Chanita Stephenson took a huge leap of faith and said “I do” to a complete stranger on last year’s series of Married At First Sight UK. While things may not have worked out for her on the relationship front, she’s certainly been riding a roller-coaster of emotions since then.
The 30-year-old was coupled with Jordan Emmett-Connelly, and the pair looked like they’d be one of the show’s success stories when they got together – even heading off to begin their new life at the end of the series. But a drama-filled reunion episode two months later showed that the spark had died out for them. A year on from filming, former social worker Chanita is still coming to terms with her failed marriage and newfound fame – which hasn’t been an easy journey.
“Watching the show back, I felt so many emotions,” she tells OK!. “I was cringing at myself, thinking ‘Why did I look like that? Why did I react like that? Did I really say that?’ It was tough because when you watch it, it takes you back to exactly how you felt at that time. So, it was an emotional roller-coaster. I have learnt a lot about myself from it and I know more about my self-worth now, which I thought I did before I went on. Now I really do. Honestly, I’ve had to start from scratch on everything I’ve been working towards before MAFS UK. My confidence and self-esteem… It’s all taken such a hit. I just felt so lonely after the show. I’ve had to build myself up again.”
Chanita goes on to open up about the emotional Christmas reunion episode, which pulled together the cast of seasons six and seven, and saw her walk away from Jordan for good.
“When I watched the Christmas reunion episode, it put me in a really dark place and really messed with my mental health. It sounds silly because I obviously was there, but watching it back I see people lying and saying stuff that I didn’t know was said.
“Jordan saying on camera that he’d do anything to win me back when he actually hadn’t done anything, was the nail in the coffin for me. That threw me over the edge and extinguished my relationship with Jordan on every level, even friendship. I just cried from start to finish watching that episode.
“Afterwards, a lot of people reached out and actually thanked me for showing that you can choose yourself. I can’t even explain the feeling I got from that because it has made something good out of a bad situation. I always wanted to be open on the show and genuine so the support I got reiterated how much I want to continue to help others.”
By the time the cast came together for a festive celebration, MAFS UK had finished airing on E4 and Chanita had already become a star. However, that fame meant that the cast knew the public’s reaction to them and how they were portrayed.
“The main series had already aired and fans had formed opinions from it, so I feel like, at times, Jordan blamed me for the way people perceived him,” she says. “I had no control over that though, I went in to be myself and speak my truth. I can’t help that people questioned him. He maybe thought he had to win people back on his side. He was saying things but his actions weren’t there, so I did question his motives and how genuine he was. I was wondering if he actually liked me or if it was for his own public perception.”
Now that she’s had time to process the shock, how is she feeling now?
“My mental health has definitely improved now – I’m back to being me,” confirms Chanita. “I was annoyed at myself for letting everything get to me so much. There’s always more work to do but I think everything happens for a reason. Jordan wasn’t the one for me but I’ll take lessons from it.
“I actually think I’m more single now than I’ve ever been. It’s really weird coming off the show and then trying to date because people either don’t approach me or they think I want to marry them straight away – which I don’t! But I would still like to meet someone, I’ve just been kissing a few frogs in the meantime!”
Chanita enjoyed a mini-reunion with several of her co-stars earlier this year, sharing some snaps on Instagram as they celebrated the bonds they had forged on the show. But things appear to have cooled off when we ask the reality star about friendships.
“I’m best friends with Zoe [Clifton], and obviously, she is still with Jenna [Robinson] so we’re all friends. I was close with Sophie [Brown] and Adrian [Sanderson] but they have gone off to do their own thing, so all the best to them. I have no issues with anyone from the show, but I did notice after that I would only speak to people if I messaged first. There are some that I’ve been shocked by since the show. Publicity and social media have become very important to certain people and that has trumped genuine friendships,” says Chanita.
Making reality TV for the first time is no walk in the park, as Chanita found. It was a complete change of pace for her when she packed up her life as a social worker in Derby to move to London for filming.
As we nudge her for behind-the-scenes secrets, she reveals, “We were sometimes filming backwards, so we’d film getting ready for the dinner party but then it wouldn’t happen until the next day. That used to drive me insane, trying to get the exact same look two days in a row, especially with afro hair, is a nightmare.
“The days are long, you can’t prepare for how long the filming takes. You also don’t prepare for how mentally, emotionally and physically draining it is, so it was a big shock to my system.
“When me and Jordan came back from our honeymoon, we had to isolate until the other couples came back. It was really naughty but we figured out where our hotels were and met up. There was one day when I had to hide Jordan because a production member was coming to my hotel, so I made him go upstairs and hide on the landing. I had to hide that there were two coffee cups so no one got suspicious, which makes me laugh now.”
After such a tumultuous journey and an overnight rise to fame, we wonder if Chanita would contemplate another dating show.
“It depends. I wouldn’t do them all but I’m definitely open to one,” she admits. “I need all the help I can get. I’ve tried marriage so maybe I should have actually started with a dating show!”
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