Back in January, just as the last vestiges of novelty fell gently from lockdown life, a TV series launched on E4 that, for the initiated, jubilantly gave those Covid blues the cold shoulder and set social media ablaze.
For once, no politicians or members of the House of Windsor were involved in the making of this glorious madness (though a panel of ‘scientists’ added a dash of real-time familiarity).
Instead, it was reality show Married At First Sight Australia (MAFS, for short) firmly fixed in the eye of the storm. It’s not a new show, no, this was the sixth season. Nor is it strictly an Aussie phenomena; other versions, including our own, are available. But, thanks to astute casting and scheduling, this MAFS gift obliterated every season/version that came before it.
The universal MAFS premise is simple, yet ripe for disaster – two complete strangers meet for the first time and minutes later, they marry in front of their often disbelieving, sometimes furious, family and friends. They then honeymoon, shack up in Sydney, and even taste test ‘normal’ life together during the ‘homestays’.
These couples have been paired up by three ‘experts’, each insisting ‘science’ has adequately proven they’re a match made in heaven.
And herein lies the gold of this formula – these experts, put simply, are utterly useless. I doubt they have actual real-life qualifications, save maybe an advanced certificate in concerned facial expressions.
99% of the time, they’d have been quicker – and most likely more successful – if they’d thrown everyone’s names (all 24 of them) into a hat. You don’t need to be a member of SAGE to work out that, had most of the couples bumped into each other down the local, they’d have never gotten past “do you come here often?” The fact that they endlessly refer to the show as an ‘experiment’ isn’t fooling anybody, but this sweet deceit just adds to the show’s crazy, dramatic charm.
Whilst there is a sprinkling of 20-something, spotlight-thirsty faces amongst the 12 couples, unlike, say, Love Island, MAFS Australia features some people who a) are aged over 35 (imagine!) and b) have, to date, genuinely been battered and bruised in their failed pursuit of true love.
For most of the newlyweds, MAFS only serves to add another chapter to their books of disaster, which, for us the viewer, makes this a 2021 bestseller.
This season’s roll call of mixed-bag participants included the well-worn trope that is the ‘hysterical and oversensitive’ female (Heidi), who, naturally and sometimes uncomfortably, was matched with a handsomely bald singleton (Mike). He was fond of gaslighting and baring his arse (with or without tight shorts). There too was Matt the virgin. I won’t spoil it by telling you who he was paired with, but safe to say, the science certainly wasn’t followed on this occasion. We all fell in love with ‘cyclone Cyrell’, grand speaker of truth. Sadly, her brother placed her televised nuptials on par with her being sentenced to death and reacted as such. I would often fast-forward through the Jules and Cam segments; they were this season’s greatest success story and just too damn happy.
But the real stars of the show were self-styled baddies and rulebreakers Ines and Sam and Jessika (no, that’s not a typo) and Dan; the conniving couples who decided to do their own adults-only version of Wife Swap and ditch their original spouses in favour of somebody else’s partner.
Ines was the block of ice carefully sculpted into the shape of an angry young woman. She took a shine to child-trapped-in-a-Lego-man’s body, Sam, and ran with it. Single dad Dan had a neck like block of flats, his moral compass having been hurled from the top floor. He started a side experiment with Jess, she had a neck of pure brass, crowned with a face full of filler and giggly duplicity. Jess’s mate Martha (picture a poor-quality photocopy of Kim Kardashian) upped the ante and our ire by condoning the betrayal and keeping it under wraps. Whilst some set pieces are obviously scripted, the deception, when exposed, ignited genuine anger, upset and tears amongst all those involved and, of course, the audience.
Twitter was on fire night after night as the affairs blossomed and the perpetrators’ original partners carried on, mostly clueless.
The MAFS social media response snowballed – husbands originally ‘forced’ to tune in by their better halves declared it better than the footy. Celebrities quickly jumped aboard the MAFS express and even my friend, who’d typically rather drink hand sanitiser than do reality telly, gave in and was instantly hooked.
Twitter was united. When Dan was called out for his shady shenanigans, he labelled UK viewers ‘peasants’ and mocked our grammar. In said post, he used ‘your’ instead of ‘you’re’ and together, we, the united, the initiated, laughed hysterically.
To see this platform – this infamous online aviary where bristling, fiery-winged trolls soar and shit on the proverbial heads of anyone who doesn’t agree with them – come together was magical.
For me and I suspect many others caught up in MAFS mania, it became an impromptu and highly improbable replacement for the pub/coffee shop/best mate’s living room (delete as applicable). This sense of the shared experience is something we’ve all been missing. It was like being at a panto, complete with booing and the “he’s behind you!!!” (or, more accurately, “he’s cheating on you!!!”).
Together, we entered a two-month-long journey to a place where people hug, kiss, drink in bars and jump on planes to fancy destinations – you know, the good old days, when Zoom and furlough were potential names for dogs I’ve yet to adopt. It felt good.
We went to weddings where we sat right next to family, bagged a shedload of free vol-au-vents and bevvies and muttered “she/he could’ve done better” under our breath.
The land of Oz looked incredible (the Australian tourist board must be beside itself). This is the holiday many of us have dreamt of since last March.
Do we feel bad for calling the baddies out? Nah, they, as predicted, were in it for fame. Most now full-time Instagram influencers flogging what Boris would call ‘non-essentials’, including dildos, online.
What a ride.
It’s never too late to join the MAFS party. This season and others are available to stream for free right now on All 4.
Join in the MAFS chat on Twitter @MarriedAU
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