Photo Credit: LaJoy Hunter
Executive Producer, Sam Dean, Sheds Light On
“Married At First Sight”
Sam Dean is a tough act to follow when it comes to running the daily operations of a reality television series and she is proving that very point through her masterful steerage of “Married At First Sight.”
Curious as I’ve been, with regards to the background that led up to the creation and culmination of this innovative series, I reached out to Sam to learn more about the show from all aspects. Sam filled me in and through her interview, I am now doing the same for you.
There is no doubt that, if Sam ever chooses to get married, herself, she will be well equipped to take the plunge and stick with it. The front row seat and big name “fish” advising the couples in the series would certainly prepare almost anyone rather well when it comes to diving off the deep end. Such is the case, I get the impression that this highly talented “force of nature” arrives with a strong notion of what “diving into something and making it a success” is really all about as look what she continues to do with this unique, interesting, and fun series.
Keep up the great work, Sam. You have me and numerous others absolutely hooked! And for anyone else who might believe that the events on this show are contrived, read on my friend. You will find this interview “especially” fascinating.
In Sam Dean’s own words:
Please provide your name and explain your role in association with the "Married At First Sight" series.
My name is Sam Dean. I am the Executive Producer and show-runner of Married at First Sight. I am responsible for the day-to-day running of the production. I also oversee and run all aspects of the creative development and production of the show.
Please give a brief description of your own marriage history.
I am currently single and have never been married.
Who was the concept creator behind this innovative show?
Married at First Sight was created by Michael von Würden, managing director of the Danish TV production company, Snowman Productions. The concept of having experts matching "singles to marry strangers" came from a discussion Michael was involved in about how singles in today’s society are continually looking for something or someone better and rarely feel satisfied with their present situations. This raised the question, “Why not let people who study human relationships and who have more expertise than most people lead the way?” Relationships take work and Michael believed that committing to marriage takes away the "right" to make the easy choice of leaving as soon as things get a little tough. Marriage encourages people to work hard for love and commitment.
How long has the series been running in the United States?
Married at First Sight is currently in production with its third season, which will air on both A&E and FYI Networks. The season premieres December 1, 2015, on A&E. The FYI version contains 10 minutes of extra content. There are currently nineteen local versions of Married at first Sight. In addition, the series is sold in over seventy countries world-wide.
Why did you choose these particular experts for the show?
We are asking singles across America to take a huge leap of faith and trust a panel of relationship experts to find them their spouses who they won’t meet until their wedding day. This requires the candidates to have an enormous amount of trust in the experts who are selecting the matches for these modern “arranged” marriages. Although there are no guarantees this experiment will work, we spent months selecting a team of experts we felt would provide these courageous singles with the best chance they possibly could have to achieve marital success.
As humans, we are definitely not one dimensional beings; we are multi-layered, complex and have many needs. We wanted to make sure that all aspects of our basic human needs, in regards to interpersonal relationships, would be represented appropriately as well as thoroughly analyzed and interpreted by the experts we chose. As such, we selected professionals from four very different disciplines: a clinical psychologist, a sociologist, a sexologist and a spiritual advisor.
These four different areas of expertise provide analysis on all aspects of the candidates, including but not limited to: behavior, upbringing, family background, dynamic, deal breakers and desires, sexual preferences, spiritual, religious, moral and ethical values, social lives, and socio-economic background. I believe these four diverse disciplines - when brought together - provide a 360 degree understanding of who our candidates are and what they need in a potential match. The Married at First Sight experts are nationally and internationally recognized and qualified within their field. They all study and specialize in human relationships and love.
What stood out about each of them that made them the right fit for the production?
Our Clinical Psychologist is Dr. Joseph Cilona, a nationally recognized and licensed clinical psychologist, personal coach and author. Dr. Joseph is an expert in human behavior and relationships, with particular emphasis on romantic relationships. Dr. Joseph works with a very diverse clientele, from executives to students to housewives to athletes. He works with people from all different backgrounds. He also stood out to us because he specializes in expert evaluations and data driven assessments using clinical tools and formal diagnostic psychological tests.
Dr. Pepper Schwartz is not only a Professor of Sociology at the University of Washington, but she is one of the world’s most respected sociologists. Dr. Schwartz has dedicated her life to the social study of “love and relationships.” She was first brought to our attention as she created the personality profiler matching algorithm for perfectmatch.com. In addition, she has authored and/or co-authored 22 books about sex and relationships targeting all different demographics.
Thirdly, we have Greg Epstein who is a Harvard University chaplain. Greg has spent many years studying human “beliefs and needs” and the way we, as people, can solve our own problems and ethical dilemmas. Greg works with people on a spiritual level, observing their ethical, spiritual and religious beliefs. He really stood out to us as he works with both “believers” and “non-believers” and brings an unbiased and open approach to religion and ethics.
Dr. Logan Levkoff is internationally recognized as an expert on sexuality, relationships and family life. She stood out to us because she is both an educator in the field and a forward thinker -- designing and implementing “sex-ed” programs that have made her legendary. Dr. Logan encourages everyone to be open and honest about their preferences and needs; she creates a safe and “judgement-free” environment for people to talk freely. She makes people feel comfortable even though she doesn’t shy away from the tough questions.
I am certain the process of casting couples is grueling but can you try to briefly explain how choosing participants is accomplished?
The experts sincerely want the couples they match to succeed, so they want to start the process with finding as many potentially viable combinations as possible. The casting team starts with a nationwide search and from there, we target a specific - and relatively small - geographic area. Within this area, we try to get as many people as possible into the pool for the experts to consider. The casting team looks for single people in all of the places we go to (in bars, in church groups, on dating sites). They look everywhere.
Once we have selected the candidates who will meet the Experts, we make sure they go into the process with a clear understanding of what is entailed. Ultimately, Married at First Sight is not a perfect science. The Experts believe there is no such thing as a “perfect match,” but rather, there are people who should be compatible according to their research. However, in order to even be considered for a match, there are significant background checks and psychological evaluations conducted.
Men and women are always treated exactly the same throughout the testing process. The experts are all highly respected and accredited in their respective fields, and they take this process extremely seriously. The Experts spend many, many hours conducting their own research, pouring over the data, and discussing the options with each other.
All of the candidates fill out lengthy, sophisticated questionnaires; undergo psychological evaluations and background checks conducted by a third party not associated with Kinetic or A&E, and meet with each of the Experts, individually. In addition, Dr. Pepper conducts in-home visits to assess a candidate’s living situation as well as meets with the candidate’s friends and family.
What top three elements do you look for in the candidates?
I think the three main elements the Experts look for in the candidates are: their desire to be married, authenticity, and each of the candidate's "readiness" to take the plunge.
What is the toughest part in making the overall decision to cast a particular participant?
The toughest part for the Experts is to the find people who are compatible on multiple levels but who are also “kind.” In addition, as I’ve stated previously, this is not an exact science, and it certainly isn’t magic. Ultimately, the Experts cannot say with absolute certainty that two people will have an emotional connection or spark that leads them to spend the rest of their lives together. As this is legal marriage (and the stakes are so high), this causes tremendous stress for everyone involved. Ultimately, we all want the marriages to succeed and not end in divorce but there is no way to guarantee this, which makes the process incredibly tough for the Experts.
How usual is it to cast someone based on what they present, only to find out that what they presented was nothing truly like that person actually is?
My personal observation and belief, as a documentarian, is that people are unpredictable. It is hard to predict how anyone will respond to such an extreme experiment, because they have never been in a situation like this before. Thus, I don’t think people necessarily present themselves differently but instead, the stress of the experiment can heighten their emotions - both negatively and positively - as they feel a "lack of control."
The couples are under immense pressure as, not only are they marrying a stranger but every decision they make and every disagreement they have is being documented by us. The couples’ lives are forever changed in a blink of an eye and how they react to the pressure of marrying their stranger is not something they can truly prepare themselves for emotionally.
On top of this, once the candidates are matched and meet at the altar, every decision from there-on is theirs. "Will they say yes and agree to marry?" We pre-arrange a honeymoon destination for them, but it’s up to the couples whether or not they go. The couples decide where to sleep, what to eat, how to spend their money. Most importantly, they decide whether to stay married or get divorced. And to be clear, there is absolutely no pressure nor financial incentive offered to the couples in order to get them to stay married. It is purely their decision.
Some participants and couples have thrived under these conditions and others have, sadly, failed. When it works, it is incredibly gratifying to see, as a happy marriage can bring out the best in people. Nevertheless, the breakdown of a marriage is tragic and can become ugly. The stress of divorce can bring out our worst sides of people and I sympathize greatly with our couples. For them, the process is even more extreme. They are not only going through a divorce, but they are watching and re-living the breakdowns of their marriages. If that wasn’t tough enough, they also become the focus of some, often “undesirable,” attention on social media.
Have you been enormously surprised with anyone in particular – how and who?
I am actually surprised by everyone in Season 2. We want everyone going into this experiment to feel safe and supported and offer each participant significant aftercare. In addition, we offer our participants security if for any reason they feel vulnerable. We also offer them advice on how to cope with social media. Disappointingly, not one candidate from Season 2 took us up on this offer.
I think the candidate I most surprised and impressed by is Cortney Hendrix. Cortney signed up to participate in Married at First Sight knowing that her parents were opposed to the process. It takes incredible bravery to marry a stranger, but to do this without “parental support” adds even more pressure. Cortney is very close to her parents and loves them very much yet felt this experiment was right for her after a lot of soul searching. “Cortney and Jason” worked hard to create a solid foundation in their marriage. Despite being our youngest couple, they acted with maturity and grace throughout the experiment and beyond.
Within 6 months of being married Cortney supported her husband after her tragically lost his mother to cancer and privately (off camera) worked hard to heal the problems with her parents and allow a relationship between her family and her husband to both grow and thrive. Cortney’s parents embraced Jason and even attended his graduation from the fire academy and Cortney made this possible. Cortney is one of the most courageous and inspirational women that I know.
How extensive is the editing process for each episode?
To answer this question, I want to briefly highlight the timeframe of the experiment. Upon being selected by the the experts to get married “at first sight,” our couples have, typically, just ten days to organize their weddings. Once married, we film them for the first six weeks of their marriage -- before the couples decide if they want to stay married or get a divorce. Although we don’t film the couples around the clock, they are filmed almost every day from the time they are selected to the time the experiment ends. From this material, we create thirteen episodes of content -- striving to tell the most authentic story as possible in this short amount of time.
And you thought that creating this stellar series was easy! The painstaking process almost makes normal courting seem like a piece of cake in comparison. Now that you know a bit more about Married At First Sight's background and development, I am certain you will view the series and participants through a whole new set of rims. You might even contemplate whether or not your own marriage could have survived the rigorous testing process and scrutiny, given it had been under the very same microscope and pressure as these couples. Sorta puts things in perspective as you watch
the show, now, doesn't it? It did me.
For anyone who hasn't watched Married At First Sight, take some time to do so. The entertainment value is enormous but so is the amount of insight and learning that you will walk away with. How many shows on television, today, can you say that about...especially of this genre?!
Thank you Sam Dean and Kinetic Content for making this interview possible.