Married at First Sight: ‘We’re all too scared to say it’
MARRIED At First Sight came to its explosive end on Monday night but, for some the contestants, they're still battling the storm.
Amid claims of altered storylines and extreme conditions - mixed with intense public opinion and discussion - contestants and family members are concerned about the true impact of the controversial Channel Nine reality series.
"What happens when they have someone on one of these shows that is really affected by this in a really bad way ... What would happen then?" Susan Rawlings, one of the brides in the latest series of the show, told news.com.au.
A family member of another contestant who appeared on the show told news.com.au watching the portrayal of their loved one unfold on television was "horrific".
"It's the worst thing you could see (a family member) go through," they said.
For two months, Australia was glued to the controversial series as it watched ten couples get matched by three experts, blindly "married", and then work through the struggles of the relationship.
Regularly winning the ratings war against Seven's juggernaut My Kitchen Rules, last night's finale of the Nine series pulled in 1.389m metro viewers, averaging its largest audience ever.
It's rollercoaster entertainment and viewers lap it up. But psychologist and commentator Dr Melissa Keogh says we could be walking down the aisle into dangerous territory.
"At what point do we stop and ask: How ethical is this?" Dr Keogh said. "It's really hard to mix psychology and the media because we are bound by very high professional standards. When its done well, it can go well. And other times we can be playing with fire a little bit."
'PEOPLE ARE HATING ME'
On screen, Perth-based truck driver Rawlings, 37, seemed happy and enamoured with her scientifically matched husband, Queensland farmer Sean Hollands. Throughout the series, Rawlings and Hollands were portrayed as deeply in love, trying to battle the obstacle of distance that's standing in the way of their romance.
But as the final week of the show aired, Rawlings became frustrated with the "complete lie", and insisted the outcome of her vow renewal ceremony had been edited.
She said she felt the burn of national backlash because of it - copping flak from fans and online commenters - for breaking the heart of the cowboy and "stringing him along".
"I said (to the production company), 'Why do you need to do that? Why couldn't you tell the truth? And they're like, 'Don't worry about it, you're both portrayed lovely don't worry about it,' to shut me up," she said.
While Rawlings admits all contestants are told from the beginning they have free access to a psychologist whenever they need, she's concerned the production company behind the series, Endemol Shine Australia, didn't take the initiative to reach out.
"They must know that people are hating me," she said. "It hurts to hear that s**t. It hurts to read peoples' opinions that aren't true. I know I shouldn't care but I do."
At the time of this interview, Rawlings said: "Not once has the psychologist ever called me saying, 'How are you feeling about how you're being portrayed? Are you OK, Susan?"
An Endemol Shine Australia spokesman said "all participants have access to psychological support".
"Our production is also in regular contact with the participants and are diligent in reporting any concerns to our psychologist," the company said in a statement.
"We take our duty of care extremely seriously."
VILLAINS GET VIEWERS
Throughout the series, Anthony Manton was portrayed as the controlling groom. Matched with contestant Nadia Stamp, the Sydney racing broadcaster riled viewers with his controversial opinions and dominant attitude towards his wife.
While Rawlings admits Manton did frequently make polarising statements, she says he's not the villain Australia was shown on television. Contestant Sean Hollands agreed, telling news.com.au last week: "Australia didn't get to see all of Anthony."
Manton's portrayal on the series has had dramatic effects on his life, Rawlings said.
"Anthony doesn't go out of the house. He's been threatened so many times from drunk people at the racetrack from the way he's being portrayed and they don't even care," she said.
Dr Keogh said the effects of copping such national backlash are "concerning".
"It can have an enormous impact on one's mental health which can have flow on effects to their physical health," she said.
"It must be distressing for contestants who feel like they have not been portrayed fairly or in a balanced manner," she said. "I think being followed up as part of a duty of care would be helpful."
While Rawlings said she "feels lucky Anthony is a strong man", her concern remains for future reality TV contestants who don't know what they're in for.
"I have that psychologist number to call them and I can reach out. and I have free counselling through work and I love talking to friends. But what happens when they pick someone for one of these shows that isn't like that?" she said.
Rawlings said she was in touch with Manton this weekend after she made claims about the treatment of contestants on the show. "He texted me this morning, saying: Good on you ... you just said what we all want to say and we're all too scared to say it. We're all too scared."
What makes the Married At First Sight format stand out from other dating shows is couples are matched by three experts - psychologists Mel Schilling and John Aiken and psychotherapist Trisha Stratford. Unlike other dating shows, contestants are guided by the experts throughout the series, but Lauren Bran - who made headlines as Married At First Sight's "runaway bride" this year - said she didn't feel the support.
Rawlings also questioned the influence of the psychologists, noting they wore "ear pieces" while filming certain scenes.
Throughout this recent series, viewers criticised the production staff for not stepping in to defuse fiery personal clashes.
The public are divided when it comes to hearing former reality show contestants speak out against a show that burned them. Claims of extreme editing, fake storylines and producers with an agenda plague productions every year and fans are quick to roll their eyes when burnt contestants cry foul once it all goes to air.
But while viewers are privy to the inner-workings of reality TV, Dr Keogh said a contestant should still be able to feel "protected".
"I think you should be able to sign up for a reality show in 2017 and still maintain your mental health post-production," she said. "When mental health is not maintained post production, that's where we need to be careful."
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