RECAP: The Bachelors Australia – S11 E09

And we’re back (Bach) for the final week of episodes! Tonight is a historic one! Maybe not as historic as the show would like us to think it is, but an unusual one nonetheless!

I usually ramble up here about some only tangentially related issue for a while before I get into the recap, cooking-blog-style, but what I want to ramble about tonight is connected to the BIG EVENT that occurs, so let’s just flag it right away.

There are two key things I want to flag:

  1. Wesley has ditched Nella and Natalie in favour of only spending time with Brea.
  2. THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT I SAID WOULD HAPPEN.

(Okay, fine, I cannot claim to be a future-predicting sorceress when the second half of my prediction – that this will end with Wesley catastrophically dumped – has not yet come true, but check back in on Wednesday for what I am confident will be my victory lap.)

This is obviously a highly unusual thing to occur within a framework like the Bachieverse, but it isn’t quite as unique as the producer talking to Wes would have us believe. He says that this has never happened in any season ever before, but that’s not true: in Season 16 of The Bachelorette in the US, Bachelorette Clare Crawley left with contestant Dale Moss only a few episodes into the season, and they had to parachute in a new Bachelorette – Tayshia Adams – to replace her.

I suppose Wesley’s situation is a tiny bit different, abetted by our multi-Bach structure. He and Brea are still going through all the dates and things associated with the Bachie format – a sort of relationship trial period – rather than him straight up leaving. But still, there is more precedent than this producer would have us believe.

This is what I want to talk about before we get into the episode – not the precedent, but the producer.

I have spent A LOT of time thinking about the role of reality TV producers over the last eighteen months. It was obviously something that I had to think about when writing Murray in Here For The Right Reasons and Can I Steal You For A Second?, where he was the producer yanking the strings of those four romantic leads (Bachie Dylan JM and contestants Cece, Amanda and Dylan G), but when it came time for him to take centre stage with Lily in Not Here To Make Friends, that turned the dial up even more. I have thought about this a lot. However much you’re thinking: it was more.

The popularity of the first season of Unreal really shifted the needle on how a lot of people think about producers in reality TV. We’re now delighted when we see them, I think – we feel that little bit smarter, that little bit more informed, because we have that extra level of knowledge about how reality TV production works (I’m hoping getting a window into Murray’s thought processes in Not Here To Make Friends will do the same thing for readers and increase this fascination!).

I’ve referred many times in these recaps over the years to the scholarship of Misha Kavka. The Bachelor/ette is what she would call a “second generation” reality TV show, which means it intervenes with rather than creates reality. Even though the participants are all real and it’s nominally unscripted, the show takes place against an obviously artificial and engineered backdrop: actual reality is “something that lies ‘before’ the participants, that is, in the participants’ future as a result of the interventions of the reality TV apparatus” (Kavka 2012, 113).

Producers are a clear part of this apparatus – perhaps the clearest part, in fact. When we see a producer, we immediately become aware of just how artificial and engineered the backdrop of the show is. It’s an example of what the famous theorist of theatre Bertolt Brecht called the verfremdungseffekt, sometimes described in English as the alienation or the distancing effect. It interrupts immersion in a narrative and identification with characters: when this effect is employed, we immediately become conscious that the story is a story, that it’s a narrative being constructed (perhaps to play upon our emotions), and it shifts the way we engage with it.

This is why, in Not Here To Make Friends, Murray says, “I didn’t typically like being part of the on-screen narrative. The more audiences saw of how the sausage got made, the more cynical they got about how real the romances were” (223). Most of the time, he doesn’t want to trigger the verfremdungseffekt in the viewer: he wants them to buy into the fact that Bachie Dylan JM and whichever contestant he’s with at a given time could really fall in love.

However, there are times when triggering this effect and drawing attention to the artificial apparatus around the cast can actually be highly productive. Murray deploys it a few times in Not Here To Make Friends (no spoilers as to where, you’ll have to read the book to find out), and we see it deployed to great effect in this episode, when Wes makes his decision.

It is not an accident that this episode begins with a clapperboard before Wesley’s ITM to camera about his decision to focus only on Brea. It is not an accident that we hear the producer asking him questions and talking to him (and making only half-true claims about this never happening on any season before).

What it does is draw attention to the artificiality of the structures in which Wesley is trapped as the Bachelor – forced to step through this ongoing process, even though he knows what he wants. It pits the artificiality of the show and the reality of his love for Brea against each other, making the apparatus of the show an obstacle that he has to overcome. By throwing it away, by stepping outside the neatly defined role of Bachie, this becomes proof that his love is real.

The TL;DR of this is that it triggers verfremdungseffekt as a way of manipulating the audience into believing Wes’s emotions are real. Brecht intended this technique to, among other things, make audiences aware when they were consuming propaganda by interrupting emotional identification and immersion. I’m fairly sure he would consider this a use of his work for evil.

Anyway! Let’s get into the recap.

Like I said, the beginning of this episode is consumed by Wesley’s Big Decision. There’s a lot of flashing forward and flashing back (that’s just a technique to engineer suspense, a micro-version of the “we begin at the end” thing they did in episode one) between his ITM, him telling the other Bachies, and trying to tell the women.

Eventually, he manages it. He tells Brea aside to tell her what he wants, and she happily accepts. He sits Nella and Natalie down and tells them individually and they accept it without much drama, before being packed off into limos in their activewear.

Something I think the show really missed the boat on was establishing a stronger narrative for Nella. On paper, she seems like such a strong match for Wes – they could have done a whole “she’s the one he should want” / “she’s the one he actually wants” narrative with Nella vs Brea, which could have been quite compelling.

CALL ME, BACHIE.

The single dates

This is another one of those single/triple dates – and this time, it’s an overnight. Each Bachie is taking one woman to a nice hotel in Sorrento, for a day of spa treatments, a group dinner, and then… ?????

Luke brings Ellie. Ben brings Amelia. Wesley, of course, brings Brea.

Luke and Ellie

Luke and Ellie are seamless together. They have a very horny shower makeout session after a body scrub, and it’s clear that they are simply so into each other.

There’s a case to be made that each of the Bachies have a moment of realisation in this episode. Wesley’s we’ve already talked about, but there’s one here which might be Luke’s, the moment when (arguably) it crystallises for him that Ellie is the one. It’s a domestic moment in their hotel room before dinner, as she’s getting ready. She’s in the bathroom putting on makeup, and he looks at her, and the way the narrative is put together makes it feel like something shifts.

“You’re really beautiful, Ellie,” he says hoarsely.

“Thank you,” she replies simply.

And then later, she pops one of his pimples. If that isn’t true intimacy, then what is?

Ben and Amelia

Ben and Amelia are significantly less seamless. It seems like a bit of an odd choice to bring her along after all the villain edit shenanigans that have been going on in the last few episodes – and because she’s already had two single dates – but the reason he gives is that he wants to see if she can open up more.

His technique for doing this? Sitting silently in the spa beside her and waiting for her to… talk.

Now, silence can be a powerful tool for making someone talk. It’s one of the key tools in Murray’s arsenal in Not Here To Make Friends – as he says:

“Knowing when to shut up was a crucial producer skill, letting the silence draw out, extend, get uncomfortably long, until the person you were producing cracked and filled it. There, the silence was a question, and the beauty was that it could be unformed, a simple hanging question mark. Stay silent long enough, and the person you were asking would fill in the question in their mind, pinpointing their own hidden vulnerabilities for you.” (43)

But for this to work, you have to at least point them in a direction first. The silence doesn’t land unless you tack it onto the end of a line of questioning.

Ben doesn’t do that. We’re supposed to be on his team here, because he’s our perspective character and we’ve been set up to hate Amelia, but how is she meant to know what he wants her to “open up” about when he simply just sits there?

He’s pleased, later, when she opens up a bit more at dinner. But do you know why she does that? THE OTHER PEOPLE AT THE DINNER TABLE ASK HER QUESTIONS.

I also must note that at one point in this date Ben refers to being “lubed up” with a paste made of salt (salt!! SALT!!!!), which sent me into a full body cringe. Wesley isn’t the only Bachie who would benefit from some gentle sex education, it seems.

Wesley and Brea

This should be the beginning of Wesley and Brea’s happily ever after, right?

It’s not. It’s all foreshadowing of just how extremely dumped Wes is going to be at this.

In my last recap, I talked a lot of about compatibility, and how the show has done some great work this season making this a narrative driver. It is really clear that Wesley and Brea have chemistry and a connection – these are two people who genuinely like each other (something reinforced for us by that contrast between the artificiality of the process and the reality of Wesley’s feelings).

But they might not fundamentally be compatible.

They have a nice time in the spa. They have a nice time at dinner. But when they go back to Wesley’s hotel room afterwards, and it’s just incredibly awkward…

“I thought he’d express his boundaries,” Brea says mournfully. “I thought that physical side would just come naturally.”

If this isn’t a perfect example of what I wrote about the other night – the way that “organic” and “natural” can be toxic stand-ins for “without communicating at all” – I don’t know what is.

The group date

This group date has real Love Island vibes – it’s a pool party, with giant inflatable birds and everyone wearing as few clothes as possible.

Mostly, this date is just a lot of frolicking, but one key thing happens. Remember how I said all three Bachies have a moment of realisation in this episode? It’s time for Ben’s.

Ben knows Mckenna is feeling insecure – and guesses that it’s probably redoubled by the fact he took Amelia on a third date when she’s only been on one – so he takes her into a private hot tub for a chat.

“I took Amelia because I had some issues and questions I needed to work out,” he tells Mckenna (again, he’s shit-talking another contestant, which is bad Bachie behaviour, although they’re not playing it that way, probably because Amelia’s the villain). “I don’t have those questions with you.”

And then they kiss. The music cuts out. All we hear is the sound of their heartbeats, and when the music kicks back in – it’s to tell us that this kiss was revelatory.

Angela has been my winner pick for Ben for a while, but this made me change my mind. Ben is going to point to this moment as the instant he fell in love. Mark my words.

The rose ceremony

Ben still has four women to Luke’s three (and Wes’ one), so obviously he’s the one cutting someone at the rose ceremony.

(Wes and Brea look on, in a room that is apparently called “the parlour”, because we aren’t done with historical romance yet.)

It comes down to Amelia and Maddison, both members of the villain clique. Amelia stays. Maddison goes.

But I think Amelia is a non-option now for Ben now. Surely this is a two-horse race now between Angela and Mckenna – and I think Mckenna has pulled in front.

I also think Luke will pick Ellie, especially with the moment of realisation he has in this episode, but honestly? he has such a nice vibe with Aarthi and Lana that it could realistically be any one of them. I feel a bit bad for Luke that he’s on this three-Bachie format – the other two men definitely needed the assist, but he’s charming and warm and eloquent enough that he probably could have carried a season on his own.

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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