Oooh! It feels so good to say this: Just as I enjoyed both of Brad Womack’s legendary seasons back in the day, I seriously enjoyed this recap. My perspective on Brad will likely come as no surprise—it always amazed me that folks were somehow angry with him for not choosing and proposing to either woman on his first go. If you watch this show mainly for the love story and a tear-jerking proposal, sure, I can see how he might have been a disappointment. But choosing no one is just about the most authentic ending you could get out of a Bachelor season and that’s precisely what made me LOVE Brad as a lead.
It’s important to remember that, while being the lead is an incredible opportunity, when it comes down to the actual ending-up-together part, all he or she ultimately has to work with is whatever the casting department assembled for them. And how often are those contestants truly, one hundred percent cast for that lead? Just about never. (Given the extra time COVID has meant, I’d argue Clare’s upcoming season might be the most custom-cast season to date.) Thus, it makes complete and perfect sense that a lead wouldn’t feel comfortable choosing and proposing to one out of only 30 women, at least half of whom weren’t cast with him in mind. I would rather watch a Bachelor choose no one than for him to propose despite niggling doubts, only to break up off camera less than a year later. I would rather watch a Bachelor choose no one than have him propose to one woman, only to change his mind and pursue another. To me, especially considering the relatively limited pool of 30 or so candidates, choosing no one (and sticking to that decision) is some of the only “realness” left to be found in this formula.
Today, the odds are significantly worsened by social media, especially for a Bachelor. Consider that a) the viewership is predominantly female, b) in order to become the Bachelor in the first place, the man is usually beloved/popular/attractive, and c) Instagram means anyone can directly message whomever they want, no matter how famous they are. Today’s Bachelor has a real-life selection of women that Brad Womack, in his time, simply didn’t. It is also a selection of women that, in every department, ranging from attractiveness to accomplishment, likely puts to shame what a casting department and team of producers can come up with. My point is, even if Colton hadn’t fallen for Cassie, or if Peter weren’t dating Kelley today, their Instagrams would double as a dating app.
On that note, while I am resisting making my recaps of these earlier seasons all about how much better everything was back then, I sadly do feel things were better a decade ago than they are now! I first had this thought while watching Michelle Money, a franchise favourite but also, in my humble opinion, one of the best and most underrated villains. (Michelle is beloved today for her no-BS persona, but her spin as the villain was something to be relished.) What made Michelle so fantastic was the fact that her questionable manners and aggressive behaviour clearly did stem from a genuine, jealousy-inducing attachment to Brad. Today’s aggressive contestants—think the Corinnes and the Demis—are a different breed. Their behaviour is “on brand” with everything else they’re selling: the comic relief, the meme-worthy one-liners. Given the direct real-life benefit to having a certain amount of airtime, there is inevitably a performative aspect to playing that aggressor role. I’m not claiming these contestants aren’t who they say they are, but they certainly aren’t playing anything down.
Meanwhile, Michelle didn’t attract airtime with her aggressive behaviour, only to defend that behaviour as a result of “true” feelings for the Bachelor; she behaved how she did because of those authentic feelings. (The Bachelor edition of the chicken or the egg.) I enjoyed her conversation with Chris Harrison last night. They discussed how, if she’d been on the latest season, she would have been perceived differently today than 10 years ago. I think there’s some truth to this. Today, she’d likely be regarded as more emotionally invested and sincere, less like a rude woman who disregards others’ feelings, more so a woman who simply “goes after what she wants.” But I’d argue there would also be doubt from the audience, of folks wondering how performative she was being for the sake of airtime. (I know because I would be one of them.) But because of Michelle’s era, a time when there was no direct real-life gain from controversial behaviour, I have no doubts about her sincerity.
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Sincerity ended up being my main takeaway from this episode. It was incredible how in a mere recap of Brad’s second season, I still felt more of an investment between him and his women than I did watching any recent seasons in real time. Think about Brad’s (pared down) conversations with each of his final three: He and Ashley H discussing their strained relationships with their fathers. Their mutual work ethic and striving for achievement and if and how a committed relationship could fit in with that. Brad clearly spent a lot of time analyzing Chantal’s specific traits and how they complemented his, how he was able to truly be himself with her (and had tried to force this with others), how he recognized her spontaneity was something he needed. He noticed and embraced how Emily and her daughter brought out a tender defender in him; instead of fearing the responsibility, he realized (with touching emotion) that he was actually drawn to it. (For fun, compare Brad’s conversations with second runner-up Ashley H to those of Peter’s with second runner-up Victoria F. The contrast is laughable.) Each and every woman there was unquestionably sincere, as was Brad. He meticulously analyzed each relationship, never summing up his time with someone as vaguely “awesome” or “amazing.” And he did the work to get there.
This was the absolute best part of this two-season recap: It highlighted the personal work a man had done on himself with the help of therapy. Whether you loved or hated Brad, there was no denying this was a man who could take responsibility for the actions that led him to be despised. Given the point I made above about how relatively limited the selection of women is, it would have been all too easy for a Bachelor to choose no one and to chalk that up to simply being “not that into” them. Most men in his position would blame the selection of women, not himself. Instead, Brad looked inward. With the help of his therapist, he came to terms with a fear of commitment stemming from a fear of abandonment. This was impressive, reflective work done by a grown man, and he admitted to it freely on national television A DECADE AGO. If that wasn’t ahead-of-its-time behaviour, I don’t know what is.
It’s funny, today we applaud Bachelors and Bachelorettes for being strong, for being vulnerable, for “following their heart.” But those are all just nebulous terms that don’t actually mean anything without context, action and specificity. Vulnerability isn’t crying on camera and generally fearing rejection. Vulnerability is broadcasting to the world that you don’t have it together, that maybe you aren’t that strong, that maybe you’re still learning to trust that heart of yours. It takes self awareness and deep-seated confidence to lay bare to the world what a work in progress you still are. That is sincerity.
It’s obvious I am in full support of Brad Womack’s combined seasons being considered some of the franchise’s “greatest.” Even from an objective entertainment standpoint, he gave us the best of both worlds: His first season had that unprecedented, brutally authentic ending. The shock value was second to none. Meanwhile, his second season showed us his newfound growth and self awareness, and how he applied that to dating. He not only put in difficult work to better himself, he was man enough to admit his therapist helped get him there. This wasn’t about Brad’s “journey” for love, or his “happily ever after” with a woman only allegedly cast with him in mind. This was a longer term arc, a deeply satisfying journey of substance and staying power.