Mess, Manipulation & Many Tears: Alisha Aitken-Radburn Shares What It’s Really Like Filming The Bachelor

I’ve always loved The Bachelor franchise. I love the romance, the drama, the tight 90-minute episodes. My favourite bachelorette was Sophie Monk. I’d loved her since her days on the ‘00s reality TV sensation, Popstars, where the girl group Bardot was first formed. (The same Bardot that generated one of the anthems of our generation, “Poison”.) I loved her energetic spirit, her authenticity and how cutting her self-deprecating humour could be. 
I followed her season of The Bachelorette religiously, preparing a weekly spread and sitting down for something we’d now call girl dinner. In the premiere episode of Monk's season, I remember messaging my group chat, ranking the most cringe-worthy limo exits between bites of cabanossi and Pizza Shapes. Halfway through the season, I dissected ‘pot-plant gate’ between university tutorials (one of the front runners, Jarrod Woodgate, had presented Monk with a plant to signify their growing love and another contestant allegedly proceeded to urinate on it). And I cried big tears during the season’s finale, equally for Monk professing her love for very rich, very handsome publican Stu Laundy and for the aforementioned Jarrod Woodgate walking down a Fijian beach, heartbroken and alone after his rejection. 
The night after the finale, I tuned into The Project to get an update on the happy couple and it was… awkward. The interview was stilted, with Monk stumbling over whether she ‘liked’ or ‘loved’ her new partner. One of the panellists relentlessly questioned her about her choice, saying she’d gone on the show wanting a “down to earth, normal guy who wants to get married and have kids,” continuing that “what you’ve chosen is a millionaire, who is already married, who has had a vasectomy”. 
The audience erupted with laughter and the panel poured over the autopsy of their relationship. It’s a clip that would’ve gone viral if TikTok had existed back then, and it opened the floodgates to weeks of speculation about whether they were really together. I was deeply invested and wanted to know everything. I didn’t want it to stop at their interview on The Project or a soundbite on the radio. I wanted to know what had really happened, what it was really like to go through such a pressurised, produced experience. 
When I followed the lives of other Bachelor couples in future years, I had the opposite problem. The half-truths of the headlines splashed across the media were replaced by perfectly filtered grid posts that showed perfect lives, perfect homes and perfect holidays. 
I wanted to know if they actually fell in love in the end. 

Before the show, I didn’t have an understanding of what it must have felt like for all those people who’d gone before me, arranged on a set of acrylic steps to be judged and ranked.

Alisha Aitken-Radburn
It's this that led me to apply for The Bachelor in the first place, to find out the answer to the perennial question of the reality TV viewer: was actually real? 
Once I had my own experience on The Bachelor — after being cast on season six, featuring Aussie larrikin, the Honey Badger — I got my answer. It was all real. It was messy and it was manipulated but it was definitely all real. From the fast relationships I formed with all the other girls, who were nothing like I expected and nothing like the narrow and shallow narrative the media often explained them to be, to the experiences at cocktail parties, which were far less glamorous than they looked on TV. 
We’d wriggle into tiny sample-sized dresses because wardrobe didn’t stock past a size 12, and then stand in the mansion’s kitchen for hours as producers prepped and sound engineers kindly asked us to cover our breasts as they tried to sticky-tape our mic packs around our sideboob. Hours later, I’d end up trying to cover that microphone that ended up stuck to my chest or loudly announcing I was going to the toilet, for fear of shocking the poor audio guy on the other side of the line. 
Before the show, I didn’t have an understanding of what it must have felt like for all those people who’d gone before me, arranged on a set of acrylic steps to be judged and ranked, or what it was like when Osher uttered the famous words: “Alisha, you did not receive a rose”. I didn’t know what it was like to have your life picked apart by a panel or for people to speculate about whether your relationship was solid or not.
By the time my final season in the franchise aired, where I met my now-husband Glenn and I’d experienced all that and more, I knew I wanted to share my experience. Not just the rose ceremonies and not just the cocktails in Fiji. All of it; the mess, the manipulation and the many, many tears.
I cover it all in my first book, The Villain Edit, which peeks behind the curtain of the cultural phenomenon. How does it feel to be cast as a caricature of yourself? What happens when it’s all over? What do your parents, friends and colleagues think of you? 
How does it feel when the comments flood in, or when you find the forums that pick apart every aspect of your appearance and personality?  I cover the pressure to compete and feeling like a failure if you don’t ‘blow up’ online and make something of yourself after the show. 
How it felt to have my own ‘cheating scandal’ picked apart by a panel, and my fixation on what the person sitting at home with their own diner would think of me.  
What emerges is a picture that is far more complex than the simple narratives we see play out on TV. The romance may remain, but the truth is far more interesting than post-production could package in a 90-minute episode.  
Alisha Aitken-Radburn’s first book, The Villain Edit (Allen&Unwin) will be available to buy in all good bookstores on August 29. 

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