The concept of an arranged marriage might be an outdated concept for many, but it is still being practiced in some cultures. When “Married at First Sight” premiered on 8 July 2014 on FYI, the American cable channel owned by A&E Networks, people were intrigued, and the interest hasn’t waned over the years. The reality television series featured single people who agreed to be matched by a panel of experts based on science. Complete strangers would marry, and then decide after several weeks if they wanted to stay married or to divorce. Viewers couldn’t help but wonder if the couples in the show stayed together for long, after the cameras stopped filming.
About the show
All marriages require a leap of faith, but to marry someone the first time one laid eyes on the person was perhaps taking it a bit too far. In “Marriage at First Sight,” the bride and groom met for the first time as she walked down the aisle, metaphorically or literally, and the groom waited, with their families and friends witnessing the moment.
They didn’t know anything about each other, except for the ring size. The idea might sound insane, but thousands applied to be part of the show – whether they wanted to find true love, or just become famous, or even infamous, is anybody’s guess.
Some had applied, while others were scouted in mixers, bars and from dating sites by the casting team. Not just anyone could become a groom or bride, as the selection process was quite intense. Applicants had to fill out a questionnaire that would go through all details of their lives, including past relationships.
Potential participants were interviewed and invited to what the producers called gender-specific ‘workshops’ in which they learned what the show was all about, and what would be required of them to qualify. The executive producer, Chris Coelen, helped run this with experts such as Dr. Logan Levkoff, clinical psychologist Dr. Joseph Cilona, spiritual advisor Greg Epstein, and sociologist Dr. Pepper Schwartz, sexologist. Of note, except for the latter, the only female on the panel, the experts were replaced after season three.
Those participants who wished to proceed were further whittled down after extensive background checks, and psychological evaluations were done.
According to the executive producer, the initial casting process took about six months, and the final casting process was done within four to six weeks. Experts played matchmakers based on the data collected, but they had to admit that there were no guarantees as it was not an exact science. The couples might look good on paper, but there was no telling how they would react in reality, and in front of the camera. The producers deemed the show as some kind of a social experiment.
The union was legally binding, and the couple would spend their wedding night together, although of course it was up to them if they wanted to consummate their marriage or not. It was followed by a honeymoon, and then moving in together so they could live as husband and wife. After five to eight weeks, they had to decide if they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together, or go their separate ways. Turning to family or friends for sound advice or as a sounding board could be of immense help to the couple.
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Throughout their journey, the experts were there to help, especially when it comes to resolving the issues that came up.
For their protection, the grooms and brides signed a prenuptial agreement should things not work out between them, meaning that they walked out of their marriages with whatever they brought into it. The cost of divorce, however, wasn’t entirely paid for by the producers of the show – executive producer Coelen said they would help cover the cost of the attorney, but it was nominal, and only within a certain period of time.
The TV series was based on a show in Denmark entitled “Gift ved første blik,” which premiered in 2013.
Couples who are still together
Many couples chose to stay together come decision day, but some eventually divorced. Here are some of those who continued to make their marriages work, and stood the test of time.
First success story – Jamie and Doug (Season one)
Jamie Otis, a 27-year-old registered nurse, and Doug Hehner, a 31-year-old software salesman, were matched for having similar personalities and for sharing core values. On their wedding day, she was scared as she walked down the aisle, thinking she had made the worst decision of her life, while Doug was clearly smitten as he couldn’t take his eyes off her. The word ‘honeymoon’ freaked her out, so they agreed to call it a vacation. He grew on her, as she realized that he had everything she wanted in a guy, and that they had so much in common.
Much later, Jamie talked to her sister about Doug lying to her about not smoking, which she said was just a silly thing, but it caused her to have misgivings about staying with him. She said, ‘they would start off with a lie, and then before you know it, they’re cheating and then they’re beating you, and then they’re leaving you.’ However, her sister dissuaded her of that notion. The couple worked things out, and were able to move forward. Doug had a talk with his parents whose successful marriage he wanted to emulate, and they believed that Jamie was good for him.
As the couple compared their wedding and ‘monthsary’ photos, it was clear how far they had come from being awkward to being comfortable around each other; Doug started with not being able to touch her waist, to feeling like he couldn’t put his arm around her enough. Initially, Jamie wasn’t attracted to Doug, but he had been very patient with her. The sexologist said Jamie had to understand that they picked Doug for her for a reason, and ‘just because someone doesn’t match the expectations that you have in your head, it doesn’t mean it’s not right.’
Their marriage wasn’t consummated throughout the experimental period, as Jamie wasn’t ready to have sex, and he didn’t want to pressure her into it. However, they had come to a point at which there was real affection and attraction between them. In the end, they chose to stay married even if they weren’t yet in love. He said, ‘My feelings have grown each day. I can’t think past this experiment without her in my life.’ She said, ‘I hope that we can fall in love, stay married, have babies and that perfect little family.’
Jamie finally found the right guy for her after failing to do that when she joined the 16th season of “The Bachelor” in 2012, and the third season of “Bachelor Pad” that same year. The success of the FYI TV series spawned the spin-offs “Married at First Sight: The First Year”, and “Married Life,” which chronicled the daily lives of the couple, as well as “Jamie and Doug Plus One,” as they became parents.
Sometime after the hit show, they renewed their wedding vows. They have two children, Henley Grace born in 2017, and Hendrix Douglas born in 2020. Building a family of four didn’t come easily, as Jamie had two miscarriages, one at 17 weeks gestation in 2016 and one at 10 weeks in 2018. In 2020, she suffered from postpartum depression and it affected their marriage as she revealed not wanting to have sex.
Jamie & Doug celebrated the success of #MarriedAtFirstSight at last night's #AENUpfront (and looked amazing doing it)!
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Jamie said that it wasn’t because she didn’t love her husband or wasn’t attracted to him, but because she’s not attracted to herself. ‘I don’t feel sexy, I don’t feel hot. I’m anxious, I’m insecure,’ she said. She was grateful to Doug who didn’t give up on her. Working on their relationship meant simplifying their lives, so they moved into an RV.
Ashley and Anthony (Season Five)
Ashley Petta, a 30-year-old manager of her family’s bar and grill, thought that at her age she would already have a couple of kids, but no such luck. Her biggest fear was never finding the right person for her; marrying a stranger might be scary, but it could also be worth it, as the best-case scenario would be finding the love of her life and living happily ever after. Anthony D’Amico, a 33-year-old marketing executive, was tired of the dating scene, and wanted to start a family and be a young dad.
They were both excited to hear that the experts found a match for them – the basis was that since they both came from a big Italian family, it would provide them with a good starting point.
On their wedding day, he gave her candied almonds for good luck, while she gave him a couple of football tickets. They allowed themselves to fall in love during their time together, but never actually told each other that, and it created tension, particularly around the time when decision day was just around the corner.
She was quick to decide, and although it’s not always the right one, she saw no point in delaying things. He wanted to think things through and not be rushed into doing anything before he was ready. Fortunately, their differences didn’t negatively affect how they felt toward each other, and on decision day, they professed their love and chose to stay together. They have been living happily together, now with their kids Mila Rose born in January 2019, and Vaeda Marie born in February 2021.
Shawniece And Jephte (Season Six)
A 29-year-old cosmetologist Shawniece Jackson married Jephte Pierre, a 26-year-old 2nd grade school teacher. They were matched as were both the eldest child from a big family, so it would be easier for them to understand one another.
Both wanted to find someone they could lean on. He said he couldn’t be happier when he saw her, as she looked amazing and had a great smile, while she’s also glad that he’s handsome and had a babyface. Shawniece with her goofy side helped him warm up to her – although he was physically attracted to her, he was shy about showing affection during their first photoshoot and wedding reception, especially since his mother was there.
She said that each day brought her closer to her husband, but sometimes felt that he closed her out, and this was making her feel that she wasn’t worth it. Although the whole experience made him open up a little more, it also made him think that he’s unsuited to be a husband. He felt that they had sex when he wasn’t emotionally ready, but didn’t tell her that as he didn’t want to hurt her feelings; he said the sex didn’t bring them closer. They said some things that hurt, and it caused them to have doubts if the relationship was still worth fighting for. Jephte said that she’s everything he could see himself be with, but he had yet to fall in love with her, however, she had already fallen for him.
Despite what happened and what was said between them, they still decided to stick it out – Jephte said that this was the best decision he had made. Their first child, Laura Denise, was born in 2018. Their relationship wasn’t smooth sailing, and they even went their separate ways for a while after she discovered she was pregnant, as it seemed that they weren’t a married couple. In the end, they found their way back to each other’s arms, and Jephte proposed to her with a three-stone ring for their third anniversary.
Danielle and Bobby (Season Seven)
Danielle Bergman was a 30-year-old software saleswoman, passionate about taking care of dogs, particularly those that are about to be euthanized. She was ready for a commitment, and was looking for a polite southern gentleman who wanted to provide for a family. The experts believed that the 27-year-old construction project manager Bobby Dodd was perfect for her; he was ready to find love, and wanted a relationship similar to what his parents had. They were matched because they were exactly what the other one was looking for.
His first thought upon seeing her was that she was gorgeous with her baby blue eyes and figure.
Bobby said that the best thing about this social experiment was that he was able to be himself from day one. It made him feel happy and secure that she was so accepting of him, and enjoyed him for the person that he was. He had told her that he loved her, and the whole eight weeks of being with her was the absolute best time of his life. On decision day, he got down on one knee and proposed to her with a ring, saying he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. She said yes, and finally told him that she was ‘completely head over heels in love’ with him, and that this was the best thing that ever happened to her. They now have two kids: Olivia Nicole born in 2019, and Bobby Dodd IV born the following year.
Stephanie and AJ (Season Eight)
Financial consultant Stephanie Sersen, 35, tied the knot with 37-year-old AJ Vollmoeller, President and CEO of a staffing & recruiting company.
She was desperate to find the love of her life, as she had past issues with guys cheating on her, and had no time for games. She was successful but that felt it didn’t mean anything, as she didn’t have someone to share it with. He was lonely and tired of being alone, doing things on his own. They were compatible in many ways, and the experts believed they would have fun together. Both of their parents had been married for a long time, and it was what this wanted as well.
On their wedding day, AJ said that before he knew anything about her, he already felt a connection between them upon seeing her for the first time as she walked down the aisle. He told her things about himself, and hoped that she was fine with his dorky side. She found his enthusiasm cute, and they seemed to be hitting it off when they shared their first drink as a married couple. She couldn’t wait to experience how they were going to fit into each other’s life.
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AJ said that life without Stephanie had become a distant point, and he would be devastated if things didn’t work in his favor, actually their favor. He was grateful that she could be flexible in dealing with him. He said that whenever he saw her getting frustrated, his focus turned to making her feel better, even if he was not doing well himself. On decision day, he chose to be with her for the rest of his days, and she felt the same way. She was optimistic about her future with him by her side. They loved each other the way they needed to be loved. Their marriage is still going strongly, and on their third anniversary in 2021, AJ surprised her with a proposal, and she couldn’t be any happier.
The success stories in “Married at First Sight” proved that the experts could indeed help people find someone they could love, but only if they were willing to put themselves out there and work on their marriages.
Their fans could continue to follow their journey through their social media accounts and on Lifetime Channel’s “Married at First Sight: Couple’s Cam,” which premiered in May 2020.