals a green flag for the harassment to continue beyond the show as this will inevitably go on to raise the profile of the show even further in spite of the damage that it will cause.
Before participants are exposed to the aftermath of appearing on the show some of the unlucky ones have had to endure continuous gaslighting, sexism and misogyny within the process. This is perhaps the most baffling part of the show as you would think that any extreme behaviour targeted at one of the participants would be sorted as soon as it becomes evident, but it has instead been left to fester until a breaking point is reached. This troubling behaviour has been exhibited by both men and women however, there has been a noticeable increase in the behaviour that has been displayed by the grooms within the experiment throughout the seasons. The destructive behaviour that has been broadcasted on this show bears additional consequences as the when we take a look at the state of society, especially following lockdown, there has been an ‘intensification of violence against women and girls across the globe’. Now, I’m not suggesting that MAFS is in any way responsible for this but I don’t think it’s out of the question for people to become easily influenced by popular media that is put in their face on a daily basis, as we’ve seen the impact that online figures can have on the overall societal attitudes towards certain groups. If popular shows begin to condone poor treatment of significant others, and women more specifically, this could contribute to wider issues that could see many face the consequences of online entertainment in real life. It could start with something seemingly small, such as the way that people talk about the participants online. but it begins to remove the humanity from people and allows for more harmful generalisations to be made which can then be applied to real life creating a desensitisation towards those being targeted.
We have already seen how individuals’ feelings have been disregarded on the show as when looking over previous seasons of MAFS it’s almost routine for a cheating scandal to cause an implosion with in the experiment. There’s no telling whether this is staged or not but it now feels as though it’s more of an item on a checklist that is a sure-fire way to pull in views instead of a genuine interaction that occurs on the show. This further highlights the lengths that reality shows are willing to go to in order to get their name out there in spite of those that may suffer in the process.
It’s not likely that shows such as MAFS will come to an end any time in the near future but with the impact that social media now plays in following the stars of these shows, MAFS should also consider the role that they play. It’s inarguable that they aid in affecting the daily lives of the participants whether that’s through their editing, their selection of who they afford a platform to or the behaviour that they allow to occur during the filming. Although the participants know what they’re signing up for, there should be a degree of safety and security that is afforded to them during the filming. At the moment it looks as though these shows are willing to use their participants for ratings and discard them as soon as they’ve served their purpose with no real remorse or consideration for what they may have gone through whilst on the show. For most this works out fine and they’re able to use their new found attention to catapult their own careers, however we’ve seen on more than one occasion when this jump into the spotlight has become too much to take.