It’s reality TV rules: one day you’re in and the next, you’re out—well auf wiedersehen New Zealand cause we are never being asked back to the Married At First Sight party.
Over six weeks, NZ took a show internationally renowned for its golden heart and lack of mean-spiritedness and turned it into a hellpit of publicity-hungry snarkfesting. Now the experiment is over and we’re left thanking God for Brett and Angel—the only lovebirds who kept this shit-show together—it’s time to reflect on all the ways we have managed to burn this franchise to the ground.
Let me start by saying that I began this journey as a big MAFS fan. I held weekly viewing parties and cooked up motherload pots of spaghetti to feed the romantic saps who came to watch. However, as the weeks went on and the Pretty Committee™ destroyed all that is good in this world, it became clear our version of this show was this was going to be a soul-destroying, sweaty-handed, night-terror-inducing spin on the heartening international series. New Zealand has been rocked by sudden resignations over the past twelve months—John Key, Metiria Turei and now five (five!!!) MAFS couples calling it quits. Keeping in mind Married at First Sight is not designed as a competition or an elimination show—all six couples are meant to carry out the full six weeks—it came as something as a shock when 50 percent of the couples had left, some seeking legal advice, in the first few weeks.
“Not my type!” three couples in a row shrieked at councillor Tony, who turned a shade of pale no amount of sunbedding could salvage.
“What is your type?” he murmured gently at Dom and Claire, as they announced their lifelong commitment was coming to a sharp, unceremonious end.
“Not him,” she declared, jabbing a thumb at her partner.
The scene is basically representative of the entire franchise, and maybe for romance in New Zealand generally. Not them, anyone but them, couple after couple—and eventually the entire national audience—concluded. What’s wrong with us? Are we so incapable of love?
In a MAFS first and a fitting metaphor for Kiwi-dating culture, the couples lost hope not only in the experts themselves, but also in their expertly-matched partners. Things fell apart. The centre could not hold.
Astonishingly, given the entire thing’s on camera, our wayward romantics looked no further than the spouse across the hallway. We may never know who truly started the Haydn/Vicki/Bel’s bridesmaid love-triangle of the century, but one thing’s for sure; DMs were slid into all over the place. Did Vicki really say she wanted to be matched with Haydn? Did Aaron really say Ben was only here for fame? Was Haydn really on Bumble or Tinder or Grindr or whatever THE WHOLE TIME? Nobody knows for certain, but surely something’s gone terribly wrong when not even 12 people under constant surveillance can keep their shit together for six weeks without sliding into each other’s insta DMs or proclaiming to random strangers they’d been masturbating over their bikini pics.
The fundamental problem with making reality TV of any kind in New Zealand is there are no secrets in a nation with two degrees of separation. My hairdresser knew Art would choose Matilda, half the country knew Dommy had a fling with Karina and thanks to many, many social-media faux pas, we all knew the fate of most of the couples before they reached the rotunda.
Maybe what romance really needs to survive is a little mystery, and in New Zealand, that’s in short supply. It’s never long before someone’s racist tinder messages rise to the surface like an old turd, and then the whole illusion gets flushed away forever.
It takes some hell freezing over—and probably a genuine fear of legal action—to bash down the fourth wall and break up a ratings-winner, but New Zealand, we did it: at the now-infamous dinner party, reality TV producers stepped in to end the scene before Haydn had a chance to wallop Ben right in the red-wine-stained teeth. Denials from producers aside, it seems the only thing our cast was truly committed to was the time-honoured Kiwi tradition of getting shit-faced. Were any of them, literally ever, seen without a glass of wine hot-glue-gunned to their hand? Without fail, our beloved couples ended every social occasion beetroot-red, clammy-faced and slurring “I’m not really attracted to him” in increasingly loud stage-whispers. Along with everything else, maybe MAFS is responsible for shattering the Kiwi illusion that we’re actually more charming a couple of drinks down.
During the final reunion episode, part of me did hold out hope that Lacey would take on board Dr Pani’s sage advice, or Ben would see that Aaron “fit the brief” for sweetest man on earth.
But unfortunately this is 2017, the year when all our illusions of love, sanity or a decent world collapsed. Romance is dead, New Zealand. We killed it.
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