Why we can’t get enough of MAFS
IT WOULD be hard to find a more divisive cast of characters on TV than the singles that make up this year's Married At First Sight.
From mean Ines to self-confessed Lothario Mike, the Channel 9 reality show has viewers fired up and angry - and let's face it, that's why we can't look away.
Because it's safe to say we're not all tuning in just to watch how things pan out between perfect couple Jules and Cam.
In two short weeks more than one million viewers per episode - and climbing - have been glued to their couches watching virgin deflowering, rejected pool pashes and lost wedding dresses.
Audiences have gotten fired up online about Ines' honeymoon confrontation with Bronson and Ning's cold treatment of Mark, so much so that Nine's social media team have been forced to delete and even disable comments.
So what is it about MAFS that has us all so hooked? And will the reign of Australia's most divisive reality show ever come to an end?
MAFS executive producer Tara McWilliams believes the show has resonated with audiences because it is both a "real life soap opera" and a deep dive into how relationships work.
"It's so unpredictable, you don't know which way it's going to go from one episode to the next," Ms McWilliams told news.com.au.
"It's also a show that in many ways it's relatable, probably in an extreme way, but it is relatable because it's about relationships."
Showing the ups and downs of the new couples navigating their lives on honeymoon and then at the weekly commitment ceremony "lifts the curtain" on the parts of relationships that are normally kept behind closed doors.
"You're not (normally) in someone's apartment with them seeing what it is they fight about, what is that gets under their skin, what the issues (are)," Ms McWilliams said.
"Or the flip side, see people so intimate in their relationships. You don't see men reveal their feelings, express their emotions the way they do on this show."
TV Tonight's David Knox told news.com.au MAFS works because it amplified the best elements of the premise, which premiered overseas as an actual social experiment documentary.
"Nine cleverly 'super-sized' a Danish format into multiple couples and hours, including the masterstroke of 'dinner parties' where conflict and alcohol are on the menu," Mr Knox said.
"Experienced producers certainly know how to test the tempers of their cast and prod them for on-camera outbursts. At its most extreme it's car-crash TV.
"You only have to watch Gogglebox to see how viewers are gobsmacked, cheering the heroes and hissing the villain, with bad behaviour 'acceptable' when it is on the other side of the screen."
Sealing the deal is the media attention Married At First Sight attracts, with countless articles generated from every episode.
"The media cycle then laps it up with extensive recaps, paparazzi shots and tell-all radio interviews," Mr Knox said.
"Everybody conveniently overlooks that TV weddings are not legal weddings, no longer even clarified by the show itself."
This year's Married At First Sight celebrated a first, with the contestants' weddings staked out and papped by photographers.
It's a measure of how big the show is and its reach into pop culture that its stars are so frequently followed and photographed (although some of the more, ahem, scandalous shots do appear to be set up).
Previous contestants like Cheryl Maitland and Davina Rankin have used their infamy on the show to launch successful careers as Instagram influencers and socialites.
Already this season there seems like there are some contenders for this path, with Mick accusing Jessika of being there only "for the Instagram likes" on their honeymoon.
But while McWilliams says that she and the show's other producers have "a pretty good nose" for those only looking for celebrity, she believes wanting to be famous and finding love aren't mutually exclusive.
"People look at say Davina in the past and say she wasn't genuine about finding love, she was only in it to up her Instagram followers and all those kind of things," Ms McWilliams said.
"What I say to that is yes look she might of wanted to increase her profile, she might have wanted to get more Instagram followers, look that's absolutely a possibility, but I absolutely believe she also came on this experiment with the hopes of meeting someone, and I absolutely stand by that even after everything that's gone on.
"I would say the same about people in the cast this year, that for whatever reason you might think their motivation is for being on the show - I'm not saying that isn't something that might motivate them - but I absolutely think that they also come on this hoping they will find a really great match with someone they could potentially fall in love with."
While it seemed like it would be pretty impossible to top the Dean and Davina scandal from last year this year's MAFS already seems to have trumped last year's drama.
The cheating and squabbling that goes on MAFS makes past reality TV scandals pale by comparison - remember when the worst thing you'd seen on reality TV was Dicko's withering comment about Paulini's dress on Australian Idol?
Already Nine's casting has come under scrutiny, with viewers slamming Ines' over her "verbally abusive" treatment of Bronson, after she exploded in an expletive-laden rant during their honeymoon.
Also criticised was 29-year-old Matthew, with people arguing his virgin status was too heavily sensationalised or even made up for drama on the show.
While some of this year's contestants might be already infuriating viewers, Ms McWilliams thinks MAFS ultimately "is bigger than just one or two or three characters".
"You may not like some of it but it doesn't mean you don't find them interesting. So while I know that Ines she's certainly getting a fair amount of negative reaction towards her, it doesn't mean people don't find her fascinating to watch," Ms McWilliams said.
"The same with Ning, I think Ning obviously has struggled at the beginning to show her warmer side with her husband, you can gather from her wedding, but it doesn't mean that you don't want to see where it's going to go.
"I think people still want to see how is this relationship going to pan out, is she going to warm up? Are they going to find a connection? And I think what we found in past series how you feel about someone at the beginning isn't necessarily how you feel about them at the end."
Mr Knox believes "everything comes back to casting" with reality TV, and "Nine has a dream mix of doe-eyed lovers and ticking time-bombs".
With MAFS kicking off its season with salacious storylines and a massive audience, Knox doesn't believe the show's dominance will fade anytime soon.
"They are the kind of numbers TV programmers dream of heading into the start of the ratings year, and trends would suggest they will go higher still," he said.
"Everything is cyclical in TV but wedding bells will be ringing and champagne popping for some time to come."