Wonk-o-mance is everywhere! Any place you might find a love story, you might also find wonk. Novels, movies, folklore, operas, country songs, erectile dysfunction medication ads, TV shows, and certainly real life. If it’s ripe for love, it’s ripe for fooked-up love.
Let’s hone in on those final two sources, though. TV and real life. Reality television. Specifically, ABC’s The Bachelor and The Bachelorette franchises. Wonked, or no? I endeavor to find out.
Firstly, let’s examine why it isn’t wonk-o-mance. In plenty of respects, the premise of the show is suffocatingly traditional. After all, if a season is successful, there’s a marriage proposal as the finale! A marriage proposal a tender few weeks into the courtship! Can’t get much more traditional than that. Why not toss in a dowry, promotional consideration provided by eHarmony, tin cans tied to the bumper of your brand new Saturn Sponsoriffic Roadster?
But pause for a moment and let me make one thing perfectly clear: I love The Bachelor and Bachelorette. I’ve been hooked for five seasons now, and look forward to catching the latest installment every week on Hulu, glass of middle-shelf merlot at the ready. To love The Bachelor is to mock The Bachelor. Don’t misconstrue my contempt as anything other than adoration.
Now back to the dissection tray. Add to the traditional marriage fast-track: the contestants are all heterosexual…or operating as such. The contestants are also nearly all caucasian and mainstream attractive, which mirrors what we see in the majority of Western romance novels, romantic films, soap operas, and so forth. Parents are met and their approval is sought.
At first glance, The Bachelor promotes everything we might deign to call “conventional.” Its posited goals certainly fit the mold of a conventional, stereotypical love story.
But come on. This show is wonked. Sure, each season’s alpha bachelor or bachelorette is ostensibly aiming to land a straight, fertile, attractive, compatible mate for the purposes of matrimony and reproduction. But in order to do so, they have to audition a stable of twenty or so potential matches. When in real life does anyone ever get this opportunity? Outside of Bangkok, say?
And let’s examine said opportunity. From one angle, how can the bachelors go wrong? They get to choose from twenty-odd good-looking, vetted women, with no male competition (save the odd twist when somebody’s ex “spontaneously” turns up after spending the night staring pensively out the limo window en route to the mansion-harem, looking constipated with emotion). They have the network’s resources at their disposal to plan amazing, luxurious, international dates. They get to steadily whittle down the pool (sometimes it’s a literal pool, frequently a hot tub) of contenders until they pick the best candidate (sometimes with their brain, sometimes with their heart, perhaps occasionally with the coaching of a publicist, but often mainly with their southerly plumbing).
It’s an entire adulthood’s worth of dating, boiled down to a compact assembly line of courtship! A virtual romance buffet where in the end, you get to pick the dish that gave you the least violent allergic reaction, and eat that dish for the rest of eternity, forsaking all others (or at least until the After the Last Rose special). How efficient is that?!
But from another angle, what are the chances that out of twenty given people, you’ll actually fall in love with one? And have that one fall in love with you back? In the span of perhaps five one-on-one dates and several more circus-like group outings? And always with multiple cameras (and multiple camera operators and producers and sound engineers and stylists, presumably) swirling around you? And people screaming their opinions about it all on blogs and in tabloids? And you just know that the producers purposefully tossed in a few combustible personalities (read: psychos) and coached the bachelor(ette) to keep them around for at least the first few weeks, for dramatic effect.
Plus the way the show is constructed, we’re meant to believe that by the final episode, the bachelor(ette) really is in love with two different people. Two people of twenty! If only we could manage to fall in love with a whopping ten percent of the people we meet in real life.
In all likelihood, the bachelor, if he has indeed fallen in love, favors one contestant over the other by the time the finale rolls around. But because of how the drama must play out, he has to pretend to be torn, stringing both along so the audience is surprised. [Props to Ali from season six of The Bachelorette for not making poor Chris drop to one knee up in a tux and offer a ring, even though it wrecked the suspense of the finale. You’re a class act, Fedotowsky.]
Dude, that is some wonked-up shit, right there.
But it’s romance! I take the show as seriously as most people, which is to say, not very. But during nearly every episode I’ll have a misty moment (usually once I’ve drained the first glass of aforementioned middle-shelf merlot) where I really do think, yes, they just connected! It really could be true love! And then another similar moment often follows, only between the bachelor and a totally different woman.
But by the end of the season, I’m shaking with anticipation and anxiety, dying to know if the bachelor or bachelorette picked my favorite competitor. And yes, competitor. Triathletes have nothing on Bachelor contestants in the psychological anguish department. That show makes dating into an Xtreme sport.
Maybe I adore The Bachelor for the same reason I adore a good love triangle… Hell, that show is a love dodecahedron. It keeps you rooting, keeps you guessing, keeps you biting your nails, closer and closer to the quick with every episode. You’re rooting for true love, for a proposal, for the most conventional of romantic goals. Yet you have to wade through a thrashing sea of wonk to reach that bunting-festooned marital shore. It’s wonked, and it’s worth it.
Oh, is it ever worth it.