Remember when MAFS was this legitimate experiment where two people were thrown together into a deep, intimate relationship and then, unlike modern love, had to actually work on their shit instead of running away? Ah, those olden days. I’ve only ever seen the show in its current iteration – a sort of trashy treat where we watch people get matched who absolutely, unequivocally should NEVER MEET, let alone date, and also get to see drinks get thrown across a dinner table.
It’s not reeeeally about finding love anymore, right? The show still gives us this very thin veil of being about finding love, just like The Bachelor likes to pretend it’s about finding love and Love Is Blind likes to pretend it’s about finding love. But in 2023 it’s probably impossible to find authentic people who authentically want to find love on a reality TV show. It’s just people who are gunning for overly white teeth veneers and a Showpo collection. Some *might* find love by a damn miracle, but they’re really just signing up to get some attention, and that’s going to affect how the show gets produced.
That’s fine! It’s fine that the producers take that attention-seeking and run with it full steam ahead, knowing who will ask the fucked up questions after two glasses of champers and who will then tip said champers over the first person’s head. In fact, it’s fucking great. WE LOVE IT. We love the drama, and you could even say the new “experiment” is seeing all of these people come together over dinner parties and realise they all hate each other is better than watching people fall in love. Who wants to see people be happy? Not me.
But. Where it starts to feel icky for me is when it’s not “Jared” getting reamed at the dinner table because he secretly has a second girlfriend in the experiment, or “Ron” having a meltdown because “Lisa” won’t let him do his 150 bench presses on the balcony all morning, but when it’s people being put purposely into situations where they’re going to get royally humiliated.
Those first examples of chaos are just great reality TV – observational entertainment, right? The old “these people signed up for this show” mantra applies. If you went on a reality show thinking you’d never encounter some dickbrain who would upset you, or that you’d get to do 150 bench presses per day without interruption, you’d be considered delusional.
But the latter is structured embarrassment, and it feels wrong. It’s those producer-led tasks that lean heavily on doing a “gotcha!”, where someone’s vulnerability is out here getting repeatedly thwacked with a mallet. It’s the photo ranking test.
This is a MAFS one that has bothered me for years. It comes during Confession Week, which started last night, and involves each couple individually ranking their respective partner against everyone else of their sex in the experiment. So like, “Ron” would rank “Lisa” against all the other women based on looks.
It’s meant to be based purely on physical attraction, and like something something make you realise how SILLY it is to base HOTNESS on just LOOKS you big idiots. I mean, you bet your sweet bippy the MAFS experts (lol) are out here trying to sell it to us like that, like it’s this brilliant, intelligent task that’s definitely not just a producer ruse to get people sobbing to-camera.
So then we have expert Mel telling us Confessions Week is about “fast tracking” these relationships so “hard conversations are had early” and Wise John saying the photo ranking task is “one of the most challenging” and is “crucial for this stage of the experiment” as it’s about “raw honesty”.
Lots and lots of words like “confronting” and “raw” used in place of “fucked up” and “brutal”. It’s very transparent because the reality is this task is like throwing yourself to the self-esteem wolves and hoping they don’t rip you to shreds.
Here’s what I mean. On last night’s episode we had Ollie and Tahnee, easily one of the strongest couples out of the ranks here, kicking off with the photo challenge. Now, in the END they both put each other at the top. But for a very long, very hot minute there, Tahnee was banging on about liking older men and lined up a few dudes with glee at the top of her list, talking about people having great eyes and hot earlobes or whatever. You could see alllll over Ollie’s face how uncomfortable he was watching this woman he’s meant to be ‘in a relationship’ with discussing her attraction to other guys.
Sure sure, don’t be a precious prick and get weird any time your girlfriend says someone is hot. But also anyone would be deeply uncomfortable with the person they’re dating openly assessing the hotness of all these other people by RANKING THEM against you. And then you have to go have dinner with them every week! No thank you!
Also, that’s a GOOD ENDING to the test. Wanna hear a bad one? Caitlin and Shannon, who are obviously a total trainwreck of a match on account of Shannon being on par with a sea cucumber when it comes to emotional maturity. All the more reason to NOT make them do this test, right? Wrong!
We watch Shannon pop Melinda at the front and be like “this one here would impress your mates, you’d be like look who I picked up” (extended fart noise). After telling Caitlin about why all these other women are prize catches like they’re barramundi, he pops Caitlin in third place – my god, the CRUSHED look on her face.
Then because the whole idea of the test is to explain why you think your current partner is a soft 5/10 compared to these other women you think are hotter, he starts telling her she has the potential to “level up” if they look less hot without makeup on and that “their natural beauty shines more than yours”.
Look like I said, Shannon’s ability to relate to women is by rolling listlessly around on the seafloor. He’s the worst, we know it. It’s clearly not MAFS producers putting this word vomit into his mouth for him to spew out.
But it IS them putting Caitlin in a position where she has to deal with it in a way that’ll directly impact how she feels about herself.
You know what I mean? It feels wrong. Maybe at some point Shannon would tell Caitlin she wasn’t as hot as Melinda, in passing. But he’s not going to be lining her up on a wall against images of other women’s faces and then dissecting why she’s less hot than them.
I remember distinctly the time Bryce Ruthven, that chestnut of reality TV casting, did this to his partner Melissa Rawson. He put her fourth and it was a “kick in the guts” for her at the time. Like Shannon, Bryce did the lineup as if he was just in a bar and going by physical attractiveness, but no one wants to be told they’re fourth-most-attractive. As Melissa said at the time, you don’t get an Olympic medal for fourth place.
There are going to be times on MAFS where people do fucked up stuff and say fucked up things. The reason we watch it is for these moments, we love it. But there’s this invisible, difficult to define line between reality TV entertainment and the kind of soul-destroying humiliation that feels unethical – and the photo ranking test crosses that line.
I feel it the most when it’s women being ranked by men. It reminds me of those fucked lists in school of who was most fuckable, or who had the best ass in Year 10. They were always made by the guys, about the girls.
The evaluation of women based exclusively on looks has gone on for generations. Yes, the photo ranking test doesn’t discriminate, but a man will never understand the way it cuts women to the core to be pitted against other women on an attractiveness scale. We’re taught from an early age that beauty comes before all else, and we’re taught this via advertising and marketing and social media and most of all, where we see men place value because it so often goes toward the most conventionally attractive women. Fucking hell, women have lost JOBS for not being hot enough. You have no idea what it’s like unless you’ve lived it.
I watch the MAFS photo ranking test and feel the humiliation of the women being ranked. It sits in the same part of my guts as the feeling I had when I once showed up to a date and saw disappointment on the guy’s face. The emotional punch I took when a guy called me an ugly slut because I bumped his drink at a bar. The drop when someone I had a crush on told me my sister was hotter than me.
I just think that, for a show that sure, isn’t actually about love anymore but still prides itself on being about digging deeper in relationships, a photo ranking test isn’t it. It’s too dirty and cruel. I never enjoy watching it and I never will.
More wine-throwing, less ranking people based on hotness.
Melissa Mason is a freelance writer, you can find her on Insta and TikTok.
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