From the hens to the high seas and the 'road head', the season 11 debut of Married at First Sight Australia has kicked off with all its usual subtlety.
Don your boutonnieres, pearl-encrust your veils and fill your tiny clutch bags with plasters as the experiment that celebrates the sanctity of marriage has returned to our screens - and our hearts.
The Aussie iteration of MAFS is a beloved car-crash-come-science-experiment that explores the question so many of us ask on the daily: is true love only a highly produced reality show away?
The show features a group of strangers participating in a social experiment, paired together by experts and meeting their chosen spouse at the altar (yes, I've copied that explanation directly off Wikipedia).
This 11th season's debut episode had barely started before I was checking myself for my own cynicism. Perhaps this, I tell myself from my couch with a pack of chocolate biccies on my lap, will be the season that breaks the mould. Perhaps the show will do away with the dramatics and instead focus on pairing two people genuinely looking for love in a world that has romantically done them dirty, using tried-and-true matchmaking techniques to unite pairs based on common ground.
As I push play, highlights footage rolls with what may be the Gladiator 2 soundtrack blasting. "I'll ruin you," someone says amid beeped swear words and zoom shots of participants storming out of moodily lit dinner parties, as the voiceover promises scandals that will rock viewers to their core.
Yeah, f**k it. Not this time then. On we roll.
The episode opens with the traditional stags and hens' nights, which serve to introduce the various personalities to viewers. These parties are controversial in that rather than a bride or groom being celebrated by their closest friends, all the brides and all the grooms come together to party it up, MAFS style.
My narcissistic self couldn't take not being the centre of attention at my hens' night, so in this, they're better people than me, but anyway - let's break it down.
The Bucks' Do
As the grooms gather, one of them does a contrived toast to "the last night being single".
"Which is good," he clarifies.
At the bucks' we meet our most mature groom, motorbike-riding 62-year-old Richard, who launched in by criticising fans of art and culture - which he himself claimed to be, he added. Okay, Picasso.
He also criticised the idea a man of his age being seen as "haggled". I presume he means "haggard", but he is Dutch, so we will let such Freudian slips pass.
As the gents file in, a big old stir is caused by professional Muay Thai fighter Jayden. The other grooms appear so enamoured by the fulltime kickboxer, viewers may have wondered if the show's format could be adjusted to allow them to share a bed with this admittedly incredible physical specimen.
But Jayden insists his rock-hard exterior hides a soft interior. We'll be the judge of that.
Perhaps the bar is on the floor, but it is heartwarming when Simon reveals that - despite a previous marriage to a woman - he has in recent years come to terms with his sexuality and was expecting a groom on the other end of the aisle.
The other fellas all made it clear they were absolutely down to clown with this revelation, outdoing each other with enthusiastic yells of, "Well done", "Good on you, man" and fist pumps. There will be NO cancelling here, you can see them vowing. Not during the first ep, anyway.
The Hens' Do
On the other side of Sydney, Natalie - a self-proclaimed "non-Bondi babe"- was the first to arrive, anxious of rejection because she has pale skin, laugh lines and a frankly gorgeous smile of pearly whites.
Oh, and she doesn't do well in the sun. Nat, haven't you heard we're in SPF supremacy season? You'll have the last laugh when you're looking 22 at Richard's age, babes.
Sadly, not a fan of Nat was our next entrant, Boss Bitch Slay Mama Tori. She wants it all, baby: the house, the husband, three kids, the good job, the... "nice European SUV". Ah, what every little girl dreams of. Expensive for repairs, I've heard from those in the know, but each to their own.
I've got no proof, but I suspect Tori has read Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In and found it life-changing.
Unfortunately, she finds Natalie too giggly - "a girly girl" - and therefore not to her taste.
We are only seven minutes in and I'm ready to go to war for Nat and her little Forever New floral frock. This is going to be an emotionally draining couple of months of recapping.
Singing her way into stealing the show is Lucinda Light, a Byron Bay-based ray of literal light who is a self-proclaimed 'creatrix' (okay!) and who writes a "man-ifesto" of qualities she's looking for on - wait for it - an actual scroll. That's like a very old-school notes app, zoomers.
Lucinda's energy is just unmatched. Never have I been so envious of a MAFS contestant until she tells one of her fellow brides her purple dress is "exquisite" and the colour "of transcendence". Another gets informed she's the spitting image of Christina Applegate.
Lucinda, take me under your ethereal wing. Everyone else, if you see me only wearing the colour of transcendence on the streets of Auckland this summer, mind your business.
At this point they all started to fade into a heavily Botoxed and buttoned-down blur, so we'll leave them to toast their Proseccos and get to what we're all here for - the season's first two weddings.
Sara and Tim
Sara was inspired to join the show after going through the traumatic dating experience of *checks notes* being asked to pay on the second date. Such horrors have led weaker humans to greater extremes, Sara.
Her groom is 31-year-old world-traveller Tim, who fits Sara's required blonde-haired pretty boy aesthetic. I have to admit, Tim shocks everyone (me) by revealing his dream is to set up a school in Ethiopia in honour of his adopted Ethiopian sister and family's ongoing work with refugees.
He expressed this surprising depth of character with the now iconic line: "As soon as you go somewhere else and see new cultures you go like, wow, this is crazy, you know?"
OK, so he's not the most eloquent, but I can admit I judged this book by its chain-wearing cover. Forgive me, Tim.
I have to admit, my first impressions are that the psychologists have absolutely knocked this pairing out of the park. Tim's favourite country? Colombia. Sara's heritage? You can see where this one is going.
The only thing that could bump this wedding off its first-place perch is best man Ben, sporting a Prada bum bag with perhaps the oddest lid we've ever seen - a three-stage mullet that goes from party at the back to school-photo-day bowl cut in the front.
Sara and Tim's wedding takes place on a boat in the middle of Sydney's harbour, because, of course it does. It's a tough ask for any bride to walk down the aisle in heels with the added component of sea legs but Sara does it with aplomb.
Pre-vows, the pair bonded over shared history in Colombia. Tim whipped out some Spanish (a risky manoeuvre if you ask me but one that paid off) and all seemed to be going beautifully. They even had a sexy smooch during their post-ceremony photoshoot that - I must admit - caused me to gasp out loud.
But things go downhill in the reception.
Best man Ben pointed out the boat could hit an iceberg and capsize, and wow, weren't we all just praying that would happen. A Titanic-esque disaster would have been preferable to the following series of events, which included the groom letting the bride know this wedding was to help him get over his recently dumped ex-girlfriend - a mystery woman who I would bet $10,000 is watching this episode right here with us, clutching a bottle of Chard.
Luckily that faux pas was soon overshadowed by a best man's speech which takes the wedding cake for one of the worst I've ever heard - and I'm a big follower of #weddingdisasters on TikTok.
The 1000-year ordeal included references to 'road head' (kids, ask your parents about that one) and a joke which inexplicably compared eating rancid chicken to cunnilingus. There's truly nothing more that can be said about that. I'll let the pictures tell 1000 words.
The bad vibes continued on Sara and Tim's honeymoon to Fiji as they bravely pondered the question, what is there to fight over when in a private Fijian resort? I'll tell you what: Tim telling Sara "relax". Somewhere in Australia his recently dumped ex is screaming in vindication.
But honestly, I'm not writing this couple off yet. A fight after multiple tequila shots on the first night of the honeymoon is probably the most realistic thing about their whole day.
Cassandra and Tristan
Sweet angel Cassandra has suffered more than her fair share of loss, we learn during her intro, losing her high-school sweetheart and losing her beautiful mum in 2020. As we watched this brave soul talk through her struggles, I found myself tearing up. Who would be worthy of this woman, who is ready to give her partner all the love she has to offer?
Enter certified Cutie Patootie™ Tristan who, despite thinking his mum "is a queen" (red flag), seemed to be a downright sweetheart. He came in a bit hot with compliments of psychologist Mel's orange dress, but you can win 'em all, T.
Both Cassandra and Tristan mused on past traumas on their respective wedding mornings. Cassandra reflected on the fact her late mother wasn't there to join her. Tristan dialogued us through the reduced range of motion of his neck after sleeping on it funny the night before.
"Maybe not heaps but we can turn a fair bit," he clarified.
We're thinking he might regret that when he watches the episode, to be honest.
To be fair to Tristan, he was very, VERY nervous, and honestly, for good reason. If production zoomed in on my face while a voiceover of my future wife reiterated she doesn't care if I "have a six pack or George Clooney features", as happened to him during this episode, I'd probably throw myself off that picturesque yacht club balcony.
But the wedding itself all went off beautifully (thank God). When Tristan went over to hug Cassandra's dad Moddy with a promise of them becoming best friends, I had to push pause and gather my tearful old self.
The end of the day saw Tristan's cheek muscles hurting from smiling and honestly, I was with him.
A divine couple. My cynicism was fleeing faster than the rate I'd finished my biscuits. Could this be a season full of genuine everlasting connection?
Let's not get too carried away just yet. Join me at the end of the week when I reassess.
Full episodes of the current season of MAFS AU are streaming on ThreeNow and airing on Three at 7pm Sunday-Wednesday.