“Well, who said it then? Who said that you were drinking with pills?” That is the kind of disturbing, accusatory question you would expect to hear tossed across the room at a boozy Real Housewives vacation brunch. In fact, it feels like we've already heard Ramona Singer yell something similar while holding a glass of pinot grigio. However, the world’s best Turtle Timer is not the woman who introduced such a line of questioning to reality TV — it didn’t even come from her television home, Bravo.
Instead, that statement belongs to Sydney Hightower of The Bachelor 2020 and an evening-wear-only conversation that included a screaming match so powerful, one woman had to jump to her feet to properly eviscerate an enemy. Sound familiar, Bravo stans? The Bachelor is usually about dating. But this year, as we saw in Monday night’s “Week 5,” the ABC dating game show is now a Real Housewives-style cage match with a semi-romantic B-plot.
All seasons of The Bachelor produce some form of contestant-to-contestant drama. The 2019 season, led by Colton Underwood, was beleaguered by pageant infighting. Arie Luyendyk Jr.’s 2018 run had some very bizarre Krystal Nielson-based tension. But, there is something different about the way gossipy aggression has made its way into the DNA of The Bachelor season 24. There isn’t just one argument that defines Peter’s season, there are a dozen.
“Week 5” illustrates this problem the best (although the two previous Alayah Benavidez-focused chapters certainly set the stage). The episode begins with Peter taking Alayah aside to ask her to leave, essentially one day after he asked her to rejoin the series. That kind of whiplash-inducing behaviour is its own Real Housewives-esque storyline. However, it’s the contestants who really sell the Bravo atmosphere from the jump. Before Peter even has a chance to speak to Alayah, we watch the women openly debate Alayah’s motives while clutching gigantic goblets of wine.
“Come at me, and Ima fucking come for you,” Victoria Fuller, who is nursing her own beef with Alayah, says from a couch opposite her perceived antagonist. If you look closely, Mykenna Dorn is quietly wiping away tears. The threat is a pure Housewives tagline. The visual is 100% reunion show. All Alayah can do is silently listen to her own character assassination. Even when Peter is escorting Alayah out of the show — unbeknownst to his contestants — the women openly critique him, without anxiety over their standing in the competition. “Again, walking hand-in-hand,” one woman says, loud enough for anyone to hear her.
This bit of drama was a mere amuse-bouche for the chaos ahead, which begins in earnest near the close of the group date. During the outing, Tammy Ly tells Peter that fellow contestant Kelsey Weir was “going through a mental breakdown” and has been “drinking excessively.” Unnecessary medical diagnoses about mental health and substance abuse are the bread and butter of Housewives.
Tammy’s back-stabbing comments throw the remaining hour of The Bachelor into abject discord. Some immediately noteworthy lines that come out of Tammy’s misstep include, “So, do we want to talk about who said I was emotionally unstable today?” and “Just mind your own fucking business.” A later conversation meant to mend fences quickly falls apart, inspring Tammy to go full villain and say, “You can continue to cry and wither away in bottles of wine. Have fun.” Bethenny Frankel would approve. This chat is so terrible, it pushes Kelsey to go rogue. She leaves the home where the Bachelor women are living to speak to Peter. When Kelsey returns, she has a rose and the women eventually learn the pre-rose ceremony cocktail party is cancelled.
A new wave of inter-woman hostility is born.
The resulting Peter-less cocktail party is reality TV hell. Mykenna is left yelling about her lack of time with Peter. The aforementioned question of whether Kelsey is “popping pills” is born, pushing Kelsey to utter the instantly iconic defense of, “I take Adderall and birth control.” Victoria Paul sidesteps possible gossip culpability with the deftness of early-season Lisa Vanderpump. Tammy blows the entire kerfuffle out of proportion by leaping to her feet to scream at Sydney, who then calls Tammy “crazy” five times. In a confessional, Sydney accuses Tammy of being “psycho.”
Somewhere in all of this, Peter is simply trying to find his wife (despite stoking the flames of reality TV mayhem himself with stunts like handing both Alayah and Kelsey roses as the worst time possible).