RECAP: The Bachelor Australia – S5 E01

RECAP: The Bachelor Australia – S5 E01
The Bachelor Australia Season 5
Background photo via Canva

The season is upon us once more, my friends. It’s that time of year where reality TV hangs up its saucepans and picks up its roses. It’s Bachelor/ette season: and Bachie-with-Jodi is back at Book Thingo for 2017!

There are, like, a million different Bachie recaps you can read. Maybe you are like me and read a whole bunch of them. But, if you’ve never come to play with Bachie-with-Jodi before, here’s what you can expect:

  • Bad ones. Hopefully also some medium ones, but mostly bad.
  • Numerous pleas for Bachie to hire me as a date consultant (like srsly, their date cards are so bad, and I am reeeeeeeeally good at rhyme. I could make them awesome).
  • The nerd stuff: semi-scholarly analysis.

I’m an academic. My PhD focused largely on romance narratives, and I’ve continued to work on love in popular culture (and have published/am working on some big projects on Bachie). Basically, I’m Dr Love, and so Bachie season is when I manage to combine the Very Serious Romance Scholar and Complete Pop Culture Trash sides of my personality: a combination which reaches its apotheosis in these recaps.

Valentine by Jodi McAlister
Booktopia | Amazon | iTunes

(I am also the author of a book with a rose on the cover, but that has nothing to do with Bachie. You should still totes read it though.)

Our Bachie this year is Matthew Johnson, AKA Matty J. Those of you who watched last year’s season of The Bachelorette (which, in my opinion, was a banger: here’s a link to my recap of the first episode if you want to quickly relive the magic) will remember him. He made it all the way to the final two, where he won Australia’s heart – seriously, I cannot overstate how much the nation wanted him to win – but sadly did not win the heart of Bachie Georgia Love (first of her name, long may she reign), who chose Lee instead.

Now, we’ve been here before. This is exactly the position we were in last year, when fan favourite Richie Strahan, who came third in the 2015 season of The Bachelorette feat. Bachie Sam Frost, took on the mantle of the Bachie. We were all so excited, because Richie was adorable… only to be very disappointed, because Richie turned out to be the most beige dude in the history of television.

However! I have high hopes that things will not go that way for Matty J, and this is why.

The reason people liked Richie in Bachie Sam’s season was because he got so flustered around Sam he literally couldn’t form sentences. Memorably, he once said “I’m falling in you” instead of “I’m falling in love with you” to Sam, and uttered the phrase “cool bananas” so often it became a meme. We were expecting the adorableness to continue when he became Bachie, but it didn’t. Instead, it just became painfully obvious that Richie only knew like twelve words, and there are only so many times you can listen to someone say “wow, you look beautiful” to twenty-five different girls before it becomes a bit dull.

Matty, on the other hand, became a fan favourite because of his eloquence. He made some incredibly lovely speeches to Georgia Love during their season. Compare “I’m falling in you” to this:

I’m not just treating this as a game. At all. To me, this couldn’t be more serious. There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that I want to end up with you. The thought of not being with you kills me. And I’d do whatever it takes to make it work. You’re exactly what I’ve been looking for. […] I want to be completely honest, and when there’s an opportunity I want to take it. I don’t know why it’s hard, but… I’m completely falling in love with you.

He delivered that speech while half-naked, in case you were interested. In a pool. In moonlight. It might not be the most original sentiment in the world – ‘I love you’ is always a quotation, after all – but it was super hot.

Anyway, the crux of the matter is this: Matty J can make speeches. And if you can make speeches, the show can construct good narratives around you. This is something at which Richie’s season last year failed spectacularly, in large part because they had very little to work with. Georgia’s season, on the other hand, was great, because she was eloquent, could express her feelings in compelling terms, and could draw those confessions out of others.

… yeah, I have this whooooole theory about love and conversation that I’m sure we’ll get into more as the series goes on, but for now: let’s dive into the actual recap.

Our premiere begins, as almost all Bachie premieres do – the male iterations of the franchise, anyway – with Matty on a beach, doing some soul searching. There are some reasons why this is such a common episode opening:

  • Beach Bachie = Shirtless Bachie. Duh. Like, I don’t think I even need to explain that one.
  • The ocean represents the unknown. It is a space teeming with life and infinite possibility, but also a space that is full of unknowable terrors. It is also a space that has historically been encoded female, and we have a long (cough colonial cough) tradition of men voyaging on and trying to tame the sea (cough especially white men cough) in search of their ultimate destination. It’s a perilous journey, because the sea is full of sirens and other dangers that might lead sailors to their doom, but it’s also a journey with the promise of safe harbour. The sea thus becomes a symbol for the romantic journey the Bachie is about to take, a journey into the unknown, with the hope of finding his one true love.

We all good with this? Cool.

We then see Matty dressing in front of a mirror. If you watch this yourself, I recommend not trying to count his abs, because there are at least forty-seven of them and probably more.

Now, I am not a man and so I don’t know for sure: maybe it is a super normal regular thing that men do, standing in front of a mirror and looking themselves dead in the eye as the setting sun glints off their sculpted Ken doll bodies. But, working on the assumption that this is not super normal male behaviour, here is my take on this traditional getting-dressed scene. This is the modern iteration of putting your armour and girding your loins before battle. Some of the oldest images of romance we have in Western culture are chivalric, coming from courtoisie (courtly love) in twelfth-century France. The only people really permitted to do any loving in courtoisie were knights, and so this scene positions Matty as a courtly lover: off to win the favour of the ladies.

(The lady that the knight in courtly love expressed his love for was usually married or otherwise taken, and was basically beholden to ignore all his performances of love. Somehow I think things might go a bit differently for Matty J.)

And then, almost in a heartbeat, Matty is at the fateful Bachie mansion, standing with Osher in the driveway, waiting for the plethora of ladies to arrive.

One thing that the advertising around this season of Bachie has leant on quite heavily is the idea of “fireworks” and that’s invoked in this scene, so let’s take a minute and unpack that real quick. Fireworks have become a symbol of a very specific kind of romantic attraction: specifically, an instantaneous passionate connection. This is the eyes-meet-across-a-crowded-room school of romance, where you don’t actually need to know anything about a person to feel an instant connection (drink). It’s a sudden explosive chemistry (drink), an instantaneous electricity.

It’s also specifically not what Matty and Georgia Love (ALL HAIL) shared in the last season. She was very clear that she didn’t have that instantaneous connection with him, and that their attraction built over time. As I’ve written numerous times before in these recaps, this is a particularly modern kind of love, one founded on communication and conversation rather than on this ineffable instant something. In that sense, we can read the show’s insistence on ‘fireworks’ as a way of setting Matty’s eventual relationship with one of these ladies apart from that connection with Georgia and of coding that connection (drink) as different and more powerful.

…also fireworks are typically associated with orgasm. That’s why we talk about fireworks in the bedroom. We’re all over this one, right?

Anyway, Matty immediately discursively undercuts this insistence on fireworks by replying to the question “do you believe in love at first sight?” with “I believe in love at first conversation”. Here, Matty is insisting on the importance of this more modern intimate communicative version of love rather than the instantaneous explosive passion of fireworks. He upholds this even further when he tells Osher that while he’d like fireworks, he understands that they aren’t always necessary, and that a slow burn – like he had with Georgia, where a relationship is built slowly over time – is just as valid.

He is also thus proving several of my personal theses, so thanks m8.

The first episode is always about introducing the contenders, which the show then dives straight into. It’s a kind of dramatis personae: not much happens in terms of actual advancement of plot. However, before we progress further, a few words on casting.

The Bachelor and The Bachelorette Australia are the whitest damn shows you will ever see in your life. This iteration is no exception. There is exactly one contestant of colour, Elora, and how does the show market her? ‘Exotic’. (Protip: don’t do that.)

This is relatively common across all the Bachelor franchises worldwide. In the parent series in the US, for instance, the first non-white Bachie did not appear until Season 18 of The Bachelor in 2014 with Juan Pablo Galavis, and they’re in the middle of only their second season with a protagonist of colour with Rachel Lindsey in Season 13 of The Bachelorette. Globally speaking, Australia was actually ahead of the curve by having a non-white Bachie in the second season of The Bachelor Australia (Blake Garvey in 2014), but we’re going backwards on this: non-white representation since then has been basically non-existent.

This isn’t just in the casting of the Bachie, but in the contestants. And this is important. Bachie is a love story. (Or at least it’s supposed to be – I fully appreciate that it’s also watched as a spectator sport.) If you look at basically any scholarship on love, it’s immediately clear how intertwined those words “love” and “story” are. “To be in love is to be the protagonist of a story,” Catherine Belsey tells us (1994, ix). Jean-Claude Kauffman writes that, “For someone who wants to be in a love story, the story is just as important as the love” (2008, 62). Similarly, we can quote David Shumway: “It is no coincidence that the name romance means, in addition to a kind of love, a kind of story” (2003, 13). We can even quote the famous sociologist Anthony Giddens: “The telling of a story is one of the meanings of ‘romance’” (1992, 39).

And, like, I’m not done. I could go on. For a long time.

Love and story are intertwined, but you can’t be in the story if you’re not one of the characters. When representation is almost exclusively white, it contributes further to the marginalisation of non-white people from discourses of romance, love, and desire – as the title of this piece from Junkee by Osman Faruqi states, non-white people are expected to “cook and sing for us, but don’t date us”. This is quite obviously not okay. This is why we need diverse romance, why we need better representation of people who are not straight and white and otherwise hegemonic across all aspects of popular culture, and why Bachie needs to stop thinking that the best way to mix up your group of twenty-five blonde people is to stick one or two brunettes in there and call it a day.

In short: do better, Bachie. Get your shit together.

But let’s turn back to the show itself and meet some of the ladies who I think will become key players.

Alix the body painter

She’s the first one out of the limo. She and Matty bond over an eyebrow twitch that she has that is not currently twitching. This seems like a flimsy excuse for a conversation, but they make it work. We also learn that he is not afraid to get really close and just straight up stare at a lady after having said like three sentences to them, which we could read as a sign that he immediately feels comfortable with her.

Tara with the wonky smiley face tattoo

Tara wants a man who will not tell her to shut up if she sings on a road trip for five hours. I totally respect and understand this desire, so you do you, Tara, and I will support you in the doing of you. She has a WHOA, PEMBERLEY moment when she sees the house, and then immediately castigates herself for calling Matty “mate”. Luckily, her new friend Dr Jodes knows a) that WHOA, PEMBERLEY is a valid part of a romance narrative, just ask Lizzy Bennet, and that b) the word “mate” has had historical resonance in Australian romance in particular, so she’ll be fine.

Laura who looks like Georgia Love

Laura #1 designs jewellery, which Matty promptly tries to steal some off. She refused to give any to him, because jewellery is personal and she doesn’t know him well enough yet. I like and respect this about her. Good work, Laura. He is obviously immediately taken with her – she is the very person he pulls aside at the cocktail party – and I think we can fast forward her to the final four right now tbh.

The other Laura

I don’t remember much about Laura #2 other than that she says Matty makes her ovaries tingle. I kind of love that she’s gone for such an explicitly desirous (rather than romantic) approach, so ten points to the Hogwarts house of your choice, Laura #2.

Cobie of the balloons

Cobie brings heart-shaped helium balloons, and she and Matty suck the helium and talk to each other. Unfortunately, the gimmick means that the things they actually say are largely forgotten, so while Matty seemed to enjoy this in the short term, I’m not sure it’s a good sign, given his particular communicative brand of love.

Jennifer, who dreams of being dipped

Her actual entrance isn’t that memorable – she asks Matty to dip her, and he does – but she figures more in the narrative later on by bursting into tears after she overhears one of the other women call her dress ‘putrid’. This becomes OMG HUGE DRAMA, which probably tells you something about how little happened at the cocktail party.

Elizabeth the social commentator

Elizabeth is the one who called Jennifer’s dress putrid. She doesn’t seem to care at all that Jennifer overheard her, but just shrugs and says “social commentary”. Passive-aggressively says ‘babe’ a lot.

Florence, who is Dutch

My notes just say ‘clogs’. I guess she gave Matty some?

Natalie the Instagram stalker

Natalie says that when she watched The Bachelorette, she was in a relationship with a woman, but seeing Matty take his shirt off ‘turned [her] straight again’. She’s clearly getting the ridiculous-person-edit by virtue of being an unruly woman – one of the other women (Jennifer) makes a comment about her not acting like a lady – which seems like a bit of a shame.

Michelle the cop

Michelle turned up in a cop car. We obviously have a cultural image of the sexy female cop, but it’s not an image that you’d expect in Bachie, because it’s a fantasy of dominance, and in Bachie the man has the power. Matty seems into it, though, and asks her to arrest him… after he confesses that once he got in trouble with the law for peeing in a bush at the cricket when he was eighteen. She gets Matty’s first rose (the only one before the rose ceremony), which is especially interesting when we consider she is the contestant most explicitly identified with a particular career.

Belinda the love coach

When Belinda turns up, she makes Matty do an exercise where they place their hands on each other’s hearts and look into each other’s eyes for a full minute. He clearly finds it a bit awkward. I wouldn’t look for her to last long: hard to fall in love at first conversation when you don’t have a conversation.

Lisa the nervous model

I honestly don’t remember much about Lisa other than that she wore a red jumpsuit, but Matty clearly did, because she was the woman he pulled aside to the secret garden (more on that below) for a private chat. He complimented her, she got awkward, and he went full you-don’t-know-you’re-beautiful on her.

Leah the villain

Not only is Leah obviously being given the villain edit, they clearly decided before filming that’s what they were going to do, because they sent her in in a black dress with sheer panels down the side that caused much consternation among the other contestants.

Elora the ‘intruder’

So 21 girls have entered the mansion, they’re all drinking champagne, Matty’s made a little speech, and started chatting. And then in bursts Elora, twirling flame and looking spectacular.

So, um, I’m not sure Bachie really thought the resonances of having their only non-white contestant dramatically invading the romantic space – which they’d constituted as entirely white – all the way through. Even though it is literally the first night, a lot of the other women refer to Elora as an ‘intruder’. The word ‘savage’ is also thrown around a bit – not in a deliberately racialized context, but still. Add this as an example to that whole BACHIE NEEDS TO BE BETTER AT BEING LESS WHITE bit above.

The show has apparently ditched the tradition of the first impression rose, and split its powers into two. One is the first rose – AKA the only rose given during the cocktail party rather than the rose ceremony – which Matty gives to Michelle the cop.

The second is the introduction of a space called the ‘secret garden’, which has taken the place of the literal ivory tower Richie had at his disposal last year. At any given cocktail party, Matty can take a lady away to the secret garden, and the other ladies can’t intrude on them there. There are a whole number of romantic resonances to the secret garden, but this recap is already getting hellaciously long, so I might save those for next time.

Anyway, there is some minor drama at the cocktail party, mostly over the ‘putrid dress’ incident, and Jennifer and Elizabeth look to be Enemies 4 Lyf. They both get a rose, though – possibly because they are Enemies 4 Lyf, and you can’t have this kind of show without conflict. Two women are eliminated, and all I can tell you about them is that their outfits both have one shoulder, so maybe that’s a look that our boy Matty J is just super not into.

Tomorrow night: we settle back into the regular routine of single dates, group dates, and Osher pulling date cards from spatially impossible pants pockets. Catch you then!

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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