catherine-sean-dance-w352You guys all know how much I love The Bachelorette, but The Bachelor has always been that somewhat unpleasant show that I watch just so that I know the chosen bachelorette’s backstory when she finally gets to hand out her own roses. Occasionally there’ll be an interesting season, or at least some interesting drama- holla, Jason & Molly Mesnick! But generally it’s just a smarmy guy and a bunch of bitchy girls in cheap dresses and too much makeup all hoping to get the “Pretty Woman” date where they get to keep the Neil Lane diamonds. The Bachelorette, on the other hand, usually has the best girl from the inevitably crappy Bachelor season choosing between 25 hot guys who do a lot less bitching and at least a couple of whom turned up on the show earnestly when their sisters nominated them behind their backs. Sure, The Bachelorette gets a lot of guys who aren’t as genuine and “looking for love” as they seem (even some of the best ones turn out to be shallow creeps; you let me down Ed!), but at least it doesn’t have as many desperate 24-year-olds with babyvoices and “dreams of being a wife”- ugh.

That said, last season’s Emily Maynard extravaganza felt more like a Bachelor season than a Bachelorette one-  infighting among the guys (ugh, Doug), desperate young people trying to prove that they’re “ready for love” (ugh, Chris), the unfair vilification of someone with unfortunate foot-in-mouth tendencies (I still love you, Kalon!), and the fact that she picked her guy in the end seemingly because he had the most money then proceeded to dump him within weeks (Jef, you were never my favourite, but that was still gross). Especially coming after two great Bachelorette seasons in a row (I especially loved Ashley’s– great guys, a real villain, and it all ends with her not only picking my day one favourite but actually marrying him!), Emily’s season was really pretty frustrating and ultimately there were only two things that made it worthwhile. The first was Arie Luyendyk’s kissing prowess and the second was Sean Lowe (though not for his kissing prowess, that’s less awesome).

Sean was a Fantastic bachelor. Easily the best one I can remember watching. Usually, even if they pick someone I really liked on The Bachelorette, I end up hating the bachelor by the time he’s done his season. Sean bucked that trend by being sweet and charming on The Bachelorette then upping that on The Bachelor by adding such rare Bachelor adjectives as “smart”, “genuine” and “human-seeming”. Throughout the season, he was well-spoken, thoughtful, decisive, and hit on exactly the right balance between not suffering fools and giving people a fair shake. He followed his own instincts instead of just listening to the catty house on the subject of Tierra (more on her in a moment) but he didn’t blindly fall for her either (she left when he finally saw something that definitively changed his mind about her, and not a minute before). He chose a diverse and interesting set of girls on night one, but didn’t arbitrarily keep anyone around once he realized they weren’t for him- even if they made him look compassionate and progressive (getting rid of both Kacie and Sarah was bold, but nobody begrudged him for it). He made practical considerations like whether he fit in with their family (see ya, Des!) but didn’t let that overrule more important things (hey Catherine’s sisters, he likes her even though you warned that she’s messy and career driven- didn’t see that one coming, did you?). He ruled out people who didn’t let him be himself and had a decent eye for spotting the crazies and keeping them at a distance (both you, AshLee; you are Ridiculous). He made his decisions based on more than looks, house popularity or generic sweetness and I never once felt like he was in this for anything more or less than the possibility of finding the right woman for him (not money, not fame, not a harem of skanks). Oh, and did I mention that he picked my favourite bachelorette? That always helps.

Sean was what made the season because it’s that title character who entirely sets the tone, but he also got a group of girls that I actually mostly liked (for the first time in history). Right off the bat I was a fan of both Lesl..s (“ie” and “ey”), Des, Selma and Catherine. And, although she was obnoxious this season, I did remember how fond I had once been of Kacie B and was happy to see her return (even if it did feel a bit like a play to be the next bachelorette). Among the other 20 women there weren’t very many at all that made me want to rip out my hair.

The only person (besides AshLee, who showed her crazy cards late in the season) I found really frustrating was Robyn, who this year filled the role of “woman who focuses so much on hating one of the other girls that she forgets about the bachelor”. I never like that girl, but Robyn did it with a particularly nasty brand of mean girl defensive attitude that I could not abide. In fact, we saw so many incidents of Tierra pretending not to listen as Robyn openly bashed her that it still makes me mad how easily the audience jumped (yet again!) on the hatewagon. This has happened once a season like clockwork for years now and I’m just so very tired of it. There’s always at least one girl (this year there was also Amanda)- usually a frontrunner off the bat- who doesn’t really like girls all that much, or at least finds it uncomfortable to befriend these particular girls; you know, the ones competing to marry her boyfriend. She sequesters herself because she’s awkward and maybe not particularly friendly and, because they know the bachelor likes her so much, the other girls decide that said unfriendliness is meant to be malicious. In almost all cases, I’ve always seen the age-old “she’s completely different around him” argument as an indicator of the bachelor being someone said “villain” actually likes as opposed to some stupid girl she doesn’t want anything to do with and therefore has a hard time faking it around. So I’ve always hated the person in the house who spends all their time bitching about the person they think is a “bitch”. Seriously, did you Hear Robyn during that photoshoot? Tierra was Right Beside her, literally holding back tears. Then, when the “villain” finally lashes out, defends herself or (as S16’s Courtney did) pulls away even further, the house (led by the Robyn figure- see also S16’s Emily and S14’s Ali) thinks they now have free reign to express how much they hate this person, unbridled. Every year it’s a ridiculous and depressing display of specifically female lack of compassion and Tierra was this year’s victim of it. Now, she wasn’t as clearly misunderstood as I felt that Courtney was (Courtney was literally my favourite contestant in Ben’s season; that was a frustrating thing to sit through), and a lot of Tierra’s problems did stem from herself (the attention-seeking, her temper), she just doesn’t have the sort of temperament to succeed on a show like this. But that doesn’t mean she was a Villain. The way that the house full of girls seems, every year, determined to hand the editors whatever good-vs-evil narrative they want drives me crazy. Anyone who saw Tierra’s intro package can tell that she genuinely was excited to meet Sean and begrudging someone for not having good interpersonal skills is just insane. My advice to girls competing next season- if you’re inclined to frame someone as a villain, think of Bentley then assess whether you think they truly are in his league.

Now for the better news, there were a bunch of girls I really did like this year. And, thankfully, next season’s bachelorette Des was among them. She could still prove annoying when we get 2 hours of her every week but things are looking good so far. Lindsay was obnoxious and didn’t seem that bright, but she was sweet and genuine and clearly not crazy when we saw her again at “After the Final Rose”, which I always appreciate. In fact, her almost complete lack of crazy almost made up for the Intense crazy of AshLee- in my eyes Sean’s only real misstep, keeping someone that overwhelmingly intense over the down-to-earth and fun Lesley when it came to the top 5 (I think Des going out after hometowns was exactly right though).

Which brings me to my favourite thing about this season: the final couple. I liked Sean on The Bachelorette, you know this, and he was generally great on The Bachelor, but what I really liked about him was the weird side that Catherine brought out in him. Catherine is a very strange creature in The Bachelor universe. When Sean surprised the girls for the group date at 4am, Catherine said “I just have to pee and I’m good to go” while the other girls scrambled for their mascara and heavy foundation. She’s crazy beautiful in a low-maintenance, doesn’t really know about it way. In fact, she’s so normal that she’s hyper-aware of how “beefcake”y Sean is and how that’s a weird thing for an everygirl to be engaged to. She’s smart, a little bit hip, and kind of weird in that refreshing way that leans more towards goofy than the ever-obnoxious “quirky”. Around Catherine, Sean isn’t the alienatingly handsome, nice, respectful, well-put-together, hyper-religious, highly traditional, good-ole-Southern-boy he sometimes seems like he boringly is. Instead, Catherine brings out the side of him that dances like a doofus and knocks down whatever stiff propriety made him seem like a good fit for Emily Maynard last year (with what we now know of Sean being a real human, that would have been a Disaster). He’s still got all those good qualities- the respectful and kind thing is clearly a family trait; his father will officially be the Greatest Father-In-Law Ever- but Catherine makes Sean able to be his real, messy, embarrassing self, underneath all the perfect-ness. Their imperfect engagement was the perfect cap to all that. She got flustered and weird and her heart started beating so fast that she looked like she might pass out and when she hugged him he could feel it pounding into his chest. And it was Awesome. There’s a genuine quality to this pair that almost no Bachelor couples have and they’re all the more romantic a pair for it.

As for the actual finale, for some reason my TV was having an emotional meltdown and I got a stupid skip-tastic version, but I caught the gist of the 3 hour show through my frustration. It was a pretty good show, though I feel like Chris Harrison has lost some of his effectiveness since his divorce and I could have done without the screaming audience (“take your shirt off”? Really, people? Sean is a Person. Besides, I like him best with his shirt On. I actually mean that; the muscleman thing doesn’t do it for me, I like to pretend he looks as smart as he seems). I kind of loved how terrible Catherine’s last date was before the end but anyone who couldn’t tell that “The Letter” was just the conclusion to their “nerd note” motif is Way too susceptible to ABC’s promotions department. This whole season seemed to be on a pretty tight budget after how much dough Emily took (lots of weeks in LA were followed by such non-exotic locales as Montana and Alberta) but couldn’t we have flown somewhere new after AshLee’s boot? I love Thailand- it looks fabulous on screen- and while Catherine’s colouring and no-muss hair made for maximum hotness in such a climate, Sean’s not so hot in the heat. It was worth it just for the elephants but I can’t help thinking how much swoonier a sunburn-prone guy of that size would have looked in his proposal suit had the finale platform been built in Switzerland like it was for the similarly not-helped-by-the-sun Ben Flajnik (not that Sean and Ben are at all comparable. That’s like comparing apples and smarmy winemakers with bad hair and anger issues). Oh, and the “breaking news” Chris touted through The Entire Episode? It was almost as undramatic as the entire “most dramatic finale ever!” (literally one of the least dramatic finales in the history of the show). Catherine and Sean plan on getting married on TV? Great. We were all pretty much counting on that already. Not that I’m not Super excited about it, cause I am. Can I come? I feel like we could be friends, Cat and I.

Even though I was sure I Wanted him to pick Catherine as soon as they finished their first one-on-one, I wasn’t sure that Sean would actually pick her. She doesn’t make much eye contact, she comes from a completely different familial and cultural situation than he does, she’s awfully independent and driven to just pick up and move to Dallas, and she barely got any airtime compared to the other frontrunners. In fact, I thought he was picking Lindsay all the way up until she exited that first limo. But, as much as I liked Sean before, the fact that he proved me wrong made me love him so much more. It was easily the best (if least dramatic) ending I’ve ever seen on the show and one of those ones that made me feel like sappy pathetic girl for how jealous it made me.

Here’s hoping this is a rare couple who actually make it to the televised alter they promised us last night. If my other favourite couple Ashley & JP can do it, I’ve gotta believe that Sean & Catherine can too.

*Finale Grade: A-
Season Grade: B+

*keep in mind that these are grades on the curve of the Bachelor universe, not on the curve of the whole TV landscape. Sean scores a B+ as compared to Jake Pavelka not Ben Wyatt.