RECAP: The Bachelor Australia – S9 E03

It’s Bach o’clock again! I’m sure many of you have been immersed in the Olympics this week – here’s a little break from all that sport with a different kind of competition.

I’ve been mulling over the competitive aspect of the Bach a lot this week. This isn’t just because of the Olympics (although that’s part of it). I’ve been watching the current US season of The Bachelorette alongside this season of Australian Bachie, and watching them in direct comparison like this really made me aware of a format quirk that I’m now fascinated by.

So. Group dates. These work the same way in both franchises, in that there’s one Bach, numerous contestants, and then some kind of activity, which is usually competitive in some way. Maybe it’s the photo shoot date like we saw last week, which isn’t explicitly competitive but certainly is implicitly competitive. Maybe it’s a date like they did early on in this American season of The Bachelorette, where they brought in a sex educator and asked the men to do, essentially, standup about which one of them was the greatest lover.

Both of these have a competition aspect. Indeed, the American one is more obviously competitive, because it involved picking one man who would be crowned the Greatest Lover. (Obviously, because the American franchise cannot help itself, it was the one man who was extremely vocal about being a virgin.) In the photo shoot date last week, Jimmy was just asked to pick someone to spend some extra time with.

This is where the difference comes in, though. By “winning” what wasn’t really a particularly competitive date, Lily won extra time with Jimmy on a Couch of Wine and Intimate Conversation. Mike P, who won the US Bachie date, won… glory. Every contestant got to go to an after party with the Bachelorette Katie, and all of them got to spend time with her.

I don’t think this suggests that Australia is innately a more competitive nation than the US – that the fact our group dates have to have prizes suggests that people just wouldn’t be interested in them if there wasn’t a way to win. (Although this is something interesting to consider in light of all The Discourse about the celebration of Australian swim coach Dean Boxall when his mentee Ariarne Titmus beat Katie Ledecky in the swimming this week.) Rather, I think this is a mechanic of the franchise that abets some of the different social – and sexual – contracts between them.

I’ve written a lot before about how different the Australian and American franchises are in terms of sex: basically, in the US, they fuck; here, they don’t. But what’s really interesting is the way that bleeds through into other norms as well. Here, if the Bach kisses someone at a cocktail party, that’s a big fucking deal. When Jimmy kissed Lily on the group date last week, that too was a big fucking deal.

But those norms don’t exist at all on the US version. Cocktail parties are pash central. And group dates? Where everyone goes to the afterparty? And they all get couch time with the Bach? It’s essentially a revolving door of pashing. If you didn’t kiss the Bach on a group date, that would be a bigger deal than if you did.

Basically, the US has designed their group dates so as to maximise pashing. In the Australian version, there’s a strict pash rationing, which has the effect of endowing each kiss with more meaning. As a point of interest, it’s rationed even further in the Kiwi version – in The Bachelor NZ this year, the Bach Moses only pashed two women, and not until, like, episode ten.

This isn’t to say that either franchise is doing a better or worse job in this space. It’s not quite as simple as quality vs quantity pashing. But it does speak interestingly to some cultural norms. US Bach really values excess and spectacularity. Australian Bach – much like Australia – feels a bit weird and uncomfortable about feelings and emotions and kissing, and so the structures and the social contracts direct the participants in a different direction.

Will we see more of that in this season, or will Jimmy keep pushing the envelop like he did with Lily last week? Let’s get into tonight’s episode and find out.

We begin tonight with a single date, for which Jimmy has selected Ash.

Who is Ash, you ask? Good question! I did not know there was a person named Ash on the show! But we get a little intro package where we get some salient details about her – namely, that she has an online dance school, and that she is quite bubbly and vivacious. It’s not a lot, but it’s definitely something, and it’s giving us an indication that they might actually care about characterisation this year.

Jimmy picks Ash up in a boat, because he is the most aggressively transportation-forward Bachelor we have ever had. I was glad to see, however, that this is not the whole of the date. Jimmy takes Ash to a secluded lagoon in the Northern Beaches, and they spend a day hanging around on the beach together.

It’s nice! Jimmy grew up on the Northern Beaches, so there’s a personal connection, which Ash immediately clocks and appreciates. They play frisbee in the water and have playful banter, and are both obviously very horny for each other in their scanty swimwear, and it’s very easy to see that some kind of connection is brewing – especially in a beautiful little interlude where she teaches him to salsa on the sand.

Is Ash going to win? I wouldn’t put money on it. But for the first time in a long time, we get a sense of the relationship between these two people (easy and playful) and why Ash might be a potential long-term option for Jimmy.

I can’t prove this, but I strongly, strongly suspect they have new editors this year (and a tweet from Osher confirmed that there’s some kind of new production/network direction going on, yes Osher tweeted me, yes I feel very special). They’ve finally realized something that I’ve been writing in these recaps for literally years: that Person A saying “how do you feel?” and Person B replying “like I like you” is not at all interesting unless we understand who these people are and why they might like each other.

So much of the 2020 seasons felt like them taking Barbies and Kens and smashing them together and making them kiss. They don’t make Jimmy do any of those “ARE YOU IN LOVE WITH ME YET? HOW ABOUT NOW?” disciplinary monitoring questions and they don’t make Ash answer on a scale from “I could maybe see myself falling in love with you” to “I love you”. Instead, they just let them have a natural conversation. Jimmy gives Ash binoculars because they’re about “looking into the future”, and then he tells her to see if she can see anything in a palm tree while he whips out a rose behind her back, and it’s just… very nice.

I would deeply love to take credit for this change in direction, but I know I don’t have that kind of power here in these little recaps. If anyone at Channel 10 is reading these, though… I continue to be available for consultancy. PhD in this, etc. Call me.

So I’ve just been very nice about the single date – and guess what? Now I’m going to be very nice about the group date! This is a very good and nice episode!

The women meet Jimmy next to some lake or pond or – I don’t know, I don’t know the technical terms for bodies of water. He’s doing some kind of magical water hoverboarding thing that made me think this was yet another Bachie watersports date, but I was pleasantly surprised! He was only doing that because it made him look like a superhero. He loves superheroes, and so this is a superhero date. All the women have to develop their own superhero + outfit, and his favourite (it’s a competitive group date, just like I nerdled about) will win some Couch of Wine and Intimate Conversation time.

Some of the superheroes are, frankly, not very good. I don’t think Elena put much thought into “Elena the Legend”, for instance. But Sierah’s alterego Professor Pisser makes her enemies piss their pants in terror; Jay’s is named Vajayjay (they didn’t tell you anything more than that, but that was plenty); and my personal favourite, Carlie the lawyer, became Toxic Positivity, who kills with kindness.

It was one segment of TV, sandwiched between ad breaks, but in it, you got more of a sense of who a lot of these women were than we got in, like, Locky’s entire season last year. It ruled, honestly.

…and then, yes, they have to do the hoverboarding thing. They haven’t quite got rid of their old ways. There’s still watersports.

There’s some half-hearted plotline about Sierah being jealous (they are really having to work to give her a villain edit when she is tailormade for a quirky one), but they don’t focus on it too much: the priorities are the potential connections, and it’s so refreshing. Jimmy takes Carlie for the Couch of Wine and Intimate Conversation time, and they have a really great chat about their respective love languages and the various ways they communicate that they’re into people, and… truly, I just cannot get over how much more interested I am in this single episode than I am in anything that happened in the franchise in 2020. Their course correction has been such a good one.

There is, as always, cocktail party drama, but it’s nothing massive. The women have made an agreement that none of them will steal Jimmy that night and they’ll make him choose who to talk to instead, but then Jay uses her business lounge key and that is, predictably, a bit of a Thing.

That’s less interesting than what happens in the business lounge, though. Jay blindfolds Jimmy and then tells him that because she’s a nutritionist, she’s going to take him on a taste tour of her life. She’s going to feed him things, he has to guess what they are, and if he’s wrong, he has to remove an item of clothing. He gets most of them right, but she deliberately nitpicks (eg. he’s like, “it’s cheddar cheese” and she’s like, “no, it’s New Zealand cheddar cheese”) and so he ends up fairly shirtless, and they end up pashing.

And, like much else this episode, it’s nice! Even though she’d just fed him oysters! Yes, I know that’s probably my oyster-related baggage, not theirs, but still!

Surprising no one, Jay gets the first rose at the rose ceremony. (For the second ceremony in a row, Sierah gets the last one.) Tonight’s victims are Madison (???) and Chanel the flight manager. I guess she never really recovered from not getting that aluminium tubing joke on night one.

It’s early days yet, but this season feels like such a return to form, friends. See you back here tomorrow to see if it continues (although it looks like there’ll be a lot of drama over someone calling someone else something bleeped, so maybe it’ll be a return to form in that someone will get called a dogcunt).

Sneaky end-of-recap reminder: you have to wait until 2022 for my reality TV rom-coms Here For The Right Reasons and Can I Steal You For A Second?, but my Valentine trilogy is available right now for your lockdown reading pleasure. You can also catch me on my website: jodimcalister.com.au

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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