Picking soulmates for strangers isn’t easy, but it’s Dr. Joseph Cilona’s job. On “Married at First Sight,” the psychologist is one of four experts who put people together in hopes that they’re a perfect match. The complete strangers don’t meet, see each other or even know each other's names until they’re at the altar. The experts help the couples through their first month of marriage, and then the couples have to decide if they want to get divorced or stay married.
“Married at First Sight” Season 2 premieres on A&E on Tuesday, and Dr. Cilona is ready to help more couples find happiness. Cilona spoke to International Business Times about what he's doing differently the second time around and why the show's popularity made it even harder to find the right partners.
International Business Times: What made you want to return for “Married at First Sight” Season 2?
Dr. Joseph Cilona: Working on “Married at First Sight” was a really intense experience, and quite an emotional roller coaster. It turned out to be much more work-intensive than I had anticipated, particularly the data-analysis component. I also became very invested emotionally in the couples, and the process itself. In many ways, “Married at First Sight” became all-consuming.
Looking back at the first season, I feel like all the hard work was worth it. First and foremost, the fact that we created two married couples from complete strangers, and that a year later they are so happy together, is just an extraordinary thing. Jamie [Otis] and Doug [Hehner] and Cortney [Hendrix] and Jason [Carrion] are all amazing individuals in their own ways, and I have grown to care very deeply for all of them. Knowing that I played a part in bringing them together, and perhaps in a future that involves a family and (hopefully) a long and happy life together is satisfying and fulfilling in a way that’s difficult to describe.
On a broader note, I feel strongly that the journeys of all our couples that were documented in [Season 1] really provided something special to the viewing public. I think the show found a way to open up authentic and important discussions and dialogues around the world about what really goes into romantic relationships and what it takes for a marriage to work. In a media world where romance and relationships are depicted in such unhealthy, imbalanced, contrived and inauthentic ways, “Married at First Sight” served as a voice that redirected attention to the reality of love relationships... in a way that actually educated and helped many of the people who watched.
IBTimes: When matching spouses this season, have you changed your method at all compared to last season?
Cilona: It’s important to remember that this really was a first-time experiment for all involved. I am always thinking about how the process can be adjusted and improved. I did make some changes in my assessment methods based on my experience through the first season. For example, the issues that Vaughn and Monet faced, and their ultimate decision to divorce, really prompted me to look at how the assessment methods could be improved to minimize the likelihood of the kinds of issues and challenges that plagued Vaughn and Monet. I ultimately made some changes to the battery of psychological tests I administer, adding two different instruments that specifically look at the way an individual expresses, processes and experiences anger and frustration, as well as a new instrument that looks more deeply in emotional awareness.
IBTimes: Since “Married at First Sight” had a successful first season, was it more or less difficult to pick participants for the next round? Did you have a much larger pool of applicants?
Cilona: The success and popularity of the first season definitely impacted our selection process for Season 2. It actually made it easier in some ways but more difficult in others. One thing that made it easier was that the pool of applicants was significantly larger than the first time around. I believe there were over 7,000 applicants for Season 2. I think the fact that applicants knew what they were getting into, and that the show was executed in a way that was very authentic and respectful really made more people willing to consider what sounds like an outrageous concept. I’m certain our success rate and the touching love stories that evolved with our two successful couples also prompted many people to consider participating.
The success of Season 1 made Season 2 much more difficult in that it certainly created a significantly bigger challenge in weeding out those applying with some agenda other than authentically looking for a spouse and being honestly open to the process. There were many applicants clearly looking for their “fifteen minutes” of fame or attempting to apply for some other means of personal gain or notoriety. The more successful the show becomes, the more difficult the task becomes of weeding out those who are not authentic.
IBTimes: Is there anything you did differently this time around when guiding the couples through their first month of marriage?
Cilona: We learned from the first season that the couples really need our support earlier on in the process. So we began providing that support and connection much sooner this time around. We also had more contact in general with the participants. However, it’s important to emphasize that while we provide as much support as we think is appropriate, we have to strike a balance between helping, guiding and supporting them when they need it, and allowing them to navigate their own relationships and make their own decisions. These are real marriages that will (hopefully) endure well past being documented for the show, so it’s important they these couples are the primary influence on their own relationships and the paths they take together. I think most relationships would fare much better if everyone had a team of four experts to turn to whenever they wanted some guidance. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works in the real world, so we try very hard to be conscious of our influence and put appropriate boundaries around our involvement.
IBTimes: Do you think the Season 2 participants could learn anything from the Season 1 cast?
Cilona: Most of us can take some important lessons from our couples from Season 1. For me, it’s those lessons that make “Married at First Sight” so unique. It’s very easy to be a spectator and to judge. It takes courage and self-awareness to look at our couples and find pieces of ourselves and our own experiences in relationships. Hopefully our Season 2 participants have watched the journeys of our Season 1 couples and will be able to use some of those lessons in their own paths. And I hope that the viewers strive to do the same.
IBTimes: What would you say to new viewers who are skeptical about watching “Married at First Sight” Season 2?
Cilona: Obviously an experiment like this is going to incite a tremendous amount of controversy. When I was first approached for the show and learned about the concept, I literally rolled my eyes and refused to even take a meeting to discuss it. However, I was convinced to watch links to the original Danish series on which our version is based, and I was quite surprised that I found it to really have depth, authenticity and value.
So I would encourage skeptics to reserve judgment until they actually see it, and to have an open mind. The concept is, indeed, extremely controversial and quite sensational. But I like to describe “Married at First Sight” as “sensational … but with substance.”
I think it’s fair to say that most of the skeptics who balked at the concept, but actually gave the first season a chance, were pleasantly surprised and actually turned from cynics into fans.
“Married at First Sight” Season 2 premieres on Tuesday, March 17, at 9 p.m. EDT on A&E.