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If you’ve ever tuned into a full season of the hit Lifetime show Married at First Sight, then you probably are addicted to it — and have a lot of questions, too. How are these people chosen? Why are they matched with their husbands or wives? Is this all made-up drama by producers for ratings? Those are, at least, the questions we find on Twitter every time we watch on Tuesday nights. And considering all the inquiries and controversy stirred up by new cast member and husband Tristan Thompson, it was time to get some answers. Thankfully, we had the chance to speak with Pastor Calvin Roberson, aka, Pastor Cal, to retrieve them. Here’s what he had to say about how the experts choose contestants, how they’re matched, and why you still haven’t seen a same-sex, older or interracial couple on the show, seven seasons in.

MadameNoire: Whata goes into making the decision of who is a good fit to be married on the show? You all see so many people who come into the different cities and you interview a lot of them. How do you whittle it down to the three couples?

Pastor Calvin Roberson: Okay. Well, first, it’s really not an easy process. We first start with a very large group and then by the time we get to workshops, there are a number of reasons that people are eliminated first. They may have been married before. They may have children. We don’t do children. Some people may be too young or may not fit the age demographic of the show. And so that’s the big, general weeding out. And by the time we get to it, as the experts, we go through a number of tests. We do psychological evaluations. They answer a 370-something questioned questionnaire, and then after that, we sit down with personal interviews and we do background checks, we do criminal background checks. We will look at their credit.

We do some cursory health evaluations to make sure that they are okay. They have to sit with a psychologist and then we will sit down with them and we go through an intensive interviewing process. And then after all that, we look at people’s compatibilities. We look at their core values to see if they’re compatible in their families. For instance, if someone comes from a very close-knit family and someone does not have a close-knit family but longs for that, that could be a compatible situation. Or if we get somebody who is completely at odds with their family, et cetera, and someone who is not, it could also be incompatible. So, you know, there are a number of different ways that we look at it. But after we look at all those different factors, then we look at their dating habits. What are some of their preferences? We have pictures of their exes. We start with the deepest qualifications or the deepest issues like core values, et cetera. Then we go down to some of the more peripheral things like, you know, what are your preferences? Do you like light hair or dark hair? Whom have you dated in the past? I always tell people, if you’ve never dated a supermodel, don’t expect us to find you one. This isn’t find me what I can’t have.

Then after all that, we sit down, the three [experts], and we have also input from from some of the other people who have been working with the couples also just to get their opinion, but ultimately the decision as to who is chosen, the decisions are ours, of Dr. Pepper and myself and Dr. Jessica. So, we choose them based on their compatibilities and even the differences that are compatible. It’s a lot. It’s all a process.

What’s the reason for not choosing people who have children?

It’s very difficult when you have someone who is being married at first sight. It’s already a radical experiment. We know that. It takes a lot of guts, but to bring children into it, it’s too much drama. It’s just too much for kids. So we don’t want to expose children to the rigors of a Married at First Sight experiment.

Gotcha. We must talk about Tristan. What did you make make of his comments about, you know, not wanting to date someone darker than him? You were there when he said it. And there were many Black people who watch the show who were very disheartened by the comments that he made.

Tristan, unfortunately due to, you know, the time, and production, et cetera, we can’t get everything that’s said. It’s just not possible to air everything that’s been said about a situation. However, Tristan, I just want to put it out there, Tistan is very compassionate, very nice. He’s a good guy. Now the statement that he made, and I made the statement that it was a shallow statement, a shallow way of thinking. I’m not saying that Tristan is a shallow person, but here’s the deal. This thing of colorism, it’s a big deal for me as well as for the rest of Black America because of what we’ve been through as a people. Now, I do know that Tristan has dated women who are much darker than himself. He showed us a picture of one girl that he dated. Beautiful girl. He’s dated a lot of pretty women of all shades.

That statement that he made, I believe sometimes when you’re interviewing and the camera’s on, you’re just speaking. You’re just talking. Even what’s been called fat-shaming. Even that statement, I believe it was taken a little out of context. He was repeating a joke he’d heard from his uncle, I believe. Families joke and families always have things that they say that may not always be TV appropriate, but they’re not mean-spirited. And I think that that’s what was caught there. But as far as the colorism issue goes, I don’t think Tristan is colorist. He likes what he likes. I’m not going to say that he does not like dark-skinned women. I’m not gonna say that because I know that he has had a serious relationship with a darker-skinned woman. But I do know that the issue of colorism is much deeper than Tristan, and I’m glad that this whole thing started because this is an issue that needs to be talked about. The intra-racial biases that we have as Black people, it’s serious. And whenever we have these shows…How can I say this? Here’s a big problem I have. One of the biggest problems we have on the show when we’re trying to match is finding Black men who want Black women.


I can say that. And that’s a problem. But I believe it’s bigger than Married At First Sight. The’res something in our society where, you know, we’ve been affected by this whole colorism thing. We still have that same mentality of, let’s please those who are lighter than us. And it’s sort of like a survival of the fittest type thing, you know, “I want to be on the side that’s winning.” So it’s a very serious thing. It pervades our society, it’s there and it’s unfortunate, but we’re all victims of it.

But I do want to ask because people wanted to know, why was he still chosen? Because they felt like by him being picked and coming off in this way, even though you say he’s not colorist, by making these comments that were perceived as colorist, it could send the wrong message. Why did you feel like he was still a good fit and worthy of the chance?

Here’s why I thought Tristan was a good fit. To be very honest, we all have preferences and there are some who would argue that wanting a lighter-skinned person is not a preference. You know, it’s, it’s colorist, it’s racist. I get that. I understand the psychology and the sociology behind that. However, when I’m choosing someone, and I’m speaking for the other experts as well, when we’re choosing someone, we have to take into account the total person. We have to look at who they are totally. I’m not matching based on how society feels about him. I’m matching based on his core values and whether or not those values are compatible with another person. In this case, we felt that those values, who he is as a person, is compatible with who Mia is. Their same religious traditions. Their belief in God, which was a big thing for them. In addition to that, their motivations and their careers and their socioeconomic status. All of these things go into play. So just because the person may have a preference, or may not have a preference, I’m not going to disqualify him if I find someone who can fit that mold, because at the end of the day we’re trying to find two people who can be compatible, not two people who are going to be socially acceptable. Does that make sense?

Yeah, totally. Got you. And is there a couple from the shows that you’ve done that you really had high hopes for and were surprised to see didn’t make it?

Oh God, everybody. Every couple we match, we are expecting them to make it. And I know that there’s buzz out there on Twitter saying, “The producers and the experts, they do this for drama.” That’s crap. We don’t do that. These are lives. At the end of the day, look, I do marriage coaching and marriage counseling. My wife and I, we do this for a living in addition to, you know, pastoring and other things that I do. We have couple’s workshops and conferences. We want to see relationships thrive and exist and do well. So, I mean no one’s choosing people because of drama. However, in answering your question, almost every couple that we match, we never match a couple that we say, “Oh, we know they’re not gonna make it but we’re going to put them together anyway.

So we want to see everybody succeed. There’s some people that I’m really disappointed in because I’m like, “They were so close, they could have made it.” But there’s this thing that you cannot account for. Even though all the background checks may come up great, even though all the psychological evaluations come up great, even though all of that stuff is great, you cannot account for how people are going to act outside of what they tell us. How they react to stress. You can tell me that you react well to stress — until I put you in that situation, and I realize, oh my god, no, you don’t react well to stress. There’s no way for us to really account for those x-factors. But I’m happy to say that the couples that we have that are making it, like Jephte and Shawniece who’ve had struggles, however, they are in a good place. You know, they are building a family, they’re doing great. We have Ashley and Anthony, they’re in a great place. You know, they had their struggles, but you know, I applaud all the couples because this is an incredibly stressful and just tense experiment. It’s a big deal.

Do you foresee any interracial, non-Black and non-white, same-sex couples on the show down the line?

People ask for older couples, interracial, and we’ve heard requests for same-sex couples. As far as the same-sex couples, I think logistically it would be very difficult because when you’re talking about same sex, the way do we do it, we separate the men from the women so that they don’t see each other. How to do that with same-sex couples is almost impossible. You have all the men on one side, all the women on one side. So if you just have all the men in the room, they might just couple up before we even get a chance to marry them at first sight. So logistically, it would be a nightmare. It has nothing to do with the show not wanting to do that or anything. It would just be very difficult. That’s the same-sex side. As far as interracial, I would love to see an interracial couple. We tried every season to do that. It’s very difficult because when it comes to Black men and white women, we can find Black men who want white women. We can’t find as many white women who want Black men. We have all these guys, I mean I’ve heard guys and I think you’ve seen them on previous seasons, guys who said, hey, you know, “I prefer white women.” Then my thing is, white women don’t prefer you. And so that’s a problem with the Black man-white woman scenario. I’m not saying that across the board. Just in the cases that I’ve seen, that may be it. And then on the other side, when you have Black women and white men, I’ve seen Black women who may want white men, but I haven’t seen a lot of white men who put on their profiles that “I want a Black woman.”

It just doesn’t happen a lot. And one thing I don’t want is when we’re matching couples, I don’t want people to tell me, “Well, I’m open to all races.” I don’t want to know if you’re open to dating all races. This is marriage, this is not dating. I don’t want to be open to marrying someone. It has to be a situation where, this is who I want, this is who I’ve always dated, this is who I feel attracted to. And if that’s the case, if we can find two people that are like that, then yeah, let’s rock and roll with it.

My last question for you: I wanted to ask you, if your own child came to you, son or daughter, and they said that they wanted to marry a complete stranger on a show like this, would you, knowing what you do now, would you be all for it?

That’s a good question! What’s funny is, I have a son. I have two sons: 31 and 24, almost 25. My oldest son was actually approached by casting and he thought it was hilarious. He said “Dad, you know what? I think I’d consider that.” Would I like him to do it? If I was choosing [laughs]. As long as I’m the expert, sure! I would love to choose my son a wife. I know him better than anybody else. So yeah, I would do it, but if it were any other experts, it would be a little difficult. I mean, just the three that we have, yeah, I would trust us. But would I trust anybody else? I don’t know. It’s very difficult. It’s very difficult. But if my kids came to me and said, “Dad, I want to do this,” I would pray for them. I would say, “You’re grown. I believe in everything that your parents taught you, I believe in your ability to make good decisions, and I’ll support you.”

Married at First Sight airs Tuesday nights on Lifetime at 9/8c. 

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