RECAP: The Bachelors Australia – S11 E02

And off we go! It’s Day 2 of this December Bachie campaign, and we have another road before us that is simultaneously very long and extremely short.

(Like, by my calculations, if this season airs the same way the last one did, the finale will be on Christmas Eve. I assume no one from the show reads these recaps – how else can one explain the way they ignore my continued offers to consult? – but in case you are, Bachie powerbrokers: DO NOT DO THIS. BAD IDEA.)

The second episode generally signals the beginning of the real work of the show – single date, group date, cocktail party etc – after the chaos of the premiere. Before we dive into that, however, let’s take stock of some of the key changes they’ve made and how they stack up.

Casting

There were a lot of things that went wrong last season, but this was the biggest one. I don’t know if they deliberately set out to cast some of the nation’s most repellent men as their leads (and if they did… why???), but they sure managed it. When the pick of the bunch was mere steps away from being a petulant child, complete with temper tantrums, aggressively playing the drums whenever he felt like someone wasn’t paying attention to him… oof.

It’s a bit early to make a call on our three main men here, but they do at least seem to be clearing the bar set by the last three leads (noting that they set the bar so low it was in the molten core of the earth). Moreover, as I wrote last night, they seem to have put some thought into what kind of romantic hero the three men are. Ben’s an aspirational Prince Charming-type, Luke’s a relational everyman golden retriever Travis Kelce type, and Wesley’s never had a girlfriend.

(Jury’s out on how well Wesley is going to work as a lead, to be honest. I’m not sure you can really make Hillsong romantic – but maybe I’m being unfair, and what I actually mean is “I’m not sure you can really make Hillsong romantic to me”.)

Visual language

This must have been the most obvious slamdunk of a decision. Surely, surely it was a no-brainer to return to the maximalism of years gone by and leave the white sterility of the Gold Coast behind.

I have a few thoughts on why they made the choice to abandon the candles and fairy lights last season – at its most basic, they wanted to make it clear that We’re Doing Things Differently Now – but I suspect the main one was that they were trying to emulate the visual language of Love Island: which is a lot of white, clean lines, neon lighting, and people in swimwear.

However, Love Island doesn’t have the same narrative promises that The Bachelor does. While couples have formed there – there were still two from the last Australian season going strong, last I checked – the promise is much more about holiday flings than lasting love (as evidenced by the fact the average contestant age is about 22).

The promise of The Bachelor is true love, deep love, passionate love, love that will last a lifetime. It’s fairytale love, essentially (how often have we heard contestants say some variation of “it feels like I’m in a fairytale”?). The easiest way to communicate that we’ve stepped into this fairytale space is visually – and the Love Island look is not it. Doing an about face and going for Bridgerton instead was very smart.

Competition

While I really did like the little pre-mansion dates the Bachies and their contestants went on last year – they were a nice way of establishing character, particularly as the contestants at least nominally organised the dates – they effectively pre-assigned the women. They entered the mansion knowing that they were a Jed girl, a Felix girl or a Thomas girl, and only one – Jasmine – flipped.

The whole point of having multiple Bachies is having multiple options. You can create not just love triangles, but all different fun kinds of love geometry. It’s essential, to get the juicy stuff out of the narrative, that you put everyone in a position where the potential for competition and conflict is maximised.

So often, when the show has reached for drama, they’ve gone for contestant-on-contestant shit-stirring. This form of conflict, though, has much more juice in it, because it contains the potential for heartbreak from the people we have been encouraged to invest in from the start: the leads. Luke has fallen head over heels for Ellie, for instance – what happens if she leaves him for Ben? and Luke has to watch them fall in love in front of his eyes? Now that’s the good stuff.

Long story short, I think they’ve made some very good, very smart changes for this season. Should they have called me to consult anyway? Of course they should. But there’s no use crying over spilt milk, so let’s get into the episode.

(NB: I will absolutely keep crying over spilt milk. Call me, Bachie.)

We begin with our Bachies meeting at the Auburn Hotel, a venue which is ONE OF MY FUCKING LOCALS, because they are determined to rub in that they did not ask me to consult. They each identify their standouts – Ellie for Luke, Angela for Ben, and Brea and Holly for Wesley (interestingly, not Mckenna, despite the fact they all picked her out of the crowd immediately).

And what we immediately get teased is competition. Wesley doesn’t want anyone else to pursue Holly (even though she’s got something with Ben). Luke is feeling pretty tense about the fact that Ben also talked to Ellie.

Ben really is Mr Steal Your Girl – the alpha romantic suitor, the effective Anthony Bridgerton. The show will continue to engage with this Anthony-ness over the episode in ways that I found very interesting, because they engage with the negative as well as the positive.

But for now, let us turn to the women… who seem to be living in Phryne Fisher’s house?? As they sit around waiting for their first date card, they make it very clear that none of them have settled exclusively on one Bachie either. The producers have gone HARD on a rhetoric of choice, that’s for sure.

Luke and Ellie’s first date

Luke and Ellie are both nervous about this date, to see if the sparks they felt at the ball are still there in the light of day.

Some enterprising producer has found a pond shaped like a heart (Murray O’Connell would definitely give them a curt nod of approval for that). In an explicit nod to The Notebook, Luke and Ellie take a little rowboat out on it.

Luke is bad at rowing, but given the way they’ve characterised him – as the little brother of the group (the Colin Bridgerton, perhaps) – it comes across as humanising. Once they get off the lake, they sit down beside a fire – which Luke doesn’t do a great job at starting – but then they let him show off a bit, let his lumberjack out, and teach Ellie to split wood.

He also gives her a journal, which is truly one of the most romantic gifts I’ve seen on this show. Anyone can give jewellery, but he basically gives her this book and is like WRITE OUR LOVE STORY IN HERE AND WE CAN LOOK BACK ON IT IN FIFTY YEARS PLEASE.

Is Luke currently on track to pull a Clare Crawley and end up proposing to Ellie by next episode? Absolutely. But was this very sweet? Very much so.

But let me tell you the most important thing about this date.

THERE IS A CHEESEBOARD.

We’re back, baby.

Ben and Caitlin’s first date

I could not have told you anything about who Caitlin is – I don’t think her name was mentioned once outside the rose ceremony last night – but apparently she stood out to Ben, because he invites her on their first date: a helicopter ride to the Yarra Valley (one of my wine regions of choice, HOW DARE YOU BACHIE).

Ben says he’s not good with heights, but he ends up comforting Caitlin far more than the other way around. This is tied into his Anthony Bridgerton characterisation: he is the competent, caretaking one, who isn’t permitted those same moments of charming fuckuppery that a Luke is.

That doesn’t mean he’s perfect, however. They have wine and lunch at Levantine Hill, and to say that the conversation does not flow is an understatement. While I suspect they simply just did not vibe, they’ve framed this as Ben not being good at opening up and talking about his emotions – something profoundly Anthony Bridgerton.

This episode doesn’t have the same Bridgertonian visual language, but the way they’ve framed Ben struggling with being the Bachelor is eerily similar to the way Anthony is framed as struggling with being Lord Bridgerton.

Wesley and Jade’s first date

If Ben is the Anthony and Luke is the Colin, Wesley is the Benedict Bridgerton – which means, like Benedict, the show isn’t always entirely sure what to do with him.

The producers have clearly put the least effort into this date: he takes Jade for a stroll around Melbourne (who is Jade? good question). I don’t necessarily believe a cheap date is a bad date – indeed, I actually quite liked some of the very cheap dates they did last season, because it put more effort on conversation than activity – but it is a pretty good way of seeing where production are investing their narrative energies.

I mean, they make Jade take a TRAM to this date. Come on.

One thing Wesley is quite good at – an excellent quality in a Bachie – is articulating his thought process. He notes that he didn’t make the same kind of connection with Jade as he did with Holly and Brea, but by inviting her on this date, he’s trying to fan the spark.

They find some points of connection: doing some street art in Hosier Lane, they discover that he’s a graphic designer and she’s an interior designer. Whether it’s the strongest connection – they do street art of their favourite thing, “the world” – remains to be seen, but it’s a connection.

Last night, Wesley said to Holly that he never saw his life as following a script, and he repeats the same thing to Jade here (clearly a line that he’s rehearsed, whether alone or with production). The script he’s referring to is what we might call a masterplot, a story we’ve imbibed through which we narrativise our own lives. As I’ve written elsewhere, the romantic masterplot is one of the most pervasive of these (cf. Portolan & McAlister 2022; 2023), and The Bachelor loves to step through these milestones: meeting, dating, kissing, meeting families, committing.

It’s quite interesting to me that the hyper-religious Wesley is expressing such a resistance to scripts, when a) The Bachelor is extremely horny for this script; and b) whether this is fair or not, we tend to assume religious people are more married to specific scripts than non-religious people.

The group date

The question posed at the beginning of this group date by one of the contestants is “which Bachelor invited me?”.

This is super interesting. They’ve built competition into the architecture of this season so much more adeptly than last season. You can SEE them getting that train back on the tracks.

One of the women invited on this date is Ellie, who’s like “sweet, I can pick up where I left off with Luke!”. But it wasn’t Luke who invited her to this swimming pool group date…

…Anthony “Ben” Bridgerton has cut Colin “Luke” Bridgerton’s grass for the traditional photo shoot group date. “You can’t claim someone just because you take them out on a date one time,” quoth he.

(NB: is there a photo shoot group date in my Marry Me, Juliet series? Absolutely. Cece of Here For The Right Reasons has been eliminated by the time it takes place, but you can read all about it in Can I Steal You For A Second? and Not Here To Make Friends.)

This is an underwater photo shoot group date (some big Hozier album cover vibes here… or it would be, if the photos were any good). Ben has invited Angela, Anastasia, Natalie and Ellie; Luke has invited Aarthi, Mckenna, Maddison and Lisa; and Wesley has invited Holly, Brea, Jade and Angie. Each Bachie gets to invite one woman back to the Bach Pad afterwards for a nightcap.

Ben hasn’t set out to cut Wesley’s grass as well as Luke’s, but it happens anyway. Holly is desperate to talk to Ben after their first night bonding moment, and they have a little chat while he’s getting made up for his photo shoot. It’s a bit awkward, but they play it more as adorkable than his date with Caitlin. It’ll be interesting to see if they fold this into his ongoing narrative about struggling to open up, or whether he’s just not especially into Holly.

That said, Holly doesn’t seem that into Wesley. He talks about being very religious, and she seems very much not into that… which given she’s a scientist, maybe isn’t the most surprising thing in the world. The extent to which she’s shipping him with her BFF Brea makes a pretty clear point.

Ben’s day

  • Angela is a bit mad that Ben didn’t remember she can’t swim and invited her on this underwater date, but he loves that she jumped into the water fully clothed anyway.
  • Ellie was surprised but flattered to be invited on the date by Ben… especially when he invites her back to the Bach Pad afterwards (“you can’t talk underwater!” quoth Mr Steal Your Girl).
  • Ben’s Bach Pad (they all have individual ones this year, which is interesting) is extremely bookish (also interesting… to me).
  • Ben’s desperate for this date to go better than the one with Caitlin.
  • It starts badly, but he manages to turn it around… somewhat. Ellie clearly still likes Luke better.
  • CHEESEBOARD.

Luke’s day

  • Aarthi takes on a bit of a leadership role (and perhaps accidentally, perhaps on purpose, kicks Lisa in the head?), so Luke chooses her for Bach Pad time.
  • Luke and Aarthi bond over being nervous and have a really strong conversational connection, which leads to a pash. Don’t tell me Ellie has some competition now??
  • Aarthi reveals that she’s here against her family’s wishes, which feels like the building blocks for a really interesting narrative.
  • ANOTHER CHEESEBOARD.

Wesley’s day

  • Wesley’s like, “okay, I’ve spent time with Holly, Brea and Jade – I’m going to focus on Angie and see what her deal is”.
  • Angie’s super into him! She’s also religious and wants to have chats with him about hope and faith and stuff.
  • …he invites Brea back to the Bach Pad, kicking Angie directly in the teeth.
  • Brea is worried that Wesley will want to move too fast for her, given the Bachie of it all.
  • She comes out of the date worried that he’s going to move too slow, after hearing about his lack of dating life – and the fact he’s never had sex (virgin Bachelor confirmed!).
  • I’m increasingly certain Wesley is the one crying in that “we begin at the end” clip from last night, because the women don’t seem into this at all.

The rose ceremony

There’s no cocktail party this time – or if there is, we don’t see it. I have to assume this is a time-saving mechanism, given how many dates this episode covered.

As with last season, only the people who went on the group date are eligible for elimination at the rose ceremony. Osher takes great pains to say that accepting a rose from a Bachelor does not mean that you belong to them in any way – no matter who gives you a rose, all options are still on the table.

Only one of the twelve women is eliminated, which frankly feels like too few, but I guess the implication is that the Bachies have worked together to decide who’ll get cut.

This is a rose ceremony characterised by our emergent triangles. Ben gives the first rose to Ellie, much to the chagrin of Luke. And Holly is quietly losing her mind as the ceremony goes on, because she is Not Into It with Wesley, but really wants to stay to explore something with Ben.

The last rose is handed out by Wesley, and he has to choose between Holly and Angie. Holly’s chanting A ROSE IS NOT A CLAIM A ROSE IS NOT A CLAIM to herself, while Angie’s seething over the fact that Holly’s not into Wesley.

Holly accepts the rose… then bursts into tears.

So yeah, everyone has quietly ignored what Osher said about a rose not being a claim. They’re very much treating it like a claim.

And then Wes HANDS HOLLY A NOTE and we get a “to be continued”??? Oh, WELL PLAYED, Bachie.

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 three reality TV rom-coms. Here For The Right Reasons (Bachelor + the first contestant he eliminates) and Can I Steal You For A Second? (contestant + contestant) are out now; while Not Here To Make Friends (villain + producer) will be out in January and is available for pre-order.

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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