After news broke last week that Married at First Sight‘s Jessica Castro had filed a restraining order against her husband Ryan De Nino, both fans and critics of the show questioned its “matching” process.
Addressing rumors that producers and the show’s four experts haphazardly threw together couples for season 2, executive producer Chris Coelen reveals exclusively to PEOPLE exactly how the men and women are paired together for A&E’s hit social experiment show.
Over a period of six months, an “advanced casting team” is sent to a specific geographic area (the first two seasons were focused on the tri-state area, and season 3 is being documented in Atlanta) to search for single people, says Coelen, CEO of the show’s production company Kinetic Content.
“The men and the women are treated exactly the same. We go to bars, mixers, singles events and church groups” in that area, he explains. “We also go on every dating site you could possibly think of – OkCupid, Match.com, Tinder, Hinge. We also go on Facebook, talk to family and friends and try to make the pool as big as possible.”
Another pool of possible participants includes those who “have seen the show and applied specifically and want to be considered as a candidate,” says Coelen.
Season 1 received less than 1,000 applicants, season 2 received more than 7,000 applicants and season 3 pulled in more than 20,000 applicants by the time casting was finished, he confirms.
After whittling down the pool, potential participants are invited to final callbacks, which the producers refer to as “workshops.”
“I personally attend this and help run it,” says Coelen. “In groups of 20 to 30 people, we explain how this whole things works. We’re extremely transparent with them, and we do that with the people who are in-the-know that it’s Married at First Sight and who aren’t familiar with it.”
The show’s four experts – Dr. Pepper Schwartz, Dr. Joseph Cilona, Greg Epstein and Dr. Logan Levkoff – are also in attendance at the gender-specific workshops.
In the next few days, potential participants are contacted, and those who are “seriously interested” in continuing the process “immediately start very significant background checks and psychological evaluations by highly accredited third parties,” says Coelen. “We get their recommendations and they rule out a lot of people.”
The potential participants also undergo “extensive written evaluations” only available to licensed therapists or government agencies “that take hours and hours to complete,” adds Coelen.
Although the final casting “is done over a relatively short period of time,” the time potential participants spend with the experts, undergoing psychological evaluation and filling out the questionnaires “is very, very intense,” says Coelen, who estimates the initial casting process to be about six months and the final casting to be a minimum of four to six weeks.
Ultimately, the show’s four experts present their matches to Kinetic Content and A&E, and “the people they present are the people we move forward with and document,” he says. “There’s no debate. The experts always say there is no exact science and no guarantees, but it is based on a high degree of research.”
While all three of the couples from season 2 have split, two of the couples from the show’s first season – Cortney Hendrix and Jason Carrion, Jamie Otis and Doug Hehner – have remained married and will star in a second season of Married at First Sight: The First Years airing this fall.