MAFS bombshell as contestants blow the lid on Channel 9
Months after Channel 9 blocked former Married at First Sight contestants, the network is in damage control desperately trying to smooth things over.
Former contestant Sean Thomsen told Confidential he was baffled when Nine reached out unexpectedly, just days after a landmark ruling in a case involving Channel 7 and a House Rules star.
Earlier this year, Thomsen and other past contestants were blocked by the official MAFS Instagram account.
"We all got blocked then we got this email a few weeks ago," Thomsen told The Daily Telegraph. "I didn't hear boo from them apart from intimidation and them trying to keep me quiet during and after the show. Then I get an email two years later saying 'we're here for you'."
The email was sent on October 28, days after Seven was ordered to pay workers' compensation to Nicole Prince, who successfully argued that her negative portrayal on House Rules triggered post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression.
Tracey Jewel, who has been vocal about exploring legal options after her stint on MAFS, was surprised to receive the friendly email from Nine after claiming she was consistently ignored by the broadcaster.
"I think they sent it in response to the Channel 7 case," Jewel said. "I'm in touch with quite a few people from MAFS and from what I understand they sent everyone that same email."
The ruling against Seven put other reality TV shows on notice.
The Nine email offered former MAFS contestants free psychological support "through a 24/7 dedicated help line". When Confidential rang the contact number provided, the call diverted to an automated voicemail system.
Channel 9 did not respond to requests for comment.
MAFS has become a ratings juggernaut for the Nine network in recent years, with the latest season drawing in a record 1.96 million metro viewers during its final episode in April.
The show, however, has consistently come under fire for its sleazy content and trashy themes, prompting various complaints to media watchdog, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). Nine was cleared on all counts after complaints about language, abuse, alcohol and classification.
Even Nine's head of content, production and development, Adrian Swift, previously conceded that the show went too far for a sports-driven, family-friendly network.
"The brilliance of the producing in MAFS is that we managed to keep up with those f***ers (the contestants)," Mr Swift told The Australian newspaper. "They do things that we would not even conceive of. They come up with storylines that we haven't even thought of, and the problem we have, and you've seen it this year, is it went to places that we thought were just a bit tawdry, and we didn't want it to go there."
A third former MAFS contestant, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, described Nine's email as "offensive".
"All of us from MAFS laughed and considered it an attempt by Nine to cover themselves legally," the reality star said.
In January, dozens of former MAFS contestants were left outraged after being blocked by the official Married at First Sight Instagram page.
In addition, the most recent contestants were allegedly ordered by Nine to block past contestants to stop them from exchanging information.
"All the new contestants were told they had to block the old ones to stop us from contacting them," the source said.
"I've since become friends with many of them now so I've now been unblocked. It's sneaky and odd."
Thomsen, who is set to tell-all about his devastating experience on the show in his upcoming book Married Lies next month, claims his depression and struggles with alcoholism worsened after his time on the show because of what he described as his "villain edit".
He claims the show created fake storylines to heighten drama and that when he refused to go along with their agenda, they turned on him.
"No I didn't feel valued at all, I felt like they didn't want me there," he said.
"I felt like a prop, a bit of sideshow entertainment to be made fun of … I think that's what they had in mind for me. Obviously when I didn't go along with that they edited me a lot."
Thomsen was paired with Blair Rachael on the show and says producers resorted to dirty editing tricks to heighten the sense of drama.
"The treatment that Endemol Shine used, the way they manipulated and pretty much bullied (everyone) to get the result they were after - it was pretty bad," he said.
Thomsen claims he was constantly pressured to write 'leave' because he was considered "too boring", even though the experiment requires that contestants don't have any outside influence.
"They set you up from the start. They ask you a lot of what I call 'priming' questions that fit stereotypes like a womaniser/player - they tried to have me play that role," he said.
"They're very unprofessional … you can't treat people like that. The harassment, bullying, segregation … It kind of brought up my childhood insecurities because you're at you're most vulnerable in a foreign environment - you get treated like sh*t."
Appearing on the show nearly ruined his life, he added.
"I've had family and friends that I've lost contact with. Had a big fight with my parents about certain things and it's affected every aspect of my life," he said.
"When I went back to work, I had people saying 'what the f*** are you doing crying on TV?' I work for a mining company as well so it's affected my life massively."
Meanwhile Jewel, who suffered mental health struggles including post-traumatic stress and anxiety disorder when the show wrapped, has been inspired by Prince's case against Channel 7 and is planning to take legal action against production company Endemol Shine.
"Yes, I have a lawyer. These things take time. We are going through the process of putting together all my medical history and records and going through the workers' compensation process," she said.