We're nearly at the end of the 10th season of Married At First Sight Australia, but so far, there have been only four lasting pairings in the decade-long experiment. Reflecting on this success rate, relationships expert John Aiken questions whether participants really are prepared to change to find true love.
"We hope they really will find the fairy tale," the 52-year-old tells Woman's Day of how the show's experts approach the cast. "When we meet them, we see fairly quickly why they're single and that they're showing certain behaviours that hold them back. They sabotage themselves without knowing it.
"And a number of them have very strict criteria. As soon as they see somebody who may not be what they wanted or ordered, they will rule them out immediately. They say, 'I'm ready for commitment,' but then they don't change to find love."
This year, more than ever, John has had a no-nonsense approach on the Three show.
"A number of the participants have never really been held to account. Some of them have never been told home truths. That's the real role that we've leaned into and now it's become a big part of the show."
The behaviour he simply can't tolerate is when participants use words as weapons.
"Words are very powerful and you need to choose them carefully," he says. "How they land can be very challenging on a person's feelings and self-esteem. This whole idea of 'speaking my truth' doesn't mean you're allowed to be disrespectful.
"One of the real focuses this year has been to shine a light on some of the really toxic communication styles. We have a number of men who behave poorly, which is different to last year, when we had a real rivalry between the women.
"But I'm just delighted that we've had some successful couples. We believe in the process, which is exhaustive. We do as much as we can to try to find out who the participants are and then we match them. We're really delighted when it works."
John and his fellow experts, Mel Schilling and Alessandra Rampolla, spend around two months interviewing each potential bride and groom, watching their auditions and doing background checks. He insists the show is not staged or scripted, there are no actors and personalities are not designed to clash.
"What I like about the show is that it really does get a lot of people talking about relationships and dating. When you watch it, you can learn what not to do. If you're single, you can say, 'I need to avoid that type of person,' or if you're in a relationship, you can say, 'We need to do this differently.'"
A relationship counsellor for more than 25 years, John recently gave up his private practice due to the demands of the show, which is now broadcast in 120 countries, and to spend more time with his young family.
John has been happily married to Kiwi woman Kelly Swanson-Roe, a former TV3 and Prime News presenter, for 16 years. They met after her first husband died in a canyoning tragedy when she was 24.
John and Waikato girl Kelly, now 48 and a successful interior designer, have two children, Aston, 13, and Piper, 10. They spent their first few years together in New Zealand, before moving to Sydney in 2008, and make at least one trip back every year.
"We came back for Christmas," says John. "We typically go to Whangamatā to get away from everything and catch up with family." On this latest trip, they also went to Waiheke Island for the first time since they married at Mudbrick Vineyard in 2007.
"It's important for our kids to know their mum's side of the family, her origins and how she grew up. She's a big All Blacks supporter, so she tries her best to get the kids to support New Zealand over the Wallabies."
With busy lifestyles, John and Kelly practise what he teaches on the show, ensuring they connect at any opportunity.
"Kelly and I we are very much a team. We will debrief at the end of the day and make sure we side with one another. We don't dish out solutions; we listen – that's a big part of it."
Their daily rituals include coffee in the morning on the balcony before they go their separate ways, then texting to check in during the day. When together, they make a concerted effort to detach from technology.
"We put the phones down," says John. "We're not heads-down at computers. We really try to be present and keep things novel. Rather than just going to the same café, we will go somewhere we haven't been before. If it's good or bad, we have a new shared experience. If nothing else, we have a laugh together."
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