The Bachelor Review: The Young and The Restless
Brad Womack opens the ninth week of The Bachelor by telling us he’s feeling some emotions. He’s conflicted and overwhelmed and wondering how he got himself to the point of no return. “I have no clue what I’m doing right now,” he says while packing for his trip to South Africa. He hints that he’s afraid to leave two more women stranded at the altar before adding, “I don’t wanna be that guy again.” Since that’s exactly how I’d like my suitor to feel a mere week before proposing marriage on one knee, I’d say he’s doing fine.
Brad describes his thoughts about the three remaining contestants. He claims to have a “very strong connection with each of these women.” With Chantal, there’s almost perfect physical chemistry, and she makes him feel at ease, but she’s too emotional. Ashley has so much to offer; the spark is “almost like magic,” and he’s so comfortable around her, but she’s too insecure. Emily is “truly sweet,” and Brad can be himself around her, but she’s got intimidating emotional baggage. Based on such wildly different observations on the women, I can see why Brad is having an impossible time making a decision.
Finally rolling in for his last adventure before leaving as one half of an engaged couple, Brad scoops Chantal up for a safari ride in a flimsy Jeep. This is the most romantic location by far. My compliments to the production staff on their elaborate and painstaking recreation of South Africa. Not for one second do I believe that Brad and Chantal are just three feet away from those lounging lions as they squeal and point delightedly from the vehicle. If I convince myself that these wildlife scenes were filmed at the LA Zoo and edited in later, I can avoid the intense pang of jealousy nagging at me as I watch. Chantal shows off how poetic and sexily anarchistic she can be by pointing at a giraffe and saying, “It’s gorgeous, but in a weird way, like, you know what I mean?” Oh, Chantal. Only Brad really really gets you.
The juxtaposition of this synthetic and commercial reality show couple with the astonishing natural beauty and timeless wonder of the South African terrain really puts everything into perspective. Chantal tells the camera that she felt safe around the dangerous animals, because she trusted Brad to protect her, just as she trusts his feelings for her. Yes, Chantal, I’m sure the entire country of South Africa would be pleased to know that you’ve reduced it to a “metaphor for what’s going on in [your] relationship” with Bachelor Brad. Chantal offers that she’s undeniably in love with Brad, since she wants to be selfless and “put him first.” Dear, I advise holding off on putting him first until after you’ve found out your own ranking on his list.
It’s time for the first overnight date invitation during dinner. Since Chantal has seen this show before, she’s expecting the fantasy suite card from Chris Harrison, and she accepts unequivocally almost before it’s offered. Brad makes a sobering speech about how the two of them have “been through good times and bad times together.” I look back at the Dickensian melodrama of international travel and excess that they’ve survived as a couple and silently nod in tribute to their resilience. Remember that time it started raining on their outdoor feast, and they were forced to drink wine inside? That’s the stuff of a lasting marriage, the sturdy foundation upon which a lifelong commitment is guaranteed to thrive. Chantal tells Brad that she would never, ever get engaged without being sure that it would end in a marriage, thereby effectively securing her spot in second place before joining Brad in a beautiful tree house in the middle of the African plain. “What happens in the fantasy suite stays in the fantasy suite,” she says to the camera.
The next morning, Emily’s ready for her absolute dream date of being picked up by Brad on the back of an elephant. Displaying more personality than she ever has before, Emily lights up and gushes, “This feels like The Lion King, but better!” Wait. You mean to tell me that the actual continent of Africa is even better than Disney’s animated rendering of it? After their elephant ride, Brad talks at length about Ricki, the little girl he’ll be abandoning in a few months when he cuts off his engagement with her mommy. Emily asks him to reassure her that he’s ready for a five year-old girl in his life. Brad insists that he is, claiming he’ll make “every single effort” to ensure that Ricki will be right next to them during “every minute” they spend together. That sounds hot! It’s the perfect recipe for romance. That poor little girl has no idea that the guy who once flew a kite with her for a few minutes on camera is going to be her new dad for several weeks. I’m sure it’s not a big deal. Kids always bounce back.
Over dinner, Brad is visibly nervous, as he typically is around Emily. He admits that he has many unanswered questions. Emily tells the camera that she is “absolutely falling in love with him” and wants to tell Brad about her feelings. Since she left her walls up for so long, she’s a bit behind in the love department. Emily had better thank her stars that Chantal removed herself from the game when she made the tragic mistake of linking a public, network-sponsored engagement to real-life marriage. Emily tells Brad that she and Ricki have been “waiting for a long time” for a new man in the house. I can see why Brad’s intimidated by her. He’s their last remaining hope. Emily opens the fantasy suite invitation and responds by saying that she has a little girl for whom she’d like to set a good example, so retiring to bed with Brad at this point may not be a good idea. She continues hesitantly that she’d like to come to the room anyway, just to talk. Brad smiles and winks knowingly.
Back at the suite, Emily admits to Brad that she’s falling in love with him, and he breaks the rules by responding that he’s also falling in love. Emily’s voiceover reveals that she believes her deceased husband Ricky was in her life to show her what love is supposed to feel like and essentially prepare her for Brad. I hope they don’t get ABC in heaven; I wonder how Ricky would react to the news that he was only an appetizer for the main dish- a lumbering, simple-minded reality show star with control issues. The cameras and microphones exit the bedroom as the lights dim. How are they supposed to continue conversing and gazing lovingly in the dark?
A day later, it’s finally Ashley’s turn for romance in the wilderness. She bounces up to Brad for her date, which consists of flying somewhere in a tiny, door-less helicopter, her number one fear in the world. How has she managed to avoid these things up until now? Helicopter rides are the cornerstone of this franchise, but so are nightmare-fulfilling challenges, so they saved this one especially for Ashley. She runs away screaming but is convinced to participate, since chickening out is not really an option. Ashley’s ride goes surprisingly well, and she looks pretty nonplussed while airborne in Brad’s arms. “It’s like we’re on top of the world,” she croons. The fact that she pronounces “world” with eight syllables may help to explain why I tune Ashley out when she speaks. This is the type of woman who ends every sentence with a question mark and uses acronyms like “B.F.F.” without a shred of irony. It’s like she walked onto the set of The Bachelor directly from a shopping mall in 1996, making no stops along the way.
Though I try not to concern myself with Ashley’s ramblings, I gathered a few things from her date with Brad. It seems she’s a bit too ambitious and overly concerned with finishing school and starting her dentistry career for the bachelor’s liking. He’d like her to make up her mind at once about moving to Austin, though she’s giving the impression that she’d prefer to stay in Maine near her family. She tries vainly to convince Brad that she’ll be the perfect superwoman who can balance a career with being the vintage wife that he desires, but he’s convinced that she’s too young to settle down. Dinner is a series of awkward moments. Ashley stuffs her face nervously, and Brad looks like he’s ready to tell her to pack her bags and fly home. She breaks it down in an effort to convince Brad of her willingness to try to make it work against the odds. “I have faith in us? Aaand, it’s because I know me? And I just need, like, I hope you will just, like, have faith…” As convincing an argument as that was, Brad looks unimpressed. “We can’t build a future on one kinda fun carnival date,” he says. I may have paraphrased a bit, but it’s one of the harshest things I’ve ever heard him say.
Spoiler alert! Ashley obviously doesn’t have a chance of winning, or even making it past this round, but that doesn’t stop her from trying to make a case for herself. She tells Brad that what she feels for him is “like, chemistry and, like, sparks,” while all he wants is a boring housewife. Reverse psychology is Ashley’s last resort, but Brad is a little smarter than we ever gave him credit for. Ashley sold herself as a boundlessly fun and flexible girl, but she can’t follow through and deliver the same lack of personal agency that the other women exhibit. She thought dog and pony show would be enough, and now she’s upset that Brad circled “maybe” on that note she passed him in homeroom. This date is a depressing failure, but Brad hands her the fantasy suite invitation, anyway. She accepts. Settling in for the night, Ashley looks at the bed and asks Brad, “What do you think of the mosquito nets?” before conceding that they’re off their game tonight. All is lost.
Chris Harrison emerges for his three minutes of screen time, annoyed that he must interrupt his vacation to have a sit-down with Brad. I don’t know why they insist on showing us a conversation that recaps what we saw play out right in front of us just moments ago. To his credit, Harrison performs his duty with the penetrating gravitas of Oprah and Barbara Walters combined. Brad says some things that I didn’t listen to, but I’m sure they were very important and interesting, indeed.
All of the tension and suspense of the rose ceremony has been canceled out by Brad’s apparent distaste for Ashley’s inability to declare her blind devotion to him. The three women line up to learn their fate, but Brad interrupts the proceedings to pull Ashley aside for a quick chat. “You and I both know our date didn’t go well, not at all.,” he says. She looks positively shocked by the statement, showing just how delusional she’d been about their “connection.” Brad sadistically reminds Ashley that he had “very strong feelings” for her, telling her that she’s “exceptional” before walking her to the limo for her tearful exit. Ashley whines that she’s surprised and heartbroken when Brad innocently asks what’s wrong. This guy is a piece of work. Even as the women are departing in tears from the stressful ordeal, he wants them to reaffirm his desirability with physical displays of affection and self-pitying remorse.
Brad returns to greet Chantal and Emily after several moments of contemplation on a balcony overlooking the rose ceremony. We’re supposed to believe that the two women were standing there waiting silently this whole time. Brad decides to offer them each a rose, though their competition is obviously on her way home and safely out of the running. They’ll undoubtedly miss their kid sister and comic relief, but they seem okay with Brad’s decision.
NEXT WEEK: the “Women Tell All” special.
Season 15, Week 9 (original airdate 2/28/2011.)
The Bachelor airs Mondays at 8/7c on ABC
Images courtesy of Rick Rowell and ABC.