The final episodes of Married at First Sight drew record-breaking ratings this week, with 3 million Australians tuning in. And while I’ve heard a few smug retorts from a handful of people (*cough Dad) about how anyone with a half a brain could subject themselves to such unsavoury viewing, there’s a very explainable reason.
MAFS pushes all the boundaries. The “social experiment” of matching totally ill-suited couples and then prodding them with sharp stick for months on end inevitably results in some excellent TV drama and the best kind of escapism after a long day. I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve rarely missed an episode.
But despite my firm seat on the MAFS bandwagon, I have to admit that after last night’s episode I was left with a sense of hollow dread. It seeped in over the full two hours and had nothing to do with my realisation that weeknights were about to get more boring, and everything to do with the fact that MAFS is actually more real, more accurate than I’d ever given it credit for.
Listening to women like Ines and Lizzy and Heidi relive their horrendous relationships, made me acutely aware that men like Mike and Sam (“the husbands”) sadly aren’t confined to the screen on my wall. These guys walk among us. I meet them every day and some of them are even dating or married to women I love.
Elizabeth Sobinoff was matched with Sam in week one of the series. The pair enjoyed a lavish wedding before Sam quickly (and on camera) deduced that he’d “never really dated girls as big as Elizabeth in the past,” but he’d (valiantly) get her onto a workout schedule, so all would be fine.
He then spent the next weeks ditching her to be with his ex-girlfriend temporarily, sex-shaming her to the other guys on the show, talking about how crazy she was, cheating on her with another wife (Ines Basic) and then making out that he was the victim.
“Sam is incredibly charming but also manipulative,” Elizabeth told Fairfax ahead of the finale this week. “He would say, ‘she’s just crazy,’ and made me out to be a liar. It was gaslighting, so it was great for me to be able to show the rest of the cast what I had to go through.”
She recounted a faux-apology she’d received from Sam last month (despite him telling tabloids he’d apologised for his actions way back in January) where he blamed producers for betraying them both.
“It was barely an apology,” she said. “He wrote, ‘I am so upset with how we both got betrayed this way’ … He kept mentioning ‘both’. He will never accept any sole responsibility.”
During last night’s episode, (in which Sam was a scaredy-cat no-show) Elizabeth was asked to speak about her turbulent relationship on the couch with experts, Mel Schilling, Trisha Stratford and John Aiken.
As she was recounting her experience, another one of the husbands (and resident chauvinist) Mike Gunner jumped in to tell Elizabeth she was in fact the one out of line. This was despite no one– and I mean literally no one– asking for his opinion.
Later on, Mike, who spent the entire series manipulating his wife Heidi and making her apologise for his own douchebaggery piped in about the conduct of the women in the experiment:
“Uh,” he sighed, “There’s a few things I’d like to point out. I think groups of women under pressure don’t cope as well as groups of men under pressure,” he surmised.
“There’s differences between men and women, don’t mistake that; I mean, the matriarchy and the patriarchy are two different things entirely, and there are different dynamics at play.
“We’re seeing these girls have fallen apart and the men haven’t.
“Any group of women that are put in this same type of situation, maybe this (group situations) just doesn’t speak to their biology … there is actually some merit in that.”
The women he was alluding to had finally had a gutfull. Rallying together they told Mike where to stick it– a beautiful collective chorus of angry indignation– after months of stomaching his sexist drivel.
Because of course there is no merit to what Mike or Sam have to say about women. Their only aim has ever been to gaslight and diminish. Men like this fail to accept women as their equals and Mike’s lesson on “biology” is all the proof you need.
but dismissing these two outright as a MAFS aberration would be foolish. Men like Mike and Sam might be dinosaurs, but they still roam among us freely. The only way to ever challenge their power is to first recognise how omnipresent they truly are.
Because right now? Well, extinction is a long way off.