In the excitement of dating 28 foxy women, does the Bachelor forget about the nationally televised conversation he has to have with the 26 he dumped?
Last night was “The Bachelor: The Women Tell All”—a two-hour, exhaustive, awkward dissection of every conflict and interaction of the bachelorettes’ time with Bachelor Ben Higgins. At the very most, their time together amounts to a little over a month. “Women Tell All” is but the prelude to next week’s finale—a three-hour (really!) exhaustive, awkward dissection of every conflict and interaction of Ben’s time with the two women he might propose to…after a little over a month.
That’s five hours of public processing with America’s favorite fake therapist, host Chris Harrison, for relationships that amount to that time I dated a guy with a mohawk for three weeks in high school. And, at least that was exclusive!
For the uninitiated, “The Bachelor” is a beautiful, televised love story in which 20+ women compete for the affections of one eligible man within the intimate confines of a gauche SoCal mansion packed with a full production crew. The Bachelor hands out roses to those women he deems worthy of his affections week after week, winnowing the field of the winsome until he must choose which of final two women he will maybe, probably propose to and maybe, probably not marry. From the first-impression rose to final rose, filming takes about six weeks.
During that time, feelings are professed, connections made, hot-air balloon rides taken, hot tubs defiled, hometowns visited, parents met, fantasy suites indulged, and almost no actual conversations had.
It’s as if getting to know one another is actually prohibited on “The Bachelor.” A normal relationship is maybe 97 percent normal conversation and 3 percent Define-The-Relationship talks. “The Bachelor” takes these percentages and flips them, delivering the ridiculous spectacle of couples who barely know if the other has siblings or pets incessantly deciphering the depth of their relationships.
Contestants are required to ritually “like, let their guards down,” “like, stop putting up walls,” and “like, open up.” They constantly berate themselves as the Bachelor evinces disappointment in their unwillingness to “like, be vulnerable” to the hot dude dating 20 other women on national television.
This season, sweet Caila suffered greatly for her inability to put it all on the line for a guy who was likely to dump her and did just that, despite her Disney princess hair.
The allure of the show, which is very real and quick-acting—my stoic, staunchly anti-Bachelor brother once merely walked through the living room during an episode and found himself stalled on the staircase watching the action—seems to exist in the dramatic irony. We are a bunch of people who know exactly how ridiculous this is watching a bunch of people who seemingly don’t.
When one of this season’s finalists, JoJo, found herself on a hometown date with Ben, having dinner at Wrigley’s centerfield, the Indiana native revealed that he’s a giant Cubs fan. She, wearing a rather presumptuous “Mrs. Higgins” Cubs jersey, had no idea. But she was definitely in love already.
Last night’s “Women Tell All” produced, as always, tears, laughter, and more side-eye than a straight white guy winning an Oscar. The bachelorettes, it seems, are only slightly more willing than presidential candidates to say things to each other’s faces.
Olivia, the designated show villain, explained her introversion, claimed childhood bullying to cover her sins, and tearfully apologized to a bunch of women she was in competition with for not becoming their best bud. Olivia was literally not there to make friends, and that should be basically fine. But in the world of “The Bachelor,” there can be no end to the deep conversations and high-stakes confrontations over friendships that weren’t friendships and relationships that weren’t relationships.
Jubilee, a cello-playing war vet and orphan with a tragic childhood, was similarly scorned for her unwillingness to engage properly with the other strangers in the house. “Women Tell All” briefly became a discussion of some pretty serious racial politics between Jubilee, who is black, and two biracial contestants, Amber and Jami, all jarringly conducted in intense vocal fry.
Harrison attempted to encourage Jubilee by telling her “a guy as terrific as Ben saw you and got you.” Sure, and so did the Army Reserves, where she was just promoted to Sgt., so she’s got that going for her in addition to the fleeting affections of basic Ben.
Truth be told, I usually skip “Women Tell All” because it is so very cringe-inducing. But I’m fully committed to this season of “The Bachelor.” I’m here for the right reasons.
After having watched it, I’m convinced it is cringe-inducing because it is such a pure distillation of the essentially absurd premise of an essentially absurd show. “Women Tell All” is a highly potent cocktail of insecurity, unreasonable expectations, childhood issues, exhibitionism, and forced intimacy soaking in a bath of 150-proof passive aggression. The show spends so much time convincing its contestants that things that don’t matter at all matter immensely, they seem to become disoriented as the show progresses. Each conversation and confessional edges them closer to the emotional equivalent of Brick Tamland’s timeless lament, “I DON’T KNOW WHAT WE’RE YELLING ABOUT!”
Platinum Blonde Vegas Twins Emily and Haley, whom Ben was mercifully able to tell apart when put on the spot by Harrison, were the exception. Both seemed to retain a sense of humor and refused to back off their assessments of Olivia and Jubilee in person. They were charmingly forceful and undaunted even when confronted with Harrison’s tsk-tsk face. But even they were not immune. As Emily once said about this journey, with a hint of bewilderment and suspicion she’d been had:
“It’s an emotional thing. It really makes you dig down deep and figure out who the F you are.”
On to the final rose.