It’s time for Brooke’s first dates, my friends!
I’m incredibly eager to see if they stick to regular single date/group date structures for this boundary-breaking season, and if not, how they modify them. I wrote a little last night about how the franchise has been failing to ask questions in its storytelling over the last few years (instead prioritising expectations), and my goodness is it a delight to have some genuine questions about how this whole thing is going to work again!
Before we get into that, though, let’s look back! Brooke is the first queer lead of the Bachie franchise anywhere in the world, but this is not the first queer dating show, so let’s take a quick tour through formats past.
The one that everyone always points to is MTV’s A Shot at Love With Tila Tequila (2007-08), which was very much a riff on the then-five-years-old Bachelor franchise. In this show, equal numbers of men and women competed for the eponymous Tila Tequila. In the first season, the fact that Tila was bi and that men and women would be competing for her affections was not revealed to the contestants until the end of the first episode, although all the contestants knew in the second season. A man won the first season, a woman the second, but – much like many seasons of the Bachie franchises – neither of these relationships lasted. Much later, Tila claimed that she wasn’t bi at all and had simply been playing so for the money. Whether or not this is true we cannot say, but suffice to say she has taken, ahem, a turn in recent years.
In any case, A Shot at Love is probably the queer representation in dating shows most remembered by people, but I don’t think we’d say it was particularly awesome – for example, it traded in a lot of problematic stereotypes, such as the notion that bisexual people are hypersexual. This wasn’t the first deeply problematic queer reality show, however. Several years earlier, Bravo did Boy Meets Boy (2003). Again, this was Bachelor-style, with the gay male lead choosing from a group of male contestants. However, only some of the contestants were gay, and the (gross) twist was that if the lead’s ultimate choice was also gay, they’d win money and a trip, but if he was straight, only the contestant would win money and the lead would win nothing.
This was only one of several shows which revolved around identifying people’s sexual orientation. Seriously, Dude, I’m Gay (2006) was another terrible example of the form; as was Playing It Straight (2004) – which even got an Australian adaptation.
Things got a little better as we moved into the 2010s, the decade that gave us RuPaul’s Drag Race. There still weren’t many LGBTQ reality dating shows, but at least they weren’t quite so problematic. For example:
- Finding Prince Charming (2016) was a fairly straightforward all-male riff on The Bachelor, without the exploitative twists we saw frequently in the 2000s. It was hosted by Lance Bass, who did a spot of Bachie hosting on this year’s US Paradise.
- In Britain, Naked Attraction (2016-), in which people choose from six potential dates based on their naked bodies, has always featured a lot of LGBTQ+ contestants (yes, I am aware the premise of this sounds gross, but it is actually kind of… weirdly wholesome?).
- In recent years, MTV’s Ex on the Beach (2018-), where the cast features single people and their exes, has included a reasonably significant proportion of LGBTQ+ people.
- Most notably, the eighth season of Are You The One? (2014-), where contestants are matched by an algorithm and then need to identify who their perfect match is, featured all LGBTQ+ participants.
These aren’t the only examples, and if we expanded out to, say, docuseries-style reality TV, we’d have a few more to add to our list. However, at the end of the day, there just haven’t been that many LGBTQ+ dating shows. The major franchises have been resolutely heteronormative. Sure, we’ve seen the occasional same-sex couple and bi bride or groom on Married at First Sight, and there was a same-sex engagement on Season 6 of US Bachelor in Paradise, but the cores of these franchises have never been anything but straight.
It’s quite hard to overstate what a major shift Brooke’s season represents for the Bachelor franchise – which is by far the longest-running reality romance format – but it’s absolutely fucking massive, my friends.
So: let’s get into it and see what happened!
They do not begin with a date format innovation: it’s the photo shoot date. But as this is basically mandatory, I’m not upset about it – maybe we’ll see something new and exciting down the road.
The photos are for NewsCorp, which… yawn, honestly. In Georgia’s season and Ali’s season, the photos were for Harlequin romance novel covers, and if ever there was a season that should be the stuff of romance novel covers, it’s this one. Hell, they could just sell the images as stock photos – there are a lot of self-pub romance authors out there who’d be interested in them…
Ahem. The theme this season is holidays, and they play out like this:
New Year’s Day: it’s a poolside theme, with Brooke joined by Jamie-Lee, Carissa, and Kurt. Kurt is desperate to get Brooke’s attention (and production stitches him up gloriously by showing the makeup people, like, drawing abs on him), but it’s all Jamie-Lee, really. She looks like she’s from Baywatch, and the connection between her and Brooke is palpable.
Valentine’s Day: Konrad is playing Brooke’s partner, while Jess is their waiter. Lest you think that LoveSeatGate had gone gently into that good night – lol no, of course not! Finally, we have an heir to PotPlantGate! Jess steals Konrad’s seat (again), and when she gives it back, she sits on Brooke’s lap, and Konrad has to stage a fake Valentine’s Day proposal to get Brooke’s attention back.
Halloween: Brooke, Bec, Ryan, and Beau all dress up in various costumes. The boys spend most of their time posing and flexing for the camera, and Brooke is not into it.
New Year’s Eve: Brooke and Holly are at a masked ball. Eventually they take their masks off, and just slow dance, and they’re leaning in and in and in, and then – literal fireworks go off.
This is the second moment in as many episodes that is more romantic than anything we have seen on this show for at least eighteen months. There is clearly some kind of genuine connection between Brooke and Holly, but beyond that, what really got me was Holly asking, “are you comfortable?” while they were slow-dancing and Brooke replying, “yeah, if you are”. It’s such a little thing, but the way this season is showing how consent practices can be genuinely romantic is so nice.
There’s no secret single time after this date – or if there is, it’s not shown. We’re on to the single date now. As you might remember from last night, the first impression rose was won by sparkly lawnmower man Darvid. They’ve imbued this rose with a fairly simple power this time (thank god) – it means that Darvid gets the first single date.
This is not quite the blessing that it might seem, because the person who gets the first single date just about never wins in the Australian franchise, but this is a season of firsts, after all.
Once again, they haven’t experimented much with the date format here. Brooke picks Darvid up in a chopper. They fly to the Blue Mountains, abseil down a cliff, and have a deep conversation about what they’re both looking for on a frankly uncomfortable looking perch.
I’m torn on this. On the one hand, I desperately want them to innovate with the date format, and yet another variation on the high places date is Not It. On the other hand, Brooke has EARNED her choppers and superyachts, and she deserves every single one available.
This aside, she and Darvid have a very nice vibe together. It’s maybe not as electric as what we’ve seen with Jamie-Lee and Holly, but it’s sweet. Perhaps it would be electric if they both were not so obviously physical uncomfortable on this weird mid-air tarpaulin? IDK.
A guy in a tux abseils down and gives them a thermos of hot chocolate, and Brooke gives Darvid a rose and they pash, but I think we need to address a true affront and insult here: even if we accept that this strange cliff perch is an adequate substitution for a Couch of Wine and Intimate Conversation, BROOKE DOES NOT GET A CHEESEBOARD.
BROOKE DESERVES CHEESEBOARDS. I feel very strongly about this.
The cocktail party is not terribly eventful. There’s an agreement that the people who weren’t on the group date will get time with Brooke first, which Darvid immediately violates by stealing Brooke for a second for a bit of a date wrap-up. One of the women, Emily, is furious at this, and gives him a real lecture.
After it never, ever happening, twice in this episode, women have accused men of cutting their grass. Truly we live in historic times.
The other point of note is that Holly + Brooke = <3 <3 <3. They’re so obviously into each other, and they so badly want to make out with each other, but they can’t because everyone is watching, and… it’s so great. Brooke gives Holly a rose, and I can’t WAIT for them to go on a single date – which is just not something I am used to saying about this show, friends!
And that is going to happen next week, according to the previews! Tonight, in the rose ceremony, we say farewell to Beau, who committed the sin of too much flexing in the photo shoot. Finally, we have a Bachie who punishes the crime of being kind of a terrible bro swiftly and early.
This season is just so good, friends. I’m so happy.
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? (the second of which features two bi ladies falling in love!), but my Valentine trilogy is available right now for your lockdown reading pleasure. You can also catch me on my website: jodimcalister.com.au