Never once when I started recapping this show six years ago did I think I would one day have to cover my own season. And, truthfully, I thought it’d be more fun to watch back than it was. In some ways, there was peace of mind in knowing only so much could be edited and altered in a mere montage of your season, so there’s naturally far less anxiety around potentially feeling misrepresented. But at the same time, that experience feels like a lifetime ago, that younger version of myself so much greener, to the point where the mere existence of the footage almost feels like misrepresentation. I’m in such a different place in my life than I was then, a place where I would never go on this show. Did I find that place because of it? I’ll never really know.
I know this might sound dramatic, but if you’re anything like me and are hellbent on wanting to be understood (even if it means not being liked), it can be surprisingly squirm-inducing to watch even a few minutes-long segment about your “journey” from seven years ago. After mulling it over for awhile, I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s an element (albeit a very mild element) of PTSD; when you associate seeing your face on national television with a complete loss of control, it’s unsurprising that that anxiety might resurface. I’ve polled enough fellow alums to know that the experience turns you into a control freak of sorts; you seek a degree of control over where your photos are used, how your words are spun. I often hesitate to do interviews, knowing the press is within their right to tilt what I say in the direction of their narrative. You grip tighter and tighter for some semblance of control, even if you continue to live somewhat in the public eye; the control is more comforting than even the most flattering edit.
Last night, I found myself happy that some things were shown (my clear lack of athleticism on that soccer Group Date is one of my all-time favourite clips), but others pained me (the singing, that excruciating first kiss). If it were up to me, so many more conversations would have been shown, and far fewer makeout seshes. But my “journey” aside, there were several things about this recap that made me wince. It’s no secret that I’ve never hopped aboard the Juan Pablo-hating train, whether or not it painted me as some “strong” or “smart” woman who “saw the red flags” before others did. Watching last night’s recap, it became clear to me that my departure was being used to support that story line. (I’m not sure I’d have been prominent enough to feature otherwise.) But the thing is, that just isn’t what happened.
Though it really wasn’t my intention when I began writing about this show years ago, my recaps have often wound up in the defence of contestants I’ve found wronged or maligned. I’ve spent years parsing what we’re fed by producers versus what I suspect lies a few layers deeper. While I occasionally might get it wrong, I’ve gotten pretty good at it (if I say so myself) and it’s about time I gave that treatment to the person who possibly deserves it the most: Juan Pablo Galavis.
Now, I would never claim to speak for the experiences of others; if other women felt the famed El Bachelor was callous or disinterested and thus worthy of his “worst Bachelor ever” status, then that is their right based on their experience. But what I can do is speak to my experience on my platform.
Be warned: There are many, many unpopular opinions to follow. If you felt last night’s Greatest Seasons Ever episode was a fair or accurate representation of Juan Pablo, or somehow a depiction of female empowerment, you should probably stop reading now.
I’ll start with my own experience…
Exhibit A: Juan Pablo gave me the First Impression Rose. (Some behind-the-scenes for you: I was convinced producers had put him up to it and was overthinking EVERYTHING.) It was—no exaggeration—the most surprised I’d ever been in my life and my reaction, while authentic, was not particularly gracious. In fact, it bordered on rude. But this man allowed me to behave this way without judgment. He didn’t allow it to change his mind about me. Based on nothing more than a first impression, he believed in my surprise instead of basing his next move on ego. I later apologized for not having been more polite and he insisted I had nothing to apologize for.
Exhibit B: On my first 1-on-1 date, I knew the kids discussion was going to happen. A producer had already spoken to me about my thoughts on marrying someone with a child (in the context of the usual “So what do you want to talk about with Juan Pablo tonight?”), and I knew it was inevitable. But I remained steadfastly honest that, though the future could hold anything, dating someone with a kid was something I had struggled with in a past relationship. I knew full well it was not what Juan Pablo would want to hear (and certainly not what viewers would want to hear) and that I would VERY LIKELY get sent home for it. But to my great surprise, he not only accepted it, but appreciated it. We agreed it was a bridge that could be crossed if and when it was reached, and he valued my honesty more than the information itself. Many viewers hated us both for it at the time; they called me dumb for being on a season with a single dad, and they called Juan Pablo dumb for giving me the rose. But I remember my heart reeling at that moment, moved that I could actually say what I felt without consequence, but rather unconditional acceptance. That was the moment where things changed for me.
Exhibit C: I told Juan Pablo I was leaving. At that point, I felt pretty confident I was going to get a Hometown and could continue this “journey” if I so chose. (Honestly, I rarely fretted over whether or not I was getting a rose—to have that level of confidence in a situation that breeds a sense of competition speaks volumes to how he made me feel.) Once again, I said something he didn’t want to hear. Not only that, it was a clear rejection. Yet he was gracious and understanding. He made it as easy as he could for me (yes, by telling me “it’s OK”), which simultaneously made it harder.
From the first night, it felt like he saw past the bullshit, saw past the permanent smiles. He realized that everyone there—himself included—had something to gain by saying the right thing at the right time, and he actively fought against that powerful current in every decision he made.
Now, let’s talk about a few crucial factors that have nothing to do with me. First, a fact that cannot be overstated but seems to be dismissed other than to label him a token “minority”: The man is not American. He was born in the US but moved to his parents’ homeland of Venezuela at age 2, and so he comes from an entirely different culture. What he says when he means to comfort someone or defend himself are often very different from what we expect in North America. As a comparison, when I lived in Germany, I was struck by how differently they used the word “love.” The L-word for them holds much greater weight; you would never, for example, say you “love” a restaurant or that you “love” a platonic friend. (In fact, at one point, I was laughed at for saying I loved a particular restaurant and told that that was “so American!”) To many cultures, this is not a word you throw around willy nilly, even if you’re expected to do so. The lack of emphasis on this key difference is incredibly narrow-minded, provincial and even divisive. He’s not like us! This is how WE use the word “love”! This is how WE express affection and commitment and understanding! Instead of wondering what he does mean when he says what he says, the worst is assumed of him. I hate to say it, but this intolerant response to his differences in and of itself strikes me as “so American” (not applying this to all Americans, of course, but you get my drift.) The show casts its first Latinx Bachelor and shouts that from the rooftops, yet it makes zero effort to understand him or his culture, and in fact ridicules him for it. Awesome.
Last night, Chris Harrison said, “Clearly Juan Pablo wanted a girlfriend and not a fiancée. Commitment was not his thing.” Just think about that sentence for a second. Because Juan Pablo doesn’t utter the all-powerful L-word, he’s somehow not serious about his relationship with Nikki? (People DO realize how easy it would be to say that word and not mean it, right?) And a girlfriend (versus a fiancée) automatically suggests a lack of commitment? How depressing. In my humble opinion, the man should be applauded for being prudent when he’s not 100% confident, not raked over the coals for not faking it (as MANY do). But, of course, on a show where a proposal is now a contractual obligation, it’s somehow better to propose without certainty than it is to not propose with certainty. Just imagine if Brad Womack had never come back and proposed to Emily Maynard—he would also still be hated today. He literally redeemed himself by returning to propose to someone.
I for one can’t stand this presumption that surely one of these 30-or-so contestants is fiancée material, as though it’s a game of dating musical chairs. Here are a few dozen women! Pick one! It’s anyone’s game! But even though this is your story and your future, if you don’t wind up on one knee in nine weeks, you’re the asshole!
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Next factor: The man speaks English as a second language. As someone whose mother speaks English as a second language, and as someone who has lived abroad and struggled (terribly) in another language, I can say with certainty that this isn’t discussed nearly enough. Last night, Trista touched on there being a “communication barrier” and it was written off as being no excuse. With all due respect, while it might not be the excuse, it is an excuse. What if “it’s OK” truly is the best you have at your vocabulary disposal to express what you mean when put on the spot? I cannot tell you how many times I knew I was thought to be simpler, less sensitive and less sincere than I am based on my limited German vocabulary. Trust me, it’s far worse for the person who can’t express themselves accurately than it is for the person making those assumptions.
Last night’s episode was, to me, a clear and unmitigated roast. It was bad seven years ago, but today, The Powers That Be doubled down on the roasting to make super duper extra sure we understood how perfect Clare is for Bachelorette. This was frustrating to me on a few levels. First, Clare is a great choice for Bachelorette whether or not she reamed out Juan Pablo. A woman’s ability to tell a guy off in no way reflects her “power” as a female. I know plenty of women who’ll tell off a guy who wronged them but who don’t have an ounce of their shit together. A woman is far more “empowered” in thriving with or without a man, and in her ability to not fall for or entertain mistreatment by others, including men. In fact, I have often thought biting your tongue and not bothering can be far more powerful. This angle is too simplistic and actually demeans women more; as though Clare’s own intelligence, wit, resilience and intuition don’t qualify her alone. No, she must tell off a man to show us her strength! Now we get it!
Second, and this isn’t something I’d normally mention but it was the foundation on which this episode was built so I can’t not say it: When Clare did finally tell Juan Pablo off (in what was shown as an I-Am-Woman-Hear-Me-Roar moment), while I do think Juan Pablo handled many things about that breakup terribly, it’s hardly the same thing to shut down a man after he’s broken up with you than before. One of those is proactively not choosing the man, while the other is a reaction to hurt at not being chosen by the man. Did Clare not walk into that flower-strewn setup enthusiastic and ready to get engaged? Her complaints about him afterwards were about him misleading her, his hurting her, how this reflected the man he is. But…did he not do exactly what every other Bachelor does?
Juan Pablo is not the many things he’s been accused of being. He is not misogynistic, he is not insensitive, he is not an uncaring asshole. Does he have flaws? Absolutely. The guy doesn’t handle conflict well, to be sure. This is why he is quick to diffuse any remotely tense situation with an assurance intended as comfort, but one that might also be perceived as dismissive (especially if you’re looking to be offended). He has a tendency to childishly retaliate—when Clare stormed off, he just couldn’t bite his tongue and not say he was glad he didn’t pick her. He especially retaliates when he’s being poked or prodded. It’s obvious this is what happened at After The Final Rose; production knew this about him, hence why Chris Harrison relentlessly needled him about the L-word. Instead of taking a deep breath and rising above it, he dug his heels in harder in defiance (which, of course, did not translate well on television). In short, Juan Pablo prioritized his pride and his principles over his image—even if it would ultimately make him look better, he simply refused to be coerced into doing or saying anything he didn’t want to do or say. Combined with slight but distinct cultural differences, a language barrier and a villain edit, the result was an explosively unflattering montage of behaviours. But ask yourself if any of these individual traits are really so bad. Certainly they’re no worse than many traits we’ve seen come and go on any season over the years.
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Finally, the sentence upon which so much of this episode hinged: the fact that Juan Pablo allegedly whispered in Clare’s ear that he loved fucking her. I’ll say this: My husband (who is a caring and supportive partner) has told me those exact words, both before we got married and long after. That is something you say based on sexual compatibility, chemistry, rapport and the confidence in those words landing with your partner. Perhaps Juan Pablo read those signals wrong but, if so, that was his mistake: misreading that Clare might be offended by that language as opposed to turned on by it. Clare was within her right to be offended, but that doesn’t make this some example of him “demeaning” and “disrespecting” women. (Also, bear in mind what a more limited vocabulary might mean in terms of synonyms for having sex.) Even on a logical level, if he did mean it in a derogatory way, who would be dense enough to say this out loud to the very subject he’s demeaning? Certainly not the man I know. What we were told was oh-so offensive and worthy of pearl-clutching is nothing more than vanilla-grade dirty talk.
Since I’m getting so specific, I also want to note how and when Clare expressed being offended by this. Watch to see which words we actually see come out of her mouth…
In terms of what we SEE Clare say, well, it could be anything—she’s verklempt with emotion—emotion that could be good or bad. Her entire beef with what Juan Pablo said was a frankenbitten voiceover. (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: If she’d said these things on this date, trust me, it would have been shown.) Note how only later, after she’d had plenty of time to chat with a producer, did it surface that she was offended by those words. One shouldn’t have to be convinced to be offended by something. Look, I’m not saying one has to be immediately offended for it to count. (In fact, I sometimes feel more offended the more I think about something in hindsight.) But my point is, given production certainly knew they’d be turning on Juan Pablo at this point in time, this editing detail is worth noting.
I think and have always thought Clare would make a fantastic Bachelorette. This has every bit to do with her showing on my season, yet nothing to do with what the recap of my season told us. I stand by what I said last night: Clare thinks with her heart, she is an open book, and she has no censors or filters. She’s expressive, emotional and, yes, vulnerable. She is sincere and indisputably in it for the Right Reasons. Beyond that, she is funny, astute, and has the sort of je ne sais quoi that men would (and do) swoon over. THAT is what will make her a great Bachelorette, and that is ENOUGH. We don’t need the forced (and inaccurate) bells and whistles of what makes Clare so “empowered.” She’s empowered by her will, her instinct and her resilience. And she’d be a hell of a lot more empowered by not having what makes her uniquely her swept under the rug in favour of a simplified, generic “strong woman who knows what she wants” narrative. In my case, I’ll be watching her season in spite of last night’s episode, not because of it.