MAFS: What I’ve learned from watching reality TV

I’m an out-and-proud Married At First Sight viewer.

Yes, I’m an unapologetic (okay, slightly apologetic) apologist for this tacky voyeuristic goldfish bowl of a television series that, just occasionally, redeems itself.

‘I pray you, do not fall in love with me, For I am falser than vows made in wine.’ 
William Shakespeare

Like a million or so other Australians, I sat through hours of unedifying television on my way to the final episode. I was a fly-on-the-wall witness to the domestic squabbles and publicity-seeking antics of some of the contestants. It was both irresistible and ever-so-slightly disgusting. Sometimes I would turn off the TV with a strong urge to have a shower and cleanse myself of the pettiness and naked ambition on the screen. 

I experienced moments of great empathy too.

The ‘honesty box’ revelation by Mark was one such moment. The honesty box contained specially tailored questions – written by the panel of experts – for each member of a couple to ask the other. Mark, a 48-year-old army veteran who has never experienced love, was asked what love meant to him. Normally a man of few words, Mark gave us (and his partner Ning) the first glimpse into the inner workings of his heart.

To be completely yourself around the other person, to be completely open, honest, to trust that person. That’s the definition of the word I came here to find.


It was the kind of authentic moment we MAFS regulars had come to our lounge rooms to find: the kind that whole families gathered around the television to watch. Two generations in the same living room!

Watching MAFS has also provided couples counselling in at least one Melbourne household. The honesty box’ concept caught the imagination of my partner and I. It was the catalyst for him to start watching the show with me. We even staged our own ‘honesty box’ moment. Maybe not as dramatic as those onscreen, but equally as revelatory. We learned that the secret to good communication is in the questions you ask, and how you word them.

We began to think of MAFS as an educational tool.

It has been likened to Shakespearean drama, and has generated much online discussion by feminists like Clementine Ford. It’s the kind of addictive viewing that people stayed home for. The only time I could tear my eyes away from the screen on MAFS nights was to keep up the flow of text messages with my similarly afflicted friends.

It was all there: the drama, the tragedy, the longed-for comeuppances. But also the occasional flashes of insight into human nature in all its vulnerability.

In the final episode, dedicated viewers got a glimpse of remorse from the villainess of the piece, a moment of almost-sisterhood between two of the women who had been fooled by the same man, a flash of self-awareness from a ‘groom’ who had previously shown not a jot.

MAFS is the kind of reality show that rewards its viewers with nuggets of gold in amongst the silt. All you need is perseverance, a tiny sliver of a masochistic streak and plenty of time on your hands. But then again, what else ya gonna do on a weeknight? Sit around and read Shakespeare?

2 thoughts on “MAFS: What I’ve learned from watching reality TV

  1. I too was a MAFS tragic and yes it does give insights into one’s own relationship and also affirms what i already know to be true and that is that i have great female friends and am a good friend in return. And yes i need to communicate better. Great article onced again EQ.

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