For too long, I have hidden my secret shame: over the last few years I have become an avid fan of ABC’s reality (or “reality”) dating series The Bachelor and its subordinate tentacles, The Bachelorette (same thing as The Bachelor, with gender roles reversed) and Bachelor Pad (stupidest/most amazing thing on television). It’s embarrassing, because it’s the worst kind of shlock, trading in outdated fairy-tale notions of love, full of people you wouldn’t want to share a cab ride with, much less the rest of your life, competing for the love of someone the show keeps insisting (against all available evidence) is the living embodiment of a lifetime of fantasies but who actually seems to be about as interesting and viable a life partner as a plate of unbuttered noodles.
Having said that, you all screwed up bad not watching The Bachelor in this, its 18th season, because it did something totally unexpected: it threw its bachelor, Venezuelan soccer player/himbo Juan Pablo Galavis — and with him, the entire franchise — under the bus.
Like most Bachelor bachelors, Juan Pablo was chosen from the field of also-rans from the most recent season of The Bachelorette. Unlike most bachelors, he is not a white American, but a Latino raised in South America, so in addition to his considerable physical gifts (dude is super dreamy), he has a pretty heavy accent, all of which is to say that normal women — to say nothing of the slavering, hyper-fetishizing women on The Bachelor — are nearly powerless in his presence. When Juan Pablo was announced, before a live studio audience comprised entirely of female Bachelor fans, to be the next bachelor, there was scarcely a dry seat in the house. All the previous 17 bachelors had been desirable in a generic, J.Crew-catalog kind of way, but this was something different. This was as close to Beatlemania as The Bachelor was ever likely to get.
Once the season got going, the usual dynamic of the 25 women clawing each other’s eyes out to get a couple of precious minutes alone with the object of their hysteria, accusing each other of not being there for “The Right Reasons” (a common Bachelorism, generally meaning for love over momentary TV fame) set in. Whenever they were put in front of the camera, they oohed and aahed about what an amazing person Juan Pablo was, what an ideal husband he would be, how safe and supported they felt around him, what a great father they presumed him to be to his young daughter, and of course, that they could feel themselves falling in love with him after a total of 18 minutes spent in his presence.
To some extent, it’s understandable that the women would have strong emotions during this process. Not only are they pitted against each other in a way that gets their competitive juices flowing and their elbows flying, but every date is orchestrated to be this pinnacle of romance, like walking up the cable of the Golden Gate bridge together or taking a helicopter ride over a volcano or (always, every season, no matter what) jumping hand-in-hand off of a yacht. Though the bachelor obviously has no involvement in planning any of these dates, the women are constantly giving him credit for being so romantic, so thoughtful; on the more adventurous dates, like bungee-jumping or spelunking, they’re always saying “I decided to go through with it because I trust him,” even though there is obviously a safety crew, a paramedic squad, and a $5 million insurance policy just out of frame, none of which were arranged by the bachelor. The producers leave so little in the date-planning to chance, I feel reasonably confident that Screech from Saved by the Bell could be the bachelor and each of his dates would go home flushed and swooning. (The VH1 series Flavor of Love, starring wizened Public Enemy hype man Flavor Flav, pretty conclusively proved exactly that.)
Which is why it was so curious that Juan Pablo began to slowly reveal that he has no game whatsoever, to such an extreme extent that not even these genetically engineered superdates could cover for his deficiencies as a conversationalist. Whereas in most previous seasons the women would become more driven and obsessed the longer the they lasted on the show, this season they seemed to be moving in the opposite direction. Juan Pablo, for his part, made no pretense of having any other priority than spending as much time as possible making out with the women he was interested in — a couple of times, he barely managed to get a cursory “hello” out before thrusting his tongue into the poor girl’s mouth like he he was snakebit and she was hiding the antidote in her uvula.
The women started saying things like, “the physical chemistry is definitely there, I’m not sure about the rest” and “all we ever seem to do is make out” and “I wish I was dumber.” But at the same time as his favored ladies were beginning to wonder if Juan Pablo’s English went any further than “hello” and “you look nice” and “ay-yi-yi,” some of the other women were wondering why he kept them at arm’s length and kept using his daughter as an excuse not to get too close too soon.
Nearly all of the women this season were pretty forgettable, with the exception of Sharleen the Mixed-Race Opera Singer and Andi the Assistant District Attorney. Both of these women stood out for having a quality sorely lacking in most Bachelor contestants: self-awareness. Sharleen, in particular, was clearly uncomfortable every minute she spent in the Bachelor mansion, surrounded by all these women chattering about how great it would be to have a one-on-one date with Juan Pablo. I mean, she is an opera singer who lives in Germany, is very beautiful (beauty tip: try to have one of your parents be Asian), and clearly one of the two most intelligent people on the property. (It was she who said, reflecting on her makeout-based relationship with Juan Pablo, “I wish I was dumber.”) When Juan Pablo had narrowed his field to five, the women waited expectantly for the Rose Ceremony where he would choose his final four, each of whom would host him for a “hometown date” where he’d meet their families and ask their dads (or whoever) for permission to propose, in the event that he decided he wanted to (kind of like being pre-approved for a loan).
It was at this point that Sharleen proved that she really was different from the other women, because after a long night of intense snogging (and a possible but unconfirmed consummation in the ocean) with Juan Pablo, she woke in the morning and announced she was leaving. The other women were shaken: Why? WHY? they asked incredulously. Sharleen (let me pause a moment to say I hate that she spells her name that way), while acknowledging a powerful, primal physical attraction to her bachelor, was not ready to contemplate marriage after two and a half dates and an unconfirmed consummation in the ocean, so she sacrificed her spot so that one of these other dingbats with no such reservations needn’t miss out.
It was unusual for the show, having a finalist walk out, but Sharleen clearly didn’t belong on this show in the first place, so it didn’t portend anything bigger at the time. Juan Pablo was visibly disappointed, as Sharleen was the obvious front-runner, but he soldiered on with his final four, meeting their families and asking for pre-approval from their dads. Oddly, after having made a big deal all season long about how he didn’t want to lead on either of the two single moms in the Wife Pool, so as not to unnecessarily keep them away from their kids or form any attachments that would be hard to break, he allowed one of them, a very warm, mellow beach bunny named Renee — the only woman who was age-appropriate and had anything at all in common (single parenthood) with Juan Pablo — to make it to the Hometown round, met her son, cheered for him at a little league game, and then dismissed Renee from the show.
For the penultimate round, the Fantasy Suite Dates, the last three women each acquiesced to Juan Pablo’s invitation to spend the night, without cameras, in one of the three mindblowing accomodations the show set up (Juan Pablo getting all the credit, of course, for his thoughtfulness). But the morning after the second overnight, Andi the Assistant District Attorney, who had very enthusiastically stayed over in Juan Pablo’s suite, was singing a different tune, saying it was a terrible date, that Juan Pablo was totally self-obsessed, a name-dropper, insensitive and uninterested in her on every level, and she was leaving.
It was at this point that the seasoned Bachelor-watcher may have become slightly disoriented: the entire show has always been built around the premise that the bachelor, whoever he may be, is the Platonic ideal of masculinity, desirability, and romance, and that all the cattiness and infighting among the women is totally justified because hey, if you had a shot at a guy like this, wouldn’t you throw a few elbows yourself?
Which brings us to The Bachelor: The Women Tell All, aka The Moment This Franchise Became Self-Aware.
Each season, once the bachelor has winnowed the field to two, the show pauses for a week to reunite all of the rejected women on a set of bleachers, in front of a hooting all-female studio audience, to discuss whatever controversies might have arisen during the course of the show, to handicap the final round, and to get one last shot at speaking with the bachelor. Most of the time, this time is devoted mainly to the women sniping at each other over various transgressions, like “being here for the wrong reasons,” or “being one way with him and another way with us,” or “having sex with him in the ocean.” Whichever party is on the defensive is likely to say “I’m not here to make friends,” the women in the audience exchange knowing looks (it’s true, she’s obviously not here to make friends), and then they bring out the bachelor. The failed contestants try to get some closure on why they were not chosen, the bachelor stammers out some kind of halfhearted non-answer, and then the 8-minute trailer for the season finale rolls.
It went a little differently this year. After Andi unmasked Juan Pablo as an insensitive d-bag in the previous episode, and with the benefit of hindsight, being confronted with their craven, undignified swooning before his hotness in a package of early-season clips is clearly more than a little embarrassing for the women. Which may be why, for the first time in the history of The Women Tell All, the ladies don’t waste a single moment settling scores with each other; they are united in their purpose and their mission to TAKE JUAN PABLO DOWN.
Asked to recall their first impressions of their bachelor, they all admit to his overwhelming magnetism, but one of the women who lists her occupation as “Dog Lover” mentions that she found it worrying that her miniature schnauzer didn’t like him. And with that, the gloves are off: “I felt like a lot of our conversations were surface level.” “He never asked me anything about me.” “I wanted to take the conversation deeper but he had no idea what I was saying.” “He asked me at one point, where do you see yourself in five years. And then the next time we talked, he asked me where I see myself in three years.” “I felt like he wasn’t genuine.” And on and on and on, until bachelor host/hot tub salesman Chris Harrison calls timeout for a commercial break, so everyone can have a sip of water and the women’s garishly overdone makeup can be touched up. (Why don’t they just use the relatively tasteful makeup artist from the location shooting for the in-studio episode? Everyone’s faces are in such loud, primary colors for a moment I wonder if my TV has blown one of its color chips.)
These pile-on segments are usually most interesting as scouting reports for the next season of Bachelor Pad — both the Dog Lover and the 22-year-old NBA Dancer/Single Mom clearly have a big future playing alcoholic double dare and in the weird Bachelor family subcuture of mixers and meet-and-greets around Los Angeles — and as a strange reminder of how little impression the majority of the women made on the show (which is really a reflection on the bachelor himself, because he didn’t let any of them talk long enough to show any personality before trying to suck all the air out of them).
The women with the most to say also happen to be the three most appealing on the show and the three most recent departures, and each of them gets a solo interview segment. Sharleen The Self-Aware Opera Singer is surprised to learn that she was unanimously viewed as the frontrunner, before admitting that she knew she would have probably won (which is why she left). Chris Harrison calls her “the most fascinating person we’ve had,” and though I’ve only watched three of the 18 seasons of this show I tend to agree, simply because I’ve never seen anyone be so shocked by the depth and intensity of their own raging libido. Because Sharleen knew, from minute one, that Juan Pablo was a zero, but he was a zero that looked amazing with his shirt off, so she allowed herself to ignore niggling questions like “Where is this going” and “Do we have anything in common” and “Does he remember my name” and just go with the flow. But it didn’t take more than a moment apart for her to snap back to her senses and remember that she’s an opera singer who speaks German and he’s a walking sunscreen ad. On the whole, though, she’s curiously kind to the guy, maybe because she feels like she broke his heart (to the extent that that’s possible) rather than the other way around.
When Andi gets her turn, she pretty much repeats her litany of complaints from last week (not interested in anything about her, name-dropper, doesn’t listen, mentioned his other overnight dates, told her she was “barely” still in the competition “by default”) but reveals that, in order to avoid doing what usually happens in Fantasy Suites in the Fantasy Suite, she faked being asleep. Chris Harrison practically forces her to promise that she will continue her search for love, all but confirming rumors that she will headline the next season of The Bachelorette.
Finally, the main event: Juan Pablo is brought out for his public lashing. He says he has no regrets about anything, not even slut-shaming one of the finalists immediately after boning her in the ocean. He also lamely insists that all he ever wanted to do was get to know the women and that he has never been anything but honest. He sits blank-faced as Andi strafes him again with all the same complaints about their overnight date, and then one of the other women whose father is gay takes issue with his quoted disapproval of a gay Bachelor season. Juan Pablo insists that English is his second language and that he meant no offense. He seems genuinely shocked by how adversarial this thing has become, and by the end it’s clear that he has totally checked out, gone to his happy place — presumably a giant soccer field full of topless deaf-mute female soccer players with triple lip gloss.
And then it is over, and the 90-minute trailer for next week’s 2-hour episode rolls, and for the first time ever, there is no crane dolly shot of the bachelor waiting at the altar, just separate shots of the last two women in the game (Clare and Nikki, who hate each other) sobbing in their hotel rooms. Is this season going to end without an engagement, or even without anyone dating? This is a previously unthinkable outcome, as ABC has pretty much acknowledged that it heavily massages the “reality” on this show.
But this year seems to be different, and that’s good. It was fun to see a bachelor get chewed out by all 23 of his rejected suitors (what’s the feminine version of suitors? Suitresses?). More importantly, though, it looks like Juan Pablo’s behavior was bad enough that he even alienated the show’s producers, who usually bend over backward to keep their star bathed in the angelic light of desire. From the looks of the promos for next week — anyone want to come over and watch the finale with me next week? — he is getting the full-on Heel Edit. It would be cool if the show acknowledged, going forward, that it’s not just the women who have to impress and romance and dazzle their bachelor and win his heart; he has to do the same thing. (If he can do it with a sexy accent and a soccer body, so much the better.)