In this age of reality tv, the ones focusing on relationships tend to be sensationalised, focused on single people, and primarily exist for drama. It aims to make fun of people, and this is achieved by pumping people looking for their 15 minutes full of booze (see MAFS, Bachelor/ette, Bachelor in Paradise, etc).
The Super Switch was something different, looking at real relationships that are really struggling, and can’t be exploited for fifteen minutes. To look at the significance of The Super Switch, I’ll be comparing it to 2019’s Married At First Sight, which aired only a few months apart on two different channels in Australia.
The first time I watched Married at First Sight (MAFS), I didn’t really know what to expect. I had held off until marriage equality had passed in Australia, because as a young LGBTQIA person, having people say that ‘the gays are ruining the sanctity of marriage’, but then allowing people to get “married” for thirty days, was just wrong to me. With same sex marriage legalised in 2017 for all Australians, I was no longer bound by my own moral code and watched an episode, which then turned into the whole season.
There were a few instances throughout the show that I thought were important, and showed elements of relationships that should be reflected and analysed.
In saying that, there were many times through MAFS where Heidi would have an issue with Mike, and the next day he would act confused and frustrated with her emotions. Fans watching this (my friends and me) were horrified by Mike’s continuous behaviour, and the phrase “gas lighting” was thrown around a few times. Whenever this was brought up to the “relationship experts”, it was always a non-issue, something that Heidi was weaving in her head, because she has trust issues. And then that was that, next couple, time to make fun of someone new.
Throughout the series, it’s clear to see the experts are there to stir drama, encourage bad behaviour, and assist only those issues they find fit. While it wasn’t clear if they knew what was going on with Innes/Jess/Martha/Sam throughout the series, it was never brought up, except towards the end of each issue as a way to spark further drama within the participants and pick up the ratings.
There was only one relationship that the experts took an actual care to, a relationship that was pushed further on the back burner of the shows line up, as they never had any dramas like Innes’ cheating, Jess hitting on Nick, Martha causing dramas with Cyrell,
While I’m not here to analyse and critique MAFS, it’s important to remember these things for the context of The Super Switch (TSS).
There wasn’t a lot to expect from TSS, there was minimal advertising, bar from generic videos of a man pulling a switch and his girlfriend transforming into another woman. It looked to be another MAFS style show, however the relationship experts, Jacqui Manning and Guy Vicars, were always quick to shut that down, saying it’s not the same at all.
The show follows six couples, each with their own problems. They were split, paired up, and each pair went to one of two houses, the beach mansion and the city mansion. They had to decide how to share a room and a bed, things previously decided with their real partners.
There were two aims of the experiment: is their relationship fulfilling enough or do they need someone more like minded? and Are they able to grow through the experiment to return to a stronger, healthier relationship with their real partner?
To achieve these questions, Jacqui and Guy ran group therapy, and one on one, with the couples in the mansions. They arranged activities to grow the switch partners together, such as dates they wouldn’t normally go on, camping/spa week, and dates with purpose such as intimacy or bonding. The couples were also given money to buy their real partner something.
Ultimately, all the couples returned to their original pair and were happy to be better people.
Whenever there was a big issue, they experts took the time to look at it.
It was continuously an issue that Miranda didn’t want to talk about Lachlan. She said there wasn’t anything wrong, he was a bit jealous, but that was about it. Everyone picked up that this was an issue, and Guy said he was worried about her and the relationship. Watching Lachlan’s behaviour, to me and the other participants, this was a worry and a half, like veering towards domestic violence…
Lachlan ended up receiving some therapy specifically for how he gets possessive and aggressive when men talk to Miranda in public. Jacqui taught him about tap therapy and he started to use that as a way to calm himself down throughout the experiment.
It was clear that Jacqui and Guy cared about treating the participants and giving them ways to look after themselves. They weren’t there for show, or exist once a week to discuss what’s going on, they were constant presence to guide. They didn’t talk for five minutes about each relationship, trying to reassure participants to continue their experiment. They cared about each person, each couple, and each problem. While the viewer only saw segments of the therapy and only bits and pieces of the therapy, it was clear through people like Marcus and Ben that this was bigger sessions that focused on what was going on.
Marcus said it was though the experiment that he realised he was a negative influence on his relationship with Aimee, and before entering, thought he didn’t have any of the problems. Ben greatly accepted the assistance provided for him, even then things got tough, there was no motivation to leave. Unlike MAFS which has almost a guilt system that kept them there – for example, Heidi wanted to see if this could be something new, something good, even when Mike was constantly a problematic force in her life. MAFS have a rule where they couldn’t leave if their partner wanted to stay, which is completely opposite to TSS.
Ben was ultimately kicked out of the TSS experiment in the last few episodes after he had an altercation with Tyler. Christie was asked if she wanted to leave as well, however it was her choice if she did, and she would be able to stay, but she decided it was best to leave as well.
After Ben and Christie left, Tyler and Olga were still participating even without a partner.
There was no time for drama. In MAFS, if you kiss someone who isn’t your partner, it’ll be milked for all it’s worth for ratings. In TSS, it wouldn’t be tolerated full stop. Tyler and Christie couldn’t share a bed without being chastised by Neesha and Lachlan for “cheating”. Tyler tickled Christie over the pillow wall, and that was met with discomfort from all the participants, and led to the altercation between Ben and Tyler. It was impossible for them to not be there for the right reasons, because they had all these eyes on them, and they had the expectation that they would be ‘good’ for their real partners.
In The Bachelor and related spin-offs (Bacherlorette, Bachelor in Paradise), the participants are often seen drinking, and we hear about how regularly they drink. This show is all about the drama, and as such, having regular access to alcohol does the job.
This is the same as MAFS, in which the participants would arrive for dinner and straight away there’s drinking. Only one participant didn’t drink, and that was made a big note of by everyone else. As the season progressed, it was clear to see that alcohol was a regular thing with everyone else around. They drank before dinner, they drank during dinner, they sat at the table and continued to drink. With big personalities, like Martha, Ines, Jess, and Cyrell, having alcohol flowing provides the same drama as the Bachelor.
Alcohol wise, the contrast between MAFS/Bach and TSS is clear as day. The participants are only seen drinking a couple of times, out with the girls, out with the boys, and one night the beach mansion got wrecked. That particular night caused dramas between Justin and Miranda. She went to bed early, and had earlier agreed slept on the couch. He continued to drink and when he came back to the room, he majorly disrupted her sleep.
This was brought up in therapy for a while, and was never framed as a funny thing or positive in anyway. The viewer felt annoyed on Miranda’s behalf.
While watching MAFS, I would judge what was happening and how tacky everything was, whereas TSS had me judging the way people were treating their partners, and empathising more.
MAFS is a mindless show to watch with a bag of popcorn and judge the personalities of people aiming for 15 minutes of fame. TSS, although having a shallow sounding premise behind it, is less mindless, more documentary, and focuses on positives and being a better person, challenging the viewers own opinion of their relationships and what’s good.
It would be interesting to see what the participants are actually like, and if the portrayal was skewed (something all reality shows are notorious for, but see lawsuit). Having seen some episodes of the latest season of Seven’s ‘Bride and Prejudice‘, a show where engaged couples spend time connecting with disgruntled and disapproving family members to get them to attend their weddings, I’m looking forward to seeing if wholesome reality shows will become the norm in the future.