RECAP: The Bachelor Australia – S5 E13

RECAP: The Bachelor Australia – S5 E13
The Bachelor Australia Season 5
Background photo via Canva

Once more unto the Bach, dear friends! We’re into the penultimate week of Bachie-with-Jodi (man-Bachie, anyway – lady-Bachie, starring Sophie Monk, will follow immediately on its heels), and very, very soon, we’re going to know who will be the Official Girlfriend Of Matty J.

(Psst … it’s totally going to be Laura, but let’s pretend there’s some suspense.)

We start off today with a group date, and – well, is it fair to even call this a date? The group date almost always has an element of competition to it, but this one really is getting a bit ridiculous. It’s a ‘self-knowledge’ date, combined with a compatibility test, and it involves the ladies directly competing against each other.

For instance, in the first challenge, the ladies have to rank themselves in order to certain questions as posed by Matty J – questions like ‘who is the funniest?’ ‘who is the most compassionate?’ etc. This requires a) that they know themselves, and b) that they hold strong to their knowledge of themselves so as to compete against each other.

Two things here:

1. It is unbelievably tragic that this date happened after the departure of Jen. She would have been incredible on this date.

2. Despite the label ‘self-knowledge’, this date obviously isn’t very much about self-knowledge at all. Sure, you have to know yourself, but you also have to situate that knowing in a competitive context, and it’s that ranking portion of the date that drives the real drama.

Nonetheless, let’s talk about self-knowledge and self-development for a minute, because this is something that characterises modern love and it underpins the whole premise of this date. In Western culture in times gone by (I’m sorry, I’m sorry, any historians reading, I know this is ridonkulously general), we’ve had this idea of the beloved as someone that completes us: a missing piece without whom we are incomplete. In a particularly unhealthy example of this, think of Cathy and Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights [ BT | Amz | iT ], who both express this idea that they’re incomplete without the other:

Cathy, on Heathcliff: ‘Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being!’

Heathcliff, just after Cathy has died: ‘I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!’

There are a few reasons not to go getting your love tips from Cathy and Heathcliff. Firstly, this is obviously, like, toxic and unhealthy. Secondly, it’s an old-fashioned version of love. Despite the persistence of phrases like ‘my other half’ and ‘my better half’ in modern romantic parlance, we’ve moved more towards a Venn diagram model, where two complete people fall in love and their lives overlap. It’s the idea that you can’t know someone else until you know yourself, can’t love someone else until you love yourself, which has basically underpinned the self-help industry for the entire twentieth century (and which underpins this date, which is why it’s a compatibility exercise as well as an exercise in self-knowledge).

This shift between versions of romantic love, towards one that requires that you know yourself (and your partner, but know yourself before you know your partner) wasn’t an easy transition. Particularly around the mid-twentieth century, as debate raged about the growing divorce rate, there was an idea circulating that, as Francesca Cancian phrases it, ‘[t]o strengthen close relationships… we must stop pursuing self-development and reassert the importance of enduring commitments and obligations’ (1990, 3).

This idea that self-development is antithetical to love still exists, to an extent, and it’s been incorporated into our overall romantic discourse. It’s linked to the idea that we can ‘grow apart’ – the idea that, as Anthony Giddens puts it, ‘the autonomy that is granted to the other [i.e. self-development, self-knowledge, etc] will not necessarily be used in such a way as to fulfil the needs that the partner has in the relationship’ (1992, 139-140). To put this more succinctly: if you know yourself, you might realise that you and your partner are no longer well suited. (In terms of this date, it explains why Matty wants to know all these things about the ladies – to see whether they will grow together, rather than apart, which is more likely if they start from common ground.)

But there is a flip side to this as well, which Francesca Cancian talks about. Instead of romantic love and self-knowledge/development/etc being seen as opposing forces, what happened was that

‘[a] new image of love that combined enduring love with self-development has emerged in popular culture. Many Americans believe that to develop their individual potential, they need a supportive, intimate relationship with their spouse or lover. They seem love and self-development and love as mutually reinforcing, not conflicting’ (1990, 3).

(Cancian uses ‘Americans’ here because her book is called Love in America [ BT | Amz ], but I’m fairly happy to contend that we can apply this statement elsewhere, generally speaking.)

And so we circle back around to Bachie. The idea underpinning this group date is this modern one Cancian talks about here: that you need to know yourself to be able to fall in love, where you will continue along this path of self-development and be able to develop your potential further within the romantic relationship. And it’s particularly interesting that this is a Bachelor date, and not a Bachelorette date – that is, it’s women who are being asked to know themselves. Pre- the development of this modern love feat. self-development (speaking very generally, like VERY generally, sorry historians), self-development was seen as something masculine: that is, only the masculine self was seen as worthy of developing. The reason this shift occurred was because romantic love had to evolve to also include the idea of female self-development. Ulrich Beck and Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim talk about this idea as a biography (that is, both lovers have a biography, a self that can be narrated), and write that,

‘Now for the first time two people falling in love find themselves both subject to the opportunities and hindrances of a biography designed by themselves… The more women come to regard themselves as people with wishes of their own, the less they accept the fact that they are not fulfilled’ (1995, 62).

This might all make this date sound very feminist – and, indeed, the injection of the female biography into the romantic narrative is something that I contend is a move in a progressive direction. However, despite all of this, I’m not going to be the person that stands there and says that a date where women are explicitly asked to compete with each other is a sign of the new postfeminist utopia. Because it’s not. But there is all this cool history behind it, and it’s cool that women get to have selves in romantic relationships now, and…

Okay, okay, back to the recap.

So. There are three parts to this definitely-a-date-not-a-challenge.

#1: As I wrote above, the ladies have to rank themselves in order according to questions asked by Matty J. Everyone agrees Cobie is the most positive, Florence is the most honest, Tara is the funniest, etc. The major plot point here is that Elora is super stubborn and refuses to move down the line when the ladies tell her to move. This is a diegetic indicator that Elora does not, perhaps, know herself – at least compared to the other ladies.

At the end of this, the two ladies with the lowest total points are eliminated. These ladies are Laura and (GASP) Tara. I demand a Royal Commission into that last one.

#2: Matty has written a list of five deal-breakers. The ladies have to compose their own list from a set of options. The two ladies who have the most deal-breakers in common with Matty win and move on to the next round. It’s obviously a compatibility test: if you have wildly different deal-breakers, the chances are that you’ll grow apart, right?

The two ladies that are eliminated are Cobie and Florence. Elise and Elora move on to the final round, even though Elora did not have Matty’s biggest deal breaker: ‘doesn’t want children’.

#3: In the final round, Elise and Elora have to compose what they call declarations of love, what the other ladies (who are watching elsewhere) think are pseudo-wedding vows, but are really just descriptions of what they want in their romantic futures.

I’m going to turn my recaps over to the brilliant narrative genius who is Tara for a hot minute here: ‘Elise’s was more normal, which was lovely, and Elora’s was just… yeah, weird.’

I don’t want to do Elora a disservice here, although the narrative is trying to position her as the villain. Both her declaration and Elise’s were full of fairly predictable romantic requirements, in that they want a partner who will love and respect them and who they can have a long-term future with. But Elora’s seem more intense, for one simple syntactical reason: she uses first person plural (‘we’) and the future perfect tense (‘we will’), which sounds at best like she’s very certain and at worst like a command.

I think I know why Elora is rubbing up the other ladies the wrong way, and why the narrative is framing her as aberrant. She’s in Australian Bachie, but she’s playing by US Bachie rules. This kind of intense, passionate declaration? Totally fine in US Bachie. The overtly demonstrative and a little bit sexual passes she’s made at Matty? Encouraged in US Bachie, which has sex as part of its narrative through the fantasy suite dates. But Australian Bachie has its own national distinctiveness, and she’s not fitting the mould.

But let’s leave Elora for a moment, because she doesn’t win the date. Matty – because he is an Australian Bachie, not an American one – chooses Elise. Their reward is a solo concert from James Blunt. They talk about their feelings, they slow dance, Matty wears a leather jacket that makes him look like an off-brand Danny Zuko, then James Blunt says ‘go on then’ in the most long-suffering tone you have ever heard and leaves.

This date feels like it goes forever, because Matty and Elise are just spectacularly uninteresting together. But as James Blunt only plays one song, it cannot, in reality, have gone for more than five minutes.

If Elise wins this whole thing, I am turning in my PhD bonnet, because I clearly cannot read romance narratives at all.

(But I won’t have to. Because she is not going to win.)

Next up: the single date! Today’s recipient is Cobie. Matty gifts her with a pink stackhat – because that’s what every girl really craves, a stackhat – and announces to her today’s activity: an obstacle course strung up between the trees, twenty metres in the air.

I have written so many times about why heights are such a Bachie favourite that I should really just develop standard wording that I copy and paste in. Here is the short version:

1. Adrenaline. Being up high is an adrenaline rush, and experiencing that together is a bonding experience.

2. Clichés. A lot of romantic clichés are about heights – ‘falling in love’, ‘leap of faith’, etc. This makes all these being-up-high dates mimetic.

Anyway, they do the ropes course, have a laugh, but there’s an ominous thread weaving its way through the narrative: THE FRIENDZONE (dun dun dun).

In Bachie terms, the word ‘friend’ is the worst possible word that can be invoked about you at this stage of the narrative, except one: ‘mate’. And – you guessed it – Matty uses both these words about Cobie. He likes her, has a great time with her, etc etc – but he doesn’t feel like he has that romantic spark with her.

He confesses this to her when they reach their couch of Wine and Intimate Conversation. ‘All the ingredients to falling in love were there,’ he tells her, but sometimes, even though you have all the right ingredients, the cake fails.

This ties back to some of the stuff I wrote about earlier in terms of love and self-development, btw. You can have biographies that can match up. You can be relatively assured that you will grow together and not grow apart. But if you’re missing that ineffable something, that thing that Bachie typically calls a ‘spark’, well…

Interestingly, Cobie blames this lack of a spark on a lack of communication, and berates herself for holding back, for not opening up, for not being more vulnerable to him. This is a figurative protest that she does have the right ingredients, that she is a good cook, honest, and if they can just try to bake the cake again, she’ll do it right.

But Bachie is not a space for second chances, and so we must say goodbye to Cobie.

And she’s not the only person we must say goodbye to. When Osher enters the cocktail party to tell them Cobie is gone and she won’t be coming back, he tells them that someone else also won’t be attending the party: Matty. This means, essentially, that the party is over: they’re going straight into the rose ceremony.

And, as you can probably predict from reading everything above, tonight’s other victim is Elora. ‘I feel like you’re such a free spirit, and I don’t want to be the guy who clips your wings,’ Matty tells her. He and Cobie might have had the right ingredients and had an inexplicably crappy cake, but what he’s telling Elora now is that they never had the right ingredients in the first place: their biographies are not compatible, and if they grew together instead of apart, he would be a parasitical vine around her, strangling her growth.

So our final four are set: Laura, Elise, Florence, and, of course, actual romance reality TV royalty Tara. I have literally every finger crossed that Dexter the Robot makes an appearance on her hometown date…

The show airs on Channel 10 on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7.30pm. You can catch up on previous episodes via TenPlay.

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Jodi is a Lecturer in Writing and Literature at Deakin University. Her research focuses on the history of love, sex, women, and popular culture, so reading romance novels is technically work for her. Shed a tear for Jodi. Jodi is also an author, and her series about smart girls and murder fairies is published by Penguin Teen Australia. One time, the first book, Valentine, was featured on Neighbours, and she nearly fainted with joy.

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