In a relatively little-known (read: terrible) movie called What Happens in Vegas, two strangers, played by Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher, get married after a boozy night in Sin City. During their hearing to get the marriage annulled, the judge declares, “Gay people aren’t ruining the sanctity of marriage, you people are,” and orders the couple to stay married for a set amount of time. Now the FYI television network has taken this thin premise and turned it into the reality show Married at First Sight.
The show, which marries three couples without their ever having met each other, is just as boring as What Happens in Vegas, and the people are less attractive than Diaz and Kutcher. However, the first episode justifies at least the latter part of the movie judge’s statement: People like this are ruining marriage.
The couples are paired based on the opinions of four “experts:” the Sociologist, the Sexologist, the Clinical Psychologist, and the Spiritual Advisor. The experts spend the first ten minutes of the show repeating how this is not a reality show, but a “radical new social experiment.” The couples will be legally married and, after four weeks, will have the option to stay married until the cameras turn off or jump ship while the cameras are still on.
It took me longer than four weeks to decide if I wanted to buy a WiiU.
The show’s social experiment is “radical” in one sense, though it’s not exactly “new.” Zsa Zsa Gabor, Dennis Rodman, Britney Spears, Dennis Hopper and Eddie Murphy all had marriages that didn’t make it to the 28-day mark. In 2012 a man in Dubai reportedly divorced his wife mere “seconds” after the wedding. But the four-week premise does argue that marriage means absolutely nothing in today’s society. It’s disposed of quicker than most people get rid of a broken sofa.
Is even that true, however? Most couples already undergo a limited-duration test of compatibility. It’s called “dating.” The fact that many of the rules of courtship have faded — most notably the expectation that unmarried couples would put off sexual intercourse — makes it even less vital to conduct elaborate experiments to find out if people are right for each other.
The next forty minutes of Married at First Sight consist of the singles assuring the camera that this “social experiment” is indeed crazy, emphasizing how crazy they must be to become a part of this crazy show. The singles, who are all living in New York City, also repeat how tough dating is and how this is the right decision for them.
The show demonstrates how serious the experiment is by showing its experts flipping through books and highlighting things while they analyze the singles’ personality tests. The experts also say the word “scientific” a lot. While discussing the “sophisticated instruments” used to evaluate the participants (actually they just use a questionnaire), the Clinical Psychologist asserts that these same methods are used by the “CIA and FBI.” According to documents made public by Edward Snowden, the Central Intelligence Agency’s 2013 budget was $14.7 billion, but that figure does not seem to include any line items related to a top-secret matchmaking program. (Maybe that’s part of the $2.6 billion Langley spent on covert operations.)
Meanwhile, the Sociologist visits each of the singles at home and draws connections between couples who will be paired up. Girl A performs in a burlesque show and wears costumes. Boy A is a professional wrestler and wear costumes. They both wear costumes! It’s a match made in heaven! Huzzah! According to First Sight, these details are the makings of a successful marriage.
The first episode concludes with one of the brides, Jamie, struggling to say yes to her partner, Doug, because she doesn’t find him attractive. She says to her bridesmaids, “I need to have something to work with.” Don’t worry, Jamie. Judging by the previews, you’ll say yes to a marriage with a total stranger with more ease than I will say yes to watching the second episode of this show.
— Christine Sisto is an editorial associate at National Review Online.