- Jaclyn pretends she’s not grossed out by her new husband, Ryan.
There’s a groovy old Billy Joel song called “The Stranger,” and it’s all about how we reveal to other people, even our lovers, only what we want to be seen. We’re all hideous, selfish monsters hiding behind masks of decorum, empathy, intelligence, and charisma, not to mention superficial things like makeup, hairdos, and chemically whitened teeth. Is Billy Joel a cynic? Well, duh. He’s also a notoriously heavy drinker, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t right. If he is and we really are all strangers to even our most intimate companions, then the premise of A&E’s Married at First Sight is almost not creepy at all.
I like to think I’m pretty good at keeping a finger poised on the pulse of television shows that sound like they’ll be hard to watch, but somehow the first season of Married at First Sight—which aired in 2014—totally passed me by. (AND former Bachelor contestant Jamie Otis was half of one of the matched couples, so I don’t even know what to say for myself.) The second season premiered in late March.
Here’s how it works: Thousands of people who are dying to get married and who happen to live in the New York metropolitan area go through an application process, and a team of experts—one named Dr. Pepper Schwartz, which has to be a trademark violation—narrows the field down to three couples composed of people who seem like they might get along. Then, as the name of the series implies, the couples agree to get legally married upon first laying eyes on each other. The weddings and our introductions to the victims wrap up over the course of the first two episodes. The rest of the season is devoted to seeing how the couples get along for a six week period and, ultimately, whether they’ll decide to stay married or get divorced. I researched: two of the couples from season one decided to stay married and are still together, and the other divorced.
I watch the Bachelor franchise, so I’m no fool (please ignore the obvious contradiction): There’s a lot more at play here than the possibility of reciprocal love, legitimate compatibility, and long-term companionship. Giving it a shot means talk show interviews, stories in US Weekly, and the ability to sell the rights to your first-born child. Otis, who’s half of one of the couples who made it last season, used to be a registered nurse—now she’s a TV host and registered nurse, according to Twitter.
But, whatever. Let’s imagine the six people participating in this season’s “radical social experiment” (I bet no one ever referred to arranged marriage as a “radical social experiment”) just really, really want to get married and are willing to do so in an imprudently hasty fashion despite the fact that they’re all fairly attractive and none is overtly mentally ill. Isn’t that kind of worse? It’s not like it’s exclusive to reality TV for someone to let the identity of his or her partner become an incidental part of his or her desire to get married, but it’s also probably part of the reason most marriages end in divorce.
We’ve gotten as far as the “I dos,” and it’s so far, so good for two out of the three couples. Jessica, a pretty 30-year-old receptionist, was paired with Ryan D., a muscly Staten Island guido (who’s actually Jewish), and they each like the way the other looks. Davina was paired with Sean because, the experts explain, they were both bullied as children (Sean has a horrible story that involves friends breaking his bones)—and so far they definitely like the way the other looks! The only couple having trouble so far is the one with a member who does not like the way the other person looks. Jaclyn, who married Ryan R., told the producers, “I see him, and it’s like oh god, oh shit.” And, watch, they’ll wind up being the only couple that stays together.
TV shows can be fascinating even if they aren’t enriching, and this one definitely isn’t enriching. It’s entertaining to watch people make questionable decisions and then live through the consequences. Schadenfreude continues to be reality TVs most powerful ally.
Married at First Sight, Tuesdays at 8 PM on A&E