Prepare to have your cravings satisfied “Bachelor fans.” The show returns this week in two volumes of non-stop drama for you to gobble down like low-fat ice cream. Part Uno aired last night and saw Juan Pablo visit each of the Final Four’s hometowns, where he was tested on everything from his dancing skills to his shooting accuracy. Part Dos airs tonight and promises to reveal all of Juan Pablo’s Bachelor Suite mischief. (He’s apparently been very naughty).
But before we get into this week’s episode, let’s take a brief (ok, we’ll admit, a long) pause and consider “The Bachelor’s” model as a series.
Throughout its 18-season odyssey, “The Bachelor” has been skewered for phoniness perhaps more than any other reality program.
The jabs have come from all angles and have been aimed at all of the show’s warts: scripted scenes, stitching together unrelated footage, etc. But, after 18 seasons, audiences seem to realize that reality takes a backseat here. No one’s getting fooled.
Couple audience’s knowledge of the show’s inauthenticity with its failure to satisfy its proposed goal (pairing soul mates) and you arrive at a tough question: what’s the endgame here? What’s kept “The Bachelor” in ABC’s 7 o’clock spotlight for 18 seasons?
It seems impossible that naval nudity and the spectacle of catfights could sustain that kind of longevity, especially considering that “The Bachelor” has birthed multiple spin-offs, including “The Bachelorette” and “Bachelor Pad.” There’s got to be some other glue holding this ship together after the novelty of new faces wears off.
The answer, ironically, might be old faces. Not literally old faces of course (there’s still standards of beauty for god’s sake!), but instead returning faces. Think about the cycle that “The Bachelor” has set in motion for its empire: contestants are weeded out from a large pool and those that make it to the final rounds, but are tossed before a proposal pop up elsewhere. They become the new “Bachelorettes” or contestants on “Bachelor Pad” or even on “Dancing with the Stars.” And that cycle spins the opposite direction as well. Venezuelan hunks booted off “The Bachelorette” show up to break hearts and bang in oceans on “The Bachelor.”
That’s probably obvious to longtime fans of these programs, especially this season, but it's important nonetheless in understanding what exactly we’re watching on “The Bachelor.” And what we’re watching is ABC’s talent* search. It’s an audition to find charismatic no names that can play to the camera and tug at audience’s emotions. In other words, we’re watching a network stockpile cheap assets that can be moved between several shows and provide a reliable level of entertainment and familiarity. It seems reasonable to wager that audiences who recognize the next “Bachelorette” are more likely to tune in.
How aware are the contestants of this? Who knows, but it's certain that there’s another competition looming behind every episode. Imagine getting kicked off “The Bachelorette,” but as a reward for hamming it up, you get offered the role of “The Bachelor.” Now you’re in the driver’s seat. Instead of competing for one person, 28 people are competing for you! That’s how Pabs managed a swift 180 from shoeshine to CEO. The Bachelor might pass out the roses, but the network decides the real winners.
It’s something to keep in mind these final episodes of “The Bachelor.” It’s not just about who receives the final rose. That’s probably more misdirection than anything. Sure, it makes for a satisfying conclusion, but it doesn’t keep the boat afloat for 18 seasons, the promise and fulfillment of a returning cast of real* people does that.
Speaking of which, as of last night’s episode, there were still four lovely ladies competing for a proposal from Juan Pablo or ABC. This week, “The Bachelor” undergoes his toughest task yet. Rather than fly a harem of ladies to exotic locations, Pabs has to travel to a bunch of second-class cities to be thrust into hostile environments with judgmental families that just don’t understand TV love. Rest assured, you definitely won’t be hearing any crap about any of these places being the most romantic destinations on earth.
Kansas City: For the first leg of JP’s tour of the Final Four’s hometowns, we’re whisked away to the city of Andy Reid’s shame where Juan Pablo will meet with Nikki’s family. Curiosly, Nikki’s “Bachelor” profile says she’s from Kearney, which must be really backwoods if they’re using Kansas City to prop her up. The brain trust behind “The Bachelor” has decided to introduce each city with the images of an animal, so we start off seeing a lot of cows.
After arriving, JP and Nikki put on their eatin’ pants and head down to Oklahoma Joe’s BBQ to rustle up some grub. There’s a mechanical bull inside and Pabs and Nikki decide to make their own "Bound 2" video, Kanye and Kim style. Sing it:
I know you're tired of lovin', of lovin'
With nobody to love, nobody, nobody.
I know what you’re thinking: aren’t there laws in Missouri against a three-way with a mechanical bull? No, actually it’s a longstanding tradition for newlyweds to consummate their marriage while riding atop Bucky the Bull and lathering themselves in BBQ sauce. Culture!
At the Ferrell (we’ll learn all the girls last names this week!) house, Pabs meets Nikki’s dad, mom and two brothers.
Her father does most of the heavy lifting. “When you sit down at dinner, you become family,” he tells Juan Pablo. Well, that’s settled.
After a pretty uneventful, yet supportive night, Pabs is picked up by his limo. Ok, bye, I’m off to see the next girl I’m seriously considering marrying! Text ya later Nik.
Pabs gets a quick introduction to southern tradition when Andi takes him to a gun range for a romantic afternoon of exercising their Second Amendment rights. Don’t tread on me, bro! What’s too often ignored in Second Amendment discussions is the impact high-caliber rifles can have on love.
Andi, the lawyer who we’re pretty sure is a Punisher-style vigilante by night, makes Swiss-cheese out of her targets with a giant assault rifle while Pabs fumbles around with a dinky little handgun. Not very manly Pabs.
Things get tough at the Dorfman house where Pabs’ introduction to Andi’s dad, Hy, turns out to be a real misfire.
Andi: And you guys were probably worried.
Pabs: Are you worried?
Hy: Oh absolutely.
Hy has one piece of advice for Pabs: come back when you’ve dropped all those other skanks and when you’re ready to commit to Andi. Then he’ll talk about accepting Pabs into the family. Hy’s a straight shooter.
Andi’s mom is a bit easier as she pulls a Mrs. Robinson and gets JP to salsa dance with her as Hy polishes his 00 buckshot in the kitchen.
In this week’s most hilariously staged moment, Renee waits on a forested trail in Sarasota as Pabs comes running out of tall grass to meet her like a Pokémon. Today, Pabs will get to meet Ben, Renee’s 8-year-old son who’s had to stay at grandma’s for two months, eating nothing but prunes and hard candy because his absentee mom has decided to throw her hat into the reality TV ring.
Renne is nervous about Pabs meeting little Benny boy. What if they have conflicting thoughts on foreign policy? LOL. Pabs doesn’t have thoughts! Renee also give us her best Walter White-ism by assuring herself that this is for her son. Here's a hint Renee: if you want to find someone for your son, go pick out a guy with a PS4.
Pabs and Renee meet Ben at his little league game (JP’s first!) to watch him strikeout and get made fun of for his mom’s loser boyfriend. Pabs goes for the cool BF right off the bat by introducing himself with a fist bump. Please don’t marry my mom!
At the Oteri home, Renee privately confesses to her mom that she’s madly in love with Pabs and is waiting for the right time to spill it.
“Everything has been very natural,” Renee says. We don’t presume to know how they do it in Sarasota, but one dude dating 27 girls on a nationally televised game show seems about as natural as a Hot Pocket
But Renee’s family is cool with it. Her dad even endorses Pabs as a “good guy.” There’s no way he’d end it with Renee after that! Right Pabs?
Sac-Town: Squirrels and bees! This one makes sense because Clare floats like a squirrel and stings like a bee.
Clare and Pabs meet by a park bench for the episode’s most heartfelt moment in which Clare tells Pabs that before her father died, he told her to throw a stone and that he’d never be farther away than that. So she and Juan Pablo throw stones into the pond. Sometimes the show surprises you.
At the Crawley house, Pabs meets Clare’s six sisters and “Momma.” (After seeing the rest of her family, we think Clare might be, how to put this gently…adopted). For those “True Detective” fans scouring the earth for who The King in Yellow might be, we’d suggest taking a look at the creepy Crawleys.
Laura, the power-tripping sister runs the household while a catatonic “Momma” looks on. Every time Clare tries to get Pabs alone with “Momma,” Laura steps in.
“I’m not going to let you manipulate momma,” Laura, the real-life Grima Wormtongue, says.
When Pabs and “Momma” finally are alone (albeit with Wormtongue attempting a mind control trick from across the backyard) the family patron surprises everyone by conversing in Spanish! “Momma” turns out to not be as “Hills Have Eyes”-ey as Laura let on, which is good because Pabs might be moving in soon.
Rose Ceremony: Pabs boots Renee, the single mom and literally the only contestant that can relate to his situation with Camila. But Renee handles it like a trooper’s trooper. She’s not bitter, she’s thankful.
“There’s not a lot of guys like Juan Pablo. He’s as good as the come.”
You know, she’d make a great “Bachelorette.”