Dr Jodes deciphers the semiotics of the cheeseboard in the Bachieverse, and is devastated.
One thing that’s clear about this season of The Bachelor Australia is that it’s a reaction to last season. This is most evident in the way it’s been cast. Last year, we had Nick ‘Honey Badger’ Cummins, rugby player, purveyor of some strange bastardisation of Cockney rhyming slang, and (these are scare quotes) ‘personality’. He was an established quantity in that he was a celebrity, so we already knew exactly what to expect from him.
While, as I wrote in my recap of last year’s premiere, the casting of the Honey Badger was also in part a reaction to previous seasons (in particular, I suspect, to disappointingly dull-as-dishwater Richie Strahan), it was also an attempt to mobilise the audience that Sophie Monk had drawn to the franchise. To some extent, it was a success, because the ratings for Bachie Season 6: Honey Badgelor were through the roof. But it was also a failure, because Nick failed to deliver on the central promise of the series when he didn’t choose anyone at the end.
Part of me was genuinely surprised at the audience reaction to that ending. Some of the most popular contestants in Australian Bachie history have been explicitly anti-romantic: think of how many fans Laurina won in 2014 with the ‘dirty street pie’ incident and the way she flat-out ignored and avoided Blake Garvey, or the similar reaction to Vanessa Sunshine’s obvious disdain for the Honey Badger last year. But while we like it in a (female: I think this is important, given the audience) contestant, when push came to shove, and Nick failed to choose anyone at the end? That was treated as a real betrayal by the audience, because the promise inherent in the Bachie narrative – a romantic promise – was not upheld.
The Laurina/Vanessa Sunshine we-stan-an-anti-romantic-queen phenomenon just straight up does not exist in the US Bachieverse. Belief in love is mandatory to be a hero/ine in that franchise. Indeed, when one of their Bachelors pulled a Honey Badger (Brad Womack, in Season 11) and didn’t pick anyone, they made him the Bach again in Season 15. They seem to have a cultural need to recuperate people into the romantic narrative that we don’t in Australia. Dana Cloud wrote of Womack’s first outing as the Bachelor that his refusal to choose exposed the emptiness of the romantic folly (2010, 414). She wrote her article before his second outing, but I think said outing reinforced her point and made a new one: that fantasy couldn’t be permitted to be empty for the US audience. He had to be subsumed back into it.
We’re a bit happier with the fantasy being empty in Australia – cf. our anti-romantic queens – but we have no desire to recuperate the Honey Badger. Instead, he was discursively disqualified from future romantic heroism, at least for the time being. Criticism revolved around his emotional maturity and the suspicion he was just there for the paycheck. What we required in Australia was not to demonstrate that the fantasy wasn’t empty after all and that everyone could find their person, but there were some people out there who could live up to the fantasy, even if everyone couldn’t.
This brings us to Matt, our current Bachie. (I promise I haven’t actually forgotten what season I’m writing about!)
They’ve done a lot this season to position our Space Bachie as the ideal romantic hero, but one thing they’ve really gone hard on – as you’ll see when I get to the recap part of this recap, which I promise I’ll do any second now – is showing how genuinely (or at least convincingly) delighted Matt is to be there. He’s nervous when he first meets the women, because this has emotional stakes for him. He listens when they talk, and he’s able to articulate what he likes about even the women that we as the viewers are set up to dislike. He’s constructed as a clever man, sure (did you hear he was an astrophysicist? I think they mentioned at one point that he was an astrophysicist), but also an emotionally literate and sincere man.
We hear a lot about contestants who are there or not there ‘for the right reasons’ over the course of a given Bachie season, but what this season has had to prove, in the wake of the Honey Badger, is that our new Bachie is there for the right reasons: that he’s sincerely there to fall in love. They’ve gone out of their way to show that he’s sincere and his investment in romance is true, and that he’ll give the narrative the happy ending that the format promises.
In short: they’re going out of their way to position Matt as an ideal romantic hero and to construct a love story this season. Will they succeed in doing this? We’ll see – but I like the thought processes in operation here.
Okay! Recap time!
(Will I ever get right to the recap, or are these doomed to be like those recipe blogs that make you scroll through, like, five pages of personal history before you find out how to make the cake? Only time will tell.)
To sum up: last time, eight more women entered the Space Bachie harem. Despite the fact it’s been, like, what, a day? there are some serious turf wars going on, colouring a lot of the contestant-on-contestant pool interactions.
But before we can deal with this: we start with a single date! Matt’s in Melbourne, where he’s taking Elly on the golden ticket gimmick date she won in the premiere.
I’m really torn about this one, you guys. On the one hand, they’re adorable. There’s one bit where the producer breaks the fourth wall and is all like, ‘Matt, whenever you say Elly’s name, you smile,’ and he just fucking beams and is like, ‘whenever I think about Elly, I’m happy,’ and it’s the cutest shit you’ve ever seen.
But on the other hand, they go to Flemington Racecourse (ie Melbourne Cup land), and I’m sorry, but I just can’t find horseracing appealing.
I mean, sure. There’s frocks and suits and champagne – so far, so Bachie – and horses appear often enough freaking the fuck out on old skool romance covers for them to be sort of a romantic trope. But there’s no getting away from the fact that the Melbourne Cup is a) a festival of animal abuse, and b) an excuse for white people to get publicly shitfaced and litter.
They try and sex it up as much as they can. Matt and Elly walk through, like, 50 rose gardens! He picks her up in a horse and carriage like a Regency romance hero! They ride horses together and have a little laugh!
…but at one point Gai Waterhouse is there, and never once in my life have I thought, You know what would make this date super romantic? Gai Waterhouse.
Still, they’re so sweet together that even Gai Waterhouse can’t dampen their enthusiasm for each other. They can’t stop smiling at each other – Matt makes a comment about how his face is going to ache because of it – and of course she gets a rose, and of course they pash for a thousand hours on their Couch of Wine and Intimate Conversation, and it’s so lovely I almost forgave them for the fact that they did not touch the extremely beautiful cheeseboard laid out in front of them.
Also, remember the kiss-head-tilt study? The sample size is still small, but I feel confident in noting that Matt is definitely left-headed. I also feel confident in noting that now I’ve seen it I will never, ever be able to unsee it, and I’ll be analysing kiss head tilt direction until the day I die.
Next: a group date! It’s one of my least favourite variations on the theme: it’s a date where the women are split into teams and forced to compete against each other. In this case, the teams are ‘old girls’ and ‘new girls’, as five of the original women face off against the remaining five intruder women in a game of AFL.
If you’re wondering how this constitutes a date…good question. There’s nothing like a group date to show that within the context of the franchise, the term ‘date’ has achieved semantic satiation and been drained of most of its meaning.
Anyway, they play five-on-five AFL. The two standout players on each team are Nichole and Monique, who are already in a bit of a rivalry, because they look alike. Or Nichole thinks so, anyway. I’m not convinced Monique is actually aware that this rivalry exists. Nichole’s team (the original women) wins, she’s chosen as MVP and gets some extra time with Matt, and gloats accordingly.
(The fact that this is a date that you can win should make it clear why I don’t like this style of group date. The regular kind are awkward enough without actually setting the Bach up as a literal trophy, rather than just a metaphorical one. It endows romance with an economic sense of obligation: ie if you do the thing the best, you are rewarded with romance. And obligation? Not hot.)
So: let’s talk about Matt and Nichole’s date.
Nichole is one of the villains in the house, but Matt immediately finds a positive quality in her. He says he loved her enthusiasm, and, like, I totally relate. While having ten women play AFL for your love and enjoyment is ridiculous and, let’s face it, demeaning to all involved, seeing someone wholeheartedly fling themselves at something is a very attractive quality. I thought for a second they were going to go for a little redemption arc for Nichole: was this going to be good after all?
It was not good. Nichole communicates to the other women that it was good, but it was not a good date at all. Unless your idea of a good date is just reciting a list of all the sports you know at the person you’re dating. In which case, it was great?
It’s not so terrible that Nichole doesn’t get a rose, because she does (although no pash). The rose snaps in half as Matt gives it to her, and he – he, the obvious astrology-hater! – mentions to the camera that that might be a sign, so he’s clearly not vibing her.
But then I realised something, and it broke my heart.
Matt is feeling so conversationally at sea that he suggests they eat the cheese, and they do.
YOU GUYS, THEY ONLY EAT THE CHEESE WHEN THE DATE IS GOING BADLY
SEMIOTICALLY, CHEESE CONSUMPTION IS A SIGNIFIER OF ANTI-ROMANCE
THE BACHELOR TAKES PLACE IN A TERRIBLE DYSTOPIA WHERE CHEESE AND ROMANCE ARE INCOMPATIBLE
Excuse me while I sob a million tears for all those cheeseboards sacrificed in the service of Bachie love.
Next up: the cocktail party. These are normally a bit of a feeding frenzy, because everyone wants time with the Bach. This one, though, is doubly so, because there’s a date card on the line: whoever manages to capture Matt’s attention the most gets the date.
Two notable things happen, amid the women scrambling all over each other to get a moment with Dr Bachie:
1. Matt takes Elly aside (not, importantly, the other way around), and they touch base re their single date. They remain adorable, and they have a sneaky snog, and it’s incredibly obvious that he likes her far and away the best of all the women. This is a really interesting edit, because it could go in two ways, narratively: a) they could double down reeeeeeeeallly hard on a love story (I mean, there wasn’t one last year!) and try and prove that Matt + Elly are True Love 4Eva, or b) it could mean there’s a massive narrative twist coming later in the season. I’m torn as to which it is, tbh.
2. Monique gets the date card and rose, and Nichole – who, remember, thinks Monique is her doppelganger and out to get her – loses her entire fucking mind.
Well, maybe not her entire fucking mind. Some of this is recognisable to me. Nichole repeatedly says ‘I’m good’ and ‘I don’t care’ – and, like, I’ve told that lie before. But then it takes a detour into some girl-on-girl hatred, which is pretty uncool.
There was an OMG BIG WALKOUT advertised for tonight, but apparently that was a lie, because the rose ceremony is entirely uneventful. We farewell three brunettes who I have never seen before in my life, and that’s the end of that. I guess that big walkout is tomorrow, then, which makes it…kind of a cliffhanger created by advertising rather than the episode itself? That’s a pretty interesting narrative manoeuvre, but I’m not convinced it’s one that’ll make the audience very happy.
The show airs on Channel 10. You can catch up on previous episodes via TenPlay.