Usually when Reality TV participants subject themselves to the scrutiny of cameras, it’s with a clear outcome in mind: a cash prize, a shot at fame, or maybe finding the love of their life.
But what could possibly compel somebody to sign up for Bride & Prejudice?
There’s no “prize” at the end, and participants already have their chosen partner. More to the point, what on earth is in it for the parent or family member made to look like the villain of the story?
These are questions I put to Chris Jewell, 39, from Sydney, who appears in the Seven series with his partner Grant, 32. When they were approached by producers they had some hesitations, but there was an overriding cause that swayed them.
“When Seven approached us and said ‘We’d like to work with you on this,’ Grant and I had to seriously think about what would be the potential outcomes and what would it mean in terms of putting the story across for Marriage Equality,” he explained.
“Grant and I are big believers in Marriage Equality and we’ve both marched. When we were thinking about going on the programme it was scheduled to air in line with the proposed Plebiscite.
“So we thought it would be a strong story for the Yes camp.
“We’ve seen other shows where gay relationships haven’t been handled with a lot of care, or been told right. So for us it was really important if this was out there during this important time, that it be a story that was genuine.”
“We’ve had this ongoing argument about who was going to propose to who!”
Chris (pictured, right) met US-born Grant (pictured left) 3 years ago and after juggling a long distance relationship, moved in together to qualify for partner visas. But with same sex marriage still lacking recognition, they planned on a wedding in the USA.
During filming the show operated under a working title, so that the weddings would come as a shock to family members. In the edited series, Chris’ proposal even looked like a surprise to Grant.
He explains how the element of surprise was maintained, despite both having discussed marital plans.
“We’ve had this ongoing argument about who was going to propose to who!” he said.
“On the side I was having a different conversation with the producers, about (how to propose).
“So the producers told Grant we weren’t having a proposal because all the other couples had been proposed to. And Grant said ‘What?’ He was dirty that he wasn’t going to get his proposal!”
But a flash mob beside Sydney Harbour, singing ‘their song,’ did the trick, with cameras rolling.
“I was having secret rehearsals with the choir and Grant kept asking ‘Where are you going?’” Chris recalls.
“So he didn’t known about it and he was shocked. The second time we had to do it for the wide angle, he knew about it obviously.
“The second time I was so emotional I couldn’t remember what I said the first time even though I had been practicing for ages!”
“We’ve never talked about their motivation to do it”
But while Chris and Grant made for a picture perfect romance, no show is complete without its conflict -enter Chris’ parents Yvonne & Geoff from the Sunshine Coast. With his mother’s background as a Jehovah’s Witness and his father a former soldier, neither approved of their son’s sexuality, let alone any prospect of a surprise wedding.
Chris said when he proposed their participation in the show, he didn’t expect them to agree.
“They said ‘You know our views on this,'” he recalls.
“I said, ‘We haven’t really talked about it but it’s your opportunity to put your views across.’
“We’ve never talked about their motivation to do it, but I can only assume part of (it is) bearing witness to her faith, and gives her an opportunity to publicly state her beliefs.
“But I couldn’t quote her on it because we’ve never had that discussion.”
Aside from multiple establishing shots arriving at his parents home, Chris told producers there would be no other second takes with family.
“I was really specific with the producers –particularly for the really tense moments. I said ‘Do not interrupt. You’re not to prompt me or anything like that. This is a conversation I’ve been meaning to have for 18 years. So you get what you get.’”
What producers got was the perfect rejection, which has spun its way into social media and been reported by press as “the death of a parent-son relationship.”
“It was never pitched to my parents that they would be the villain of the piece”
Chris knows his parents are taking a lot of heat, but is encouraged that they are not likely to be dabbling in social media. Whilst filming wrapped some time ago, participants are only seeing the finished product as it airs, and Chris has only had limited contact with his parents.
“It was never pitched to my parents that they would be the villain of the piece,” he admitted.
“I think they thought their views were the majority, and it might be an eye opener for them, or maybe plant a seed that changes their mind over time.
“But we haven’t really spoken a lot since filming wrapped. I have briefly been in contact with my dad after we did some media, but the response was he was proud of us for telling the truth and not sensationalising anything.
“I’m giving them some space. They’re taking some time out. Once it’s all finished airing I think we’ll probably all sit down and have another conversation.”
Thankfully Grant’s parents were far more embracing of their future son-in-law, visiting the couple in Sydney and attending the wedding in the US. So does participating in a Reality TV wedding mean the network pays the airfares, and could it be an incentive for enduring such invasiveness?
“I’m not at liberty to talk about,” he notes.
“A lot of things came out of my back pocket but there were things where we shared the expenses.”
Yet Chris maintains it has been a positive experience, hearing from other gay couples, and parents of gay men and women who indicate a shift in their outlook. It’s been the most worthwhile outcome, in the midst of media attention.
“It’s up to everyone to influence that vote,”
Will it be a positive outcome for his parents too? Chris looks beyond the current commotion.
“I’m not totally resigned to the fact that this will be a negative experience for them in the long run. Obviously right now they would be taking some heat,” he explains.
“And that’s not the position (people should) approach this with. I understand people are angry and shocked, but if you approach people who have those views with hate and more intolerance, it will only strengthen their resolve or retreat into their position.
“If you approach them with understanding about where they are coming from and educate them, it will more likely get a better result. That’s what Grant and I are trying to do.
“Overall we had a really good experience and there are some positives to come out of this story. But I can’t go into the details about it.”
So even without a formal Plebiscite, theirs is still a good case for marriage equality after all?
“Yes it is. And if you feel really strongly about it, get in contact with your local member because there’s going to be a free vote and it’s up to everyone to influence that vote,” he adds.
“And it could happen really soon, so don’t sit on your hands.”
Bride and Prejudice airs 9pm tonight on Seven.