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I think last night might be the first time age has played such a prominent role in the house dynamics. We’ve seen it discussed from a romantic angle before (age was a recurring topic of heated discussion on Arie’s season, given Arie was 36 and Bekah M was 22), and I recall an early Paradise episode where Ashley Iaconetti made a less-than-flattering remark about Clare Crawley’s age (then 26-year old Ashley said of then 34-year old Clare: “Her eggs are almost dead.” I’m not kidding.) But for the most part, the Bachelor bubble is an ageless place. If anything, youth has been seen as a sign of not being ready for marriage, as a con versus a pro. But last night, things took a disturbing turn: from Demi repeatedly referring to a sector of the house as “the older girls,” to Tracy repeatedly equating being the oldest woman in the house with being mature, to Elyse introducing us to the “cougar room,” age felt like episode 2’s leitmotif. Objectively, it was interesting to observe since we’ve never before witnessed on this show a group of women categorized collectively based on their age. However, as a woman, I was NOT into it.
First, let it be known that there is something very messed up about any world—even if only a reality-TV bubble—in which a 31-year-old woman qualifies as a “cougar.” As if women don’t have enough impossible standards to take on on a daily basis: near-teenaged models represent a beauty ideal, we’re seen as pushy and aggressive if we fight for something as fair as equal pay, our bodies and what we choose to do with them or dress them in are forever subjected to male opinion, and once we hit our thirties we’re expected to never age a second further for the rest of our lives. And now, even on a fluff show—the show that practically invented escapism—we’re subjected to age 23 being purported as a standard wife-to-be age and 31 as being over the hill, as “cougar” territory? Seriously, aren’t we past that?
Now, I realize this show isn’t scripted and that production doesn’t technically have control over what comes out of contestants’ mouths. Though I’m not denying it could have been egged on and encouraged, it’s not like Demi was told to say, “There’s no advantage to being an older woman here,” or that Tracy was told to call Demi “immature,” “a child” or “someone who doesn’t have any idea in life what they’re doing yet.” But the show sure as hell wasn’t afraid to air it all, even repeating the use of a few of these lines. Remember that many of these quotes were likely said in the heat of the moment, in a spurt of anger. But when copied and pasted throughout the episode, they quickly resemble ageism on both sides. It’s a shame when it feels like this show takes a stride forward—highlighting friendships between the women and taking a tongue-in-cheek stance towards itself—only to take a step backwards like this. Being older doesn’t make a person more mature than someone younger, just as being younger doesn’t make a woman a better match for a man than one who’s older. The last thing we as women—and especially the younger girls watching this—need is being told that an eight-year age gap (seriously, that’s all it is) is a cause for division.
Beyond a little predictable discord among the women (or unpredictable, in the case of Onyeka v. Sydney in the battle of who could make louder noise), this season’s villain clearly appears to be Demi. Unfortunately though, nothing feels fresh about her as the bad guy on this season. This gorgeous, vibrant young woman should make a delicious villain, but somehow it just feels tired—like Demi took (or was given) a page out of the Corinne Olympios How To Not Make Friends And Become An “Influencer” playbook. Her bold Group Date kiss, her wearing a robe at the Rose Ceremony cocktail party (didn’t Corinne do this exact thing?)… it all feels too calculated, not like something anyone would actually do. In all her conflict with Tracy, she doesn’t appear to care enough how the other women view her or how she makes them feel. It’s not realistic enough, not human enough. A compelling villain is one with many facets; Krystal Nielson from season 22 was unmatched in this regard. And it’s not that Demi isn’t a big personality or that she’s not great to watch—she is both of these things. It’s that I was looking forward to seeing more of just that, her personality, and instead it feels like all we’re getting is a caricature. The jury’s still out how much of this I think is her fault or the show’s.
As for Tracy, she’s not without fault. I fully understand how it feels to clash with someone you’re forced to live with and talk to (and about) incessantly, but she is taking everything way too seriously, especially this early on. Demi kissing Colton in front of 200 people on a Group Date may be over the top, but let’s be honest, when you’re a contestant on The Bachelor, it’s not so shocking. Demi touching the sacred Group Date rose (god forbid!) is also not something to get one’s panties in a twist over (seriously, who cares??)—much less was it worth Tracy’s time or energy endlessly talking about and confronting Demi over. Robe-clad Demi stealing Colton from her… I mean, is it really so surprising? Given Tracy hardly knows Colton at this point, I was more surprised by how upset she was by Demi’s interruption, than the fact that interruption took place. Most importantly, THIS IS SEASON 23. We all know by now that if you have conflict with someone, The Powers That Be will fuel that fire, with gusto. Especially given every interruption is assisted by a producer, Demi stealing Colton during Tracy’s time with him cannot be seen as a coincidence, not by us viewers, and not by her either. At this rate, I would be surprised if Tracy isn’t kept around specifically for a 2-on-1 with Demi.
I still very clearly remember the cameras closing in on me if I ever spoke ill of another woman or if I cried. If Tracy doesn’t want to become the mouse to Demi’s cat, she needs to CHILL. Either Tracy’s never seen this show before or she hasn’t been taking good enough notes. She’s letting herself get too upset by too little, too early. It is possible to be too sincere.
Sharleen Joynt’s Top 4 Following The Bachelor: Episode 2
1. Hannah Godwin, 23: “She will be going far”
Hannah G laid low this week, as First Impression Rose recipients typically do in Week 2. We saw her 1-on-1 time with Colton on the first Group Date where they appeared very comfortable and natural together, and where Colton told her she reminds him of “home” and that he’d been thinking of her a lot. Hannah G will be getting a 1-on-1, and she will be going far.
2. Cassie Randolph, 23: “I’m ever-so-slightly deterred from thinking she’s the winner”
Cassie felt conspicuously absent in this episode but the reason I’ve bumped her from my number-one spot is because we didn’t see any of her 1-on-1 time with Colton in the entire episode, most notably in the evening portion of the “camp” Group Date. Given we saw his time with each Caelynn, Katie and Heather, and there were only six women there total (the red team), I’m ever-so-slightly deterred from thinking she’s the winner. (I mean, if she does win, how does it support their love story to have not shown this crucial first date conversation?). Anyway, I’m sure a date card with her name on it will be coming very soon and that’ll solidify a few things.
3. Caelynn Miller-Keyes, 23: “The chemistry here is unmistakable”
It was an interesting plot twist to learn that Caelynn and Hannah B already knew each other, were roommates and are mysteriously not friends anymore. I feel like there’s a lot more to the story on both sides, but in terms of a relationship with Colton, for now it’s safe to say Caelynn is near the top of this pack. What was shown of her Group Date 1-on-1 time with Colton was substantial, with the two of them bonding over their charity work, and as I noted last week, the chemistry here is unmistakable. I’m not sure what’s going to go down between Caelynn and Hannah B in the coming weeks, but I’m confident Caelynn isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
4. Elyse Dehlbom, 31: “She’s a true lady”
Now this is intriguing. I had my eye on Elyse Night One but wasn’t sure Colton did. I’m so glad we’re seeing more of her; there’s a real self-assuredness and grace about Elyse that stands out… she’s a true lady. Colton called her “sexy,” a compliment that feels like it carries extra weight coming from him, and he bestowed her with the first Group Date rose of the season. I like a lot of the women this season but was waiting for one I really felt inspired to root for. Elyse is that woman!