Married at First Sight: Is this a TV social experiment we should take seriously?

The Channel 4 show uses a panel of relationship experts to assess the compatibility of singletons and matchmake them into couples

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Imagine if X Factor were genuinely interested in finding the most talented new musicians in Britain, instead of just filling airtime between TalkTalk commercials? Or if the Big Brother house brought together a real representative cross section of British society, and not just the fame-hungry desperados from the dole queue. How much more compelling would I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here be if the celebs were at genuine risk of death-by-starvation when they gobbled up kangaroo testicles? Well imagine no longer. When Married at First Sight starts on Channel 4 next week, we may finally have a TV social experiment that’s worth taking seriously.

The format of the show, which was originally devised in Denmark, uses a panel of relationship experts to assess the compatibility of singletons and matchmake them into couples. And by ‘relationship experts’ we don’t mean Paddy McGuinness from Take Me Out or that overly chatty French waiter from First Dates. Married at First Sight has a psychologist, a psychoanalyst, an evolutionary anthropologist and a priest, who used methods including DNA testing and a 300-part psychological questionnaire to whittle their 1500 applicants down to just three prospective marriages. The first time these couples meet, it’s their wedding day. They then go on honeymoon, then cohabit for five weeks before ultimately deciding in the series finale whether to divorce or stay together.

Does this mean the show will trivialise marriage? Inevitably, some think so. A spokesperson from the Marriage Foundation told the Daily Mail: “the originators of this programme profoundly misunderstand the nature of commitment.” But surely all romantic commitments involve a hefty element of risk. In traditional marriages, couples gamble their future happiness equally on their partners and the institution of matrimony. In this situation, the spouse-to-be is a total stranger, so individuals must instead place all their faith in the institution itself, one that many of their contemporaries dismiss as outmoded.

Nor would anyone with any experience of modern dating doubt the sincerity of their intentions. Internet dating promises much, but delivers little (“There’s no oxytocin hit with an email” says evolutionary anthropologist Dr Anna Machin). Long working hours also mean those rare evenings off are too precious to squander on blind dates. As one applicant jokes “It can’t be worse than Tinder, eh?”

Unlike the average reality TV contestant, everyone involved in this show seems fully aware that having their personal lives play out on television will be embarrassing, but the potential rewards make it worthwhile. Moreover the show’s past hit rate is impressive - two out of the three couples on the US series remain happily married three years on. Cilla Black could only dream of such success. While most other dating shows just toy with our emotions, Married at First Sight is serious about making it work.

Pre-watershed dressing: a refresher course

Just how naked do you have to be to be deemed ‘inappropriate’ for pre-watershed viewing? Pretty naked, according to the standard jointly set by Britain’s Got Talent judges Amanda Holden and Alesha Dixon. For the May 31st live show, they wore saucy gowns featuring slits up to the crotch, necklines down to the belly-button, and prompted nearly 300 viewer complaints — yet still they were cleared by an uncharacteristically mellow Ofcom. “In our view, the dresses appropriately covered the judges and they were not portrayed in a sexualised way,” said a spokesman.

Nick Grimshaw has been known to leave more than just the top two shirt buttons unfastened (Getty)

Surely any self-(dis)respecting publicity seeker will interpret this ruling as a challenge? If anyone can provoke the relaxed regular into action, it’s X Factor’s new signing Rita Ora, although she may have some competition from fellow newbie Nick Grimshaw. He’s been known to leave more than just the top two shirt buttons unfastened.


Not Safe For Work, All4

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The 7/7 Bombings: Survivors Stories, ITV Player

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A Deadly Adoption trailer, YouTube

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