When Married At First Sight kicked off again back in January, I was like every other longtime albeit reluctant viewer. I hated myself for watching, I knew I was going to need a shower, stiff drink or therapy after every episode but I had an addiction.
While my husband played phone golf games beside me and occasionally barked “idiot” at the MAFS folk on screen, I dipped in and out of the romantic travails and eye-opening makeup of 2020’s crop.
While lacking the headline-making lows of last year – the ‘cheating’ scandal and domestic violence storyline – the Nine juggernaut mostly did itself proud.
Married at First Sight dished up experts who seemed as continually blindsided as ever, plus chicken shop owner-turned-law graduate Stacey Hampton who admitted that at 26, she’d had so much Botox and filler that she couldn’t smile.
Her groom Michael Goonan loved showcasing his gaudy watch, which looked as lacking in authenticity as his British accent. Barber Steve Burley’s UK accent was real but every phrase he said (“Mishel, I will love you to my last breath”) sounded anything but.
Anyway, you get the picture. Fans lapped it up, with MAFS soaring to its highest audience of the year on March 31, with a peak audience of more than 2 million.
Clearly, the show was still engaging a lot of Australians wanting escapism during the wall to wall coronavirus news coverage.
Nothing says forget your pandemic troubles like watching a pack of people you’ll never meet (unless you get lucky during a contestant special appearance at Lambies in Geelong) duke it out at a dinner party about who “got their leg over”.
But try as I might, which wasn’t hard, my ability to watch Married at First Sight (which wraps up on April 5) had been lost forever.
Grieving for the sudden death of the world we knew meant I needed my TV to be more meaningful, more funny, more serious, more everything (bravo Curb Your Enthusiasm and Tiger King, bring it Killing Eve) than the dull, formulaic behaviour of nobodies.
I needed my life to be more too. Well, more and less.
At the end of February, I toyed with buying a new car. Manual or automatic? Which colour and paint finish? Those questions obsessed me, as did the fact I’d passed on the chance to buy some fantastic burgundy Sergio Rossi boots on sale in January.
Now, the only thing I care about is the survival of everyone, those of you I love, those I didn’t love enough, those of you I’ve never met. It’s all that matters.
Last July, my husband and I booked a trip to Thailand for mid-April. We haven’t even talked about its cancellation. Don’t care. We’ve always half-joked that the glue that keeps us married is AFL. We haven’t even talked about its cancellation. Totally care, but nothing we can do.
Perspective is magical. If there is a silver lining in all this, it has to be the discarding of the unnecessary, the stupid, the harmful. Pressing the reset button. A new adherence to things that matter to you, whatever they are. Things that aren’t window dressing or killing time.
My world has shrunk to work and knowing where and how my family is at all times. I keep reliving the bit when I drove away from a non-contact visit to my parents where they sat almost in a different room to me. When will we hug again? Will we hug again?
I packed the eldest and youngest kids – in their 20s – to their father’s farm to ride motorbikes and play Uno by the fire.
My other son is making art at home with his girlfriend. He texted me her baby photos and I texted back his – a ginger-haired infant being held over his first birthday cake (a ladybird) and sitting in a porch swing.
“Where are you finding these?” he asked.
Photo albums. A 1990s habit of documenting what was then the present and now is the lucky, lucky past.
Kate Halfpenny is a former entertainment editor of The New Daily, current TV critic for ABC Radio Melbourne and a communications director.