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The giant blind spot in Married at First Sight

Comedian and celebrant Penny Ashton pulls back the veil on Married at First Sight.

“So are you going to fuck him?” was, let’s face it, the classy question on everyone’s minds. It was 25-year-old retail manager Erin’s wedding night.  She was beautiful, he was hot, so why wouldn’t he march up her aisle?  Sure, her skin looked like a red paintball accident due to nerves but she’d instructed the make-up artist to shovel on the foundation with a trowel so he wouldn’t notice. Sure, 52% of couples are usually too tired, drunk or arguing to play hide the overpriced sausage vol-au-vent on their wedding night, but Erin and 31-year-old business analyst Bryce were different.  Their chemistry was brand new and their sniff-tested pheromones were popping for the first time, because they had gotten Married at First Sight.

As the name imaginatively suggests, Married at First Sight was a trashy surreality TV show masquerading as a social experiment involving marriage and sight. Initially from Denmark it has spread Zikalike through the globe before arriving at that last bastion of Marriage sanctity: Australia, where the finale aired in all it’s broad vowel glory this week. In it desperate singles gave up on traditional methods of match-making like Tinder and getting drunk in a bar, and agreed to marry another desperate singleton chosen for them by panel of “experts”. The catch being the first thing they did when they met was tie the knot.  Though actually this was all a sham as due to Australian law they had to wait 30 days to legally wed so it was all bollocks anyway.

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I remember the first time I saw my newly-minted husband of a month. It was in the now sadly deceased London Bar on Auckland’s Queen St. He was traditionally drunk but I wasn’t, and the first thing I thought when I was introduced to him was, “well he’s a stuck up dick.” Similarly touching was the first thing he thought when he saw me, “she looks a miserable bitch.”  Luckily we actually got to know each other and after a reasonable cooling off period of six years we got married. I can still be a miserable bitch at times, he’s a lucky dick.

I realise arranged marriages are hardly new; it’s been the staple of made-for-TV movies for decades. But those silly traditionalists usually get family members who actually know their children to do the match-making. How ridiculous when their children could be crying through televised interviews about being cheated on like the four couples in Married at First Sight. I watched in horror as they matched Erin, who called herself high maintenance, lived at home with her parents, and had NEVER SHOPPED IN A SUPERMARKET BEFORE, with Bryce, declaring “she needs someone to nurture her.” If I got coupled with a 25 year-old with Mummy issues who needed help wiping his arse I’d be a runaway bride for sure.

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This television wart is particularly galling as it is from the 1950’s, oh sorry, from Australia, which is one of the last Westernised countries in the world still clinging to marriage inequality. The fact that you can gay marry in Alabama but not in Mardi Gras-tabulous Sydney is bizarre to say the least. A procession of regressive twits like John Howard and Minister of ALL THE THINGS Tony Abbott have stamped their religious beliefs on the issue meaning even both bits of Ireland, that long time example of religious tolerance, have pipped them to the altar.

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Despite the law, a gay marriage did occur at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival recentlyTo highlight the hypocrisy of Australia’s antiquated laws, lesbian comedian Zoe Coombs Marr married the best dressed man in comedy, Rhys Nicholson, whilst both their same sex partners watched on in mock horror. Two people who do not love each other deemed perfectly acceptable to marry as long as one has an innie and one an outie. Sure, leftie bloody comedians are onboard with gay marriage but in fact so is most of Australia with polls indicating 72% support for the institution. Which makes Malcolm Turnbull’s idea of a $160 million plebiscite to judge public opinion a complete and utter waste of everyone’s fucking time. What government in their right mind would waste millions on a ridiculous referendum….     

LGBTIQ families will no doubt have to hear how their lifestyles corrupt all those righteous marriages like Rupert Murdoch and Jerry Hall’s. The trauma this process could inflict on an already fragile group plagued with suicide and depression was best summed up by fellow lesbian comedian Hannah Gadsby as she MC’d the comedy wedding;  “Exclusion is not a simple act. When you say to a person: ‘No. You can not join in. You do not belong in this community.’ The end of that sentence is not the end of the story. The ramifications are traumatic to the individual. To actively isolate a fellow human being is nothing short of structural violence.”

Gay marriage is also not the slippery slope to paedophilia, bestiality and gloryholes in kindergartens as Brian Tamaki would have you believe. In fact the numerous same sex marriages, or as I call them, marriages, that I have performed as a celebrant over the past two and a half years have only resulted in joy, love, and extremely beautiful centrepieces. One of the first was two NZ women who had been together for 24 years coming back from Australia to wed, followed closely by two guys called Guy who had been together 17 years.  How anyone can see this as anything but bloody marvellous is beyond me.

Nick and Stephen Laing-Kane. Photo: Kara Woskett Photography

Nick and Stephen Laing-Kane. Photo: Kara Woskett Photography

Marriage means many things to many people. It’s moved on from being a prison sentence plagued with shame if it falls apart or a passport to sex for a horny Christian populace, to being a choice. Obviously I’m all for it but thankfully society has mostly realised that it is not for all couples. If you want to get married go hard with that Pinterest page. If you don’t, don’t. If your marriage is faltering, work at it, but if it fails you won’t have to be buried in a different cemetery and you can probably marry a royal without them having to abdicate.

Which is why I don’t understand the desperation to marry behind Married at First Sight.  Sure I am extremely lucky to have found someone but I was the ripe old age of 35.  I believe Erin would rather be dead than 35 and single.  And we haven’t even touched on the crazy train that was Jonno and Clare. The producers always need their villain and they found it in Jonno who declared on seeing Clare; “She’s not what I ordered” like his bride had been dished up at Sizzler.  Their relationship was doomed from the start providing the most uncomfortable dinner party since the last supper.

And to be honest as I have watched this show my overwhelming emotion has been sadness. Sadness that a woman as young as Erin needed a man to feel complete, sadness that 39 year old city-girl Christie thought this might lead to pregnancy and ended up with farmer Mark who “I would never swipe right on” and sadness Mark had just said; “if she doesn’t like me it will break my heart.”

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Ahhhh vulnerability, that old staple of reality television. The institution of marriage deserves better than that.

Despite that however in the finale we saw 2 out of 2 ain’t bad with Mark’s heart remaining intact along with his marriage to Christie, and Bryce continuing to nurture Erin through cooking lessons into happy ever after…. the director calls cut. Call me a cynic though, I’ll wait for the one year on recap special before I break out the Bernadino.

So… did she fuck him?  I’ll save you the trouble of watching by quoting a quality Murdoch owned operation news.com.au; “But then when pressed as to whether Bryce, 31, was a good lover, out of 10, she said: ’10 for sure. Solid 10.’

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