Strap in, friends. Tonight is the first in four straight nights of The Bachelors, so we are in for a slog. Like, a SLOG.
Is this what it feels like to watch MAFS on the regular? We’ve only done one week on this schedule, and I’m already exhausted.
Granted, my recaps have not been the only Bachie-related content I’ve been producing of late. There’s also:
- The ongoing editing for the next book in my Marry Me, Juliet series (cough buy Here For The Right Reasons cough pre-order Can I Steal You For A Second? cough)
- The TikTok recaps I’ve been doing – if the thought of reading one of these big boys is simply Too Much, those ones just have the headlines.
- I wrote a piece for The Conversation this week about the innovations to the format and where I theorise they might have come from.
I want to pick up on some of the things I wrote in that Conversation piece in this pre-recap nerdle. Specifically, I want to get into the history of the reality dating show, and explore where we’ve been and how we got here.
The Bachelor is the longest-running English language reality dating show. By far. It’s not close. The show it was initially based on, Who Wants To Marry A Multimillionaire? (2000), got canned in one season for being both very sexist and very controversial (in overlapping but distinct ways). However, when Mike Fleiss remade his very gross beauty-pageant style show in a much more overtly romantic and long-term-relationship-focused way, we got the first season of The Bachelor in the US in 2002: a franchise that has now been merrily rolling along for twenty years.
There were quite a few reality romance formats that emerged around that time, but most of them died within a couple of seasons. Often, this was because they were centred on a big twist. Joe Millionaire (2003-04) and For Love or Money (2003-04), for instance, both cast a “rich” man as their lead but the big twist was that SURPRISE! he was actually broke. There’s a limited shelf life to that, because that twist only really works the first time. But in The Bachelor, where the prize is just a relationship, sans twisty gimmicks, you don’t have that problem.
As long as The Bachelor continues, it’ll hold the title as longest-running reality romance format. However, it isn’t the only format with legs anymore. In particular, two big ones have emerged which have proven they can sustain themselves season after season after season: Love Island (especially in the UK, where it’s been running since 2015) and Married At First Sight (especially in Australia, where it’s also been running since 2015).
Looking at The Bachelors, it’s so clear to me that these two shows were studied closely when it came to burning the format down and building it back up again. You can see the influence of both so clearly, even with just the merest scratching of the surface.
Sarah Pinto, in an article called ‘Researching Romantic Love’ that I cite literally all the time in my academic work, argues that the romantic couple (or unit – after last episode, we should all know about polycules!) is the one “essential component” to all our understandings of the emotion of romantic love. If we apply this to our three long-running reality TV formats, we can see that all three of them are obsessed with the idea of the couple, but they deal with it in different ways.
We can think of it as a spectrum, which we might map as such:
- The endpoint of a Bachelor/ette show is the establishment of the romantic couple. All the drama is leading up to that point.
- The repeated narrative drivers in Love Island (and also Bachelor in Paradise, to an extent) are the establishment and re-establishment of romantic couples. Contestants have to “couple up” the second they get there, and “recoupling” is what drives most of the drama.
- The inciting incident of Married at First Sight is the establishment of the romantic couple. The experts put the contestants together before they even meet each other, and all the drama arises from there (including potential adultery).
Much as they might try and burn the Bachelor format down to the ground, one thing has to stay consistent, or it’s not The Bachelor anymore. That endgame has to remain the same. The establishment of the couple has to be the endpoint.
However, it’s incredibly obvious that they’ve borrowed bits and pieces from the Love Island and Married at First Sight playbooks in their rejigging of the format, and it’s all arising from the fact that there are three Bachelors.
Tonight’s episode is a perfect example. Each contestant is nominally “coupled up” with a Bachelor, in the way that a contestant in either of those shows might be coupled up (despite the fact that multiple other women are also coupled up with that Bachelor – the key point of difference!). However, because there are three Bachelors, not just one, the possibility of couple-switching is suddenly on the table – which is the key way that drama is driven in these other two very popular formats.
Let’s check out what this looks like in practice and get into the episode.
As you might remember from last episode: our villain Tash has moved on from monstering polyamorous Jessica (one of Felix’s contestants) and is now focused on Jasmine (who is, like Tash, one of Jed’s contestants). She’s just publicly revealed to basically all the women that Jasmine has an OnlyFans account – drama which is also very MAFS-y. I haven’t watched a ton of MAFS, but it was impossible to miss the scandal that went down last year over one MAFS bride outing another one’s OnlyFans.
Jasmine is distraught and furious: not just with Tash, but with Jed, for being so into her despite the fact that she’s running all these villain specials. “If Jed likes someone like her,” she says, “then maybe I don’t actually like Jed.”
This is just exacerbated further in our opening salvo tonight. The three Bachies take a selection of contestants on different group dates. Jed takes several women to get mani/pedis (the best of the three dates IMO, although the competition is not high). This includes Tash and Jasmine, and the more Jasmine interacts with Tash, and sees Jed interact with Tash, the more convinced she becomes that Jed is Not For Her.
“Throw in the fourth Bachie, or give me to one of the other two,” she says at one point. Obviously the second option is the route we end up on, but can you IMAGINE the chaos that would happen if they threw in a fourth intruder Bachie? That’s actually a brilliant idea Jasmine has given you there, Bachie producers.
Jasmine eventually takes Jed aside and is like, “look, before you hear it from someone else, I have an OnlyFans”.
Jed doesn’t give a shit, but he finds a fascinating new way to shoot himself in the foot. He’s like, “yeah, I don’t care about that. What do you think about Tash?”
Jasmine hates this. She hates that he all he talks to her about is Tash.
Getting obsessed with another contestant and not focusing on your relationship is a classic contestant pitfall (see, for instance, Sogand and Elly getting more involved in hating Abbie than dating the Space Bachie back in Season 7). I’ve never seen a Bachie fall into this trap before. What a fascinating mechanic.
…especially because it also happens to Felix! He takes his group of contestants to Wet n Wild (which might be less romantic than taking them to DreamWorld? remarkable). Not much happens apart from him openly fishing for the tea on Tash vs Jasmine, which turns Yuri right off. “Yeah, there’s just no connection there,” she says. “He’s so shallow.”
No one gets turned off Thomas on his date: rather, Leah just bemoans how close Thomas is getting to Kiki. However, considering Thomas has taken his contestants for a “day of holistic wellness” where they all “get high on life”, I feel like some of them should have started looking elsewhere. I cannot adequately communicate just how aggressively I would burn the ground and salt the earth if someone invited me on Thomas’ date.
Anyway, back to a different terrible man. The next day, the three Bachies go to the mansion for a pool party (which I think is supposed to be like a cocktail party? this new structure is confusing sometimes).
You know how Felix simply loves to make out with his contestants in front of everyone? He does it again – with Tilly, much like in Episode 2 – and then, when his other contestants, led by Krystal, call him out on it, he doubles down in the most extraordinary way.
“Actually, I think you’ll find that me making out with women in public is me RESPECTING the connection,” he snaps, when Krystal tells him it’s disrespectful. “I can’t believe none of you can respect my perspective on this! when one of you is in an open relationship!!!”
How these women do not simply yeet this nightmare of a man into the sea is beyond me.
And then there’s Thomas. My goodness. Thomas.
It really is incredible how terrible all three of these men are, but in their own special unique terrible ways.
Thomas is into Kiki. Like, he is into Kiki. But then she reveals to him that she has two children, and this awful rictus grin freezes on his face.
“I never saw myself with a woman who was a mum,” he tells the camera. “That’s my dealbreaker.”
Look, each to their own, I guess, but my dude, you are 35. If you’re going to date women who are your own age, then there’s a solid chance many of them will have children.
And then the ante gets upped for him. Jasmine, who is officially over it with Jed, sits him down. “Look, I like you,” she says bluntly. “Would you be open to exploring anything with me?”
“I, uh, I’m so confused right now,” Thomas stammers.
But I guess he does some thinking before the rose ceremony. Or, at least, a producer gets in his ear and is like, THOMAS, MAN, WE ARE THIS CLOSE TO SOME GOD-TIER CHAOS, YOU ARE NOT GOING TO RUIN THIS FOR ME!!!
The first thing that happens at the rose ceremony is that Yuri is like, “Felix, you’re terrible, I’m leaving,” and peaces out. A queen. We simply must stan.
Then it’s all going like normal… until Jed tries to give Jasmine a rose. “You’re a great person, Jed,” she tells him, “but you’re not what I’m looking for.”
And then unlike Yuri, she returns to the rose ceremony bleachers.
It all comes down to one rose. It’s Thomas’s. Some of his women are still standing.
But he gives it to Jasmine.
Of course he gives it to Jasmine. Thomas is a cardboard man and I fully believe he would not give Jasmine a rose off his own back, but they were never, ever going to let him not give a rose to Jasmine.
After the rose ceremony is over, people are aghast. AGHAST.
And interestingly, this includes Jed and Felix. They’re both trying to pretend that they’re, like, so cool with it, but they are not.
I’m not going to lie. If we start getting the Bachies ganging up on each other, I’m probably really going to enjoy it. Especially because it doesn’t matter which two Bachies gang up on the third. They’re all terrible in their own ways.
If you’ve made it all the way to the end of this recap – thank you! I assume that means you enjoy my writing, so don’t forget that I’m the author of a couple of reality TV rom-coms. Here For The Right Reasons(which is about a Bachelor-esque lead falling for a contestant he eliminates on the first night) is out now; while Can I Steal You For A Second?(which is about two contestants falling in love with each other instead of their Bachelor-esque lead) will be out in April and is available for pre-order.
You can also catch me on my website: jodimcalister.com.au