Monday, January 11, 2016

The Bachelor Recap: Week 1

Note: As I wrote previously, I'm writing a humorous weekly column about The Bachelor this winter. The following post originally appeared on my Patreon page, which you can subscribe to here to read the weekly posts when they are first released rather than having to wait a week.

An Army of Freakishly Good Looking Women
In the lead up to last night's Season 20 premier of The Bachelor, I was mystified by the promo clips of women going to great lengths to make a memorable entrance on night one at the Bachelor Mansion. When you're going on a first date, with twenty seven other women, I'm sure it's easy to worry about whether or not the guy will even remember your name, much less whether you'll make the kind of first impression that earns you that coveted first rose.
But when did the limo exit become an exercise in bad puns and silly costumes? Even in the alternate Bachelor Universe, this seems a bit far fetched. I started keeping count: the first five to exit the limo all made some kind of dumb, punny joke in effort to imprint themselves on Ben's memory. I thought that was bad...but it got much worse.
A woman showed up with a miniature horse.
A woman walked our wearing a Rose Hat that was bigger than her head ("I AM the first impression rose," she said).
A woman road up on a hover board.
A woman got out of the limo dressed in footie pajamas, because she needed to find out if Ben is "The Onesie."
Enough with the puns already.
"What are you looking for in a woman, Ben?"
"Someone who can make a good pun." <-- Things Ben never said.
In all seriousness, this shift (it is a shift, isn't it? Were the entrances always this crazy, or am I just blocking that out?) seems like the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope on steroids...or on something harder than steroids, in some cases. The desire to prove one's quirky uniqueness right out of the limo door has driven these women to lengths that not only seem unnecessary, but might even have the opposite of the desired effect. When has the person who made the crazy entrance EVER gotten the first impression rose? Never in my memory. What happened to Hot Tub Guy? Or to Cupcake? [From the previous season of The Bachelorette] And Mini Horse Meagan has already been sent home (though that may have been because she cursed every three words, which is a bit much for anyone, but especially for Nice Guy Ben). A "memorable" entrance is not the same as a good first impression, even on reality television.

You know what apparently did make a good first impression on Ben? A woman who quit a job she said she loved to come on the show and meet him.
Yeah, there's some stuff to unpack there, huh? If you want to make a good first impression, forget the kooky antics. Just make it very clear that the one thing that matters most to you in the world is Finding Love. So much so that you have already left your satisfying career to Take a Chance on Ben.
When it comes to first impressions, it also doesn't hurt to also be conventionally beautiful (mostly white, mostly blonde or pretending to be, and all skinny), but of course, the women cast on The Bachelor always are. Toward the beginning of the episode, someone used the phrase, "An Army of Freakishly Good Looking Women" to describe the cast, and that tells you most of what you need to know about night one. When Ben says, "I think I can see my wife in this room," all he is really able to mean is "You are all totally hot enough to marry." Ben may be one of the more "genuine" bachelors we've seen, but how many minutes does he actually get with each woman on the first night? Not many. Not enough to have much true sense of whether he wants to marry one of them. If any of them weren't conventionally attractive, Ben wouldn't have had time yet to get to know them "inside," to go with the cliché. Night one is all about the surface. It can't help but be about the surface, because there are twenty eight women and one man speed dating into the wee hours of the morning. This is why -- despite the fact that overall I think the show needs to loosen up about physical intimacy -- I was actually kind of digging Ben's choice not to kiss anyone on the first night. I mean, first off, there's nothing weird about not kissing on a first date even when you're on a date with one person (nor is it weird to kiss on a first date -- to each their own!). But when you're basically having 28 mini-dates in rapid succession and can barely remember all of the women's names, AND four of them are named Lauren, it shows some maturity to maximize face-to-face time by talking instead of sucking face. There will be PLENTY of time for making out later, and you know we are all looking forward to that, Ben. Don't let us down.
There was a lot going on in episode one, but as the season unfolds no doubt we will continue to consider how genuine Ben is, what kind of guy he is beneath the surface. The women keep calling him "the sexiest man in America," which I refute -- he's very cute, sure. I would totally date him. But sexiest man in America? That's...a little extreme. I don't know. I tend to think that, rather than pure sex appeal, what makes Ben the obvious choice for ABC's Bachelor is his bland small-town everyday guy brand of cute, mixed with some vague references to faith and moral values. He's attractive, but he's also safe.
Ben's attitude toward getting to know the women before he locks lips is no doubt linked to his Nice Guy with Vague Moral Values persona, which has already been hinted at by women in their brief one-on-one encounters with him, as they give rushed and no doubt practiced speeches about why they think they'd be the best match for him. Olivia noted that part of why she loved her job (the job she quit, to pursue Ben and a career in reality television) was "access to the community" and "giving back," the sort of vague language of unselfishness The Bachelor loves to throw around as evidence of a person being there for The Right Reasons. Of course these women have all stalked Ben on social media (haven't we ALL? Oh, that's just me? Never mind...) so they know about his humanitarian work and religious identity. How hard is it to say, "My faith is really important to me" on night one? What the heck does that mean? Faith in what? "My values are important" -- but what values?
There hasn't been much of chance for those characteristics of the cast members to be revealed yet, but it matters that the two women Ben debated giving the first impression rose to both emphasized such vague values in their brief time with him. They're playing that ambiguous faith card already. When you're surrounded by an Army of Freakishly Good Looking Women, what else can you do?