Chris Schulz is the deputy head of entertainment for the New Zealand Herald.

Seven Year Switch: Aussie reality show makes struggling couples swap partners

Chris Schulz meets Jackie, an Australian romance reality show star who found herself on an entirely different show than that first pitched to her.

If you've agreed to go on a prime time reality TV show, it helps to know what you're getting yourself into.

Melbourne couple Jackie and Tim didn't have a clue. "We thought the show was called Relationship Rescue and we were going on dates and holidays together to help our relationship," Jackie says, laughing at her naivety.

"We were very reluctant to go on a relationship show. [But] we thought, 'Hey why not, this could be a great opportunity to help other couples'."

In the first episode of Seven Year Switch, Jackie and Tim admit their fitness business has encroached on their love life.
In the first episode of Seven Year Switch, Jackie and Tim admit their fitness business has encroached on their love life.

The fitness instructors soon discovered they were part of an entirely different show - one which would see them split up and live with new partners for two weeks.

They got to go on those dates after all - just not with each other.

The chaotic results of this social experiment are on display in Seven Year Switch, a show that expands on Australia's love affair with romance reality TV - think Married At First Sight, First Dates and Kiss Bang Love - in the most scandalous way yet.

Debuting on TV2 tonight, it follows four Australian couples who try to fix their relationship woes by swapping partners - then deciding whether they want to stay together, or split, at the end.

Monitored by relationship experts, the eight individuals are re-partnered and spend two weeks living together, cooking, cleaning and shopping like husband and wife, while also taking part in activities designed to reveal why they were having issues.

"It was like going into rehab for a relationship," says Jackie. "You just talked about your relationship 24 hours a day for two weeks. You couldn't not learn something."

The show also follows engaged couple Brad and Tallena, who are having intimacy issues ahead of their wedding; Ryan and Cassie, who are dealing with money issues and Ryan's man-child tendencies; and Jason and Michelle, who are struggling to balance the demands of work and paying bills with their new roles as parents.

Jackie, who was paired with Brad, says she and Tim, who moved in with Tallena, didn't know about the partner-swapping element of the show until they arrived separately at their new homes. When their new partners arrived, they realised their condos only had one bed and they were expected to share it.

Jackie with her new partner Brad from Seven Year Switch.
Jackie with her new partner Brad from Seven Year Switch.

Shocked by the true nature of the show, Jackie says her first instinct was to run, grab the nearest cellphone, call Tim and back out of it. "I got there, and thought, 'This sucks, I want Tim back.' When I was introduced to my experimental partner ... and I realised exactly what the show was intending, I nearly pulled out. I was like, 'What have I signed up for? Is this a porno? What is it exactly?'"

The show's results, spread over 10 addictive episodes, make fascinating reality TV. Most of the best moments come from seeing new couples adapting to life together.

In the first episode, Jackie and Tim admit their fitness business has encroached on their love life. The lack of romance on Tim's part - he refuses to hug her, hold hands, or say he loves her on camera - is especially grating for Jackie.

But Jackie quickly realises her new partner, Brad, is a far more intense proposition than Tim.

"It's not so much that I disliked Brad, more that he was the complete opposite of Tim. Tim is very relaxed and easy-going, which I find quite annoying [but] when you're with the total opposite of that it makes you appreciate someone relaxed."

Despite the secret switcheroo, and wary of giving away too many spoilers ahead of the show's debut, Jackie admits the show served a purpose. "Funnily enough, it made me appreciate my own partner. By the end of the show trivial things didn't matter any more. We definitely learned a lot about each other," she says.

"It was such a traumatic experience you couldn't not address those things."

Tune in

When: Tonight, 8.30pm
Where: TV2
What: Aussie couples double down on their relationship woes

- TimeOut

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