’Dark’ line MAFS producers have crossed
Every year, Married At First Sight serves us up a platter of people awash with glaring deficiencies of one kind or another because that's what makes great TV.
In 2019 we had Cyrell Paule with her sriracha-hot temper and Sam Ball, who faked liking Lizzie and then faked a funeral so he didn't have to fake liking her any more.
There was Jessika Power - a tornado of bad life decisions - and Mike Gunner who found listening to women talk really, really boring.
We pretend we're here for the love but secretly we're really here for the bad behaviour, and these shockers served us exactly what we ordered.
But this year, whoever did the casting seemed to have another, far darker criteria in mind when they selected the contestants from the reported 15,000 applicants who put their hands up for the show.
They seemed to have focused on casting women, in particular, who have deep, dark wounds and insecurities.
People who appear to have extreme self-loathing caused from scarring events in their past which affect them to this day.
These are not women with a bit of "baggage" or a racy backstory.
If their backstories are to be believed they are fragile, even shattered, women who desperately need years and years of therapy - and not, it goes without saying, the kind doled out by John Aiken and Mel Schilling in front of a TV camera.
On Tuesday night we learned that 25-year-old Stacey Hampton lost her father to suicide when she was only one year old. Then, on the day she was due to give birth to her first son her brother, who had been a father figure to her since her dad's death, was killed in a motorbike accident.
Behind her protective mask of fillers and face-freezing is a woman whose emotions are so tightly bound that she can barely meet another person's eyes.
Then there's sweet, awkward aspiring marine biologist Connie Crayden who hasn't been in a
relationship for five years and whose ice-cold mother seemed to have next to no sympathy when her own daughter told her she was going on Married At First Sight because she felt so isolated.
"I'm pretty lonely mum," she told her mother Rina in her nervous, vulnerable way.
If my kid told me that I would wrap them up in my arms and hold them til the hurting stopped.
Instead Rina snaps, "I've seen your life, I've seen you not doing much … you never really go out" which is not what you say to boost your kid's self esteem and ideally deter them from going on a Channel 9 dating show.
Vanessa Romito is another: she's crippled with anxiety linked to her chronic acne.
Then there's middle-aged mum Mishel Meshes who has been cheated on seven times and is terrified of rejection again.
And Hayley Vernon, a recovering drug user who knows what it's like to hit rock bottom and
may well do so again after it really sinks in that the MAFS scarlet letter will never be wiped from her life for the rest of her days.
It's hard to believe any of these women of them will have the mental toughness to endure the hell that is this show and its aftermath.
In previous years, the MAFS production team has told news.com.au that they take their duty of care towards contestants seriously, with psychologists on hand to assist them whenever required.
The crew are also encouraged to report any behaviours that suggest a particular participant isn't coping.
Which all sounds fine in context but it you take a step back isn't really fine at all.
Because no independent mental health expert would ever condone a person with self-esteem issues go within a mile of this show under any circumstances.
Any work an on-set psychologist would be doing with these women once they're there would be a Band-Aid solution at best.
As always, MAFS has no end of tricks up its sleeves.
Maybe these women won't turn out to be as damaged as they currently appear.
Maybe they've been matched with men who will nurture and heal their wounds.
Maybe the whole thing will end up raining Jules and Cam-esque couples from every corner and everyone will live happily ever after.
Let's hope so. Because when it's all over and these women are left to pick up the pieces, they should remember that most therapists won't accept a sponsored post on Instagram as payment.
Watch Not Here To Make Friends live every Sunday and Wednesday straight after MAFS, when James Weir is joined by guests live on Facebook and news.com.au, discussing the couples' ups, downs, sideways, pimples, pashing and misjudged PDAs.
The podcast will be available on news.com.au, Spotify, Apple Podcasts and all the usual suspects straight after the live stream.
Alex Carlton is a freelance writer | @Alex_Carlton