Richie’s mission is to choose between Nikki and Alex — does anyone really care which one he picks?
It’s finale time! I thought about beginning this with a Bacchanalia pun — because surely we can get something of that ilk out of ‘Bachie’ and ‘finale’, right? — but I don’t think this season is really worth it. We’ve had no Dionysian shenanigans this season, no epic dramas, no memorable moments. And, perhaps most importantly, we’ve had no love story.
In tonight’s episode, Richie’s mission is to choose between Nikki and Alex, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who couldn’t give a shit about which one he picks. The way the narrative has been constructed in this season means that we have been uniquely uninvested: it’s a love narrative that’s left the audience cold.
And it bums me out, because Australian Bachie has historically been really quite good at this in the past. Sam and Snez last year? They were a smash hit for a reason. Same with Sam and Sasha on The Bachelorette: the moment mid-season when he told her ‘I listen when you talk’ was kind of an amazing romantic epiphany. And we’ve had investment in relationships other than those between the Bachie and the winner as well. There was genuine outrage when Heather was eliminated last year. And, more relevantly for this season, everyone was so bummed out when Richie was eliminated from his season that they made him the new Bachie.
This season, though? It’s one massive shrug. One massive meh. I’ve said this a thousand times before, but this season has been too much like real-life dating to be interesting. A guy meets a girl (or, in this case, several girls). They like each other. They get together. The end.
But that’s not what love stories look like. They have obstacles. Denis de Rougemont, in his seminal book on love in the West, states that ‘Happy love has no history. Romance only comes into existence where love is fatal, frowned upon and doomed by life itself.’ His work is a bit dated and he’s being a bit melodramatic here, but there’s definitely a method to his madness: for a love story to be a love story, there have to be troubles, dramas, things that keep the lovers apart. In this season, even the fact that the Bachie is dating a million women hasn’t done that: jealousy is usually a gimme obstacle in the Bachie narrative, and we haven’t even really seen that a lot. All we see is people that kind of like each other, and might or might not get together, and we don’t really care.
Anyway. Here’s hoping that the next season of The Bachelorette will deliver what this season of The Bachelor has not. Check back next week as we leave behind Richie the disappointing sunflower prince and go on a new adventure with Georgia Love.
But for now — the recap!
The first part of any Bachie finale is the moment when the contestants meet the Bachie’s family, and are asked a series of reasonable questions (eg. ‘so what’s your name?’) that are framed as OMG AN INTERROGATION. Representing the Strahan family are Richie’s mother Kate and his sister Alana. ‘So what are these ladies like?’
‘Amazing, incredible, gorgeous,’ Richie enthuses. He does not, however, tell them anything specific about their personalities, which leads me to believe that not only do we the audience know jackshit about the ladies, he’s not exactly well-informed himself.
This means, of course, that when it’s Alex’s turn to undergo the OMG INTERROGATION, she has to casually drop into the conversation that she’s a single mother. And my goodness, Richie’s mother does not like that. ‘So Richie would have to move to Melbourne to be near you and your child,’ she says icily to Alex. ‘He’s doing all the sacrificing. WHAT WOULD YOU SACRIFICE?!’
Clearly she had not yet heard about the horrifying chocolate bath incident, or she would know that Alex had already sacrificed her dignity.
(Imagine how Olena would have responded to this line of questioning. IMAGINE. It would have been impeccable television.)
Richie’s mother appears to have extraordinarily little faith in Richie’s intellectual abilities. Whether this is fair or not … well, make up your own mind. ‘You know that you have to, like, look after children, right?’ she asks him. ‘You can’t just do whatever you want whenever you want.’
‘Yeah, yeah, whatever, I’ve thought about it,’ Richie says breezily.
When they meet Nikki, Richie’s mum and sister are clearly ecstatic to hear she has no children. The fact that she’s fairly recently out of a long-term relationship is a bit of a speedbump, but it’s nothing like the Alex situation. ‘So … you’re not a basket case?’ Richie’s mum asks her.
‘Nope, full normie!’ Nikki replies brightly.
You can visibly see the relief on Richie’s mother’s face.
‘So what did you think of the two ladies?’ Richie asks his family afterwards.
‘Hmmm, well, I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes, you have such a tough decis — OH FOR THE LOVE OF GOD PICK NIKKI OR I WILL LITERALLY KILL YOU,’ is basically the response.
A brief nerd interlude before we move on: the fact that it isn’t until the end of the Bachie process that the contestants meet the family is a signifier of a major development in modern romance. Before about the 1920s, romance and coupling was something that was conducted almost entirely within the private space of the domestic sphere, so meeting the family was something you would do super early on in the process (particularly, of course, if you were coupling up for familial or dynastic reasons rather than romantic ones). But when dating emerged as a social practice in the early twentieth century, people started to go out into the world to conduct their romances: and so ‘meeting the family’ became a ritual that took place much later in the process.
The historian Angus McLaren calls this shift ‘front porch to back seat’, which I think is a nice summation: while romance was once conducted in the domestic, familial space of the front porch, it shifted to the public sphere as people drove out (alone — gasp!) into the world and got it on in their back seats.
But let us return to the show! Next up, Richie takes Nikki on a date. They go on a chopper ride so they fulfil their Bali tourism advertisement requirements, and then they go to a temple to feed some monkeys.
It’s just ‘a temple’, by the way. No mention of what kind of temple, its significance, etc. It basically just figures as an exotic backdrop against which their incredibly white romance is being conducted. This is a trope that preoccupies a lot of twentieth century romance — it’s supposed to be mimetic, because love is an exciting adventure that takes you to a new emotional place, mirrored by this new physical space! — but it obviously goes without saying that there’s a ton of problematic colonial stuff going on here.
Then it is Alex’s turn for a date. She’s nervous, because she wants to have a hardcore real talk with him, covering two subjects.
1. Is he, as his mother seemed to suggest, not actually a functional adult, or does he understand that having a child involves major responsibility?
2. PS I love you.
Instead of a chopper, Alex gets a boat, and they have these conversations while scantily clad on deck. Richie reassures her that yes, he does in fact that realise that kids are not fun toys you can just put away when you’re sick of them. And then Alex — oh Alex — reprises that godawful poem she read to him way back in the very first episode as her way of professing her love.
If I ever profess my love via self-authored poetry, you’ll know the demons have taken over my body and my consciousness is locked helplessly in a dark corner of my mind. Do your best to free me, please.
Then they jump off the boat and swim around in mid-ocean: suggesting both that love is a leap of faith and that they might drown under the immense oceanic weight of adult responsibilities. Nice work getting your symbolism to do double duty there, Bachie.
And then: THE VERDICT.
Both Nikki and Alex assert, in the pre-verdict dress-up phase, that this feeling that they’re feeling is a feeling they have never felt before: that it is ‘unique’. Here, we can see the discursive importance of the ‘one true’ part of the notion of ‘one true love’ that governs so much of our understanding of romance. ‘I’ve never felt like this before, and that’s how I know it’s real,’ Nikki says. Romantic love, it seems, must be exceptional to be real. It must be extraordinary: we don’t have a language to describe an ‘ordinary’ love, even though love is deeply citational — ‘I love you,’ after all, is always a quotation.
And, interestingly, Richie also deploys the language of exceptionality in his rejection speech as well. ‘You are like no other person I’ve ever met,’ he tells the unlucky lady. ‘But … ’
This lady — incredibly surprisingly — is Nikki. I think it’s pretty safe to say that no one really saw this one coming. But we can worry about all that later: let’s return to this language of exceptionality thing. By telling her she’s unique, Richie is covertly suggesting that she is worthy of love: of the uniqueness inherent in the ‘one true love’ bond. While he is not the other half of the equation for her, she has the exceptionality that makes an extraordinary love possible: just not with him.
(Obviously I don’t think Richie sat down and planned out these nuances. These are standard breakup lines. But this is what some of the subtext is — and why this line is a stock phrase for letting people down easy.)
Nikki is obviously upset, but she handles the rejection with good grace. ‘Falling in love is still fun,’ she says, sniffing through tears as the limo drives her away. I find this philosophy very appealing: and considering that the majority of our love stories are actually stories about falling in love, not the continuation of existing love, I think there’s a lot to be said here about where our cultural obsession with love actually lies.
But to the winner! This, of course, is Alex: for the second year in a row, the Bachie has chosen the plucky single mum to be his lady. ‘I spent a lot of time thinking about whether I was man enough to be a role model to your son, whether I was man enough to love you,’ Richie tells her. ‘And I am.’
I have quite a lot to say about this invocation of the phrase ‘man enough’, but here are the headlines. There’s something both regressive and progressive in the way Richie is using it. There’s the sense that he’s ‘man enough’ to be a father figure, AKA a literal patriarch, modelling methods of appropriate manliness. But stereotypical masculinity is also imagined as highly unemotional, and so becoming ‘man enough’ to love is pushing back against this model. It’s incorporating emotionality into a model of idealised masculinity: that sort of transcendent state that the romance hero occupies at the end of the narrative, when he realises he can be a Manly Man Among Men and also be in love, that love is a strength and not a weakness.
(Again, I highly doubt Richie is conscious that he is doing this — but the language we use around love in moments like this is so interesting!)
Anyway, Alex is ecstatic to hear that Richie loves her, because she also loves him! They pash, say ‘I love you’ a lot, laugh, pash some more, and he gives her a really ugly ring (not an engagement ring — just a symbol of his commitment or something.)
… and that is that! Au revoir, Bachie Richie. You were a bit disappointing, but I don’t think all of it was your fault: the people in charge of constructing a narrative out of the real-life material they had here really dropped the ball on this one.
But let us end on a good note: it is rumoured that Megan and Tiffany, two of the contestants eliminated earlier in the season, are dating. Each other. That is a story I am so so SO here for: and a love story I can really get behind.
The show airs on Channel 10 on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7.30pm. You can catch up on previous episodes via TenPlay.