Married At First Sight's expert Mel Schilling: ‘We don’t create the drama’ (exclusive)

MAFS dating expert reveals secrets behind the scenes

Mel Schilling on the Married At First Sight sofa
Married At First Sight dating expert Mel Schilling reveals the secrets behind the show (Channel 4)

Married At First Sight’s dating expert Mel Schilling has lifted the lid on the secrets behind the reality series format, telling Yahoo: "We don’t create the drama, we follow the drama."

Dissecting love, the MAFS dating expert - who has worked on both the Australian and the UK series - has revealed the X factor that cannot be controlled behind the scenes by anyone on the show and how the experts put the couples together.

The TV star, 51, got candid about her own experiences of love and how she brings them to the reality series. Also, Schilling pointed out some of the big reasons why couples split after the show - even when they have committed in the vow renewal ceremony.

We speak to the dating mastermind to find out more about how the show works behind the scenes...

Married At First Sight partner swapping

Whitney Hughes and Matt Murray dumped their partners after acting on their attraction
Whitney Hughes and Matt Murray dumped their partners after acting on their attraction (Channel 4)

One of the major talking points in the show is when some of the couples fall in love with other people’s partners - and at times they have even got together as an official couple on the show.

Just choosing one example from many - the infamous couple Whitney Hughes and Matt Murray dumped their respective partners on MAFS UK last year after acting on their attraction. They rejoined the process as a new couple - although it didn't work out for them in the real world because of long distance.

Speculation has been rife that these "cheating" moments are staged by producers but dating expert Schilling said: "We don't create the drama, we follow it."

Giving her verdict on new couples forming on the show, Schilling said: "One of the things we are realising, we’re quite far down the track in terms of the evolution of this experiment. Each season we do take feedback on board and we do review and debrief and look at what's worked and what hasn't worked.

"And we're trying to keep the experiment as fresh as we can and as close to real life as we can. One of the things we have realised is that in the real world couples break up. Eyes stray and new attractions develop.

Dating experts Paul C Brunson, Charlene Douglas and Mel Schilling on Married At First Sight (Channel 4)
Dating experts Paul C Brunson, Charlene Douglas and Mel Schilling on Married At First Sight (Channel 4)

"We wanted to give the experiment as much opportunity as possible to be as closely aligned to real life as we can. And we know that this happens in real life.

“So whilst we don't create the drama, we do follow the drama. If that is happening, then obviously it's a case by case basis, we don't always let a couple return.

“There was an example in the Australian one the season before last where a new couple formed and they came to us and said, 'We'd like the opportunity to return as a new couple.'

"We actually said no because there was quite a level of toxicity there that we didn't think was good for either partner. And we absolutely do consider all of the other couples because it can be very destabilising for other couples for that to happen.

“So we need to consider all of those factors, not just the new couple, not just their previous partners, but also the entire group. So it's a big decision.”

MAFS vow renewals

Ella and JJ on their Final Dates of Married At First Sight (Channel 4)
Ella and JJ on their Final Dates of Married At First Sight (Channel 4)

The current Married At First Sight UK couples will be choosing to commit or split in the vow renewals ceremony next week before the hotly-anticipated two-part reunion show.

Schilling explained this is a "pivotal part" of the TV marriage experiment. She said: "Every interaction that an individual has had with their partner, every bit of feedback from us and from the group, every observation they've made about their partner in different scenarios, whether that's in their home stays with their family, with the other members of the group, all of those pieces of data have led to this decision point for that person.

"So it really is the critical point and that is ultimately where they get to make that decision about whether this is a person they want to take into their real life or not."

Love after MAFS

Married At First Sight dating experts offer their advice
Without the expert advice, some people's relationships break up (Channel 4)

Some of the couples who have appeared the strongest on the show then split later down the line after failing to find long-lasting love on the show.

MAFS UK fans will remember the show's first gay couple, Matt Jameson and Dan McKee, split two years after finding love on the show in 2021.

From your pet's opinion to losing the MAFS expert's advice, Schillings explained why the romances can break down after seeming to be going so well on the reality TV format.

She said: "It is real life. They’re outside the bubble. There are so many factors that influence that. One of them is that they no longer have our support.

"They have left the bubble of the experiment and they’re out there on their own. They don’t have that feedback mechanism in place. That is one of the challenges.

"Sometimes we do have couples who live in different parts of the world and that can be a very real, very practical challenge to overcome. So they're essentially going from being in a living together relationship into a long distance relationship.

"Then of course, you've got all the other external influences: normal life, pets, all of those are the responsibilities. And don't underestimate that fur family because they've got a huge bearing."

When the couple's don't work out on-screen it can be "upsetting" for the experts too, Schillings revealed.

"I have a very strong vested interest in these couples," she said. "When they don’t work out we saw the example with Rozz Darlington and Thomas Kriaras was really upsetting. We are human beings are sitting on the couch there, we're not robots and we absolutely do feel it and it's really hard. It's really disappointing when things don't work out."

How MAFS experts put couples together

Porscha in Married at First Sight UK (Channel 4)
Porscha in Married at First Sight UK (Channel 4)

So how do the experts approach the daunting task of putting the Married At First Sight contestants together?

It is not a decision the dating experts take lightly, given this could change the whole course of the people's lives forever when it comes to love.

Schilling put the spotlight on the most important factors the experts are looking at when it comes to love (and it's the same in Australia and the UK).

"Look there is that when people talk about on paper, I guess what they're talking about is based on the data," she explained.

"So we do take quite a scientific approach in terms of measuring things like people's personality, their attachment styles, their beliefs about relationships, their history in relationships, all of that stuff counts.

"And that's something we look very closely at because the research tells us that if people have complementary values, that's more likely to lead to long-term compatibility.

"The research says that those three things are shared values, lifestyle preferences and the capacity to have a laugh together are really good ingredients in those long lasting relationships. And what I've found is that if you've got similar values or at least complementary values and strengths, then the laughs come naturally."

Physical attraction

Final Dates Pictured: Peggy & Georges
Physical attraction is a big factor the dating experts can't control on Married At First Sight (Channel 4)

As all their efforts go into matching the personal values and lifestyle preferences, Schilling admitted the missing piece of the puzzle remains physical attraction.

Unable to predict physical attraction using the data, this is sometimes what leads to the couples straying and eyeing up others in the TV experiment.

"This is the great mystery of the show," she said. "I guess it is why it is so different every season. There is one big fat thing that we can't really predict and that is physical attraction because it is something that occurs between two people when they are in each other's physical presence.

"And such a big premise of our show is that they haven't met, they don't know anything about each other before they get to the old. So that is really the X factor.

"We cannot control for but we can do everything we can to make predictions based on things like levels of attractiveness. But of course, that's really subjective."

Married At First Sight format

Final Dates Pictured: Peggy & Georges
The couples must move in together after their honeymoon (Channel 4)

Home stays

Out of the whole process, Schilling pinpointed the home stays as the turning point in the show which either makes or breaks the relationship.

The dating expert said the home stays have the "biggest impact" on the couple's relationship - as we have just seen on the Married At First Sight UK series.

She said it can be the moment where either a friend or family member is "shaking the person to wake up" to see they've got this "great person" in front of them - or to warn them to stay away.

She said: "Over the last 13 seasons that I've been involved with, that's probably the biggest moment where we see a turning point for better or worse, it can go in either direction.

"It is one of the most critical parts of the experiment because that's a touch point with someone's values and with their real life. They hear from the people who really matter the most to them and some of that feedback can be brutal."

Expert opinion

The experts are on hand to offer their advice to the stars in every stage of the TV experiment.

Schilling said she's not afraid of calling out bad behaviour from the stars.

She said: "Certainly having the presence of the three of us there every week is one of the differentiators between Married At First Sight and other dating shows.

"One of our key roles is to really hold the mirror up to the couples and reflect back to them. We're not there to judge someone's personality or character or who they are as a person. What we really want to do is show them what their behaviour patterns are doing to their relationship, whether that's positive or negative.

"And of course, sometimes that means calling out bad behaviour."

Living together 24/7

After the honeymoon, the couples are always thrown into the deep end as they then move in together - even though they have only just met.

This puts the couple hopefully on the fast track process for love, the dating expert explained but she warned it can also cause the cracks to show.

She said: "They say familiarity breeds contempt sometimes that happens, but that's certainly not the intention behind it.

"I think this is very much about fast tracking the bonding process and that is definitely something that we see happening in the experiment. When we get our couples to move from that honeymoon bubble of everything is all love and roses into that boom, domesticity.

"We are now arguing about taking out the garbage. We are navigating each other's quirky habits in the home and it becomes very much about real life."

Love lessons

Mel Schilling wears sparkly silver dress
Mel Schilling is happy to share her own experiences of love (Getty)

In her own personal life, Schilling has been happily married to Gareth Brisbane and they raise their daughter Maddie together.

The MAFS expert hailed herself as a "real champion of love", having been single for her entire 30s before finding true love when she was 40.

By being able to relate to every step of the journey, the MAFS expert shared how she uses her own experiences in love to help others.

"I was single for 10 years before I met my partner," she said. "So I really understand and have deep empathy for people who really want love.

"I also have a deep, deep affinity with people who have been single for a long time and find it really hard to let the walls down and let somebody in.

"But at the same time I have found love, I was nearly 40 by the time I found love and I'm on the other side now and I know how it feels. I know how wonderful it can be to actually find that partner, that person who can lift you up and support you and be your real teammate."

Is Married At First Sight a success?

Married at First Sight UK (Channel 4)
Can Married at First Sight UK lead to everlasting love? (Channel 4)

Schilling made a case that Married At First Sight TV shows in both the UK and Australia can lead to long-lasting love.

The dating expert highlighted the different successes they have seen from the show.

She said: "We've got plenty of success stories. But you know what, I actually measure the success of this experiment in a number of different ways. Yes absolutely, the number one way is who are the couples that have stayed together? And that's the obvious going on to get married and have babies and all of that.

"But there's so many other ways to measure success as well. I see so many people come through this process and learn absolutely critical lessons about themselves and what it means in relationships and then they go on to new relationships where they've broken old patterns, they're doing it differently and they end up with a different kind of happily ever after."

Read more: Married At First Sight