With every new season of Married At First Sight, we're told about the thousands of singles who apply to be matched for marriage to a stranger. But only ten are chosen. Have you ever wondered what happened to the dozens who nearly made the cut? Well, too bad: Lifetime's latest addition to the Married At First Sight franchise revolves around the applicants who were so hopeless that they never had a shot at getting to the altar, yet are so strange that they make compelling TV.
In each episode of Married At First Sight: Unmatchables, MAFS relationship experts Dr. Viviana Coles and Pastor Calvin Roberson put two failed applicants through a makeshift dating boot camp to try to address and correct the issues that prevented them from being matched with a spouse. After an introduction package that gives us the three biggest issues interfering with the subjects' dating success — including footage from their application videos and commentary from their friends and loved ones — Pastor Cal and Dr. Viviana challenge the unmatchables with exercises designed to shake up the patterns and practices that aren't serving them. At the end of the process, they're sent on a blind date to show what they've learned.
This description may make it seem as though the problems the experts are trying to solve are on the order of excessive texting or bad tipping, so let me take it out of the general and tell you about the subjects of the first episode (the only one provided to this critic to screen). First we meet Ashli, 32, whose introduction is to walk into frame and loudly fart. Her gassiness turns out to be one of her issues in relationships, but there are more. There's also her roommate and best friend Nakeisha, with whom she is so close that they own a two-headed t-shirt we see them model. Ashli's first and only boyfriend was in high school; he's been her only sexual partner in life, and if she ever liked kissing, she seems to have developed an aversion to it since then. Then we meet Xavius, 25, whose fetish for pleasant smells is so intense that he's been known to approach strange women and ask what scent they're wearing. He's also fanatically devoted to his daily routine, judgmental of what he terms "voluptuous women," and controlling to the point of panic about any change of schedule or habit. Given this last concern, it's anyone's guess what made him think he could handle someone choosing a wife for him that he wouldn't see until it was time for them to take his vows, but clearly the question is moot.
Unmatchables arrives midway through a Married At First Sight season absolutely jammed with terrible matches: whereas the experts can usually be trusted to get it right once or twice per season, the couples in the current 12th season range from "grievously sexually incompatible" to "already getting divorced." It's such a mess that it's no wonder that Lifetime would choose now to début Unmatchables, which feels like a much better use of the experts' expertise at a time when they really need the win. In a vacuum, would I trust Dr. Viviana and Pastor Cal to marry two strangers each other sight unseen? No, of course not, because it's an absurd thing to do. But she is a licensed therapist, and he's had years of experience counseling parishioners with their issues; I do think teaching these fools how to get out of their own way is something they can handle. Xavius needs to learn to make room in his life for spontaneity? Sure, let Pastor Cal blindfold him, drive him to a new barbershop, and choose his new hairstyle. Ashli needs an object lesson in why she shouldn't bring Nakeisha for backup on a blind date? Absolutely tether them by the ankles with a rope.
Some of Xavius and Ashli's issues may be bigger and require more concerted work than this format — or any TV format — permits. Dr. Viviana tries to challenge Xavius's fixation on his partners conforming to a certain silhouette by bringing him to a spa, covering his eyes, and sending him for a scalp massage with a charming woman he enjoys chatting and flirting with. After he meets her and sees she's full-figured, Xavius claims in an interview he's learned he needs to open his mind to other kinds of women... but the camera also captures his face falling when she comes out to the spa lobby, and his words are a lot less convincing than his involuntary reaction. Dr. Viviana also meets Ashli at a classy sex shop to encourage her to embrace her sensuality, which Ashli seems very unwilling to do. To get Ashli to explore kissing, Dr. Viviana presents her with a sex toy shaped like a disembodied mouth; Ashli promises she'll practice with tongue when she's not on-camera, but later admits that she didn't. Though Ashli says that she now intends to remain celibate until marriage, it's not entirely clear what her true feelings about sex actually are and how interested she is in having it; if there's any more complexity than that she hasn't had sex in a long time and is kind of rusty, this show is not equipped to deal with it in a nuanced and sensitive way.
Of course, sensitivity and nuance aren't what viewers come to a show like this: it's to gawk at the weirdos, and in that respect, it delivers. If you've been wondering what's taken up so much of Pastor Cal and Dr. Viviana's time that they've been unable to help Virginia with Erik's anger problem or convince Jacob and Haley that, yes, they can just go ahead and get divorced too: apparently it's this. It does seem like a lot more fun.
Married at First Sight: Unmatchables premieres on Lifetime Wednesday April 21st at 10:00 PM ET.
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Writer, editor, and snack enthusiast Tara Ariano is the co-founder of Television Without Pity and Fametracker (RIP). She co-hosts the podcasts Extra Hot Great and Again With This (a compulsively detailed episode-by-episode breakdown of Beverly Hills, 90210), and has contributed to New York, the New York Times magazine, Vulture, Decider, Salon, and Slate, among many others. She lives in Austin.