Audiences of FYI's "Married at First Sight" recognize Dr. Joseph Cilona as more than just a psychologist -- He matches soulmates on the reality show. While plenty of programs end with an engagement, “Married At First Sight” starts off with marriage. FYI’s new reality show features four experts, a psychologist, sexologist, spiritualist and sociologist, who work together to find scientifically matched soulmates. The couples do not get to meet or even see each other before getting married. It's a blind arranged marriage.
While it seems like a major ratings ploy, Cilona said audiences might actually take away a much deeper message about relationships and how they are developed and maintained. He took potential participants through a rigorous process involving a full psychological examination and 400 hours of analyzing results just to match the pairs. Now that the couples are married, they'll be working on actually developing a relationship, and Cilona will help them through that process. The psychologist discussed this experience with International Business Times and shared some insight about his role on "Married At First Sight."
IBTimes: How were you approached to do “Married At First Sight”? Did you have any concerns before jumping on board?
Dr. Joseph Cilona: A casting director approached me directly via email. When I heard the premise, I declined to even take a meeting to discuss. It sounded absurd to me and I was certain that it would epitomize salacious, exploitive or otherwise inappropriate television.
The casting director ultimately persuaded me to review the original Danish series. I was shocked to find that it was quite the opposite of what I expected. I found it to be authentic, thoughtful, poignant, touching, engaging, respectful and very well executed. I binge-watched the entire series in two days.
It was viewing the original series that changed my perspective and ultimately prompted me to agree to the project.
IBT: Why were your questions about weaknesses and failed past relationships in the interview process important? What did their answers indicate?
Cilona: It was very important to me to assess each potential participant’s insight into themselves with regard to their past relationships, their needs in romantic relationships, their interpersonal style in romantic relationships, and their level of insight into what worked and what didn’t work in their previous relationships and why. It was also important for me to determine if the potential participants had authentic intentions, clarity about their motivation to participate, as well as reality-based expectations. My clinical interviews explored these kinds of issues.
IBT: What questions did we not see you ask?
Cilona: The questions highlighted in the show were an extremely tiny fraction of those posed to the potential participants. It should also be emphasized that my primary role was the administration and interpretation of a battery of psychological assessment instruments.
It was by no means merely a questionnaire. I understand, though, how the way they edited the show might have made it appear this way to some viewers. I spoke at length on camera explaining the assessment process and instruments used, unfortunately, this footage did not make the final edits. Below are some of them (a simple Google search will reveal a lot of information about them):
1. Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI-2)
2. Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R)
3. Catell's 16 Personality Factor Test (16 PF)
4. Personality Assessment Inventory (PAI)
My research yielded nearly 100 pages of data on each participant, and I interpreted and analyzed that data for close to 400 hours to examine potential compatibilities and complementarities of personality traits of all possible combinations of potential participants, as well as their authenticity and appropriateness for the experiment.
Several of these instruments require doctoral-level training and professional licensure to even access. They are powerful and revealing instruments that have decades of clinical research supporting their validity and reliability. So, yes, I consider this “scientific.”
I also conducted in-depth clinical interviews, formulated an extensive and detailed questionnaire, and all participants underwent background checks and full psychological evaluations. It was an exceptionally rigorous, thorough, intensive and time-consuming process.
IBT: You interviewed potential contestants aside from the six on the show, right? How long were you interviewing people before you could make matches?
Cilona: Yes, all of those who agreed to participate once they learned the blind marriage element of the premise were interviewed and assessed (save those that were eliminated for various reasons). The casting process was already underway between four to five months before they brought the experts in for the final phases. The interview, assessment and matching process took almost another month.
IBT: Do you think arranged marriages could make a comeback if people can be matched with their scientific soulmate? What do you hope audiences take away from watching “Married At First Sight”?
Cilona: For me, the show is not saying that people should marry blindly and use professionals to match them in an arranged marriage to a stranger. It is using a provocative and extreme premise to explore important issues, and using that vehicle to get people to pay attention, listen, consider and engage in a dialogue.
Perhaps some people should consider the opinions of friends, loved, ones, or even professionals in their choices in romantic relationships and marriage. Maybe there are elements of certain arranged marriages that are worth exploring, understanding more deeply and applying in some ways to our own lives. These are the kinds of issues and questions the show highlights.
IBT: What has been your favorite part of working on the show?
Cilona: This was an extremely intense and demanding process for me, but I feel that it was all worth it. By far my favorite part of working on the show was witnessing the amazing paths of all the participants after the marriages, and walking through certain parts of that journey with them. We (the experts), and even the producers became fascinated and mesmerized with what was unfolding before us.
IBT: Can you tell us if any couples are still together?
Cilona: I understand that this is a question that many people are fixated on, but I would encourage everyone to look deeper into “Married At First Sight.” There is a lot to be learned about love, connection, attraction, commitment, marriage, divorce, our judgments and ourselves.
"Married At First Sight" airs on Tuesdays at 9 p.m. EDT on FYI.