Why Married At First Sight Australia's John Aiken won't give up on the couples, no matter how bad it gets

John Aiken has seen it all.

The relationship expert has 17 years of real life marriage under his belt and presided over 82 television marriages over 10 seasons of the phenomenally popular reality TV show Married At First Sight Australia.

You may expect, ahead of the the 11th season's debut on Three and ThreeNow on February 5, that he'd be a bit jaded about it all. But he tells Newshub he's as optimistic about love as ever as a new crop of hopefuls get set to marry a complete stranger.

"I do have hope whenever I begin the experiment that our matches are going to find love. But actually, all of them surprise me. You know, even after 11 seasons, I just don't know which ones are going to actually be able to get over the line," he conceded.

In person, Aiken is very affable.

From his smart black suit to a shirt with its top few buttons undone, he is the epitome of a considered and studious yet approachable man. And yes, he knows what you think about the hit reality series - which occasionally produces car-crash television as the singletons implode in front of the cameras - whether the relationship experts actually know what they're doing.

"I certainly know that some people will love what I do and others don't like it. I don't have that mindset," he laughed. 

"Mine is, I'm going to put two strangers together having a system, and then I'll watch what happens. Some of them will make it. Some of them won't. But what's important is that I give them some home truths while they're on the show that hopefully they'll learn from, and that after the show's finished, they are going to use those in the real world."

Over the past few seasons, Aiken has become more vocal in his condemnation of the behaviours of the participants. From gaslighting to cheating, he's decided it's time to educate the would-be couples on what the right thing to do is - as well as the audience watching.

John Aiken and his fellow experts on the show.
John Aiken and his fellow experts on the show. Photo credit: Channel Nine

"I've really leaned into it. I like that I'm a very practical sort of guy. What I've learned is less is more. So I say much less. But when I do speak, I try and come out of the blocks hard so that it stops them in their tracks and makes them look at their behaviour. As a result of that, I think I kind of talk for the audience. I'm never really sure what I'm going to say when I'm sitting there. I'm just listening. Then when that moment comes, I go for it."

The 11th season of the show sees Aiken taking a more proactive role early on, for reasons that are too spoilery to discuss here. But he believes the collection of singletons and their issues are a lot more relatable this time around - and he reckons the audience will connect better with the hopefuls than they may have before.

"Well, it's a more diverse cast this year. We have a same sex couple in the mix. We have our oldest ever participant, Richard, aged 62, who joins the experiment. He brings a different dynamic because, you know, he pushes back at some of the actions and decisions of the younger ones in the experiment, which is always interesting. We also have this year a runaway groom who takes off before the wedding, which I don't think we've ever had before. We also have a best man speech which is one for the ages in terms of just being shocking."

You won't be surprised to learn these smiles don't stay for long.
You won't be surprised to learn these smiles don't stay for long. Photo credit: Channel Nine

It seems the drama has been dialled up for the new season, with bombshells continuing as the series progresses.

"There are some certain shocking things that come out. In Confessions Week, there's a secret or two which really take my breath away - and one which I didn't see coming. There's a couple of moments when the guys get together and they say things that get out to the rest of the group, and it's really difficult to come back from that. 

"I think overall the theme in the show this year is boundary crossing. How much should you be sharing? When do you keep things private? It keeps coming up time and time again."

With that in mind, Newshub asked Aiken if he was glad he was out of the dating game based on how the contestants behave.

"From what the participants are telling me, they're saying that dating's very hot out there and that in fact, some of them have even said, 'John, I want to be on your show because at least you're going to match me with a guy that's going to stick around for eight weeks'. I always reply 'No. Really? Is it that bad out there?' And they say, 'Well, yeah, after one day they're moving on'. So I think it's not easy for singles out there now because it's so transactional. There's not a whole lot of commitment.

"Look, I've been married to Kelly (Swanson-Roe) since 2007, and I'm very happy that I'm out of it. But in saying that, I still love everything to do with singles and couples, it's something that I fell into once I finished my training, and I've just stayed in that line right the way through. I love it."

John Aiken says he still wants the contestants to succeed, despite their issues.
John Aiken says he still wants the contestants to succeed, despite their issues. Photo credit: Supplied

Aiken is true to his word, revealing that he was devastated when he read in December last year that MAFS Australia season 10 couple Tahnee Cook and Ollie Skelton had split.

"They were a young couple that were very much in love. They seemed to be able to communicate really well. They're a good-looking couple that talked about the future, they had similar values. It's sad, you know, because they were a younger couple in the mix. And we've seen some of the older ones go on and get married and have kids. I was just hopeful that they could do that."

However, Aiken knows the pressure cooker situation of the experiment sometimes delivers unreal expectations of what life could be.

"Once they get through the experiment and they get back in the real world, the day-to-day grind now starts to become a problem for them, and they've got to manage it as well as the spotlight. A lot of couples really struggle to make that transition."

However, there's no shortage of people wanting to be part of the experiment. Aiken has signed up for imparting his wisdom in a new series of Married At First Sight New Zealand which is due to be broadcast in 2024 on Three and ThreeNow.

He is extremely guarded about what he can say about the upcoming local season, but revealed the Kiwi contestants constantly surprised him - and often have one up on their Aussie counterparts.

"Relationship issues are universal. Australia, New Zealand, they talk about the same things. They have the same massive challenges along the way and I have to call out behaviour in both countries. I think what I noticed was different, though, with the New Zealand cast is that as a group: they tend to be a little more unified. They are in each other's corner and they are wanting one another to get over the line and look at things differently. They're very supportive. In Australia it's a bigger group and it can get very competitive and very combative. You know, there are commitment ceremonies in Australia that are very intense. And I think that's the big difference to the group and how unified they are."

However, he vehemently denied the traditional notion Kiwis are more reserved in their approach to finding love.

"I was really refreshed with how honest and raw the New Zealand cast were with me, and how they were prepared to take me on as well. I think one of the great parts of the show, regardless of what country you're in, is that you see participants going at the experts and the experts going at the participants, and it's something that's different, which is very, much a part of our show. You don't often see that in other reality shows."

With an expert of Aiken's calibre around, Newshub couldn't resist asking him for some simple advice on what we can all do better in our relationships. Without hesitation, his message is one of compromise, no matter what stage you're at.

"To singles, I would say when you're out there and dating to be aware of your criteria. Often people on MAFS have such strict criteria and they're unrelenting about it, so it rules everybody out. Just make sure that you're curious about other people and your potential love interests. 

"For couples, what I would say to them is this. On the show, our couples get caught in this spiral of point scoring where they love to say, 'well, I'm right and you're wrong, and I'm not budging'. It's very important to be able to listen to the position of your partner and actually say, 'I take your point'. You know, it's okay to concede and say, 'I'm listening. I'm validating what you're saying'."

Married At First Sight Australia starts Monday, February 5 on Three and can be streamed first on ThreeNow.