My Reality TV Debut: Married At First Sight
On a typical, hot and humid summer day in DC, a friend of mine introduced me to the producer of a reality television show. He was looking for an experienced DJ for multiple receptions at the Westin Georgetown. Several emails and a few phone calls later, I was selected to DJ for a show that I later learned was called Married At First Sight (MAFS). The show was filming its 10th season in Washington, DC. It was an experience unlike any other. I share that experience with you in this article.
What is this show about?
MAFS originated in 2013 as the brainchild of Danish producer Michael Von Würden. He wanted to make a captivating and drama-packed reality television show featuring everyday people as they marry someone they do not know. It was an instant hit in Denmark and has since been adapted into versions in several other countries. The Australian version of the show consistently ranks as the number one television show in the country with millions of viewers each week. In the United States, MAFS is one of the top 10 reality TV shows currently on-air. So what exactly is this show about? Dubbed an extreme social experiment, the show begins with individuals struggling to find love as they walk down the aisle to marry a complete stranger. It then follows each couple for several weeks until the season finale where each participant decides if they want to stay married or file for a divorce.
Why would anyone agree to this?
In sort of a Truman Show-esque way, the show features a panel of relationship experts who serve as matchmakers. The panel is comprised of therapists, psychologists, and other credentialed relationship professionals. Based on my conversations with some of the participants and their family members, I learned that the experts and producers carefully review each application and down-select further to perform extensive psychological assessments and background checks. Once left with a small batch of hopeless romantics the show deems worthy, the applicants are notified that they have been matched with their future spouse. Here lies my leading theory as to why one would apply to be on the show: MAFS offers the participants a fast-track to marital bliss. This irrational optimism inherent with the human condition convinces thousands of single 20 and 30 somethings to apply each season to be on the show. Still though, the cynic in me was not convinced real, normal people applied to be part of this show... that was until I spoke to the father of a bride who met his son-in-law for the first time at his daughter’s wedding.
Throughout the wedding reception, the production crew would whisk away the newlyweds for breakaway interviews, which are the short segments where they ask the subject to share contextually relevant thoughts about something that just occurred on the show. Without any camera crews or production staff around during these segments, it was just me and the wedding guests together for extended periods of time. During one these segments, I went over to introduce myself to the bride's family. Pleasantries exchanged, it was immediately apparent that they are salt of the earth, kind people. They were from a nice suburb in Virginia, not far from where I grew up. We went to schools in the same county and had a lot in common. Then the father of the bride and I spoke at length about how we ended up at this very moment. He told me about the application process and detailed the many screenings his daughter experienced before she was selected as a participant. I then asked him what he thought about the whole thing, having his daughter marry a complete stranger. He replied by saying that he wasn't a big fan of the idea at first, but came to realize that dating now is vastly different than it used to be years, and even decades, ago and that in 2019 people have a number of ways to find someone. A true gentleman, he continued by saying he only wants the best for his daughter. He wants her to be happy and felt confident that the relationship experts would find her someone. He only had complimentary things to say about his new son-in-law and his family. Only then I was relieved to know that the producers took time to carefully match these people and treated their families with dignity throughout the process. They wanted each couple to have a successful marriage and after my conversation with this father of the bride, I did too.
This cannot be real
Wrong. I was a skeptic at first too, so naturally the most common thing people ask me is if the weddings were real. Yes, these were real, official, and legitimate weddings. I had even worked a previous wedding with one of the officiants that the show used. I also used all of my own equipment for the reception just as I would have done for any other wedding. For instance, the toasts you see in the show were done with my wireless microphone and the audio signal was sent back to the production team. I treated these receptions no different than I would any other.
The second most common thing people ask me is if the couples really do not meet until the wedding ceremony. This is also true, real, and taken very seriously. As if they are some high ranking official, the producer assigns a detail to each participant from the moment they arrive at the venue. Anytime they move from one place to another, the central production office (which was this unbelievable command center, complete with dozens of live video feeds, tons of equipment, and too many people wearing headsets to count) would need to approve that the coast was clear for the participant to change location. The moments before the wedding ceremony were extremely tense for everyone because of how hyper-sensitive the producers were to ensure that the participants did not catch a glimpse of each other until the altar. The suspense that the crew built up had every member of the venue staff and me on edge to witness a most anticipated first-ever look at the person the other will marry just a few minutes later. For the privacy of all those in the wedding party and guests, the crew did an excellent job keeping access to personal information limited only to those who needed to know. I was given the names and photos of the newlyweds only moments before I was to announce them into the reception. Some couples book me for their wedding two years in advance. Some ask to meet for coffee or have phone consultations because they know that choosing a DJ is an important decision to make for their wedding. These couples had no idea who was officiating their wedding, taking pictures, or playing music.
What made these weddings different?
Unlike a typical wedding, there were of course some obvious differences. Notably, the wedding sizes were small for a couple getting married in Washington, DC. Guest counts were between 40 and 60 people. Which makes sense since the bride and groom only had a few weeks notice. Behind the scenes (well technically, behind the pipe and drape), were dozens of production crew members that may have outnumbered the wedding guests. They all had earpieces and wore black. The most obvious thing for any guest present at these weddings was the camera crew. Even if you book a high-end videographer, no wedding I have done will have individuals decked out with professional, shoulder mounted cameras and microphone booms. For instance, the ceremony site was completely surrounded with camera equipment. The reception spaces though had the luxury of hiding some of the cameras amidst the decor which made things feel more intimate, but by the third wedding I knew exactly where all of the cameras were located.
Another thing that made these weddings different was that none of guests were on their phones. If you look back at the episodes, you will not find a single phone. All guests had to turn in their cell phones prior to entering the ceremony. While it is customary to ask guests to refrain from taking pictures using their phones, I have never done a wedding where the venue staff would take your phone upon arrival. To be honest, I really liked that guests were not on their phones. It was noticeable how present everyone was, no one removed in their own digital world. Far more people interacted socially than I have ever seen before at a wedding.
Also not common practice at a typical wedding, several members of the bridal party were equipped with button microphones that were recording all night. These were the most discrete lapel microphone systems I have ever seen and they were so sensitive that they could even place them below the chest or on the shoulders of the subject. I was also given an earpiece that was so discrete no one knew I had one. It was a direct line from the producer for me to receive direction on what activity on the timeline I was to MC next. If I had a question about anything at all, within seconds I would have an answer from the producer. This was awesome.
Finally, most weddings I do have a 30 minute ceremony; say starting at 530pm, followed by cocktail hour from 6pm to 7pm, and then a four hour reception from 7pm to 11pm. These weddings were really long. The ceremony may have started at 5pm and we did not leave until almost midnight most nights. Things would get delayed because select guests were swept away for breakaway interviews after every event. So the reactions you would see are truly right after the event you just watched. They were also challenging for me to MC. For example, at a moment's notice I would receive direction like, "Okay. We are ready for some dancing. Make them dance now." This is harder than you think to make happen, but tested my skills as both a DJ and MC.
Season 10 aired on New Years Day 2020 on the Lifetime TV Network. The show featured five couples from the DC-Metro area. These impressions are my own.
Katie and Derek
As Derek walked down the steps with his groomsmen, I could not help but notice how much he looked like Ashton Kutcher. A total doppelgänger. While you could tell he was nervous and didn't know what to expect, he was a total gentleman the entire evening. Katie was gracious and her family was a joy to talk to towards the end of the night when things slowed down. The father-daughter dance at this wedding was extremely touching and brought a lot of people to tears. At the end of each night, the venue staff and I would get together to talk shop about the couples and we felt like Derek and Katie were a good match.
Jessica and Austin
As I learned more about these two in the first couple of episodes, I felt like the experts did a terrific job matching these two together. They both seemed so down to earth. I also especially loved seeing how close they each were to their families. Like Meka and Michael, I did not get to interact with these two as much as I did the other three couples.
Taylor and Brandon
When Brandon walked down the stairs, he was laughing with his groomsmen and seemed like a fun guy. Taylor was stunning as she made her entrance. They did not show this on-air, but I really liked how Brandon introduced himself to each and every guest on Taylor's side after he walked down the aisle. From my interactions with Taylor, she was so sweet and polite to everyone, including me, the entire night.
Meka and Michael
These two seemed like such a great match together. I thought they were both gracious, humble, and laidback. They had their reception in the same space as Katie and Derek. It was fun for me to watch these two in the show on-air as I did not get to spend time with them during their reception.
Mindy and Zach
Zach made quite an entrance. He was so well dressed and put together. The hotel staff and I joked that it looked like he had his hair and makeup done too. Add to that the fact that he was as gracious a groom as Mindy was a lovely bride. The two together seemed like a natural fit and went through the ceremony as if they had known each other for a long time. Mindy and Zach were so kind to me as the MC and DJ. They were both courteous and understanding as we had a lot of activities to get through. The toasts at their reception were also hilarious and I wish they aired more of them in the show. Then the dance floor opened up. Zach's athletic prowess displayed in full force as he did a pistol squat with ease. Mindy too and her friends were so much fun at the reception. These newlyweds seemed to have good chemistry along with their good looks.
There are so many other details and moments from these weddings that I would love to share, though these are the impressions I am able to disclose.
In closing, the opportunity to DJ these weddings made for an unforgettable experience. It tested my ability to connect with couples I would meet after their wedding ceremony. I also tried my best to deliver the same quality service I would for any other couple that would book me for their wedding. Even if the bride and groom may have met unconventionally, just moments before the reception, it was still their wedding day and I took that seriously. As I left the venue each night I thought about the courage these individuals had to take such a leap of faith. I came to admire how brave they were for going through with this. Can you imagine marrying a complete stranger? With the odds against them, I found myself rooting for these underdogs to be happy together. And after speaking with many friends and family members of the newlyweds, it was apparent to me they wanted them to be happy too. My MAFS experience was a reminder to never judge anyone for how they choose to seek out their happiness.
Cheers to the newlyweds. I am rooting for all of you.