RECAP: The Bachelor Australia – S6 E01

RECAP: The Bachelor Australia – S6 E01
Dr Jodes presents: The Bachelor Australia Season 6
Background photo via Canva

Channel Ten might have misjudged their demographic. Let’s wait and see if the ratings will prove me wrong.

It’s that time of year again! The roses have been laid out, the fairy lights are twinkling, the candles are aflame, the driveways are carpeted in gravel, because we all know nothing’s sexier than loose rocks you have to walk over in six inch heels. Bachie is back, baby, and with it, another season’s worth of recaps from yours truly.

In case this is your first encounter with Bachie-with-Jodi: I’m Dr Jodi McAlister, and I’m an academic who specialises in a) representations of romantic love, and b) popular culture and fiction, which means that The Bachelor franchise is my wheelhouse. I’ve published a couple of academic pieces on it (so far, this journal article inContinuumand a book chapter in Small Screens, with more work forthcoming), so Bachie is something I think a lot about. Like, a lot. A LOT.

Valentine by Jodi McAlister
Booktopia | Amazon | iTunes

(I also write young adult fiction, and one of my books has a rose on the cover. I do not design my own covers, but it feels … apt, somehow.)

So. This is going to be nerdy. You’ve been warned.

Our Bachelor this year is Nick Cummins, former rugby union player, erstwhile underwear model, current possessor of a 1970s porn moustache. He’s known in popular parlance as the Honey Badger. Apparently this is because it’s his favourite animal and he admires its unbridled aggression; however, I suspect the nickname has stuck because of the ‘honey badger don’t care! honey badger don’t give a shit!’ meme that was circulating a few years ago. Nick appears to have absolutely zero filter: he says whatever it is that comes into his brain without giving it too much thought, presumably because he doesn’t give a shit.

Funny how white men who are good at sport are allowed to not give a shit. Ahem.

This is pretty interesting casting, for a few reasons. The Bachelors for the past two years have been taken from the crops of previous contestants — we had Matty Johnson last year, who memorably got his heart broken by Georgia Love in The Bachelorette in 2016, and then Richie Strahan the year before, who came in third on Sam Frost’s inaugural season in 2015. Matty did fairly well in his tenure: he wasn’t terribly interesting, but I’m not sure if ‘terribly interesting’ is necessarily a quality we want in our Bachelors. Richie was a bit of a disaster, in that he was really, aggressively, not terribly interesting.

Nick is clearly an attempt to course correct from that, which, like, fair enough. It’s clearly also an attempt to recapture the magic they garnered via celebrity casting in last year’s season of The Bachelorette with Sophie Monk. They ran a lot of rhetoric around Sophie about her not being an ‘average’ Bachelorette — about her being older (she was 37) and about being, in her own words, ‘a bit of a bogan’. They’ve dropped the age thing with Nick (he’s 30, same as Matty J last year), but they’re leaning hard on the ocker thing. They’re also leaning hard on the fact that he, well, looks like a 70s porn star. ‘I agree with you — I’m not the best looking Bachelor,’ he says in this video. ‘I don’t have a jaw that could cut a cake, I don’t have the tan of a mahogany seal … it’s pretty clear I’m not your standard Bachelor, nor would I wanna be. I wanna be meself. I wanna have some fun.’

They’re positioning Nick, in other words, as an individual: as a real person, rather than a cardboard cutout Handsome Man™ playing the role of Bachelor. And given that Richie probably could have been replaced by a cardboard cutout and no one would notice … I get where they’re coming from.

However, it is worth noting that Nick, while he might not embody the archetype of Handsome Man™, clearly embodies a different one. He’s a classic example of the larrikin: that archetype of Australian masculinity that’s a huge hit down the pub with his mates smashing back a few cold ones.

Mateship is incredibly important to Australian culture. In his book Mateship: A Very Australian History, Nick Dyrenfurth describes it as a rival Genesis story, with the ‘legendary bond’ between Adam and Steve just as important — if not more important — than that of Adam and Eve (2015, 1). It’s a notion we can find roots of in colonial settler culture: (white, colonising) men would go out into the bush together, while the women were left at home. Thus, mateship became ‘an assertion of equality and a loyalty between men’ (Schaffer 1988, 101).

Larrikins are constructed in Australian culture as ideal mates. They’re funny, so they buoy the spirits of other mates, and are imagined as just all-around good blokes, loyal (to other men) to the end. Just who you want on a sporting team like the Wallabies, right?

But you know who’s excluded from most discourses of mateship? Women.

So you know who is very rarely seen as a (hetero-)romantic hero? Larrikins.

The Popular Culture of Romantic Love in Australia edited by Hsu-Ming Teo
Australian Scholarly Publishing

(Brief self-aggrandising nerd sidebar: I just did a big study on representations of romantic love in nineteenth century Australian fiction by women, and I found absolutely zero heroes we could call larrikins — indeed, the whole notion of mateship was treated with a bit of a side-eye by the female authors and characters. Likewise, it’s also not an archetype we see a whole lot of in Australian romance fiction by women in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries either.)

The reason we don’t see many larrikin heroes is, I think, because all those stunts and shenanigans they stereotypically pull are to amuse men and make men laugh: which means women are often the butt of the joke. Larrikins are loyal — a good romantic quality — but to their mates first. There’s not much romantic appeal to a man whose biggest concern is his mates, not you.

Maybe Nick Cummins will be different. I was prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt … but gross comments like these ones, made yesterday, don’t exactly fill me with hope that he’ll be the larrikin that launched a thousand romance novels, you know?

Anyway, the point I’m trying to get at here is that I think Channel Ten might have misjudged their demographic. Maybe they wanted to change up the kind of Bachelor we see — which, fair enough ––but I’m not sure this particular choice is going to appeal to their core audience.

But let’s wait and see on this one. Maybe the ratings will prove me wrong. Let’s get on with the actual recapping.

(That said, if you really want a second season of spectacular Sophie Monk ratings? CASEY 4 BACHELORETTE.)

The first episode of any season of The Bachelor is basically a cast of characters. We’re introduced to key players. Generally speaking, contestants that are going to be around for a while get spotlighted, as well as big personalities and villains who might flame out relatively early in the grander scheme of things, but who will give good TV while they’re around.

We’ve talked a bunch about Nick, but we all know that this show is really about the contestants, right? Nick says he wants someone who ‘knows herself, has been through some tough times, and has found herself through those times,’ so let’s see if she’s here.

Shannon: is introduced first, and gets the sparkly, tinkly music of intense romance, so it’s safe to say she’ll be around for a while. She’s super nervous, so she and Nick go on a walk around the yard, and her heels sink into the wet ground.

Brooke: plays three kinds of footy (league, union, and AFL), and yet doesn’t know who Nick is, which he’s into (and he resists the urge to footysplain to her, so … there’s that, I guess). Also, she might be the first non-white contestant (she’s Indigenous) I can remember in the history of the Australian franchise to get more than cursory screentime, and she gets Disney princess music, so she’s here for a WHILE.

Brittany: said she was here for the same reasons as everyone, left a long enough pause for everyone to fill in ‘for the right reasons’, and said ‘for the buffet’. Also said Nick looks like ‘a really cute little cauliflower’, which is … a description. I love her.

Cayla: an ‘energy healer’ who proclaims she was ‘right about [her] psychic prediction’, and then gave Nick a 2kg rock, the gift we’ve all been craving.

Cat: early contender for the villain edit. Wears amazing cicada earrings and utters the phrase ‘soz, mate, you’re not that epic’ about Vanessa Sunshine at one point, proving, once and for all, that the Bachelor franchises are deeply nationally specific.

Cass: has a romantic past with Nick. Am presuming she was cast so the producers could have a go at doing a plot like this one from Nick Viall’s season of the American Bachelor.

Sophie: brought Nick some tiny speedboats, for reasons I do not quite understand. ‘This little boat race is different to the boat races I’m used to!’ he says, and I honestly can’t tell if he’s making a dirty joke or talking about an actual boat race.

Dasha: is the clearest embodiment of ‘the sexy one’ that any Bachie contestant has ever been, ever. She puts her legs over Nick’s shoulders and does sit ups, and he does his best to try not to mention his raging erection. (He fails.)

Vanessa Sunshine: I am going to be FASCINATED to see how people react to Vanessa Sunshine. They seem to be giving her the villain edit, and she doesn’t seem to get on with the other women, which a Bachie darling needs. However, her reaction upon seeing Nick is ‘ugh, him?’ which has the potential to win her a LOT of fans.

Oh, and also there is another new character! That would be:

The new Bachie mansion: it’s covered in the same amount of roses and fairy lights and candlelight as usual, but there’s something about it that looks like Barbie’s dream house. I’m reserving judgement for now. (They kept the same wineglasses, though. Apropos of nothing, I love those wineglasses, and if anyone ever wants to give me a set of them…)

Okay, let’s get into the events of the cocktail party. Because it’s the first night and no one really knows anyone that much, it’s relatively uneventful. However, there are a few sets of people who do know each other, so … drama ensues.

Cat and Sophie: Sophie has hitherto seemed unremarkable, but Cat tells us that she knows her because her ex-boyfriend showed her a picture of her and told her that they were boning. This leads to a confrontation of extreme passive aggressive politeness that goes something like this:

CAT: Sophie and I know each other!

SOPHIE: Um … we’re both from Brisbane?

CAT: And you’re seeing my ex-boyfriend!

SOPHIE: Hahahaha how funny I saw him like three times and then NO MORE TIMES except a couple of times and anyway it was ages ago!

CAT: Hahahahaha not the way he tells it!

SOPHIE: Hahahahaha how silly that this is even being brought up!

They both smile broadly while absolutely seething. ‘She’s the worst!’ Sophie says through her teeth. ‘What a basic bitch!’ Cat says through her rictus smile.

Brittany and Nick: This is a bit of a minor one: they’re the same age, and were born in the same town, so they figured they must have known each other as little kids. But where the drama comes in is when Brittany makes some offhand quip to the other girls about how they probably kissed in preschool, because someone is listening…

Cass and Nick: She’s all like, ‘oh, and I don’t want anyone to KNOW I know Nick!’ but as soon as Brittany makes that offhand comment, she’s right in there defensively with ‘oh, well I know him socially!’ This devolves into her getting a bunch of the other ladies to reassure her that that’s totally an advantage. However, this seems counter-intuitive to me, because a) that’s not how it’s played out in the franchise before, and b) surely if you couldn’t make it work when there weren’t 24 competitors, making it work now seems … unlikely?

Cass spends a lot of time trying to pull Nick aside: they constantly show her peeking around corners and suchlike. The reason why immediately becomes clear when she finally does manage to get him to herself — it’s because they’re giving her the stalker edit. ‘I wrote all the things I wanted in my journal and now they’re coming true!’ she tells Nick.

‘Is … my name in there?’ he asks, blanching. The camera focuses on the Edvard Munch scream faces on the pillows behind them.

‘Yes!’ she replies.

If they’d put different music under this they would have told a whoooooole different story. Just saying.

Then Cass mentions to camera that she thought about kissing him, and even though she said nothing about it to the other women, they’re all OMG SHE WAS GOING TO TRY TO KISS HIM?! WHAT A FAUX PAS! and I became endlessly fascinated all over again with how different the Australian franchise is from the American one, where first night and cocktail party kissing happens all over the damn place.

Speaking of things that are different from the American franchise — I’m really interested in the way that the Australian franchise keeps experimenting with the implication of the first impression rose. In the US, it’s just a rose — all it means is that you’re safe at the first rose ceremony. In Australia, there’s always another meaning as well. This time around, the rose came with a key to the Bachelor Pad, which means that the recipient can seek out Nick at one time of her choosing, and plan a date.

The recipient of the key is Brooke, who is a strong, strong, STRONG frontrunner — like, if I had to pick a winner in the first episode, it would be her, far and away. They seem to click conversationally, in that a) they both like talking about sport, and b) they both like telling dad jokes. Like, you might have guessed from that first thousand word section of this recap that I’m not exactly Team Nick, but he and Brooke genuinely do seem to hit it off, so … awwww, I guess.

Even though Nick does call her his ‘little rhinoceros beetle’, which is not the sexiest endearment I’ve ever heard.

Someone who is not pleased about this whole Brooke/key situation is Cass — or, at least, they’re doing their best to make her seem not pleased. ‘I’m fine,’ she repeatedly tells her producer, which is meant to make her seem like she’s really NOT fine, except … she might just actually be fine? Like, she sounded like she was fine?

The word ‘bunny-boiler’ is thrown around by some of the other ladies, but Nick clearly isn’t scared enough of Cass and her The Secret vision board or whatever to boot her, because she gets a rose. So do all the key suspects — no one listed on the dramatis personae above gets the boot, although he does make Vanessa Sunshine wait until last to get her rose. Considering she’s made her disdain for him pretty evident, I assume she’s the one the producers are making him keep around.

The best moment of this whole episode, though, came earlier, at the cocktail party. Nick had greeted all the ladies, but he hadn’t yet entered the party. ‘I’m just bloody keen to meet…’ one of the ladies begins.

‘OSHER,’ she finishes.

‘Yeah, if Osher was the Bachelor, I would not be upset,’ another one agreed.

Relatable af, ladies. Relatable af.

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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