INSIDE MAFS: Simon reveals life behind-the-scenes
SIMON McQuillan is a man who probably won't ever get used to being recognised on the streets of Ipswich.
As a member of the cast on the year's most watched show so far, Nine's 'Married At First Sight', Simon went onto the show in the hope of finding love. Now, with the show finished, everyone wants to know how things have turned out with Alene Khatcherian from Sydney, his bride that he met for the first time at the altar.
Living in the Ipswich region since he was two years old, his family found their true home in Tallegalla, a peaceful spot between Marburg and Hatton Vale with a population of under 600, just 27 minutes drive from the Ipswich CBD.
Simon spent most of his twenties dealing with health issues, which made him basically put his whole life, and his families, on hold.
"It came about when I was twenty," Simon said. "I knew I had epilepsy, but I really got hit for six that year. It became so out of control I was involved in a couple of car accidents, I was in and out of jobs as it was affecting me constantly.
"In one car accident I got my fingers chopped off and had to get them sewn back on, and I had another accident when I ended up in the swimming pool of a motel in my ute. I realised then that I had to do something and moved home with mum and dad.
"I spent years trying new diets, new medications, plus all kinds of treatments. In many ways I was a guinea pig, to the point where the only option left open to me was brain surgery. I went to from having about 30 or 40 seizures a week to then having brain surgery in 2005.
"After that surgery for some time I couldn't walk, I couldn't talk, and I had no memory. For example I couldn't describe things. Like if mum was going to the shops and I wanted some milk, I'd say things like 'get me some of that white stuff that comes from the moos'....I knew what I wanted to say but couldn't find the words.
"As I got better over time, I started working again in 2006 then bought my first house," Simon continued. "I accomplished that in just a year after the surgery, so I travelled a bit, bought another house, got more involved in the family business...with that again came more investments, and I then realised I'd bypassed the chance to meet women.
"I spent so much of my 20's playing catch up with work, and my health, that time had passed, and let's be honest Ipswich isn't the best place to meet women, there's not much of a singles scene."
Simon's life was to take a turn thanks to a TV show, and it was a conversation with his late father Peter that convinced Simon to go on the show.
"I was working on a mine out at Rosewood (that's since closed) and while I was there I organised a singles fundraiser for Beyond Blue, in honour of a mate I lost, and even then on the night most of them that turned up were my mates.
"I thought 'this is going nowhere'. My mates said to me 'why don't you go on Farmer Wants A Wife'? as my parents still had the cattle property, so that counts.
"I sort of got so engulfed with work, and then this show came on TV, Married at First Sight.
"At that time I'd started my own business making truck parts with my dad, Atlas Balance Company, plus Dad also ran a fuel distribution business. We were in the truck one day, and to be honest I was with him that day just to keep him company. I said to dad 'I'm sick of working all the time and not meeting women, and I'm thinking about going on one of these TV shows to meet someone'.
"He said 'Stuff it mate, you go for it. At the end of the day who cares what people think, worrying about them doesn't get you anywhere. As long as you respect those around you, go for it.'"
It sums up Simon's dad, when he recalled how he taught Simon about the value of a hard day's work.
"When I was a kid I once said to my dad 'when you gonna buy me a car?' and he replied 'I'm not - buy your own car. See that pile of sh*t there? Dig it up and sell it, then you can buy your own car.'
"So I started my own little business selling manure for a dollar a bag. I called myself 'Moo Poo', and that money helped pay for my first car!
"My old man left school at the age of 12 and went to work with my grandad. He ended up buying a truck at 19 with his brothers, which eventually turned into 100 rigs in ten years, and 150 staff working for him. His attitude was always 'head down, bum up and go for it'" Simon said.
Simon did go for it, and after a long and exhausting process, last year Simon was accepted for the show.
"I applied and got the call back, and it was a very long process. Things like mental evaluations, criminal history checks, sexual history...I even had to pee into a cup! That was back in late 2014.
"I thought it was only going to be about four weeks for filming, but it turned into two months, and then blew out to two and a half months. It's still going now, I get calls saying can you do an interview here, or there, can you fly to Sydney for something?
"I never did this to find stardom. I did it to meet someone as I was sick of being single. I tried online dating, even Tinder, but to be honest a slap across the face would have been better cos I never got any interest," Simon said.
"When we did the commitment ceremony at the end it knocked me flying. You know how they said we'd spent a week apart? It was actually about 18 hours. Then there's the dinner parties that you saw in the show. Normally people have dinner at what, 7 or 8 at night? At those dinner parties we weren't eating till midnight or 1am! In one of the first ones there was a scene where Alene and I were on a lounge during the dinner party, because we weren't interested in taking part in the heated discussions. I was so tired. She said 'shall we go back in', and I said 'No, I'm sick of hearing the same discussion.'
"A mate said to me he saw that footage and noticed I looked wrecked. I can party with the best of them, but when you're filming all day and being asked questions all the time, and it's constant, my reply was I couldn't care less about the other people. They are lovely people, have their personal issues, and I'm not going to knock anyone. I will not, ever, kick a dog when its down, and I'm not a tittle tat. I said as soon as this is over, people can see me on TV and it affects me, my business, my status, and I'm aware that people will look at me on that show and say 'do I want to do business with that guy?"
Reality TV in Australia is all about ratings, that's a fact of life, but Simon was determined to do this whole experience on his own terms, and he and Alene are still together to this day, despite the pressure.
"We have come through it all, but don't get me wrong we had ups and downs that wasn't seen on TV. We'd have discussions at one or two in the morning, and they kept telling us 'If you're going to have a heated discussion let us know so we can film it' and I wasn't interested in that, nor was Alene. "We all have our things that we keep to ourselves, and nobody needs to know about that stuff. We wanted to take our time, and they kept drilling us, kept asking us, 'When are you moving in together?' and stuff like that," Simon said.
"I said to Alene from the get go, I'm not into keeping up with the Joneses. What could be two weeks to some people may be two months or two years to us. I can't drop everything and move to Sydney. I can't leave my business, I can't leave everything...especially since losing my dad. Anyone who earns a wage can't do that at the drop of a hat, and I will not be forced into anything.
"I don't give a rats what people say....you should be doing this Simon, you should be doing that...don't give a rats. I won't know how the story unfolds until I flick the pages of that book.
"I said to the producers at the time, 'Hey, it might be a TV show to you, but in two or three months time you're off contract and working on the next show. This here, right now, is MY life.
"The producers were constantly asking 'tell us what you feel', and I said 'let me get to know the girl first!
"It's not reality. I was living with a woman I'd just met, and we're hanging around each other all the time. It was good, but at the same time it's not reality. Most couples don't sit around a hotel all day talking about marriage all the time. A normal person goes to work, goes out with friends, talk about their day, that's reality.
"But anyone thinking of going on the show, I'd say by all means go for it, give it a try and you'll realise how invasive it really it."
So now the show is all over, and life is getting back to normal (in most ways)....what now for Simon and Alene?
"We are very much together, and taking it one step at a time. Since the show's finished she's come up a couple of times and I've been down there twice.
"The Lebanese food is interesting. Most of it is fantastic, but some is...hmmm....interesting. She picked a restaurant for us to go to and she filmed me trying it all, some of the food was simply amazing, other I wouldn't touch again. Yet when Alene cooks at home, that's when the real authentic meals are made, from start to finish. They do absolutely everything."
Simon is often seen around Ipswich, and while his business is still getting to full speed, Simon can often be seen driving a truck around SEQ doing deliveries, as he says he still 'needs to pay the mortgage'.
"I did one delivery to a two storey house, and it was when the show was on at the same time. The husband came down, and he said 'You're....but....how....' I motioned to shhhhhh. He asked me upstairs and his wife was ecstatic, jumping up and down. So I posed for photos with her by the TV.
"I drive around in the truck and people at the bus stops yell out 'Hey Simon! G'day!' It's weird. I really admire people like Keith Urban or Nicole Kidman, I don't know how they do it. I still get taken back when people recognise me."
Simon still keeps in touch with all the other people from the show, and especially enjoys Sean's company, both being country boys.
"I was talking to Sean a few days ago. We went to a rodeo together and we both felt right at home. I spoke to Susan about four days ago, I talk to Jesse now and then, I rang the twins to wish them happy birthday.
"Even Andy on the Coast wanted to go to the footy with me the other night but I was busy unfortunately, so yes we all keep in touch with each other."
Simon plans to keep doing things on his terms, despite what the world of television tries to tell him.
It's fair to say Simon McQuillan from Tallegalla gives women across the country the hope that genuine blokes really do exist. He went onto TV to find love, and despite all the pressure, the unreality of it all and against all the odds, he's found it in the arms of Alene.