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The latest season of The Bachelorette claimed to be explosive and entertaining, but in truth, it was simply excruciating and exhausting, focused on ratings before romance. With two leading ladies, Rachel Reccia and Gabby Windey, this show was less about finding love and more about finding out who was going to crack before the end.
Rachel and Gabby were the pair brutally rejected at the end of Clayton Echard’s season of The Bachelor, and they were very much looking forward to being handed back the power this time around. Determined to prove they had learnt from Clayton’s mistakes and succeed where he had failed – they vowed they would leave without a proposal.
It’s always amusing to watch the transformation of the blubbering contestant, a mere pawn in the game, who goes on to become the Bachy King or Queen. They rise above the burning embers of that, uncomfortably recent, past relationship to take their position on the throne, surrounded by a crowd of fawning courters. This season’s power switch-up wasn’t as pronounced though, with the suitors calling many of the shots and the leads in fits of tears and self-doubt. Having two Bachelorettes meant more men, so less time with each, and a great deal of uncertainty on both sides as to who was going to be vying for who.
Eventually, there were two clear camps: Team Gabby and Team Rachel, and the men were released from the Bachelor mansion, flown to Europe, and then imprisoned once more on a vast, empty, heavily branded cruise ship.
It always feels like a mad sprint to the finish line in these shows, but even more so on this occasion. By the time hometown week rolled around, there seemed to be very few meaningful connections formed, with many eliminations happening before the traditional assembly of the evening rose ceremony. This was also the first time a contestant made it to hometowns without having been invited on a single one-on-one date. It had all the romance and function of an ill-advised arranged marriage that not even the parents wanted.
Post hometowns, the final week of the show is usually a formulaic Goldilocks and the Three Bears tale as the star figures out who of their final three is worthy of their love. They always make their decisions via long, contemplative shots on a balcony with seaside views. Palm trees waving, tropical birds calling… this porridge is too hot, this porridge is too cold, but this porridge is just right.
This season plays out a little differently. An astonishing number of the final contestants from each team seem overcome with the sanctity of a marriage proposal. One wonders whether the relocation from the walled Bachelor mansion to a cruise ship sailing on the open seas gave the men a pesky sense of freedom and perspective?
In the closing week, Gabby sends two men home because neither is prepared to propose. This is disappointing for the men as well as the producers, as it means there will now be no nail-biting reveal of the chosen suitor at a dummy wedding altar. George Bernard Shaw’s advice springs to mind here; “It is dangerous to be sincere unless you are also stupid.”
So, Gabby rocks up to Erich’s dimly lit hotel room with cheap curtains to tell him he’s the last man standing, and they share a kiss at an awkward neck angle of chiropractic concern. After all the drama and pomp thus far, it is rather an underwhelming moment, but is still memorable because Erich is the only man with a mullet to have ever been picked.
Amazingly, Erich, soon after, also expresses his hesitation about getting engaged (why is everyone taking this so seriously?) but in the end he relents, and gets down on one knee.
Rachel isn’t able to eke out her dating journey to the make-or-break scene at the altar either. Her final week sees her dump Aven due to his cold feet about proposing, and also say goodbye to a distraught Zach, who was actually ready to propose.
Again on a hotel sofa, Rachel breaks the good news to her final suitor, Tino, a Greek Adonis type with unshakeable confidence, a regular Disney villain. He receives the news with about as much emotion and surprise as a cold cucumber, but manages to pep himself up later on to propose.
This part of the show then wraps up, and we find ourselves at the reunion episode After The Final Rose, where we learn Gabby and Erich, mullet intact, are still together, but things have gone awry for Rachel and Tino.
We cut to a previously taped confrontation where a stressed-out, overheating Tino arrives at an undisclosed house to answer to a seething Rachel. He admits to kissing another girl, believing their relationship was over, but tries to excuse himself by referring to his diary entries of things Rachel has said which suggest they were at Splitsville. They allude to some secret event that leaves Rachel needing therapy, which is edited out in a rare fit of discretion by the show. Rachel, eyes flickering with rage, dares him to utter it. What further ordeal, beyond the humiliation, betrayal, and gasping breakdowns we have seen Rachel already endure, could be so exposing and damning it needs to be classified? The mind boggles.
Their fight then continues on the studio set in front of a live audience. The fallout seems to last longer than their entire courtship. When it finally dies down, Aven, the true Disney prince, appears, whisking Rachel away for a talk and presumably some half-time oranges and cold water splashed over her head.
By the time the final credits roll, there’s a gnawing feeling of having just watched a professional boxing match. The producers spearheading the drama, the stars repeatedly taking deathblows to the head and punches to the gut; and us, the audience, cheering them on. We remember that these are real lives being thrown about. A moral dilemma about the ethics of a reality TV show is the last thing a viewer wants to burdened with.
Thankfully, just one week after the finale, Bachelor in Paradise arrives to save the day. A true diversion from reality, this spinoff show doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a wanton and dramatic beach vacation, with the occasional agony-free proposal at the end, to have and to hold.