"Married at First Sight," a new reality show that premiered on July 8 on the FYI network, is doing for arranged marriage what two-buck chuck did for wine.
The show's premise: A bunch of single people take a personality test, then let experts match them up with life partners based on their results. The twist: Contestants must marry the person they get matched with, sight unseen. The challenge: the newlyweds move in together for one month, then decide whether they want to stay married or get divorced.
The marriage "experts" on the show include a clinical psychologist, a sociologist, a sexologist, and a "spiritual advisor." The group pooled their collective wisdom to develop a lengthy personality test, which they gave to 625 marriage-minded singles. Dr. Joseph Cilona, the show’s psychologist, says the matchmakers used "CIA- and FBI-grade instruments" to evaluate everyone's personalities and select three couples to act as guinea pigs in their social experiment. (The show is a remake of successful Danish TV program.)
The show is essentially a new twist on the old concept of arranged marriages. Sexologist Logan Levkoff wrote for the Huffington Post that she is helping to create "blind arranged marriages." About five minutes into the first episode, spiritual advisor Greg Epstein says, "I think that arranged marriages work. Through dating, people choose one another for the wrong reasons all the time, and what we're trying to do is bring people together for the right reasons."
That may sound like a noble cause, but what these folks are doing is almost nothing like a typical arranged marriage. A traditionally arranged marriage, a custom that is still relatively common in countries such as India, is usually brokered by family, religious leaders or some other third party, but gives the couple a chance to get to know each other before exchanging vows. The potential bride and groom meet each other, and after a few meetings—ranging from proper romantic dates to stuffy chaperoned chats in the family living room—the couples decide whether or not to marry.
"(The) Indian marriage system is not 'marriage at first sight,'" Sarojini Sahoo, a professor who has penned numerous books and blogs about feminist ideals in India, wrote to Fusion an email.
Sahoo says there are several factors a family or matchmaker would consider before arranging a typical marriage. Physical appearance, castes, matching horoscopes ("at least 60 percent match is necessary"), and agreement on dowry are among the more important considerations, Sahoo says.
But none of that happens on "Married at First Sight." The only addition to the personality test (or rather, the personality SAT—one contestant said it took her 6 hours to fill out), is a few cursory questions about the physical attributes contestants look for in a mate. The show claims it relies on science and data to create perfect couples; issues like appearance (or your zodiac sign) shouldn't be important when someone is a match for you on a deeper level, their expert matchmakers claim.
On "Married at First Sight," couples aren't allowed to meet, see photos of one another, or even learn the name of their intended spouse before they’re literally walking down the aisle.
Proponents of arranged marriage, including a couple of the experts on the show, point out that those types of relationships generally have a lower divorce rate than "autonomous marriages," where partners pick each other.
Conversely, divorce seems borderline inevitable on "Married at First Sight." On the second episode, which aired Tuesday night, new bride Jamie Otis collapsed in a heap of tears in the hallway and admitted she just wasn’t attracted to the man she was suddenly married to.
"I trusted the experts so much and I felt like they failed me," Otis confessed. "I wanted the butterflies and it didn't happen. … I'm thinking I just made the worst decision of my life."