Married at First Sight New Zealand's newest relationship expert, Stephanie Dowse, says she signed on to the show before properly watching the dramatic first season.

"I went in boots and all first; that's how I usually do things," she says. "So I just sort of said yes, went into it, then went back and had a really good look at the reruns and thought, 'Oh, holy cow'."

Dowse, who has qualifications in social work and psychology and has worked in family disputes for more than 15 years, was sent a link to join MAFS as an expert by a friend. "I'm sitting at home on a Friday afternoon, twiddling my thumbs doing nothing, and I thought, 'why not?'"

When it comes to the high tension between couples on MAFS, Dowse says she's planning on approaching situations with guidance rather than direction.


"I tend to get alongside people and draw it out of them because I think that's actually when you get the best from people," she says. "I'll only get directive when I feel like I've been leading the horses to water, and they're just refusing to drink."

After the explosive arguments and catty behaviour exhibited by season-one individuals, returning expert Tony Jones says the team took away "quite a few lessons" for the new season.

"[There were] lessons from some of the good things, just as much as the negatives that happened," he says. "Brett and Angel – what did we do right there, and what did they do right, more importantly, and how can that be replicated again this year?

"I think that's what most people want. There is certainly a small portion that loves the drama and loves the negativity, but I actually think Kiwis really connect with authentic people and increased maturity. That's why it'll be a little bit different this year."

Increased maturity was a major focus for the experts when seeking individuals for season two; Jones says they went through the applicants "with a fine-tooth comb".

"It's not a game," he says. "It was important to us that the people that we have on board bring that maturity to have those tough conversations. Not in age – I've seen the most mature 14/15-year-olds and, like last year, saw quite a few immature late 50s/60-year-olds.

"It's around whether or not we feel, as much as we can tell – because we're counsellors, not mind readers – what their capacity is to actually engage in a process like this, knowing it's hard. Marriages are hard, relationships are hard, you stick it in TV land, it's next level."

This year's individuals come away with a slightly less permanent commitment than last year's; where the first season dealt out legally binding marriages, this year the partners undergo non-official ceremonies.


Jones says the legally binding marriages overcomplicated the process last year, and distracted the individuals from connecting with their matches on an emotional level.

"It was about taking away the unnecessary static noise that comes with that binding marriage and that certificate," he says. "This year, it's very much around concentrating on the relationships themselves.

"Last year, it became a barrier to engaging with any sort of work with ourselves, and also the partner opposite them, because it put them in a deficit critical position. Whereas this year, that little distraction is taken away, and then what happens is you are forced to look at the person opposite you.

"That's what we want, and that's what we think people want to see – it's the relationships. We're ticking along at the moment, and it's proving a very good decision."

Dowse believes this year's individuals are in the experiment for the "right reasons" – and hopes their journeys on the show can help Kiwi viewers in their own lives.

"For couples that don't make it, I'm hoping we can have some say in perhaps what didn't go well, and have some constructive information that people can almost see as advice off-screen to help them in their own relationships," she says. "I'm hoping we can give New Zealand some free counselling."

"It's a test for New Zealand viewers," says Jones. "Do they really want to see toxicity and drama, or do they want to see authentic relationships play out? And to sit at home with their partner or their friends and have open, honest conversations around what works and what doesn't."

Who: Relationship experts Stephanie Dowse and Tony Jones
What: Married at First Sight NZ season two
When: Sunday, September 30, 8.30pm
Where: Three