Dr Jodes explores why even in a show that gamifies love, we don’t want to see contestants gamifying love. You don’t play love; love plays you.
We’re headed towards the halfway point of this Bachie season (and it feels like it’s taken hardly any time at all, compared to the solemn death march of the Honey Badger last year, so well done, squad). We’re well within the shit-gets-real stage now: just about every lady has admitted to having some level of the feels for our Space Bachie.
Notable among these is Abbie, she of the glasses-fogging makeout, and instigator of last week’s iconic Dogcunt Incident (may we never forget it), which ultimately led to Monique’s elimination. She did all of this, we are told (by her), because of her high level of Space Bachie feels. She’s into him, so she wants to be open and honest with him. Seems legit, right?
And look, maybe it is legit. But the story the show is telling is very much that she herself is not legit, as we’ll see tonight, and probably also tomorrow. There are some reasons for this complicated relationship between Abbie and being legit, so tonight’s pre-recap nerdle is devoted to unpacking one of the primary ones.
In modern romantic culture in the West, love and authenticity are tangled up together. In the introduction to Consuming the Romantic Utopia, Eva Illouz writes that ‘[r]omantic love, we are told by some, is the last repository of the authenticity and the warmth that have been robbed from us by an increasingly technocratic and legalistic age’ (1997, 1). There is something deep and pure and true about romantic love. Ulrich Beck and Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim write that love is an act of defiance against society:
that is what modern love seems to promise, a chance of being authentic in a world which otherwise runs on pragmatic solutions and convenient lies. Love is a search for oneself, a craving to really get in contact with me and you, sharing bodies, sharing thoughts, encountering one another with nothing held back, making confessions and being forgiven, understanding, confirming and supporting what was and what is, longing for a home and trust to counteract the doubts and anxieties modern life generates (1990, 175).
To be in love is to be authentic, especially with your partner. It’s a state of artless truth – as Beck and Beck-Gernsheim say, ‘love is exclusively in the first person singular, and so are truth, morality, salvation, transcendence and authenticity’ (1990, 170-71). It’s the one beacon of real and honest emotionality we can cling to in a society which does not really abet those things.
So far, so good for Abbie, right? She’s explicitly living in a world which is fake and constructed: I don’t think any of us are under any illusions re the artifices of the Bachieverse. Her bond with Dr Bachie, in the narrative she’s trying to construct, is that one real and true thing, that one authentic thing, and so she’s prioritised it over other things, eg. the other women in the mansion.
But this is where the narrative gets a little tricky for Abbie, because while that’s the story she’s telling, it’s not the narrative the show’s telling. Instead, the show is quite keen for us to see Abbie in control: as consciously manipulating the people around her to get what she wants.
Even in a show that has gamified love, you, as a contestant, cannot gamify love. This isn’t like Survivor, where playing the game is mandatory. Here, any sign of game-playing is a sign that you’re not authentic: and thus, that you are not deserving of that ultimate romantic happy ending with the Bachie.
Romantic love and artlessness are tied up together in our cultural imagination: we love because we cannot help it, not by design. The second they diegetically constructed Abbie as someone who plots – as someone who has designs, even if they are designs on getting more time with the object of her affection – our capacity to see her as a viable romantic protagonist drops away.
Ah, but Dr Jodes, I’ve read romance novels! I hear you say. Do you know how many romance heroes come up with convoluted schemes to whisk their heroines away? That’s, like, basically all Harlequin heroes do! Did you forget that you read a category romance literally this week that began with the hero proposing a marriage of convenience to the heroine for a very convoluted reason?
Good point, I reply, but there’s a key difference here: those heroes are not scheming because they’re in love. Love happens to them in spite of their schemes. They’re overcome by love, not doing things because of love. Important difference!
Back to Abbie: she’s doing a lot of scheming in the name of love this week. But as much as our Astro Bachie seems to be into her, I don’t think she’s going to win, because they wouldn’t have given her this edit – what we might call the ‘game player’ or ‘inauthentic’ edit – if she was. Love is, as Beck and Beck-Gernsheim say, a ‘normal chaos’ (1990, 2): and chaos is not something that can be directed or channelled, but something by which one is overcome. In our cultural imagination, someone who is playing a game of love cannot be an ideal romantic protagonist – at least, not until they discover the error of their ways – because you don’t play love. Love plays you.
Speaking of playing: let’s hit play on this recap.
(Sorry. I love a pun, but I know when one necessitates an apology, and that one definitely does.)
We begin tonight’s episode with a conversation between Sogand and Helena, reinforcing that none of the women in the house are really that keen on Abbie. But then we have to put a pin in that for a minute, because it’s time for our single date.
Tonight’s recipient is Emma, she who came on extremely hard in the first episode but has done precious little since. That said, they’re clearly still trying to give her the Stage Five Clinger edit, because they send her off to this date in a dress covered in love hearts. Cruel, costume designer. Cruel.
She’s been sent with a blindfold, which everyone speculates is for some ‘Fifty Shades of Matt’ purposes. I object to this on two counts: 1) I’m fairly sure Christian never blindfolds Ana in the Fifty Shades books, and 2) it is not a good joke. At least make it rhyme.
But this blindfold is not – thankfully – for some poor and harmful depiction of BDSM. Instead, Emma and Matt are doing a sensory deprivation challenge. Taking it in turns, they’re blindfolded, while their partner feeds them some food from under a cloche. Basically, it’s a date that exists in the nexus of Channel Ten’s three primary reality TV properties: The Bachelor, Masterchef, and Survivor.
These foods are clearly all supposed to be aphrodisiacs, and thus probably delicious. However, the first one Emma ends up eating is truffles, and she’s so disgusted that she reacts like she really is in one of those gross food Survivor challenges.
Considering the usual standards Bachie holds itself to, this is a pretty good date. But I wonder whether it might be better coming later on, when it’s all serious contenders? They’re feeding each other, so it had the potential to be pretty sexy, but it came across more funny than anything else.
They do have a moment which is genuinely sweet, though. Later, when they get to their Couch of Wine and Intimate Conversation, Matt produces a gift he’s had made for Emma. On the first night, she told him she was in love with love, and he’s had that…burnt? into some wood? IDK? along with the decibel waveforms of the utterance.
Yes, this falls apart as soon as you put any pressure on it. Being in love with love is not necessarily a great quality. Yes, it is very twee, and honestly, also quite ugly. But I’ve done a lot of work on how listening is crucial to the success of the ideal romance narrative (it doesn’t work until they really listen to and hear each other!), and so I really liked the symbolism of this.
Next up: a group date! This is shamelessly stolen from Matty J’s season, so I would like to reiterate my regular offer to the franchise. You guys. I can help. I have a literal doctorate in romance. JUST FUCKING CALL ME (and pay me a hefty consultancy fee)!
Ahem. So it’s a self-assessment quiz, or what Osher describes as ‘romance by democracy’. He asks a question to the group of women, and they have to collectively rank each other.
The first question is ‘who is the most selfless?’ There is general hubbub, because no one wants to admit to being selfish, or be so un-self-aware as to rank themselves as most selfless, but eventually they sort their shit out.
…only for Osher to promptly eliminate all five women who identify as the most selfless from the running of the date (to prove their selflessness). Whoever could have seen that plot twist coming?
BUT WAIT. SECOND TWIST! They are in fact all safe! And all get roses! And are now…some kind of jury? Because this is a Survivor crossover?
I don’t fucking know, you guys. When these dates aren’t completely divorced from any concept of romance, they’re so ridiculously complicated they’re hard to follow.
To try and sum up: the remaining ladies have to, as in the previous round, rank themselves according to qualities Matt is looking for (fun, intelligence, passion, and honesty). The jury then vote on the bottom two, and the one they agree has the least of this quality is immediately eliminated from the game.
This is where we tie back to my nerdle at the beginning, because everyone promptly objects to how Abbie positions herself in this game. She insists that she is the most fun, the most passionate, the most honest (and the third-most intelligent). The other women patently do not agree, but somehow, she will not be moved: she refuses to put herself in the bottom two, where she can be eliminated.
In one reading, we can read this as radical honesty. Yes, she insists, she embodies all these qualities! She is exactly the one for Matt! ‘I literally cannot lie,’ she insists.
But in the easier reading – the one that show is pushing us toward – she is being patently dishonest, and thus disqualifying herself from being a real romantic contender. You have to be authentic about who you are: and she’s lying about who that is.
(There’s a nice bit of dialogue about this. ‘Abbie thinks she’s honest,’ one of the women scoffs. ‘About what, her lies?’ another woman rejoins.)
Eventually, the women are whittled down to two: Abbie and Brianna (who has 100% definitely been on the show before and did not just sneak in the back). Their task is to write a little speech about what they’re looking for in a partner, and deliver it to Matt at the cocktail party that night.
There are a couple of interesting things about this:
- Matt has to give one of them a rose, just like the five most selfless automatically got roses. The show is actually going out of its way to remove agency from him in this episode. Considering this show revolves around him being an agent, making decisions – I literally wrote like a thousand words about this last week! – this is an odd narrative manoeuvre. (It makes me wonder whether he was misbehaving in some way and eliminating people they didn’t want him to? Did they want to keep Monique or something?)
- The other ladies are watching on as Abbie and Brianna make these speeches. There’s this whole panopticon thing going on that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen before – at least to this extent – about ladies surveilling ladies. I think this is for dramatic irony, to emphasise that the women see things about Abbie that Matt does not, but it’s very strange, because it takes away that privacy that gives the Bach + contestant permission to pash (which you’d think the show would want).
Abbie goes first, and her speech is perfect. It touches on all the things Matt could possibly want. The women all groan, because she’s saying exactly what he wants to hear.
Brianna, on the other hand… Oh dear oh dear oh dear. This is very awkward. ‘I’m, uh, fun,’ she tells him. ‘I’m like, let’s play a game of I-Spy!’
It’s so awkward and awful that it can’t be anything but authentic, because you would never script anything like that. When she doesn’t get the rose – and Abbie does – it reads like a victory of the inauthentic over the authentic, the manipulator over someone who is actually ‘there for the right reasons’.
This incenses the other women: notably, Sogand, who takes Abbie aside. ‘I feel like you’re presenting a version of yourself to Matt that isn’t real,’ Sogand says. ‘Like, at the date the other day, you told him you wanted marriage and kids, when you’ve told us you don’t want those things.’
‘This is a joke,’ Abbie declares. ‘I’m, like, known as someone who can’t lie. You’re just jealous.’
I’m not sure how we can best describe the music they put under this scene, but my best attempt would be ‘headfuck’.
There’s actually no rose ceremony for this episode (WHY?! why have they made the narrative choices they have for this episode and deviated from the format? I’m dying to know). Instead, Matt chats with all the roseless ladies at the cocktail party one-on-one and, if their answers are to his liking, gives them a rose.
Eventually, it’s down to two: Nikki and Brianna.
When he talks to Nikki, she says that she’s all about the awkward jokes, but that she wants to be more real and vulnerable with him…then just about bellows the words GOOD SEX in his face.
Then, when he talks to Brianna, she apologises for her earlier awkwardness. ‘Look, I need to be honest with you,’ she says. ‘I’m not thinking about getting married anytime soon. I barely think more than a week ahead.’
And so Matt, realising this fundamental incompatibility, lets her go.
(After pondering the age difference. My dude, a bunch of your main contenders are twenty-fucking-three. If you were going to worry about age difference, you needed to worry about that long ago.)
Nikki is so ecstatic to get a rose she just about bursts into tears, and it’s a genuinely sweet moment. If anyone bet on Nikki to be the last one of the episode 2 intruders left standing, they must have seriously made bank.
All through this episode have been threaded these questions of honesty and lying, authenticity and inauthenticity. Brianna, in a way, was narratively punished for her authenticity. Abbie was rewarded for her inauthenticity. It is, I think, a setup for an eventual fall.
Will it come tomorrow? It looks like Abbie and Sogand are going to hardcore get into it, so stay tuned.
Sneaky end-of-recap reminder: my Valentine series features a character who actually can’t lie (like, physically), so if you want some reflections on authenticity, you might as well start there.
The show airs on Channel 10. You can catch up on previous episodes via TenPlay.