This is a contest like any other sport or bloodsport.
It’s time for another episode of The Bachelor, America’s pre-eminent reality show for romantic group dates, high-profile rejections, crying pharmaceutical saleswomen, and rendering the phrase “true love” utterly meaningless through ceaseless repetition. This season, we have asked Elizabeth Wurtzel, author of Prozac Nation and Bitch, to confront our favorite national circus nightmare. Join Elizabeth each Tuesday for all of her opinions on the squabbling and hot-tubbing that’s fit to air on ABC.
So I watched The Bachelor: The Women Tell All, and it made me feel better about life.
I should say: I don't feel bad about life. I feel quite good. But I figured a room full of Bachelor contestants would put the kibosh on that. Prior to sitting through this season of The Bachelor, I had never watched reality TV, and I assumed it was the worst thing ever – besides whatever is actually the worst thing ever. But nothing about The Bachelor has made me feel bad about life, as I figured it surely would. It has not made me think less of people. In fact, I am quite amazed by the way my attention has been held by the interactions of a pediatric nurse and a hairstylist and a science teacher and a real estate agent and, well, a dog lover. Turns out women from Columbus and Sarasota with undazzling, unstar-studded careers are dazzling stars. They are amazing.
Of course they are. It is too facile to presume only an idiot would compete in a harem for a husband. This is a contest like any other sport or bloodsport, and these women are fighting to win. They are not stupid and boring – that is a stupid and boring presumption. There is no way a television show could rivet us if the characters were not fascinating. There is also no way all the moving parts could function on three continents and so many more locations if the participants were not intelligent and competent. ABC has a huge pool of applicants from which to assemble a house of contestants, and after 27 seasons of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, the producers are experts. This is a stunning assembly of humanity. It has to be: The Bachelor is not a boutique; it is meant to be massive. ABC goes through a lot of trouble to find entertaining real people. Bless them.
There are dumber ways to spend your time than lounging by the pool with a margarita at the Bachelor mansion; people do them every day. There are dumber ways to look for love than a contest on TV; people do them every night. No one can say the producers of The Bachelor are not artists: contra the metaphor, a car crash just ties up traffic in a tiresome way; no one is tired of The Bachelor.
Juan Pablo is a guy who used to play soccer: that is his personality; there is no reason to expect him to be anything else. He happens to be the smart version of that thing: he knows how to cool down a house full of hotheaded women, and that takes agility. And his favorite was Sharleen, the opera singer who is interested in a career and not interested in children. She did not want to marry Juan Pablo, so she left before he had a chance to propose. Having been offered the full reality TV special package, Sharleen chose life. As anyone would do: No one gets married because ABC says so, which is why The Bachelor and The Bachelorette matches have only been made in heaven five times.
In the end, the cameras stop.
I thought maybe people forgot that. In the age of Facebook, even those of us who aren't reality TV stars may mistake the way things look for the way things are. Pretty pictures posted on Instagram are not the same as a good life. Juan Pablo is trying to find someone to love while millions watch, which might be ridiculous, but he does seem authentic. Sharleen is authentic for sure. All the women are trying for something real. We watch reality TV because it makes us feel better to see that human nature can't be perverted by circumstances.
Image via ABC