Tearful: Gabby breaks down after the dinner party from hell. Picture: Channel 9
Tearful: Gabby breaks down after the dinner party from hell. Picture: Channel 9

MAFS experts only paid to watch

AS Married At First Sight's heartbroken Gabby Bartlett sobbed on national TV last week, some fans had had enough.

"Where's the support?" they asked on social media. And why aren't these experts doing something?

Gabrielle looked drained. And desperate. As she spoke about having flashbacks to four years of being the one alone in the sea of couples at a barbecue, and now being "alone. Again" hearts melted.

Many were angry on her behalf - first targeting new show villain, her increasingly-narcissistic "husband" Nasser Sultan - who had refused to stay in her rental apartment, then told other contestants at the dinner party he didn't feel like he'd promote her from the friend zone "even if she was standing there naked".

Shattering week: It all got too much for Gabby after a week from hell on the show. Picture: Channel 9
Shattering week: It all got too much for Gabby after a week from hell on the show. Picture: Channel 9

But others took aim at MAFS "relationship experts" Dr Trisha Stratford, John Aiken and Mel Schilling.

While many have questioned what the experts were thinking this season with their match-ups, they've now moved on to ask again - just like they did last season - what they are actually doing when it all goes pear-shaped.

As Gabby melted down, show fans called on the experts to intervene, some accused them and producers of failing in their duty of care, of making match-ups for ratings rather than romance, and then leaving contestants high and dry.

"IT'S NOT OUR JOB"

While Stratford, Aiken and Schilling all have degrees in psychology, they're on MAFS to make the matches, provide commentary on what unfolds, and not much more.

It's not their role to intervene or cast judgments on the couples.

They do offer a little relationship advice on-air, but "the show's experts, although highly qualified, only have an on-air role," said MAFS production company Endemol Shine Australia.

The reality is MAFS on-screen experts have very little to do with the contestants.

They watch dinner parties just like viewers would - after the event. They attend commitment ceremonies, but as Aiken put it in the wake of the Davina/Dean affair: "it's not our job" to intervene.

Endemol didn't respond to questions about whether the changed title - from "psychologist" to "expert" - was because a former contestant had officially complained to the Psychology Council of NSW, which had then said the "experts" could no longer be referred to as psychologists.

SO WHO ARE COUPLES TALKING TO?

The real mental health heavy lifting is left to a dedicated show psychologist who works off camera.

She met all participants before shooting started, is on call 24/7, and is usually present at dinner parties and commitment ceremonies.

Facade cracks: Nasser isn’t enjoying his transformation from model husband to TV villain. Picture: Channel 9
Facade cracks: Nasser isn’t enjoying his transformation from model husband to TV villain. Picture: Channel 9

The show also has house co-ordinators who live with the contestants, and producers who film with the participants on a daily basis. If they have concerns about someone's welfare, they tell the show psychologist. Equally, participants can ask for her at any point.

"We take our duty of care extremely seriously. Throughout production and broadcast all participants are given full access to an off-screen psychologist dedicated to the show," and Endemol Shine spokesman said.

"Following filming, our production also remains in regular contact with the participants and are diligent in reporting any concerns to our psychologist, who continues to speak to them regularly."

Relastonhsip expert John Aiken says it’s not his job to intervene. There is an off-air psychologist for that. Picture: Channel 9
Relastonhsip expert John Aiken says it’s not his job to intervene. There is an off-air psychologist for that. Picture: Channel 9

TV insiders know while meltdowns and villains might be reality show ratings gold, insiders also know mental fragility doesn't wash morally, so productions are fanatical about a duty of care.

"When conflict arises, nobody's making anyone stay in a room they don't want to be," said one production insider.

“People say, ‘Why didn’t you stop it?’ but, of course, it’s part of the experiment,” says MAFS “relationship expert” Trisha Stratford. Picture: Jeremy Piper
“People say, ‘Why didn’t you stop it?’ but, of course, it’s part of the experiment,” says MAFS “relationship expert” Trisha Stratford. Picture: Jeremy Piper

"Nobody wants anyone to be distressed and walk out from a show. Nobody is going to be forced to stay in a room they don't want to be in. Nobody's going to be left to have a melt down alone. Nobody's going to be left with no alternative but to be near someone they really don't want to be near".

WHEN THE CAMERAS STOP

Show contracts mean contestants are limited in what they can say, and equally prescriptive of what they must do, when filming finishes and the show is finally broadcast.

Mostly it's about not revealing outcomes, and honouring a round of publicity commitments.

If they wilt under the pressure, or are the subject of a viewer hate campaign and they aren't coping, they'll be taken out of the mix and offered psychological support.

It might be a ticket out of the country for a break from prying media eyes, or not being available for media commitments, to give them a break from the hate and the spotlight.

"Following filming, our production also remains in regular contact with the participants and are diligent in reporting any concerns to our psychologist, who continues to speak to them regularly," Endemol Shine said.

SO WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?

Stratford, Aiken and Schilling spent about three months assessing applicants before debating what couples would make this season's MAFS with the show's producers.

"We look for genuine people, and then of course, we have to look for genuine people who have an interesting story. It is a television show, so we have to work with the program makers around that," Stratford told the Courier Mailearlier this year.

 

Many applauded when South Australian contestant Jo, had all the bubbly positivity knocked out of her after her match with blank canvas Sean failed to ignite, called out Aiken on air before she exited the show.

She'd left her kids, her home, and her mum had left her job, so Jo could be on the show, but she'd wound up with a dud.

Her question was as puzzled as it was heartfelt: "I have one question, and it's for you, John," she said. "We spent a lot of time talking, we had a long chat, and I want to know why you thought we would be a good match? You knew what I wanted, and I got this."

The vague reply ran along the lines of 'you're both from Adelaide", he was "open to dating someone that had kids" and they thought his introvert might be a good foil to her out-there optimism.

When called out for their handing of the Davina/Dean/Tracey triangle, the responses were equally non-committal.

Dean and Tracey. Many wondered how the “experts” could not tell Tracey the truth about her husband’s wandering eye . and hands. Picture: Channel 9
Dean and Tracey. Many wondered how the “experts” could not tell Tracey the truth about her husband’s wandering eye . and hands. Picture: Channel 9

While viewers raged - incredulous that "experts" could keep a women in the dark about her cheating partner, and then advise her it might make the relationship stronger, Stratford's take was it was all part of the experiment.

"We matched them for a reason and it shows that in relationships we can get tempted but we don't necessarily act on it," Stratford told The Manly Daily.

"People say, 'Why didn't you stop it?' but, of course, it's part of the experiment.

"We don't have anything to do with the couples until we watch the dinner party and see the commitment ceremony."


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