When my fiancee was in the midst of the wedding planning, part of her research (or perhaps it was simply a guilty pleasure) involved watching wedding shows on basic cable. For those of you who have not had the pleasure, between stations like WE tv and TLC, there are no fewer than nine different wedding-themed reality shows airing weekly. Many of them are appealing in a rubbernecking sort of way; much like a car crash, the spectacle is too ridiculous to turn away from (I’m looking at you, My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding).

Of all of these shows, though, the one that most piques my mathematical interest is TLC’s Four Weddings. Based on a British show with the same name, the premise is as follows: four brides-to-be, unknown to one another, meet and attend each others’ weddings. When one bride gets married, the other three score various aspects of the wedding, and the bride with the highest score among the four wins a honeymoon (contingencies are in place in the event of a tie, though these are not always explained and seem to vary from season to season). In order to make for good TV, the show frequently manages to bring out the worst aspects of these women, as they nitpick and pass judgment on everyone else’s wedding. Here’s a short clip to give you a taste for what this show is all about:

How are the weddings scored? This process is explained in detail during the course of each episode. The wedding is broken down into four categories: dress, venue, food, and overall experience. For overall experience, the other three brides in attendance give a score from 1 to 10 (though I’ve never seen a bride give another wedding a 10). For the rest of the categories, though, the brides can only rank the weddings as being 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in the given category. 1st place gets 10 points, 2nd place gets 6, and 3rd gets 3. The total possible number of points a wedding can score is therefore 120. At the end of each episode, the scores for each bride are broken out in detail. The wedding budget and headcount are provided as well.

After watching a few episodes, it seemed like the best way to ensure a win was to simply outspend your competitors. Certainly a large budget can help improve the guest experience or score a hip dress, but I was curious as to what overall trend (if any) could be made between, say, money spent on a wedding and the wedding’s overall score.

With this noble goal in mind, I proceeded to DVR 28 episodes of this show. After recording the scores for 112 weddings, some of my questions were as follows: is the amount a person spends on a wedding correlated to the score they receive from the other competitors? What about the amount a person spends *per guest*? Finally, did the most expensive wedding win more frequently than would be expected by pure chance?

Let’s look at some data. Here is a scatterplot of each wedding’s budget, vs. the total points earned.

As the dots suggest, there is a slight positive correlation between the amount one spends on a wedding, and the score one receives from one’s fellow competitors. The coefficient of correlation here is approximately 0.286, though if we discard the two $150,000 weddings, this improves to around 0.348.

Of course, a $10,000 wedding for 10 people might be a much nicer affair than a $10,000 wedding for 1,000 people. If you spend more money per guest, does this translate into a higher score as well? The dots don’t lie; here’s another scatterplot:

There is quite clearly an outlier in this set of data – this corresponds to a bride who spent $150,000 for a 120 person wedding, for a whopping $1,250 spent per guest (this particular bride did end up taking first place). Eliminating this outlier, though, the correlation here is weaker than the correlation for actual cost, at a meager 0.098. In other words, there may not be a linear relationship between cost per guest and total score. This may be because certain fixed costs, such as the dress and the venue, won’t necessarily vary much with the guest total, unlike something like food.

This analysis, though, obscures a key point. In order to win the honeymoon, you don’t necessarily need a high score; you only need a higher score than your three other competitors. With this in mind, it may be simpler to just look at the scores episode-by-episode, and see how the amount spent on a wedding compares to the wedding’s relative ranking.

In the graph below, the blue bars count the number of times the most expensive wedding was given a certain rank. The red bars count the number of times the wedding with the highest cost per guest was given a certain rank. Note that if cost had no bearing on the rank, we would expect an equal number of weddings in each rank (in this case, about 7 per rank).

As you can see, spending the most money seems to bestow an advantage: fully 50% (14 out of 28) of the most expensive weddings were ranked first. This would be unlikely if cost had no impact on ranking.

The picture is a little murkier for cost per guest -the frequency for each ranking sticks pretty closely to 7, so it’s not clear that spending more per guest gives any advantage.

In conclusion, there is a small positive correlation between amount spent and score received, though this does not transfer to the amount spent per guest. Compared only to one’s other three competitors, the amount spent appears to confer an even greater advantage, so if you are on this show and want to show your competitors that you are better than them, my advice would be to simply outspend them. If all you’re interested in is a nice vacation, though, it may be cheaper to just stick to your budget, and plan a vacation on your own.

Apt.

Cool! I was on that show. You are not taking into account the number of guests. A bride that budgets say 30k for 100 person wedding has an advantage over a bride that budgets the same amount for a 200 person wedding.

Thanks for your comment, Jennifer. Did you read the entire article? One of the main points is that the number of guests does not appear to matter – there is little evidence to suggest that spending $200 per guest is any better (from the standpoint of winning the honeymoon prize) than spending $100 per guest. This result surprised me, but the data doesn’t lie!

Good article and fascinating statistical analysis that basically says to me… make sure you invite awesome people, get a tasty food truck, and crank some nice tunes and you can probably score pretty highly on a minimal budget. Maybe a few more score points if you get some cool mustaches and a good friend to officiate.

More than the math, I admire the dedication associated with recording and subsequently watching 28 episodes of that show.

@Marcus – thank you for your support. I did feel some shame in my admission, but in my defense, I was able to crank out the episodes relatively quickly (thanks to that marvelous invention known as the fast-forward button).

@Smith – no doubt!!!!!!!!!

I realized I did not read the WHOLE article and you are totally right.. awesome article.

Jennifer – Could you share your experience on the show?

Matt, I love the analysis. My fiance and I watched a couple of episodes of Four Weddings today, and the bride who spent $90k won the prize. I wondered if the most expensive wedding usually wins, and then I found your article! Very cool.

Good article. I watch the show with my daughter who is planning her wedding and just wondered what the highest score ever was. I only see as high as 90s. I too thought the more expensive, the better the chance of winning. The show seems to get cattier each season which I don’t like.

all i would like to know is,,,if the other 3 brides get ANYTHING,,,you know a consolation prize or something

Nice analysis. I’d love to test another theory about the show, but I’m too lazy to DVR a bunch of episodes and run the simulations. My theory is that if you are on the show and rate everything backwards, you can increase your chances of winning. In the show they always highlight how their scoring system prevents brides from lowballing everyone else’s wedding, but you can lowball on overall experience. Moreover, if you rate the best elements with the worst scores, you will bring down your competition, making it easier (but definitely not a shoe-in) to win. So how about it Matt, do you want to share your data?

Of course, I should mention that I dislike this show, because I think the whole idea of rating other people’s weddings is tacky.

The only issue I see here is that, on occasion, the brides score the same amount of points and they have to use something else to break the tie (I can’t remember what). And I’ve seen it happen where the costs of the wedding are drastically different — so how do you take that into account?

@mermaldad – great question. it’s been a while since i wrote this post, but i’ll try to find my original excel file.

Hi Matt, great article! Did you do any research on the order of the weddings at all? For instance, is the first wedding at a disadvantage from a scoring perspective since there is no comparison weddings yet? I wondered if the first wedding has a worst chance of losing vs being the last wedding on the show.

@Nicole – great question. I haven’t analyzed it myself, but it would definitely be worth looking in to!

Has anyone ever won all 120 points? If not what was the top score?