Best before: The expiry date of the reality show influencer

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By Cheryl Greyson, Teaching Fellow
University of Birmingham

With the UK on lockdown during a cold and wet January and February, it’s no wonder that viewers hunkered down on the sofa and eagerly binge-watched the escapist viewing of E4’s Married at First Sight Australia (MAFS). Whether it was the sunshine and beaches, or the premise of this ‘social experiment’ where singletons are paired with a stranger by experts and agree to ‘marry’ in a commitment ceremony, viewers couldn’t get enough of the romance (Cam and Jules) and the pantomime villains (Jessika and Ines). After 41 episodes and as many dramas, I couldn’t help asking myself, are they really looking for love or was this just a boot camp for a new wave of social media influencers?

Interestingly, Michael Brunelli, one of the two successful pairings in Season 6, published a warning to the new Season 8 participants on Instagram saying: ‘Expect former MAFS people to contact you. Some might be genuinely trying to offer support, but others will be looking to get their 15mins back. If they start asking to catch up at specific times and places, just know it’s a setup to be photographed’. Of course, if former participants are trying to earn money by promoting products, their fee is based on their ability to reach and engage with potential customers in the brand’s target market. A large following does not necessarily translate into engagement and may not indicate a quality audience.

I decided to check to see if there is an expiry date for MAFS influencers. I analysed all the Instagram handles for Seasons 5-7 participants who reached the final commitment ceremony, regardless of whether they agreed to stay married at that point or not (five couples in every season). It seems that MAFS Season 5 contestants have collectively reached their expiry point since the show aired in 2018 in Australia. They have an average follower base of 126,372, but with 2,363 average likes per post, the average engagement rate is only 0.02%. Season 6 couples have seen an uplift from the UK syndication, with an average of 340,016 followers each, with 3.63% engagement. Season 7 figures are lower than Season 6, with average followers of 151,126 and an average engagement rate of 2.13%, but this could uplift if E4 goes on to air the season in the UK.

Season Average Followers Average Engagement Rate (last 20 pictures) Average Likes Average Comments
5 126,372 0.02% 2,363 105
6 340,016 3.63% 13,943 475
7 151,126 2.13% 3,693 130

Some contestants are more popular, have a better narrative arc on the show, or are just better at using Instagram than others. Elizabeth Sobinoff, who tried twice to find her one true love in Seasons 6 and 7 has a 4.08% engagement rate and an average of 16,666 likes per post, and Season 5’s Tracey Jewel and Ashley Irvin have stayed relevant with 3.31% and 3.69% average engagement, respectively. Season 6’s Jules and Cam, and Michael and Martha, proved to be power couples romantically and on social media.

It appears that once the benefit of increased viewers from syndicated programming deals runs out, ex-reality show contestants see their engagement levels on Instagram decrease as they become ‘last season’, and unless they can find a new way to promote their lifestyle or own products and services, their influence quickly wanes. It’s no wonder that many seek to extend their shelf life, as Brunelli claims, by linking up to new contestants and trying to win over their followers for a boost to their engagement metrics. Well, all’s fair in love and Instagram! So, I guess I was wrong, reality show social media influencers are looking for love, but in the form of Instagram hearts, rather than a romantic happily ever after. Unfortunately, neither guarantee a fairy tale ending nor everlasting love!

Brunelli, M., 2021. Dear MAFS 2021… [Instagram]. 22 February. Available at:<> [Accessed 04 March 2021].

Social Blade, 2021. User Statistics. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 04 March 2021].

Wikipedia, 2021. Married at First Sight (Australian TV Series). [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 04 March 2021].

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Birmingham.

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