Jo Robertson and John Aiken are the new relationship experts on MAFSNZ (Photo: Three)
Jo Robertson and John Aiken are the new relationship experts on MAFSNZ (Photo: Three)

Pop CultureMay 24, 2024

‘People need to buckle up’: The experts reveal what to expect in MAFS NZ

Jo Robertson and John Aiken are the new relationship experts on MAFSNZ (Photo: Three)
Jo Robertson and John Aiken are the new relationship experts on MAFSNZ (Photo: Three)

As Married at First Sight New Zealand returns to our screens this Sunday, Tara Ward speaks to the show’s new relationship experts about what lies ahead.

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John Aiken is teasing Jo Robertson about her cup of tomato soup. They may be on separate sides of the Tasman, but thanks to the magic of Zoom, they’re laughing with the relaxed ease of longtime friends. It’s hard to believe they only met for the first time a few months ago, when they joined Married at First Sight New Zealand as the show’s new relationship experts. Much like the brides and grooms who will meet at the altar this Sunday night, they too are a pair of strangers forced together in the most unusual of circumstances.

It’s a union that comes at a fraught time for New Zealand television. MAFSNZ returns to our screens just weeks after Discovery announced the closure of its entire news division, TVNZ cut long-running current affairs shows Sunday and Fair Go, and renovation juggernaut The Block NZ was cancelled. Given the franchise’s controversial history, including a contestant being removed from the series after his domestic violence allegations came to light, the return of MAFSNZ might seem as welcome to some as rain on your wedding day.

But Aiken and Robertson are intent on not letting the ghosts of MAFS past determine its future. Reality television fans will recognise clinical psychologist Aiken from MAFS Australia, where he’s helped newlyweds navigate their relationship challenges for 11 dramatic seasons and is known for his forthright calling-out of bad behaviour. New Zealand-based Robertson is a sex and relationship therapist specialising in intimacy and betrayal, and together they appear to make a formidable team.

The chemistry between the two was instant. “The great thing about John is that he could have easily swooped in and been the expert,” TV novice Robertson says. “He actually gave a lot of power over to me and consistently asked, ‘how do you want to do this, and what’s important to you?’” Aiken has a different theory about why the two clicked so quickly. “The first night I came over to meet Jo, we went out and got drunk,” he laughs. The “all-honesty session” set the scene for the weeks ahead, and the duo never looked back.

Neither Robertson or Aiken have watched the previous MAFSNZ seasons (“I want to lead, not follow”, Aiken says) but both wanted to breathe new life into the format. Aiken stresses that this season is not like the MAFSNZ of old; instead of creating drama for drama’s sake, it focuses on the developing relationships of four diverse couples. “It’s tailored to the New Zealand public, the cast is very representative of the people in the country, and I think there’s humour and heart,” he explains.

“When people tune in, they need to buckle up and prepare themselves for something that is new and fresh and different. What’s gone is in the past.”

Serious stuff: John Aiken and Jo Robertson in a moment from MAFSNZ (Photo: Three)

Sunday’s premiere episode does feel lighter than the MAFSNZ of five years ago. That’s partly due to the down-scaled size of the experiment, which the experts say gave the show a close-knit, friendlier feeling. The supportive vibe came as a surprise to Aiken, who’s used to the “combative” atmosphere of MAFSAU, but it also meant the commitment ceremonies felt more personal. “I absolutely love to call out bad behaviour, but you’re doing it in a setting where it is more intimate, you really get a sense of how it’s landing for people and their emotional state.”

This season, the experts will guide the couples through tricky topics such physical attraction, forgiveness and acceptance of differences. It’s not often we see New Zealand men open up about their feelings on TV, but Robertson was impressed by how vulnerable the grooms were about revealing their past insecurities, many of which she says the audience will identify with. For Aiken, that’s the show’s “secret sauce”. “People relate to the couples, but they also are compelled to discuss the issues that are brought up.”

Even with this refreshed approach to marrying a stranger, Robertson and Aiken know some people will still dismiss MAFSNZ as reality TV trash. Neither are phased by the criticism. “I didn’t see anyone who wasn’t being genuine, or who wasn’t there to form a relationship,” says Robertson, while Aiken heartily embraces any negative feedback. Ultimately, MAFS is a show that gets people talking about relationships, he says, and that’s something he’s proud to support – on both sides of the Tasman.

“I love the fact that MAFS still really polarises people. It doesn’t really worry me whether they love it or hate it, I just want them talking about it.”

Married at First Sight New Zealand premieres on Sunday 26 May at 7pm on Three and streams on ThreeNow. 

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