Reality AF: Married at First Sight’s Pastor Cal Talks Season 16 in Nashville and the Show’s Divorce RatePhoto Courtesy of Lifetime TV Features Reality Tv
Editor’s Note: Welcome to Reality AF, where Terry Terrones checks in on the state of reality TV, or, in this case, catches up with one of the biggest names in the game.
Although he’s become a Married at First Sight staple, Calvin Roberson, better known as Pastor Cal, didn’t join the Lifetime reality series until Season 4 in 2016. Ever since then, the straight-shooter has constantly reminded MAFS participants that you don’t fall in love, you grow into it, and that marriage ain’t for punks. Cal even wrote a book on the subject, using those same words he used on Nick in Season 4, Episode 10 for the title.
Marriage certainly isn’t for punks and neither is something as challenging (or crazy, depending on your perspective) as marrying someone sight unseen. To figure out what makes Married at First Sight tick, I chatted with the series’ resident love guru prior to the debut of its 16th season set in Nashville.
Paste Magazine: Whenever you ask someone why they want to get married in this unusual way, you usually get a standard response. Why do YOU think people apply for Married at First Sight?
Calvin Roberson: I believe the majority of singles apply for MAFS for all the right reasons. They are tired of the dating game. I can’t recall how many times I’ve heard wide-eyed hopeful applicants tell me how sick and tired they are of dating apps. Now, I would appear naïve if I didn’t acknowledge that there were some who are just trying to be on TV, or promote their careers or IG followers. However, this is the minority and generally our vetting weeds them out. Or so we hope.
I feel the great majority of people apply because they still believe in marriage. They still want commitment and the stability that comes with a legally binding marriage. What they have lost faith in is dating and swiping left and right. The modern dating scene makes them feel disposable, as though they are sitting in an interview with each random date. MAFS gives them the best of both worlds. They can skip right past dating and jump into a committed relationship. Also, they don’t have to spend months learning about a person because of the intense vetting process we engage in. For those who are willing to be vulnerable, listen to the experts and put in the work, I firmly believe that this is an incredible opportunity to find the love of your life.
Paste: Tell me about the casting process for Nashville. I don’t think people know all the details. And at what point do you and Dr. Pepper get involved?
Roberson: We work with our casting team many months in advance of us actually shooting. We cast a very wide net and entertain thousands of applicants each season. To date, over 80,000 persons have applied to be Married at First Sight. To apply, each applicant must fill out an extensive questionnaire. People who have children are first weeded out, as children may not have the capacity for this process, as the nature of the show could prove challenging for minors, especially if a marriage doesn’t work out. We also eliminate people who are evidently looking for stardom, along with others who simply may not be ready for the process.
The remaining must fill out an arduous questionnaire. Early background checks weed out more, prior to our intense deep dives. Dr. Pepper and I see the applicants during our initial sessions, which at that point, we’ve narrowed the applicants down to a few hundred. We then interview, do additional background checks, psychological evaluations, social media checks, health evaluations, etc. We even get pictures of their exes and talk to family members. Next, there are additional rounds of interviews, home visits, and then a deeper and even more thorough background check. Afterwards, all the data is gathered and we do comparative analyses of the candidates to find the best possible matches. Even with this we, of course, cannot account for the chemistry a couple will feel at the altar. So with science, our own intuitiveness, and prayer we make these life changing matches.
Paste: During casting, I imagine everyone puts their best foot forward and says all the right things. How hard is it to get people to be truly honest about themselves in order for you and Dr. Pepper to match the right people?
Roberson: We lecture the applicants ad nauseam about honesty and openness during the process. In addition, after nearly a half century of studying human behavior between the two of us, we have developed a knack of reading BS, or dishonesty. We still interview intensely, asking the same questions in different ways to pick up inconsistencies.
That said, we can’t read minds, and ultimately some singles may have other than pure motives to be on the show, which is a shame. Our worst scenario is matching a sincere bride or groom with someone who doesn’t have the purest of motives.
Paste: There are some previous participants, like Chris from Season 12 and Alyssa from Season 14, that make many viewers wonder how they got cast. How do people who are not ready for marriage get through the screening process?
Roberson: Great question! Sometimes people can pass every interview, each psychological evaluation and even look great on paper. However, when the cameras actually start rolling and the stress of the experiment takes root, those same people can have very undesirable reactions, as in the cases you mentioned. Both of those singles looked great on paper and presented themselves as being ready for marriage.
I personally questioned them both at length and of course, they gave the perfect responses. Unfortunately, their actions didn’t align with what they professed. This is always a hard pill for us to swallow, because we so desperately want all our couples to work out.
I know there are many social media critics who say, “the experts should have known,” and more often than not, we do. But every now and then we are totally surprised and sometimes appalled at what we see when the cameras start rolling.
Paste: Oftentimes people need something different from their idealized partner. How do you help people reconcile the relationship they want from the relationship they need?
Roberson: I ask every potential spouse whether they have a list of their ideal partner. Most will answer, “Yes!” I then will tell them to destroy the list and start over. Often guys will ask for a wife with supermodel qualities, but have never come close to dating one. I let them know that if they’ve never dated one, we definitely won’t match them with one.
The fact is that people often default to their ideal person, but that person doesn’t exist. We are all flawed humans with bad habits, attitudes, etc. And most of the time we may not know what or who’s best for us. If a person has been dating people with similar profiles and it hasn’t worked, we suggest that they do something different. Consider that marriage is not just about pretty faces and hot bodies. It’s about growing in love with a person from the inside out. Grow in love with a person’s values, with their inner worth and you will have a long-term union.
Paste: Once people are married, how much support can they get from you and Dr. Pepper? It seems that there’s times when couples need help but don’t meet with either of you for long stretches. Are you both always available or do couples need to ask for help?
Roberson: Once they are married, we are completely available to them for advice, counseling, or just a listening ear. We film an incredible amount of footage and not all of it ends up on the show. A good amount of that is Dr. Pepper and I talking to troubled couples. I have personally spent some nights into the wee hours of the morning helping individuals through very trying situations. We both are completely available to speak to the couples or individuals whenever they need us.
The fact that it is not in an episode is in no way an indicator of our lack of presence in the couples’ lives. Just the opposite is true. We are always willing and ready to jump in and help whenever and wherever it is warranted.
Paste: In hindsight, have you ever looked back at a season and thought that some of the couples you matched would have been more successful if you shuffled the deck and paired people with different singles who made the show? For example, maybe Binh and Krysten from Season 15 or Gil and Brett from Season 13 would have been a better match.
Roberson: Interesting question! Because we do so much vetting and try to be as meticulous as possible when finding suitable matches, we expect each match to be successful. So, honestly, we have never really looked at our problematic couples and thought that we should have shuffled them and matched them with someone else on the show. When we see a couple not working out, we will sometimes wish we had chosen a different couple to be matched altogether.
Paste: While Married at First Sight has had several successes, the show’s divorce rate is higher than the national average. What can the show do to ensure more marriages stay intact and why is it so challenging?
Roberson: We often hear that the divorce rate on the show is higher than the national average. Of course, that’s an unfair comparison. Recent statistics tell us that over 50% of U.S. marriages file for divorce. The U.S. Census suggests that the rate is dropping. We match five couples per season. There are roughly 2 million marriages in the U.S. each year. Statistically, there is no way for our numbers, with such a small sampling of couples, to compete with a national average. Each season we intentionally learn from the previous seasons and put that information to use so we can better the chances of success for our couples.
Why is it so challenging? Simply put, we are attempting to do something that’s quite unique. We are marrying complete strangers based on knowledge we’ve attained through a strict vetting process. If that is not challenging, I don’t know what is. And even with that we still have fifteen successfully married couples and ten babies. I think that’s pretty impressive, if I say so myself. Look, we are constantly learning and improving our methods as each season progresses and we will get better and better in each new city we visit.
Paste: Tell me about the Nashville couples. It seems like you have some good matches, so who will fans root for? And please tell me you also think that Clint looks like Chuck Norris.
Roberson: Nashville is an exciting, vivacious city with so much to offer and that is totally reflected in the couples we’ve chosen. We believe we have some excellent matches in Music City. They are a diverse group of couples hoping to find the loves of their lives. Our hope is that the fans will root for all our couples. Each couple will have their own unique characteristics. They will experience the euphoria that comes from marriage success and the pain that comes from conflict.
We always have high expectations for our couples and Nashville is not an exception. We expect there to be great chemistry with everyone, but we’ll have to wait and see. Oh, and I think I may have called Clint “Chuck” by mistake on occasion.
Paste: And finally, what’s the most common mistake in a marriage that people make and how can they correct it?
Roberson: The most common mistake I believe couples make in this experiment and in traditional marriages is twofold. First is false or unrealistic expectations. We often have such elevated standards in regards to our mates that we leave no room for failure or humanity. Not only is it not possible to reach an unreasonably high bar, but often the standard-setter doesn’t reach what he or she requires.
The second mistake is a failure to accept and embrace change. Understand that every experience, whether big or small, changes us. Couples need to communicate at each experience to convey how they have changed and then negotiate how to find compromise in those differences. I look at it this way: Change is exciting. It gives me an opportunity to learn something completely new about my spouse.
Terry Terrones is a Television Critics Association and Critics Choice Association member, licensed drone pilot, and aspiring hand model. When he’s not applying for Survivor you can find him hiking in the mountains of Colorado. You can follow him on Twitter @terryterrones.
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