Dr Jodes explores the emotional community of the Bachieverse, and its most fundamental rule.
We’re past the halfway mark, Bachie tragics! We know everyone’s name, and even the contestants who are clearly destined not to win have made their marks on our collective psyche. This means that not only are the emotions of everyone invested real, but so too are our emotions as audience members when people get eliminated. We’ve got a real stake in this now, beyond which contestant we ended up with in the office sweep.
(Tangent: I work in a very high-culture academic department, and it is one of the great sorrows of my life that it is not a workplace where I could ever get a Bachie sweep going. Woe is me, etc etc.
…I wonder if they run Bachie sweeps in astrophysics labs? Hit me up, science nerds. Enquiring minds want to know.)
Ahem. Emotions! Let’s talk about those.
Barbara Rosenwein has developed the concept of the ‘emotional community’, which is a group ‘in which people adhere to the same norms of emotional expression and value – or devalue – the same or related emotions’ (2007, 2). A lot of the academic work I do on The Bachelor/ette revolves around thinking about what the different national franchises say about the distinctive emotional communities of their respective countries – if you’re interested in reading my really detailed nerdlings on this, I’ve linked to them at the end of the recap – but I want to approach this from a slightly different angle here, and think about the contestants plus the Bach as members of an intra-show and maybe even intra-season distinctive emotional community for a second.
Obviously, the emotion that the internal Bachie emotional community values is romantic love, and there are certain norms of emotional expression that must be adhered to: for instance, if you fall in love too fast or too soon, you’re probably going to be portrayed as doing love ‘wrong’ according to community standards – cf. Emma this season, although (thankfully) they haven’t gone quite as hard on the Stage Five Clinger edit for her as I was dreading. Indeed, Rachael Dubrofsky contends, in the context of the US franchise, that when contestants express excessive emotion – tied to love, as all emotions in this show are – they render themselves paradoxically unfit for love, and it’s milked by production for drama, in what she calls a ‘money shot’ (2009). We could spend a lot of time thinking about the correct community parameters for expressing love in the Bachieverse (and believe me, I have), but there’s one that’s very important, and it’s one that we see articulated tonight: you do not fall in love with someone who isn’t the Bachie.
I’ll dig into this more specifically when we get to the recap part of the recap – although, spoilers, it’s Rachael – but this is perhaps the most fundamental rule around romantic love in the emotional community of the franchise, the equivalent to ‘you do not talk about fight club’: you do not fall in love with someone who isn’t the Bachie.
If you do, you’re not breaking laws. You’re not even breaking rules, because we all know – as this episode shows – that production laps this shit up. In normal life, you wouldn’t even be breaking the social contract (well, unless you had a partner, but given the amount of contact the Bachie has with the contestants, they’re ‘seeing each other’ at best). But what you are doing is contravening the norms of that specific emotional community, and doing it egregiously.
And here’s a question: why is this such villainous behaviour?
In terms of narrative, it makes sense. The show’s called The Bachelor (or The Bachelorette), so if it’s not focusing on the titular Bach then it’s obviously breaking a core diegetic promise.
But if we think of it simply in terms of emotional norms: are there actually opportunities here to tell other love stories? If we broaden the focus, this is a show about love – and specifically, finding love – right? If a contestant happens to find their match in a non-Bach… that’s still finding love, right? Why is that an automatic villain edit?
This is, I think, perhaps less applicable to the particular situation in this episode. I’m going to make a big claim here and say that Rachael + random crew member are not, in fact, true love. She’s not a front runner, she’s bored, she saw an opportunity, and she was like, ‘hey, here’s my number’. It happens. In fact, I just listened to an episode of the Bachelor of Hearts podcast featuring Alisha Aitken-Radburn of last year’s Bachelor and in particular this year’s Bachelor in Paradise fame, and she mentioned that the women were frequently developing crushes on crew members and cocktail party waiters, moreso as a way to pass the time than anything else.
But I think there’s a broader question here: what’s the potential of the core franchise (not the Paradise spinoff) to tell love stories other than ones involving the Bach?
There are a couple of examples of this I can think of from previous seasons. In season 11 of The Bachelorette in the US, the show began with two Bachelorettes – Kaitlyn Bristowe and Britt Nilsson – and the men had to vote for which they wanted to be the eponymous Bachelorette. Kaitlyn won the vote, but one of the men, Brady Toops, was so enamoured with Britt that he left the show to follow her. Throughout the season they’d cut back to them to see how they were doing. It was always a little throwaway thing at the end of episodes, but it was nice to see a different kind of love story being told (even if Britt and Brady only lasted for, like, three weeks after filming finished).
And then, of course, in Australia, possibly one of our more internationally famous Bachie romances didn’t involve the Bach at all, but was between Megan and Tiffany on Richie’s season of The Bachelor. Most of the drama played out extradiegetically in epitext – mostly via Instagram, IIRC – but there were a few hints of it in the diegesis as well. What would have happened if that narrative thread had been drawn out more? What kind of new possibilities would that give the show for storytelling?
By the same token, then: I kind of want to hear more about these Rachael-style stories, about the people who maybe aren’t that into the Bach but are into someone else, be that contestant or crew. In particular, I want to see them given a more complex edit than just ‘villain’ – which I think the show was actually gesturing towards here, but didn’t quite make it all the way there. And, I think, this would actually be a really smart storytelling strategy from a number of points of view:
1. Conflict – I’ve written a lot about how romance is a narrative driven by conflict. Let’s get some love triangles in there where the Bach is not the apex! Imagine the way that would trouble the power dynamics if suddenly the Bach was pursuer rather than/as well as pursued!
2. Core emotional values – The show’s all about love, yeah? If someone finds love in an unlikely place, then the show is maybe not doing its exact job per se, but it’s definitely upholding the values of its emotional community.
3. Drama – Tonight’s pretty dramatic. You wouldn’t want to overdo it on the non-Bachie love stories, but drawing some of them out would definitely add to that ever-present drama quota.
4. We’ve all seen Unreal… and now we love it when even a hint of a producer or a crew member is on screen.
5. Queer representation – Not relevant to the incident in tonight’s episode, but cf. the Megan and Tiff story above. The relentless heterosexuality of the franchise needs some interrupting, and non-Bach love stories are a great way to do it.
6. Season-saver? This one’s a bit of a stretch, I’ll grant you, but if we’d had some little side-quest love story to cling onto in the bitter trudge that was the Honey Badger’s season, it might have been less dire.
Anyway, tonight Rachael gives her number to a crew member and the Space Bachie gets mad. Read on to learn the specifics.
(Also, said Space Bachie graduated last week, so we can now officially call him Dr Matt Agnew. Congratulations, Astro Boy.)
We begin tonight with CONTROVERSY, because the single date for tonight is a second date for Elly. There are still a bunch of women who haven’t had their first dates, and they’re pissed.
Notably, Rachael is pissed. ‘Why am I even here?’ she asks. ‘I’m wasting my time.’
Matt made a good choice, though, because this date is hella cute, if somewhat awkwardly framed. The theme is ‘dangerous romance’, but it’s a date where they learn how to firedance. Sure, that’s dangerous, but… there’s so much romantic iconography associated with fire? Like the ‘spark’ you’re always talking about? It was right there, and you had to go with something as offputting as ‘dangerous’ instead? Especially since on the very first night they had the whole campfire thing with the marshmallows?
Anyway, despite this: it’s adorable. They have the option to wear fireproof leather vests, and when Matt puts his on in an attempt to be sexy, Elly describes him as a ‘slice of fineapple pie’. (She’s doing fine with this Bachie, but I can’t help but think that the Honey Badger would have fucking loved Elly.) And then when they actually do the dance, it’s night, and there’s all these flames, and they stop in the middle to snog, and… yep. Yep yep yep. This is all working for me.
When they get to their Couch of Wine and Intimate Conversation, it turns out some producer has twigged that oh yeah, fire! Elly and Matt have a history with that! so they recreate that first time they met on the red carpet, with the campfire and the marshmallows and whatnot. It’s very sweet, and they say all the right things to each other, and she gets a rose, and they do a bit of pashing, but… I’m not sure, to be honest. They clearly get on really well, and Elly’s still one of the clear frontrunners, but this felt a little antiseptic to me.
Not to Elly, though. ‘Oh crikey,’ she tells the camera giddily. ‘I think I’m in a bit of trouble.’
We’re going to cry if/when she gets her heart broken, guys. So much.
Someone at the mansion doesn’t share my caution over the future of Matt and Elly, though, and that’s Rachael. ‘It’s clear to me from the way he is with Elly that I’m not winning this,’ she tells Abbie. ‘Why would I bother?’
And then what has been whispered is revealed: Rachael is into a crew member.
I’m not sure Abbie is the best person to be confessing this to, given what happened in the Dogcunt Incident a couple of weeks ago, but she seems to be a fairly sympathetic ear. The people really up in arms about it are Mary and Nikki, two of the other women who haven’t had a single date. ‘What if I go home and she stays, even though she’s not here for him?’ Mary demands. ‘That’s not fair. I’m going to tell Matt.’
Keep hold of that narrative thread in your mind. It will be delivered on later.
But first, we have to get through the group date. Five women – Chelsie, Kristen, Sogand, Helena, and Nichole – meet Matt and Osher on a beach. ‘If you look next to you, there’s a suitcase!’ Osher tells them. ‘We all have emotional baggage, but you can’t have any if you’re getting into a new relationship! Write down your number one fear on your suitcase!’
Far be it from me to correct Osher, who is, as we all know, a national treasure, but I would like to point out that a) ‘emotional baggage’ and ‘fears’ are not necessarily the same thing, and b) I’m not sure you actually need to go clear, scientology-style, to get into a new relationship. No one in the world would if that were the case.
Anyway, they all do it, and Helena went up several points in my esteem by listing ‘boredom’ as her #1 fear. Hardcore relate, lady. Also of interest are Matt, who lists his fear of heartbreak, and Kristen, who lists her self-doubt.
And then… ‘Guess what!’ Osher says. ‘Fuck the suitcases! It’s danger week! Time to jump out of a plane!’
BACHIE. SPEND SOME TIME PROPERLY PLANNING OUT YOUR DATES. YOU CAN’T JUST TACK OLD FAITHFUL SKYDIVING ONTO THE END OF SOME PARTIALLY THOUGHT OUT BIT ABOUT EMOTIONAL BAGGAGE. FUCKING CALL ME ALREADY.
I’ve written like a million words elsewhere about why the franchise loves a skydiving date, despite the fact that being crammed into a tiny plane with five of your girlfriends while you’re all physically strapped to other people is objectively not hot. TL;DR: a) adrenaline, and b) ‘leap of faith’, ‘fall in love’, etc. Cool? Cool.
Kristen – remember, she has self-doubt? – is terrified of heights, and convinced she can’t do it. But Matt tells her that she, like, totally can! and then tells the camera that he’s totally going to help her get over her fear, and it’ll be good for her!
Come on, Matt. Must she really jump out of a plane to be your girlfriend? Really?
I am not a fan of this discourse that the show regularly promotes wherein you have to do something you really don’t want to do, lest you be proven unworthy of love. It’s tied to the notion that love and self-development are tangled together (Cancian 1990) – therefore, if you want to be worthy of love, then you will improve yourself in the pursuit of it. I get where it comes from, but it does not mean I like it. Because fuck jumping out of planes into the park near North Gong Pub.
Kristen does it, though. She conquers her fear and is a better person now and is rewarded with a rose. You know the drill.
Then: the cocktail party! And this is where the drama goes down.
Mary has had enough of Rachael talking about her crew crush – codename Plan B – and is like ‘fuck it’ and spills the beans to Matt. ‘Rachael’s hitting on someone in the crew,’ she tells him. ‘And it’s not fair to the people who really want to be here for you.’
Matt ponders this. He goes and talks to his producer, and then we get some real Unreal shit. ‘This ended up in a crew member’s pocket,’ the producer tells him, handing him a scrap of paper with a number on it. ‘We checked it, and it’s Rachael’s.’
‘It’s fine that not everyone’s into me,’ Matt tells us, ‘but they can’t take the spot of people who are really here for the right reasons!’
And so he goes off to confront Rachael, who’s busy giving a confessional to the camera about how super into the Plan B crew guy she is. ‘Oh fuck,’ she says when Matt approaches, clearly knowing that the jig is up.
Does it stop her from lying, though? Of course not! ‘It was a joke!’ she tells Matt. ‘The other girls have blown it way out of proportion.’
I seem to remember that this was Monique’s rationale in the Dogcunt Incident as well, and look how that turned out.
Matt, who is not un-bright, what with that PhD and all, knows she’s lying. ‘Look, I can see you’re not being honest, and honesty is important to me,’ he tells her. ‘I think it’s time for you to leave. Can we get a car?’
He handles this whole situation about as well as he could, tbh: no shouting, no retributions, just a fairly discreet elimination. But – and now that I’ve seen this I can’t unsee this, so sorry in advance – for a nerd, he occasionally has Big PE Teacher Energy. He was this close to telling Rachael that this was NOT ON, GIRLS, NOT ON and essentially followed through on the threat that YOU’LL BE SENT HOME FROM CAMP, GIRLS, AND YOUR PARENTS WON’T LIKE HAVING TO COME TO PICK YOU UP!
Rachael isn’t terribly fazed, however. ‘I’ve got Plan B,’ she says blithely in the limo. ‘And Plan C, Plan D, Plan E…’
And honestly? Respect. 1) I have deep admiration for that level of confidence, and 2) if you don’t want the Bach, shoot your shot, girl.
There’s still a rose ceremony, however, because now we’re in the back end of the season everything is serious and weighty. It’s no surprise, then, that our victim is probably the last one standing of the joke contestants, and the surprise longest-standing survivor of the Episode 2 intruders. Au revoir, Nikki. You fought well.
Oh, and even though she wasn’t in this episode much, Abbie wore this incredible dress that was the perfect midway point between the Fleabag jumpsuit and the hot priest…and it looks like she’s going to be in it a bunch tomorrow, which means one thing: draaaaaammmmmmmaaaaaa (and probably also pashing).
Sneaky end-of-recap reminder: I’ve written a bunch of scholarship on The Bachelor/ette! There’s this piece in Participations, which reads Georgia Love and Matty J’s love story against Rachel Lindsey and Peter Kraus’ in the US; this piece in the book Small Screens, which examines the contestants Heather and Lana in Sam Wood’s season; and this piece in Continuum which looks at the different declarations of love in Australia vs the US. This last one is paywalled, but if you don’t have access, let me know and I’ll sort you out.
The show airs on Channel 10. You can catch up on previous episodes via TenPlay.