At least there’s some unofficial island therapists, I guess.
Bula friends! If, like me, you’re currently in locked down Melbourne (or some other lockdown zone around the world), the idea of some horny beautiful people frolicking on a beach somewhere sounds positively Edenic. While I’d hesitate to argue that the Paradise of the Bachieverse is analogous to actual Paradise… that kind of low-stakes frolicking, horniness etc does have a certain prelapsarian quality to it.
But before we get into the recap: let’s talk about the horny people frolicking about and eating fruit (wedged-into-cocktails variety) in Paradise. Specifically, we have to address the elephant in the room – the same elephant that has been in Bachie rooms for many seasons now – which is that once again we’re faced with a cast who is blindingly white.
Bachelor in Paradise is airing right on the heels of Masterchef, which was lauded this season for the diversity of its contestants (and also, newly, its judging panel). By contrast, in this drunken horny Eden, we have – so far – only two people of colour, Niranga and Mary. Moreover, they’ve been marginalised by the narrative: Mary serves a primarily narratorial function, much as she did on Dr Space Bachie’s season, while Niranga has said, by my count, about seven words on screen so far. All the central drama of the season is being enacted by and taking place between white people.
Several years ago, writing about the American franchise, Rachel Dubrofsky argued in her article ‘The Bachelor: Whiteness in the Harem’ that ‘[t]he series is a context in which only white people find romantic partners, while women of color work to facilitate the coupling of white people’ (2006, 39). This is abetted by the structure and editing of the show in quite specific ways: ‘the more spectacularly the white women fail to become the bachelor’s partner, the more screen time they get. This is not the case for women of color, who work only to frame the narrative about white people forming a romantic union’ (2006, 40). Dubrofsky is writing about The Bachelor here, but we could easily extend these findings to The Bachelorette and to Bachelor in Paradise: contestants of color are, for the most part, relegated to the margins, when they’re cast at all.
And that point about them getting cast at all is a big one. The American Bachelor Nation is notably pretty white: however, they have made a few baby steps towards greater levels of inclusion. A few years ago, Rachel Lindsey became the first Black Bachelorette, and Matt James has been cast as the first Black Bachelor for the upcoming 2021 season. There has been a major grassroots push for change this year, tied to the Black Lives Matter movement. The hashtag #BIPOCBachelor has been the locus for a lot of this, and the change.org petition tied to this is probably a big part of the reason for James’ casting (a Black Bachelor for the next season was the first of their thirteen demands). The petition states that:
The franchise, and all those who represent it, should reflect and honor the racial diversity of our country–both in front of and behind the camera.
Representation matters, and it is one of the most important ways our country can embrace its diversity and evolve (2020, emphasis in original).
If this petition is followed through on, it will be really heartening for the American franchise. But every year we have the same discussions in the Australian Bachieverse (I mean, I wrote about it in a recap from Matty J’s season, and he and his winner Laura are engaged with a kid now), and every year, the show continues on in its relentless whiteness. A few years back, Osman Faruqi wrote this, in an article very pointedly titled ‘Cook And Sing For Us, But Don’t Date Us: What Reality TV Tells Us About Australia And Diversity’:
Let’s not beat around the bush. The Bachelor is a show that revolves around fucking. The bachelor wants to fuck. The contestants want to fuck. The audience wants to fuck the bachelor and/or the contestants. There’s no judgement here, it’s just the best way to summarise the show.
So when the show features an entirely white cast, the message being sent by the producers is that Australians don’t want to fuck people who aren’t white (2017).
Faruqi focuses on sex here, but we can make the same argument about romance. Who we cast as protagonists in love stories tells us a lot about who we think is worthy of love. And when we can cast a series of Masterchef with seven Asian contestants and then follow it up with a season of Bachelor in Paradise with only two people of colour? That says a whole lot, and none of it is good.
Long story short – I’d love to see the #BIPOCBachelor movement take off in Australia as well. God knows it’s time.
Okay. To the recap!
We open tonight with a date card. The recipient is resident island toolie Jake. He’s been very dull so far, so I’m not entirely why the producers made this decision, but they got pretty good bang for their buck. Jake gave his rose to Cassandra, so she leans forward expectantly, but then he’s like, ‘um… Helena, want to go on a date?’
If you remember the way the rose maths worked out at the end of last episode, you’ll remember that Helena and Glenn were one of the stronger couples on the island, so this leads to some raised eyebrows, to say the least.
Not that Glenn has that much to worry about, tbh. This date between Jake and Helena is… not good. It begins with him being all ‘SO WHY DIDN’T YOU COME AND SAY HELLO TO ME WHEN YOU FIRST GOT TO PARADISE?!’ and her desperately casting around for a way to say ‘…um, dude, I didn’t really want to.’ In an attempt to change the subject, she asks him about his ex Megan – you might remember the great saga of Jake and Megan if you followed these recaps back in Paradise S1 – and then it verrrrrrrry quickly becomes clear that Jake is very much not over her.
I didn’t find Helena terribly interesting in her season of The Bachelor with Dr Space Bachie, but she’s slotted into the role of island therapist here in a way that’s quite interesting. Last week, she gave Jamie some quite good advice about how he’s never going to be happy if he’s panicking by Day Two, and here, she gives Jake some good real talk about his past relationship. Props to Helena, who really should not be having to teach these men basic emotional literacy.
Oh, and speaking of bad dates – we have another (diegetically unsanctioned) one going on down the beach, and it’s EXCRUCIATING. Like, EXCRUCIATING. Jamie has taken Conga Line Brittney away on what is set up to be a very thoughtful little date but is realistically him just taking two cocktails from the open bar about twenty metres away from everyone else, and she is thrilled about it. She is giving every ‘ok, kiss me!’ signal under the sun short of actually tattooing it on her forehead – like, she leans all the way in! she very pointedly licks her lips! – and he just does. not. get. it. ‘Yeah, I got no romantic signals from Brittney at all,’ he says glumly to camera, as the entire audience facepalms.
Sometimes it’s not clear why the people on this show are single. This is not one of those times.
Elsewhere, the women of the island are making it very evident that a whole bunch of Instagram DMs happened pre-show, because they’re discussing when – not if – Ciarran’s ex Renee will turn up. This causes Jess (the recipient of Ciarran’s rose last episode) some consternation. ‘Ciarran and I get on quite well,’ she tells the camera. ‘But if Renee turns up, is he going to run off and have a love story with her?’
She tries to get a straight answer out of him when they go paddle-boarding together, but just as he mumbles some kind of a response it starts pouring, so of course they have to start pashing in the rain like it’s the fucking Notebook. ‘This is the most romantic thing that’s ever happened to me!’ Jess declares, ignoring a) that whole Renee thing she was worried about two seconds ago, and b) the fact that it kind of looks like the beginning to a shark movie.
They cannot escape the Renee thing, however. Osher turns up, and really, he should have wheeled a whiteboard in with him, because he goes into a painstaking explanation of how everyone knows Renee that I sure as hell can’t keep track of without a diagram. ‘We’re having a Bula Banquet tonight!’ he announces. ‘And the theme is: There’s Something About Renee!’
- The Bula Banquet, if you missed this last time, is the Bachie franchise very transparently importing the dinner party construct from MAFS, and I’m very curious about whether there’s intellectual property implications.
- Props to Renee for managing to be such a huge Paradise character before even entering when she said maybe one sentence on her season of Bachie. That’s a skill.
Predictably, Renee turns up just before the dinner, which means we should add her to our dramatis personae:
Renee (Matt’s season): Ciarran’s ex, ended badly, let’s get back to the recap.
Also predictably, Ciarran is not exactly thrilled about this, although I will be honest: I did not expect quite this level of pissy whinginess from him.
Renee isn’t thrilled either, although it manifests for her in a kind of long-sufferingness. ‘Do I protect him like I always do, or do I just spill the secrets?’ she wonders aloud.
(Gee, I wonder which it’s going to be.)
They’re using the same anonymous question construct as last time, although these ones are clearly planted by producers rather than written by the contestants. Ciarran gets the first one (‘how did you meet?’) but when they ask the second one (‘did something happen in Bali?’) he absolutely spits the dummy. ‘Fuck this,’ he declares. ‘I’m out of here.’
Sidebar: I’m so interested by the way that things that happened well off screen are now so explicitly part of the narrative. The interaction of diegesis and extradiegesis is fascinating. If you’re me, anyway.
Anyway: Ciarran goes and has a little cry at the bar. Glenn goes over to be a supportive bro (and I immediately understand why he and Helena are into each other: they’re each an Island Therapist) and tries to calm him down, but eventually decides that leaving him to sulk is a better option.
And not a moment too soon, because back at the table Timm is being… an absolutely fucking nightmare, honestly. He runs his mouth at a million miles an hour about how Ciarran has been with SERIOUSLY SO MANY GIRLS IN PARADISE, RENEE and needling at her about things that clearly happened in… I don’t know, Bali, or Instagram DMs or whatever, and despite the fact that a bunch of people tell him to pipe down it’s not until Glenn comes back and is like SHUT THE FUCK UP, TIMM and Britt is like, YES, SERIOUSLY, SHUT UP RIGHT NOW that he even thinks about being quiet.
Timm frames it as ‘pot-stirring’, but… geez. He might be a bit of a dick, hey.
(And I’m not the only one who thinks so, either. That nascent relationship between Timm and Britt? Let’s just say things are rocky rn.)
Eventually, Renee leaves the table and sobs in the arms of Niranga. We’ve been assured, in the whole Timm pot-stirring incident, that they’re just friends (‘oh, so you’re cutting your mate’s grass?’ god, Timm really needed to shut the fuck up), but IDK. They seem to have some really nice chemistry, and I would like to see a whole lot more of them together, please and thank you.
But anyway. Renee is really upset, and cries to first Niranga and then Cass that there are so many things she’s holding back to protect Ciarran. Ciarran’s face, as he sits glumly alone, seems to confirm that this is very much true.
And you know where this is going, right? There’s no way we were getting out of this without a big ol’ Renee and Ciarran Confrontation.
This confrontation takes a long time, and includes Renee exhorting Ciarran several times to stop performing for the cameras. (Full disclosure: I would have been happy thinking through what that direct acknowledgement of the show’s performative nature says for a while, but I suspect I might be on my own in that.) But then eventually… all is revealed.
Apparently, the OMG BIG SECRET is a timeline issue: Renee and Ciarran were still together when he was in the Bachelorette mansion with Angie, and he left to be with her.
…I kind of expected this bombshell to be bigger?
But I suppose it does kind of undercut the whole façade of the romance between Angie and Ciarran they were building up on The Bachelorette – and the emotionality of its ending. That scene, where Ciarran cried because a) his granny had died, but also b) he was really sad to leave Angie, was kind of an iconic moment of television – not least because it showed a man unafraid to express emotions, and tied into the whole positive masculinity discourse that started to be constructed in The Discourse™ around him. What does it mean if some or all of that emotion was performed?
There’s a question to chew on. Catch you tomorrow!
Sneaky end-of-recap reminder: not only do I write about rose ceremonies, but I’ve written a book with a rose on the cover! If you like my writing (which, if you made it to the end of this monstrously long recap, I assume you do), don’t forget to check out my YA Valentine series, and you can always check in on me at my website: jodimcalister.com.au
The show airs on Channel 10. You can catch up on previous episodes via TenPlay.