Forgive me, readers, for I have sinned. I have found myself agreeing with most of the things said on The Bachelor tonight. I fear the show has become self-aware, which leaves me in an awkward position because part of what's so great about this show is how delightfully unaware it usually is. Even when it wants to be "aware," The Bachelor usually falters. That's partially because the show used to leave self-awareness to the production staff and editors. These days, though, the contestants seem self-aware. Even, erm, Arie seems self-aware? (I'm sorry, I'm an Arie sympathizer, @ me if you'd like.)
Exhibit A: The awkward wrestling group date. This date was uncomfortable for a number of reasons. First, it forced the contestants to wrestle and be theatrical, which is inherently awkward. Second, a cast member from the original cast of GLOW (no, not the Netflix one) made a racially charged criticism of Bibiana just to "rile her up." The woman, meant to mentor the girls in wrestling, made fun of the spelling of Bibiana's name, suggesting Bibiana's mother couldn't spell. Last week, Refinery29 television writer Ariana Romero did a deep dive on the show's treatment of Bibiana, a young Latinx woman from Miami, concluding that the show was employing a racist stereotype in order to create drama for the cameras. Things have only gotten worse. Bibiana retires from the activity, confused and upset. This woman was "being mean" to every contestant. But it was only Bibiana who received an ad hominem attack. (If there were other such cruel instances, they did not make it to the final edit, which is also telling.) Tia, the contestant from Weiner, Arkansas, retires as well, citing "bad vibes" from the woman. Yeah, Tia, we're also getting bad vibes. (No points go to Bekah M., who complained that Bibiana and Tia weren't getting the "theatricality" of wrestling.)
Bibiana and Tia both eventually return to wrestling, but for a moment there was an acknowledgement of this show's darkest demons: It wants to make contestants uncomfortable. And it goes to dangerous lengths to do so.
The best part of this whole ordeal is that Arie looked queasy, if not downright miserable. He later admitted at the party that he found himself uncomfortable during the date. Us, too, Arie — really, what's Bachelor fandom to do when we agree with the Bachelor himself?! Poor Arie also had to wrestle. The former Bachelorette contestant Kenny King returned to perform four theatrical body slams on a very unwilling Arie. Arie won, because it's theater, but his face said he'd lost the moment he stepped into the ring. (I'd like to imagine Arie attended this date only because he lost a bet with a producer.) It's times like these I worry maybe Arie is on the show to fall in love or something. You mean he doesn't like doing silly things? You mean he's honest about how he felt about the date? What's this?
Exhibit B: Arie goes on a one-on-one date with Lauren S. It's a routine date. There's a private jet, there are grapes, there is cheese, and there is conversation. Nothing about it seems very fun, though. Arie's doing his best — he's goofing! He's snacking! He's joking about his cardigan habit! He's getting dangerously close to self-aware, actually.
Meanwhile, Lauren S. is getting more and more anxious. She starts sentences about her career and ends them talking about her family. Oh, and she's talking fast. What's weird is that the show then gives us play-by-play commentary of Lauren S.'s freakout via Lauren herself. As she devolves into a nervous mess, we hear Lauren explaining how and why it happened. In short: She was nervous. But it was nice to see a contestant explain and digest their "crazy" behavior in real time. In other eras, Lauren's behavior on that date might have been left for clickable entertainment fodder. (The show isn't as kind to Annaliese. Argh. I guess Rome wasn't built in a day.) In another nicely aware move, Arie sends Lauren home. The feelings just aren't there, and thank God, because now there's only one Lauren left in the house.
Exhibit C: Arie takes the girls on another group date. This time, they are training puppies and performing with them. The puppies are disinclined to become show dogs. The women, despite being excited at first to play with dogs, are disappointed that the dogs do not suddenly become stellar performing artists. Again, it's awkward. Again, Arie says so. Even Fred Willard looks uncomfortable. (Willard compared the ceremony to an old car.)
Exhibit D: At the final cocktail party, Arie once more rejects someone, point blank. He declines a kiss from Annaliese after she requests one. Why? Well, they're just not there yet. Later, when she presses him on it, he tells her there's no future there between them, which is great, because that means she can go home, and we will be spared more Lifetime-style reenactments.
Okay, so, things are getting honest. Which isn't to say this show isn't blandly facetious and fluffy also. This episode has some nice dishonesty, like when Bekah M. says, "You know why I think you like me?"
And Arie says, "Why?"
And she says, "It's because... I'm unsafe."
And then she says, "It's because... I don't need you."
Then, she points out that Arie dates a lot of single moms, probably because they "need" him, which is casting a lot of aspersions on single moms. These. Are. Lies. Arie likes Bekah M. because she's 22 and being evasive about it, I think we can all agree.
There's also the moment Tia says that it was nice to see Arie get "athletic" and "sweaty" on the wrestling date. Lies.
There's a lampshade on someone's head during the doggy group date, there's some awkward orchestra playing during Lauren S.'s exit, and, at one point, a girl yells, "Background! Sh!" ('Background' refers to the background actors on a movie.)
Then, there's everything to do with Bibiana, who was so clearly being positioned by production to be a fool. She set up a date for herself and Arie, only for Arie to discover it with Lauren B. Production helped Bibiana set up that date. Production probably also led Arie there with Lauren B. Production wanted to set up Bibiana, who was understandably upset. If Bibiana had been given the same opportunity as, say, Lauren S., to tell her story, she might not have ended the show so visibly upset. (Never you fear — Bibiana will be on the Bachelor Winter Games this February.)
Finally, of course, there's Krystal, who seems insistent that she and Arie are in love after one date, the ultimate lack of self-awareness. She's convinced they'll end up together and this show is just a charade they must enact before they can be together. Krystal, we weren't born yesterday. We know how this show works. The person most confident in the relationship is most often the villain. And villains — save for Courtney Roberts — don't win.
So far, the real frontrunners seem to be Bekah M., Becca K., and Tia. Bekah because she is intriguing. Becca K. because she's at ease and, as per Arie, looks good in yoga pants. And Tia because she's down for a sip of moonshine. (Arie's words: It tastes like gasoline, but good.)
Okay, sorry, one last thing: Arie has a dog?!
The Dearly Departed: Lauren S., Annaliese, Bibiana
The Lauren Count: Just one left! Lauren B., the tech salesperson.
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