Dr Jodes explores the Nice Girl vs Sexy Girl narrative, and who in popular culture is seen as more serving of love.
Once more unto the Bach, dear friends! We’ve reached the double digit episode count – indeed, if this were The Bachelorette, we’d be up to hometowns, because apparently it takes lady Bachies four episodes less to find true love than man Bachies – so we’re well in the thick of it now. We’re down to the top ten (well, actually, top nine, with the double departure of Rachael and Nikki last night).
I just want to reinforce something I said last night before we begin. Even though he is an astrophysicist, and the show has made a big deal of what a nerd he is, and Channel Ten is clearly already trying to set him up as an alternative to Dr Karl, Matt has a whole lot Big PE Teacher Energy that spontaneously erupts at the smallest provocation. Now I’ve seen this, you have to see it, too. I can’t be the only one cursed with this knowledge.
Okay! If you came here for the recap, you better wait for a while, because it’s nerdle time! Tonight, I want to talk a little about the dichotomy that’s been bubbling under the surface of this series for quite a while now: the Nice Girl vs the Sexy Girl.
Something that’s been quite unusual this season is the way in which contestants explicitly articulate their knowledge of where they sit in the great game that is Bachie. We saw an example of this last night, when Rachael was like, ‘look, I’m clearly not going to win, why shouldn’t I screw the crew instead?’ (Sidebar: I’ve seen a couple of articles suggesting that Rachael and Vakoo are a couple now, and I dearly hope that’s true, because a) excellent, and b) it reinforces everything I said last night about the portrayal of alternate love stories.) And not only have we seen this level of self-knowledge, we’ve seen knowledge clearly expressed of who is in the leading positions: Elly, Abbie, and, to an extent, Chelsie (although the comments the other women made then were more along the lines of ‘once he sees that she’s cut like a diamond, then the rest of us might as well leave’).
So let’s take Chelsie out of this for a moment and focus on Elly and Abbie. The other women have commented quite a lot on the strength of Matt’s connection with Abbie, particularly their sexual chemistry – which is understandable, considering they had to awkwardly watch them in that weird panopticon moment last week.
But who do they think is going to win? Elly all the way. I don’t think I talked about this much in the recap last night, but this came up several times when Elly received that first second date: ‘are you planning the wedding yet?’ one of the other women asked her.
Tonight’s episode revolves largely around Abbie pushing back against this narrative. She’s not content to sit back and wait for Elly to win. She’s determined to do this herself.
And what this means discursively is that she’s also trying to subvert some archetypes, because Abbie – as we see over and over again this season – has been positioned as the Sexy One, and one thing that’s been hammered into our heads via many forms of popular culture is that the Sexy One doesn’t win. The Nice One (ie Elly) is always the one that takes the crown.
The extreme – and extremely pernicious – version of this is the virgin/whore binary. In romance fiction, this is often expressed (though not quite so much any more, imho) as the heroine vs the other woman. I’m going to be That Guy and quote myself for a second – in my PhD, which looked at representations of virginity loss, I wrote this in my chapter on Harlequin Mills & Boon (talking here about the 1960s, though it has some broader relevance): ‘[t]his other woman is usually glamorous and sexualised in a way the virginal heroine is not: she does not resist pleasure, and, in many cases, actively pursues it’ (McAlister 2015, 263-64). That is: often, the difference between the heroine and the other woman is their assertiveness, particularly sexually.
It’s not quite as simple a binary as this, though, as Jay Dixon writes:
[I]n Mills & Boon novels the other woman’s primary role is not as a negative of, or an alternative to, the heroine. She may represent, where the heroine does not, an aspect of their contemporary society, but she always represents some feminine aspect that the heroine has to acknowledge as being part of herself… In other words, the other woman is a twin or mirror image of the heroine (and through her, by implication, the reader). Connected, but distanced, the same yet different, the other woman depicts aspects of femininity the heroine must incorporate in order to become fully female (1999, 9).
To break this down: the heroine generally must embrace this element of femininity that the other woman embodies, which I contend is usually her capacity for pleasure – usually sexual pleasure – for the romance narrative to achieve its apotheosis.
Whether this is something we’ll see in the Matt/Elly narrative going forward remains to be seen. Will they try and up the heat level in this relationship? Let’s wait and see. But something happens tonight that’s quite interesting, I think, which is that Abbie tries to shift herself from the position of other woman to heroine.
The reason the heroine succeeds and the other woman fails in a lot of romance novels is because the other woman can’t do what the heroine does: that is, she fails to embrace the part of the heroine that is unlike her, like the heroine embraces the part of the other woman that is unlike her (usually tied up with the pursuit of pleasure). In tonight’s episode, Abbie makes a real concerted effort to upend this binary by expressing her emotions to Matt, and to shift her position in the narrative. I don’t want to go so far as to say that it’s a knowing move – because, like, I don’t fucking know what she’s thinking – but as far as I can tell, it demonstrates a real understanding of how story works. Abbie knows the kind of narrative that’s being shaped around her, and she knows that the other woman never wins, and so what does she do? She tries to change the narrative.
And honestly? Respect. She’s made some blunders re understanding how romance narratives are structured previously – see all the stuff I wrote about how you can’t gamify love a couple of episodes ago – but this is really very smart.
For so long this season, I’ve been convinced that Chelsie’s going to win. However, she’s had so little screen time that I’m beginning to think I might be wrong about that, even though they are on-paper perfect and have adorable nerd chemistry. Everything in the marketing for this episode points to the show setting up an Elly/Abbie binary, which could be very interesting if they ultimately make it to the final two.
…I kind of hope they don’t, though. Abbie’s 23. Elly’s 24. Matt’s 32. DR AGNEW MY DUDE THEY ARE STUDENT-AGED.
On that note: let’s recap.
We break with the pattern tonight, and open with a group date. The participants are Helena, Emma, Mary, Elly, and Abbie. And if you’re wondering whether everyone’s salty that Elly’s on another date: yes, yes they are.
Abbie, however, is determined to be more proactive. ‘I’m not going to sit back and wait for Elly to win,’ she tells the camera. ‘I think I have better chemistry with Matt and I’m going to prove it.’
This is an acrobatic date, where the five ladies have to work with Matt to learn some basic acrobatic skills. I have a few thoughts about this:
- Ugh, exercise.
- But that trapeze date on Georgia Love’s season was so nice, so maybe this will be, too?
- If you got all your life lessons about love from this show, you’d think that love required a lot more core strength than it actually does.
- Did they pick this date to draw out the PE teacher hiding inside Matt’s nerdy exterior?
It swiftly becomes clear – not just to us, but to the women there – that Helena, Emma, and Mary are functionally irrelevant to this date. This is the Elly and Abbie show: to the extent that Emma mutters ‘ugh, I’d rather be at the pub’. #relatable
Even here, that binary between Nice Girl and Sexy Girl is being established. Elly does a trick which relies on her clutching Matt’s forearms to balance while staring deeply into his eyes. Abbie does one where she straddles him. It’s not subtle.
At the end of the date, Matt has to pick a lady to spend some extra time with him, much as you might pick someone to be on your team in a PE class. (No, I’m not letting the PE teacher thing go.) Both Elly and Abbie look at him expectantly…
…and he picks Abbie.
I’m not surprised. Considering he just went on a single date with Elly, I’m fairly sure the producers would have prevented him from taking her again, lest he totally give the game away. But that’s not to say that he’s not into Abbie, because he definitely is. ‘Her boobs were very present,’ the other women explain to Sogand, Chelsie, Nichole, and Kristen when they get back to the mansion. ‘He noticed.’
(They were, and he did.)
In this solo portion of the date, Matt and Abbie have to perform a routine in aerial silks. This is the second date in a row that’s ended in some kind of performance, and I think I’ve worked out why that is. In a performance, you’re acting. It’s necessarily artificial. But what we all want to see – what we’re all looking for – is the reality under the performance. That’s why we liked Unreal so much (the first season, anyway). And – shameless plug for my own research – it’s why people (including me, I’m not immune) were so obsessed in reading romance into sexy ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir during the Winter Olympics last year. We want the façade to break, to see what lies beneath.
Long story short, they’re making Matt ‘perform’ with these women because they want the performance to fracture and the reality of the emotions underneath to shine through. It happened a little bit in the fire performance with Elly last night, where they found time for a couple of cheeky pecks while waving all those flames around.
What we get here is not a couple of cheeky pecks. They abandon the routine, and spinning round and round in the silks, high off the ground, Matt and Abbie pash for like a hundred years.
Afterwards, they go to a Couch of Wine and Intimate Conversation. ‘I like you so much,’ Abbie whispers to Matt. ‘Way more than I can say on camera.’
‘You’re doing a good job,’ he says, and they pash for a hundred years more.
So: picking up on what I was saying in my nerdle, Abbie is actively trying to reposition herself as a romantic heroine, rather than as an other woman, especially in this emotional little bit at the end. But still, this whole segment emphasises their sexual chemistry, and glosses over their actual conversation, to the extent where her emotions are actually unspeakable on camera. I’m going to be so interested to see where this goes, because even though she is trying to reposition herself, the narrative is repeatedly emphasising Abbie’s position as the Sexy One.
And we all know that the Sexy One doesn’t win. In Ben Flajnik’s season of The Bachelor in the US, Courtney Robertson, the Sexy One – and also one of the most iconic villains the show has every produced – won, and there was a fucking outcry, because we know that’s not how the narrative is supposed to be. (She also wrote a tell-all afterwards called I Didn’t Come Here to Make Friends, and it was incredibly spicy. Highly recommend.)
I would love it if Abbie won, because I am all here for the subversion of tropes – but I just don’t think Bachie is in a place where it’s ready to pull this kind of narrative manoeuvre. It’s going to be super interesting to see how this whole thing unfolds, though.
Next up: it’s a single date! I’m swiftly revising my revision of my position from my nerdle earlier, wherein I was like ‘hmmm, there’s been no Chelsie lately, maybe Elly and Abbie are the final two?’, because this single date is with Chelsie, and I fucking loved it.
It doesn’t start off particularly auspiciously. It’s another high places date: this time, Matt and Chelsie will be rappelling face first down the Mercure in Sydney. If they fuck up, then they’ll go splat in that bus mall on George St and Broadway right next to Central Station, ie possibly the most ignominious way to die.
Also, Chelsie was on a high places date literally last night. In ‘dangerous romance’ week, there have been three high places dates and a fire date. Just fucking call me already, Bachie.
Ahem. But this is actually really good! There are a few reasons for this:
- The show emphasises Chelsie’s enthusiasm for this date: it’s not one of those dates where she’s shit-scared and he has to help her through it.
- You know who is shit-scared, though? Matt. For once, there’s a high places date that isn’t explicitly tied to some paternalistic nonsense.
- Legitimately the most romantic thing I have seen this whole season happens: about halfway down, they decide they suck at rappelling, give up, and let themselves fall gently to the ground.
Seriously, is there anything more romantic than looking someone in the eyes and saying ‘ugh, fuck this’ at the same time, and giving up together so you can go and eat cheese? I posit that there is not.
They pash a lot – and if you can feel aroused in the Central Station bus mall, more power to you, because your connection must be strong – and then when they get to their Couch of Wine and Intimate Conversation, they pash some more.
But it’s not all just pashing. ‘Opening up is hard for me,’ Chelsie says, and then discloses why: she was emotionally abused in her previous relationship.
One thing we haven’t got a huge sense of this season is the biography of the women. We know Elly is from the country, Abbie has a complicated family history of divorce, and that’s about it. This is one of the first real moments of real relationship history we get – despite that awkward baggage date yesterday – and Chelsie and Matt have a real moment here.
And finally, finally, I think I’ve worked out what’s happening.
Chelsie is getting the Snezana edit. She’s on the periphery of the drama, narratively coded as too mature for it. She hasn’t had as much screen time as Snez, but all the beats are still there.
And in Abbie and Elly, we’ve got Lana and Heather respectively. Lana was very much the Sexy One, and Heather was the Nice One: she got eliminated because Sam saw her more as a friend. Snez, on the other hand, combined both niceness and sexiness, and ultimately won the prize.
(If you want more on this, my chapter in Small Screens is a detailed analysis of Lana and Heather in Sam Wood’s season. And if this plays out the same way – ie if Chelsie really is the Snez – I’m going to be so fucking smug, you guys. I’ll be insufferable.)
The cocktail party tonight is fairly uneventful. Chelsie and Abbie already have roses, and despite the fact that everyone else feels the need to fight and scrap for them – including Sogand doing a bellydance for the Space Bachie, which is a real testament to how differently a scene can play depending on the music you put under it, because it looked pretty sexy when they put actual bellydancing music under it and incredibly awkward when they put weird clown music under it – it’s fairly obvious who’s going.
At the rose ceremony, the writing is on the wall for Nichole and Mary, ie the two women left who haven’t been on a single date. That brings us down to seven women: Chelsie, Elly, Abbie, Sogand, Helena, Emma, and Kristen.
So, here’s my prediction.
Chelsie is the Snez, and will ultimately win. If the rules laid down in Sam Wood’s season hold true, Abbie will be the runner-up, and Elly will come in fourth, eliminated on friend grounds (though she might also follow the Tara Pavlovic pattern and come third). Either way, Elly won’t make it to the final two, because Matt won’t want to break her heart in that special way the runner-up’s heart gets broken. The fourth person in the final four – who I’m going to guess will be Helena, but I’m willing to have my mind changed – will never have a compelling narrative developed for them, and will never be a real contender.
Am I right? You’ll have to keep reading to see.
…I mean, you could stop reading and just watch the show. But don’t do that. Keep reading. Please.
Sneaky end-of-recap reminder: the Melbourne Writers’ Festival starts this weekend, and I’m speaking in a bunch of sessions over the course of the week! If you want to hear some of my spicy takes, all the details are here: Jodi’s Twitter event thread.
The show airs on Channel 10. You can catch up on previous episodes via TenPlay.