From Better Communication To Potential Jealousy — The MAFS ‘Partner-Swap’ Challenge Could Go Either Way
What makes Married At First Sight an undeniably addictive watch is the unpredictability of strangers getting married the first time they meet. Now that we're several weeks into this season and getting closer to the finale, the reality TV show is keeping us on our toes with another curveball.
In this instance, the curveball will come in the form of a partner swap, which will see all the couples spending three days with someone else from the experiment who isn't their original husband or wife.
Living in the same apartment and forced to sleep in the same bed, it's reported the contestants won't actually get a say in who they're paired with.
According to one of the show's experts, John Aiken, this sort of challenge is meant to throw cast members out of their comfort zones, and help them understand how their own relationships can grow.
"Some of them strengthen their bond as a result of these challenges, but other couples start to really come apart, and so how do they navigate that?" Aiken told Daily Mail Australia when explaining the rationale behind setting such challenges.
Previous seasons have seen contestants do a very brief partner swap where they share advice and feedback with another cast member (who's not their partner) over lunch or dinner. But this year's twist takes the concept of partner swapping to the next level, and it makes you wonder, what's the purpose and desired outcome of shuffling the MAFS couples around like this?
Open relationships, swinging and polyamory are not new concepts in wider society. Some involve emotional attachments to other people, some are purely sex-based, and some strive to achieve a combination of both. In some cases, these arrangements can produce healthier outcomes for the couples involved, including better communication, a more content sex life or greater overall satisfaction.
But, the partner swapping in MAFS can't really be classified as an open relationship, swinging or polyamory. Contestants will spend long periods of time with a new partner, so there's perhaps an opportunity to learn about new ways of approaching a relationship and gaining a fresh perspective on marriage.
But just as there's the potential for new lessons to be learned, there's also the possibility that things could go south.
We need to remember this is a set challenge where cast members don't get a choice in who they're paired with. Issues of consent, jealousy and mistrust could arise. It's been reported that some contestants weren't happy with the process.
"Not everyone was keen to participate. Layton refused to do it," an alleged source told the Daily Mail. "They didn't see the point of it and was like, 'No way this would happen on the outside world.'"
According to the publication, Layton Mills — who's married to Melinda Willis on the show — is paired with Bronte Schofield for the partner-swapping challenge. Meanwhile, Willis is paired with Schofield's husband Harrison Boon, who she has definitely not seen eye-to-eye with throughout the season.
MAFS executive producer John Walsh downplayed the enormity of the challenge, telling the publication it's just an extension of what's been done in the past.
"We've always done a partner swap, it's been a lunch or dinner, where we've got different partners to give feedback to each other," he said.
Separate to this, the most scandalous 'partner swaps' in previous years have actually been when two contestants have gone behind their partners' backs and hooked up with each other in front of the cameras. Examples of these 'cheating' scenarios include Davina Rankin and Dean Wells' tryst in 2018, and Carolina Santos and Daniel Holmes' relationship in 2022.
While the new partner-swapping challenge on MAFS is not cheating as it's set up by the production team and all contestants are aware, it's important to ask ourselves how far the show is willing to go with these challenges — and whether it will actually help the marriages or just keep us entertained.
Refinery29 Australia has contacted Channel 9 for comment.
Married At First Sight airs Sunday at 7pm and Monday to Wednesday at 7:30pm on Channel 9 and 9Now.