Why I'm cheating on Leigh Sales with Married at First Sight

The wedding of Jonathon and Cheryl on Married at First Sight. Photo: Nigel Wright
The wedding of Jonathon and Cheryl on Married at First Sight. Photo: Nigel Wright


When it comes to choosing between Leigh Sales on 7.30 and Married at First Sight, some are finding reality a bit too tough to stomach.

I am a media class traitor.

After the 7pm news is over, I switch to Channel Nine and watch Married at First Sight, one of the most appallingly exploitative and good/terrible reality TV shows to disgrace television in many years, and this is coming from someone who has binged through several series of Dating Naked, which is an American show depicting exactly what it says in the title.

In the Trumpian era, when we in the media are told we are out of touch with the mass-market middle, I could justify my MAFS consumption as a political act.

The show – which matches 20 singles into couples who meet on their "wedding day", and then follows them as they honeymoon and live together as "man and wife" – is very popular.

Its viewer numbers are near the 1.3 million mark, rivalling Channel Seven's dominant competitor show, My Kitchen Rules.

MAFS is part of its own populist tide, and it feels thrilling to ride it – even more so because I know full well that across the dial, Four Corners has some impeccably researched journalism on the actual populist tide that I should probably be watching instead.

My flight to reality TV was brought on by a low-level despair over the state of the world, which started with the elevation to president of the pussy-grabber, and has since groped its hands over every part of the news cycle, both national and international.

Illustration: Simon Bosch

Illustration: Simon Bosch

It seems increasingly impossible to consume news without picking a side.

Every topical issue – the energy debate, climate change, the disillusionment of the electorate with politicians, or Muslim immigration – is viewed through an ideological lens.

Partisanship has swallowed everything and the honest act of seeking information is so fraught, you may as well bypass reality altogether and go straight to reality TV, where picking sides is the point, and where character vilification is the price of entry.

At least that's how I justify it.

Wollongong race-caller Anthony.

Wollongong race-caller Anthony.

Reality TV is the original home of fake news – its very name is misleading, as it represents not reality but an elaborately concocted situation designed to maximise drama.

MAFS assures us it uses "science" to match its couples, two people who would never have met in ordinary life, but whose credulity/hunger for fame keeps them in relationships with partners they either despise, or are infatuated with because they are locked in a Stockholm situation of the heart.

It's like Breitbart News for romantics.

MAFS also provides ample opportunity to revile experts.

Its "experts" comprise three psychologists who sit on a literal couch and ask questions of the fake married couples they have matched using the afore-mentioned "science".

The science is murky in origin and not attributed to any citable source.

In previous series, the science has seen borderline abusive men matched with vulnerable women, and in this series it has brought together gentle Queenslander Nadia with Wollongong race-caller Anthony, who has called his fake wife "frigid" and noted on camera the smallness of her breasts.

The scene where Anthony shops for clothes for his lady wife is particularly chilling, as was the time when he publicly humiliated the show's resident loose woman Cheryl.

As it happens, Cheryl has large breasts, but this did not win her Anthony's approval.

The science has also brought together couples such as Jesse and Michelle.

Jesse is a man-child from Melbourne who lives with his mum, and Michelle is a straight-up babe from Perth who is also a twin, and who seems to view Jesse in the same way you would a small cute-but-annoying dog who keeps mounting your leg.

She won't admit it, though, because she is determined to see through her "journey".

One of the only couples who appear vaguely functional is Alene and Simon, who hail from vastly different cultural backgrounds.

She is suburban-Sydney Lebanese. He is fully Queensland in lifestyle and manner.

But both are sensible and kind enough to understand that sometimes, the best love is the kind that grows slowly rather than the kind that belts you over the head.

Funnily enough, Alene attributes this to her Lebanese heritage, where arranged marriages can turn out to be very happy in the long run.

Of course, if she had said that on Q&A, she would probably be rounded up in the town square for a week's worth of ritualistic jeering.

The MAFS journey is drawing to its close, with the couples being separated and sent back to their homes to mull whether they will stay together in the real world, once the cameras have gone and the frightful wedding dresses have been sent back to the show's commercial-partnership bridal boutiques.

My ignorance of South Australia's energy crisis deepens with every passing night, and it's been ages since I caught ScoMo live.

But I'm not ready to go back to Leigh. I can't face reality. Not yet.