This was one of my favorite episodes of any Bachelor season in a long time. It wasn’t as flashy as some; there was no woman straddling the Bachelor in a bouncy castle or two male contestants threatening violence on each other. On the surface it may have been pretty run of the mill. But it was the juiciest episode (possibly ever) in terms of a peek behind the curtain.
Usually we, the audience members, aren’t really given an idea of what it’s like to be there. This is one of the reasons I even began writing about this show (almost four years ago now!), to give a little perspective as to what it’s like to be on the “other side.” The true contestant experience tends to remain shrouded in mystery, with friendships being downplayed in favour of emphasizing (or inventing) rivalries, having any behaviour that suggests “crazy” being the focus (while leaving evidence of sanity and self awareness on the editing room floor), or letting us believe the women are acting at will when they talk about the Bachelor nonstop or interrupt each other’s time with him. Think about it: There was a time not too long ago when The Bachelor was synonymous with “crazy” women. You would tune in to watch that “crazy,” or to see them behave like desperate, undateable, 15-minutes-of-fame hungry caricatures. But last night was different.
Lauren S and her departure, to me, represented a giant leap forward in terms of production choosing not to humiliate a contestant when, frankly, they could have and not too long ago, probably would have. Lauren S was a nervous wreck on her date. The bizarre situation and its pressures got to her—we saw them get to her—but no one was more aware of this than her. She mentioned in numerous ITMs how she wasn’t able to relax and be her normal self, that for some reason she was insanely nervous, that she herself wouldn’t give her the date rose. It is a BIG DEAL that these moments of self reflection and self awareness were shown; they’re the difference between viewers thinking she’s a clueless chatterbox, or a woman who simply got in her own head and is therefore likeable and relatable for it. Remember, the show didn’t have to show Lauren S sharing her self critical thoughts, and in doing so, they gave her a far more humane edit.
Another great example is Annaliese. Now, I’m not condoning the silly traumatic experience flashbacks (which were super unnecessary and felt akin to making it appear as though Clare Crawley chatted with raccoons on Bachelor in Paradise). Rather, how Annaliese crumbled this episode read like what it was: the painfully real result of a contestant growing insecure in an insecurity-breeding setting. Traditionally, it’s more likely we’d see her painted as a woman who is generally unhinged and desperate, in real life. Instead we were shown her saying, “It sucks I was so in my head. I feel like this environment brought out this manic, crazy, anxious, nervous person.” Again, it may not seem like a big deal, but for us to be shown this honest confession goes a long way in not only humanizing Annaliese, but in giving us viewers insight as to how difficult that environment might actually be.
Believe it or not, those aren’t the only examples. We saw open discussions about how contestants are constantly waiting for time with Arie (“I’m in line”; “I hope I’m in line”; “I’m always in line”) instead of leading us to believe the women readily elbow each other out of the way to speak with him. We saw Caroline cry when her close friend, Lauren S—who would traditionally be painted as an adversary—was unexpectedly sent home. We heard conversations keeping track of who Arie had and hadn’t kissed, but not in a jealousy-inciting or gossip-y way, but matter-of-factly. Annaliese even noted, “A lot of the girls in the house have said they think he’s waiting for the girls to make the first move,” suggesting Arie had been analyzed like some sort of enigma in need solving—with the help of each other’s intel and support.
My frontrunners are as follows…
1. Becca K, 27: As some of you may know, I’m an avid Survivor fan—plus my sister works on the show!—so I often make reality-TV cross-references. Obviously it’s a different setup since contestants vote each other off on Survivor, but my point here is that it’s a mistake to try to stand out too much too early, and that laying low—and being normal and not annoying—are important for longevity. Becca K is the queen of laying low and not being annoying, all while remaining a major frontrunner. She doesn’t need to say things like, “I think Arie and I have the best connection here.” You know how I always say, “Show, don’t tell.” Becca K shows us her connection with Arie is strong; she doesn’t have to declare it and let it affect how she treats the other women. Her connection with Arie is undeniable (their banter and kiss on the Group Date was CUTE), but she’s also just so gosh darn normal. I like her, and I think Arie really likes her.
2. Bekah M, 22: Same ol’ on this front. Arie is hyper-attracted to Bekah M and he doesn’t remotely hide it. What I like about this relationship is it doesn’t feel like Arie’s the one in control; Bekah M clearly has him wrapped around her finger and it’s always fun to see relationships that defy this show’s stereotypes. He said “she always keeps me on my toes” and gave her the first Group Date rose this week. It’s obvious she’s getting a very solid 1-on-1 in the near future.
3. Krystal, 29: Oh man. I’m torn on Krystal because in some ways her behaviour absolutely grinds my gears, but I love what a compelling villain she is. I’m quite certain she’s a villain that doesn’t know she’s a villain—which, by the way, doesn’t not make her a villain—and I imagine she might be surprised by her unflattering edit this season. Her villainy aside, though, she is an undeniable frontrunner. She and Arie have that powerful first week 1-on-1 rapport, where she feels close and comfortable enough to whisper to him, “What am I supposed to do on these Group Dates?” She feels her connection with Arie is one of the strongest there is, and I don’t think she’s wrong.
4. Chelsea, 29: Maybe I was too quick to cut Chelsea from this list on Night One… I guess it’s because I don’t personally see a ton of chemistry between her and Arie, and the conversation doesn’t feel as natural and go-with-the-flow as it does with either Becca K or Bekah M. It feels a bit more, “We’re going to talk about this now” to me, but I could be wrong since we’re only ever shown a sliver of their chats. Regardless, Chelsea got the other Group Date Rose this week (a pretty big deal considering she got the First Impression Rose only two weeks ago) and is an obvious frontrunner.