Married at First Sight takes a bunch of single strangers looking for love, but eliminates all the hassle involved in getting to know someone. Or even choosing someone to get to know. A group of professional labcoat nerds run tests on the participants, crunch their stats, and match couples together using a sophisticated Minority Report-style touchscreen.
The couple don’t know who the mad scientists have matched them with, that is until they meet at the altar on their wedding day. It’s a shambolic way of finding true love, but is it so crazy that it just might work? Arranged marriages themselves are nothing new, with evidence dating back to approximately Adam and Eve. What’s slightly newer in society are marriages arranged for television and radio, where members of the public readily place their futures into the hands of Jay Jay, Mike or Dom.
Married at First Sight and The Bachelor NZ, as well as controversies like The Edge’s ill-conceived ‘Marry Your Mate’ competition, have brought these media-made romances back into the limelight. Is it all a contractual thing? Do they ever stay together? Is it just a plain terrible idea? These relationships are often plagued with doubt. Art and Matilda seem happy enough in Rarotonga on the cover of the Woman’s Day, but at the same time people say that Art has married a harem of women and now runs Clean Paleo off the coast of Costa Rica. I’m just confused.
Part of me really wants to believe in true TV love. After watching a few episodes of Married at First Sight, I got in touch with a couple who might be able to help me out. Paula and Zane Nicholl were married in 1999, the first couple ever arranged in The Edge’s ‘Two Strangers and a Wedding’ competition. They’ve been happily together ever since, and have three children. Presumably each is named after the members of the Morning Madhouse.
I’m kidding about that last thing, but everything else in their blissful relationship seemed about as genuine and loving as they come. Still cynical, I rang them up to have a chat about rationalising radio romance.
First of all, congratulations on being together for ages!
Zane: Too long almost.
Paula: Nearly sixteen years.
So you were the first ever couple to be married by a radio station in New Zealand? Why did you both enter if no-one else had done it before?
Z: For me, it was just timing. I was feeling ready to settle down. When I first heard The Edge start advertising the competition, my initial thought was “who is desperate enough to do that?” But then I heard more about it and the idea grew on me. I started thinking about what an awesome story it would be to tell your kids and your grandkids.
P: I also first thought “who the hell would do that”, but at the same time I was secretly listening in. I even told my friend that, if Zane got through as the potential husband, that I would put myself forward. There was a lineup of five guys, who each spent time on air every day. Zane just sounded like the perfect match for me. I listened every day for six weeks and decided that I really liked him, so I gave it a go. I figured I didn’t have much to lose.
So the men were chosen by the radio and the women could put themselves forward for who they liked? Sounds like you had the upper hand Paula.
P: I suppose so yeah, I got to find out what he was like without putting myself out there. The Edge chose ten girls, and Zane’s family and friends chose who they thought would be best suited to him.
Z: It’s a different to all the psychologists and numerologists and all of that in Married at First Sight, because my family and friends decided who would be the best match. The Edge did a great job in finding ten females who were actually interested in me, and from there it was just a process of elimination. Each girl had half an hour to impress family and friends. After that step everyone was pretty sure that Paula was the one for me. A match made in heaven, really
What were your first thoughts when you saw each other at the altar, was it a love at first sight thing?
Z: Before we even saw each other, it was so surreal just being at the ceremony. Your hear it a lot on Married at First Sight, the weird feeling where half the room is full of people you know and love, and the other half is full of total strangers who could potentially become a huge part of your life. It was really surreal. When Paula came down the aisle I thought she looked like a movie star with the biggest beaming smile. It really was instant attraction…
P: …from both sides. The biggest issue for me was that Zane proposed on air on the Monday, and we got married on the Friday. In the time between that I had to break the news to my friends and family, which is a bit closer to the drama you see on Married at First Sight. Everyone I told reacted just like the families on TV, they were all going through the same anxieties and worrying that they had no idea what Zane was like.
In a way, Zane’s family was under more pressure because they were the ones that chose me. So now when anytime anything goes wrong at home – I just blame his friends and family. If we have an argument I just say it’s his mother’s fault. She chose me.
What do you make of Married at First Sight by comparison to your experience? Would you have done something like it?
P: I wouldn’t have done it just to be on TV or anything like that. When I entered on The Edge, I wasn’t thinking about how we were going to eventually be on the news and Holmes and all of that. Honestly, that would have put me off. But it’s just become our life now, people talk to us about it everywhere we go. Our kids are pretty oblivious to it all, they say we’re famous to their friends but they don’t really know why.
The good thing about our process was that I went through Zane’s mum, dad, sister and three best friends. That gave the impression a balance, because parents are often looking at different things to friends. The first question his Dad asked me was “can you cook?” and I said “yes, but I’m a shit cook”. So they knew what they were getting themselves into. Takeaways every time they come over.
Logistically, how did things work after the wedding? Were things in your relationship accelerated because of having a marriage first?
Z: I honestly feel that we were just like normal boyfriend and girlfriend, getting married first didn’t change my approach to the relationship. For us, the biggest thing was making our expectations clear and keeping up communication. I don’t think anything else changed. The only difference is that I have a ring on and I don’t see other people now.
P: Oh, that’s good to know
Do you watch a lot of reality dating shows yourselves?
P: I’m addicted to reality TV, I loved The Bachelor and I’m loving Married at First Sight. It’s funny because we sit there on the couch and it takes us right back to our own wedding day. Not many people share that feeling. You feel all those emotions, the nerves, everything that we went through.
What do you make relationships in shows like The Bachelor? Do you think they have a high success rate?
P: I love the show and I love Matilda and Art, but I do think generally they are more likely to have a lower success rate. The dates are all incredible, and once you get into the real world, life is nothing like that. It’s easy to fall in love when you’re being constantly swept off your feet.
Z: Regardless of the format, I think it’s all about the intentions of the people and how open they are to committing. It’s all about finding that right person, and spending the time to make the right decisions.
Why do you think these shows are so popular? Do you think it says something about modern dating or relationships?
Z: It’s universal, I think everyone is looking for true love. And if you are already in love, you want to relive those early days. People just want a happy ending, and to live their fairytale lives. You get so involved and so emotional during The Bachelor, eh Paula?
P: I do, I do. I was so happy for Matilda. It’s just nice to see people succeed and get their happy ever after. Married at First Sight doesn’t have happy endings for everyone, but it’s all about taking a chance. That’s why I tell Zane every day that he’s a very lucky man.
Married at First Sight airs Monday TV3 at 8.30pm, click here to catch up on 3 Now
Reminiscing about Bachelor days? Click here for our loved-up coverage of The Bachelor NZ