Ah, 2010. The bootleg cut was all the rage, descriptors like “amazing,” “unbelievable” and “awesome” were at their peak, and contestants on this show had refreshingly “normal” bodies. To be clear, they were good bodies, but normal-person good. None of these I-post-topless-photos-on-Instagram-on-the-regular bodies.
When Chris Harrison announced two weeks ago that Ali Fedotowsky’s infamous season would be the next to get the GOAT treatment, I was pumped. I never actually saw Ali’s season. It fell in the early stages of my Bachelor viewing career, when I’d watch here and there but with no real dedication. It was Brad Womack’s second season that got me officially hooked.
In terms of these Greatest Ever recaps, I’ve found myself bored by seasons that are too recent—there is not enough of a Memory Lane down which to walk. Meanwhile, with seasons I hadn’t already seen, I’ve been surprisingly entertained. Considering Ali’s is a season a) that was new to me, and b) which isn’t particularly recent, I was expecting to really enjoy this episode. Therefore, it’s with disappointment that I report I was considerably bored last night.
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That’s not to say this had anything to do with Ali herself. I never saw Ali’s run as a contestant on Jake Pavelka’s season, but even in last night’s condensed episode—and especially in that short chat with Chris Harrison—it was obvious why she was popular. Her ITMs felt like chats with a friend, her responses always candid and never too polished. She freely admitted to being nervous, to her heart racing, to feeling like a guy was out of her league. (When I think of the ultimate Bachelorettes in terms of relatable vulnerability, my favourites are the likes of Ashley Hebert, Kaitlyn Bristowe and Hannah Brown—last night showed me Ali might’ve been on this list had I seen her season.) I loved how Ali described trying not to laugh whenever Kasey broke into song; many leads might have just smiled politely and axed him at the next opportunity. (I respected her all the more for making it clear to Kasey, in the moment, that his singing was over the top.) I loved her no-holds-barred takedown of resident Canuck Justin, AKA Rated-R, for having a girlfriend back home. Best of all, and perhaps most importantly, I appreciated her taste in men. Her interest in Frank spoke volumes to me; you tend to picture a guy with Frank’s quirkiness getting eliminated at the Episode 3 or 4 mark. Even Roberto didn’t look like your typical Bachelorette “winner.” Ali seemed to appreciate something off the beaten path, something not necessarily tangible, something unique (unique for this franchise, anyway).
So, if this is an old-ish season I’d never seen it before, it’s pre-social media (always a pro in my books), and I liked the Bachelorette herself, then why was I bored? I spent an embarrassing amount of time trying to pinpoint exactly why. Such is life when you find yourself writing recaps about recaps.
I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s because the dramatic moments were just tropes we continue to see to this day: Justin wearing his Rated-R logo on Night One, sparking the men giving him the usual Wrong Reasons hard time. Justin having a girlfriend back home. Frank also having someone (if not a girlfriend, a girlfriend-like figure) back home. A 2-on-1 date pitting to the two controversial guys—Justin and Kasey—against each other. Finalist Frank leaving as opposed to being eliminated, leaving Ali tearful and heartbroken. Ali breaking up with Chris in his hotel suite, preventing him from proposing. Can’t you just picture the previews for the season, the teasers each week? I can imagine them frame by frame, they’re so familiar.
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I have no doubt these scenes were thrilling at the time. If Justin was one of the first contestants (or even the first) to be outed for having a girlfriend back home, this was definitely a big deal. But with today’s many incentives for going on this show (which I document ad nauseam across my recaps), I would say at least a handful of contestants every season have someone back home. Today, there’s more reason than ever to leave them behind for a stint on TV. Hell, nowadays I’d be more surprised to have an entire season go by and for no one to be outed for having a girlfriend.
Perhaps that’s what also had me checked out, the fact that it was clear that production was already pulling more strings than they were even a few years prior. They were already leaning hard into the girlfriend narrative, emphasizing how wrong and selfish it is. (Watching Justin try to escape without a key card to his hotel’s elevator, and while doors literally locked around him, was the best evidence of contestants’ lab rat status; one’s wallet and passport are not enough.) They were already embracing Wrong Reasons caricatures, rewarding controversial behaviour with airtime (a trade-off that, with Instagram in the mix, would escalate quickly). They were already moving the walls of the fun house around Ali (having Justin’s girlfriend on standby ready to chat on the phone; flying Frank all the way to Tahiti only to break up with her), sure to zoom in on her reactions to each piece of unwelcome news.
We’ve seen all of these themes before. Perhaps Ali’s was the first season to showcase these sagas (this is possible), but because of their familiarity today, they didn’t age well. It was like going back to the 1.0 version of something when you’ve become familiar with, and even a bit bored with, versions 2.0 and 3.0; no one wants to go back to an older operating system or worse graphics. We’ve seen a guy WIN a season while having had a girlfriend back home THE ENTIRE TIME. (Ah, Jed, the poster child of secret villainy….) Seeing Justin get outed for so obviously being there to promote his career and having a girlfriend—a guy who was never going to make the Final 4—is just child’s play by comparison. We’re too desensitized, too acclimated by years of this to derive much entertainment from early versions of the same “Man Drama.”
Speaking of “Man Drama,” I’d be remiss if I didn’t single out our omnipresent host for repeatedly using this term last night. (To be fair, I do realize Chris Harrison reads off a teleprompter and it was probably some producer behind this.) I lost count of how many times this was said last night. I understand he meant drama amongst the (male) contestants, not drama involving Ali. However, drama on any given season is almost always amongst contestants, and when it comes to a Bachelor season, I have never and likely will never hear Chris Harrison refer to it as “Girl Drama” or “Woman Drama.” I know this is a fruitless battle to pick, and in the past I’ve thought that the mere existence of The Bachelorette negates this franchise’s sexist undertones. However, insinuating (no matter how subtly) that drama is only (or typically) a female thing is not only inaccurate, but harmful. If this show is really the supposed equal to the behemoth that is The Bachelor, call drama amongst the contestants what it is: plain ol’ drama.