Kiwi MAFS expert Trisha Stratford “absolutely gobsmacked” at current season

Just when you thought the show couldn't get juicier, Dr Trisha warns "buckle up because it's going to get better."

If there’s one person who could navigate the battleground that was Married at First Sight Australia‘s explosive dinner-party scene, then it’s Dr Trisha Stratford.

She might be better known as the softly spoken scientist who matches the couples on the hit series on Three, but before retraining as a neuroscientist, she was found reporting from grisly scenes in war-torn nations skilled in hostage negotiation.

“I’ve always been fascinated by the way the brain works,” Trisha tells Woman’s Day during our photo shoot in Auckland. “And after working in war zones, where people are saying one thing and then doing another, it was really important to me to understand the brain. It’s fascinating.”

The Wellington-born, Sydney-based doctor joined Married at First Sight Australia for its first season back in 2015, but it took a lot of pleading from the show’s producers before she agreed.

Trisha admits to being in no rush to return to telly after spending the first two decades of her career on the screen, reporting from war-stricken countries like Bosnia, Somalia and Rwanda for the likes of TVNZ and 60 Minutes.

“TV keeps finding me,” she smiles.

Trisha during her time as a war correspondent

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The clinical neuro-psycho-therapist had just completed a PhD in neuroscience at the University of Technology Sydney and was spending her days in a lab, researching how the brain reacts during human interaction.

“I had a few calls from producers and I just kept saying no, until finally I realised that it was an experiment, an observational documentary and not reality TV,” recalls Trisha.

“I had this thought that if I don’t stand up as a woman in science, in neuroscience, someone will pick up my research and talk about it on the show, and it would probably have been a man. I thought it was important that I stood up and did it.”

Unsurprisingly, Trisha admits that working on Married at First Sight is very different from her career as a war correspondent or working holed up in a research lab, but she still loves it.

“I’m forever amazed,” she laughs. “Every season is different and every year that I have been doing it, I’ve been surprised. It’s intense. It’s a relationship on steroids. What they do in that eight weeks is what we’d normally do in 18 months and they don’t just have their partners but the groups and us too.

“We’re now at a point in the show where the experts are just observing and at certain points, I’m left absolutely gobsmacked.”

And she isn’t alone. Last week, it was an explosive episode, with Davina Rankin facing fury after admitting that she fancied another bride’s husband, Dean Wells, at the group dinner party.

Married at First Sight participant Davina Rankin flirts even as her husband, Ryan, looks on.

“We’ve all been to a dinner party like that,” notes Trisha.

“The alcohol starts flowing and people start flirting. And let’s be honest, there are many relationships that have started when someone has left for someone else’s partner! So the dinner party reflects society.”

And with a meaningful look, she adds, “But buckle up because it’s going to get better.”

Married at First Sight participant Dean Wells

The doctor admits that while she keeps a professional boundary, she’s still invested in each of the couples. And she confesses that she’s still not completely over the demise of 2017 favourites Alene Khatcherian and Simon McQuillan, who announced their split last May.

“I still get people coming up to me in the street, telling me how upset they are that Simon and Alene broke up,” she says. “We all loved them.”

Married at First Sight couple from the previous season, Simon and Alene

So who is Trisha backing this year?

“I absolutely want Sarah and Telv to work,” she admits. “But I want everyone to find love and if they don’t, I want them to come off the show with more self-awareness than when they went on.”

She hints that Dean Wells, who was slammed as sexist for needing a woman to “respect him as the man”, may have a transformation.

“Dean represents a type of male in society and so is allowed his opinion and we, as experts, can’t judge,” she admits.

“People should hold their judgment with Dean and see what happens through the show.”

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The programme’s twists and turns have definitely whetted the appetites of the audience year after year, but Trisha reckons that in previous seasons, the brides and grooms have been left off the hook when it comes to the sex chat.

“We don’t want participants to just stay on the show because they are enjoying the group dynamic,” she explains. “It’s not Friends at First Sight but Married at First Sight.

“So now I have been talking to them about how important sex is. They do get a bit squirmy when we talk about how the relationships need to have physical intimacy as well as emotional intimacy.

“But I have been doing one-on-one sessions with the couples, talking about things to do to increase that physical bonding, like non-sexual touching or holding a kiss for three minutes.”

So is MAFS about to get a little more nudey rudey? Trisha just gives a knowing smile.

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