The Bachelorette is here! The 2 Bachelorettes nonsense is out of the way, the season’s big surprise addition has joined the ranks (Nick Viall, more on him in a moment) and the series premiere of Lifetime’s new drama UnREAL has me keen to write about my second favourite summer show (after Big Brother, of course) so I figure it’s time for Kaitlyn’s Bachelor Scale (see also Jillian, Ali, Ashley, Emily, Des and Andi). I’m loving the season so far- Kaitlyn’s down-to-earth energy is such a breath of fresh air- and this year’s group of men is so delightful that I’m throwing my yearly rankings out there a few weeks earlier than usual*. I like them all so much that I’ve even adjusted the scale to only reach as far down as Apathy (the only other season to avoid “Hate” was Ashley’s because I mostly loved that group and I ranked the men only after Bentley’s elimination). So, before we dive into the deep stuff by talking about UnREAL, let’s break down the Bachelorette season so far the best way we can- man by man.
*Keep in mind that publishing my rankings so early means I’m working with less information and therefore run the risk of next week’s episode blowing everything to pieces (imagine if I’d published two weeks ago, after Clint’s frontrunner episode and before his villain edit kicked in!) but, as of this very moment, this is where everyone stands.
This one comes with a caveat because we’ve only gotten to see about 3 minutes of Nick and Kaitlyn together, but I have high hopes and Nick comes in with a lot of my love and sympathy right off the bat. When he topped last year’s scale, he did so specifically because of his connection with Andi (which is not usually the case; I generally just pick my personal favourites, Bachelorette be damned) but, since the brutal finale where my favourite man of the season got his heart broken then his character shredded by one of the most vicious edits I’ve ever seen, I’ve thought a lot about Nick Viall and written a lot about Nick Viall and dedicatedly followed his Twitter where 3 important things can be clearly noted: 1) he actually is funny and sweet to the point of being able to earn the #1 spot on this list regardless of the strength of his as-yet-mostly-unseen connection with Kaitlyn; 2) he’s not only friends with this season’s guys and last season’s guys (though both edits might convince you otherwise) but he’s become friends with the Bachelorverse’s coolest chick and most level-headed judge of character Sharleen Joynt (you can spot her and her fiancé sitting by Nick’s side at the club in last night’s episode); 3) in the generally hilarious sea of live-tweets from former contestants, Nick’s opinion of Kaitlyn was notable and easily traceable throughout the entirety of Chris’ season. Unless this is a wildly elaborate scheme hatched many many months ago (unlikely, because that’s too much work for anyone), there’s actual verifiable evidence of Nick’s interest in Kaitlyn (dating all the way back to her limo exit). That simply can’t be said of anyone else. Yes, I’m a little jaded by Andi’s total denial of what I interpreted as an unequaled connection and I’m therefore somewhat skeptical of how easily Nick seems have similarly strong chemistry with Kaitlyn but I trust him and I like him and I’m more than delighted to have him back on my TV (the show did wrong by Nick the first time and I honestly don’t believe he’d put himself through it all again if he wasn’t serious). I’m glad Kaitlyn kept him (in the long run, having someone she’s interested in waiting for her at home would undermine “the process” far more than just adding him in week four), I think he’ll go far, but mostly I just hope they give him a redemption edit because I’m pretty sure Nick’s a good guy and it’s about time that stopped being a minority opinion.
Okay, the rest will be shorter. I promise.
2) Ben H
How insanely cute is Ben H?! He’s quiet- which I like in my Bachelorette contestants, because it’s rare- and hasn’t gotten a ton of screen time yet but what we have seen of him reveals that he’s sweet, smart, good with kids, a passable singer, and he doesn’t get embarrassed easily (which will be key if he’s going to be with go-for-broke Kaitlyn). He’s also in contention for season’s best kisser, which is more important than maybe it should be. So hooked on Ben H.
I love when someone like Jared wins me over. This is a really really attractive cast of guys (possibly the highest average of any season?) and Jared easily gets lost in the sea of hot. He also voted for Britt in week one, which turned me off out of the gate (don’t get me wrong, I’m not a Britt hater- girl makes the best first impression in the universe- but I was immediately suspicious of the guys who voted for Britt then stuck around. More on this when we get to Jonathan). But every single week I like Jared a little bit more, except this week when I liked him a lot more. He’s always given good ITMs (funny, insightful, mature) but we hadn’t gotten to see much of Jared actually interacting with Kaitlyn until last night when the thoughtful restaurant manager got his one-on-one in the When Harry Met Sally section of the Met; he rocked the tux, he charmed the girl, he beautifully navigated her awkward questions about his feelings on bringing Nick into the house by talking about his faith in her judgement, making a joke, and emphasizing how much he wanted to be in that moment with her, not talking about everything else that was going on with the show. The Bachelorette is always full of hunks (I mean, Clint literally looked like Thor) but I feel like Jared is standing out because he’s great in ways that actually matter and I just love it when that happens.
The blatant frontrunner of the season, the first impression rose winner has crazy chemistry with Kaitlyn. He’s not really my style (yes, he looks like Ryan Gosling; no, I’m not really all that into Ryan Gosling; yes, I know that’s weird) and I’m baffled/somewhat put off by the sheer number of personal trainers on this season (there are 3 in the top 15) but Shawn seems like a really decent dude and I like that he’s confident enough to lay a little bit low in these early weeks. I’m hoping he’s less perturbed by the whole Nick situation than he seems but, even if the edit isn’t misleading, at least his argument seems to be coming from that sympathetic “I felt like it was definitely us in the end, why does she need anyone else?” place that Nick knows so well as opposed to the “Oh no, more competition?!” place the other guys are whining from.
Some of the time, I adore “cupcake”. He’s so funny and so cute and I really love when people with real jobs like “dentist” come on the show because they don’t ever make you feel like they’re in it to break into showbiz. Chris should be ranked higher. But he’s so polished that I sometimes get a perform-y vibe, or at least an overly presentational one, like Drew from Des’ season or maybe even touches of Jake Pavelka (keep in mind I actually don’t mind Jake, even after everything, but still). Or maybe I just don’t trust him because he looks like a movie star version of someone I know who would be up to no good if he went on The Bachelorette. If that’s what’s going on, I apologize Chris, you should be ranked higher.
Oh, Joshua. The welder was my FAVOURITE out of the limo. He’s cute, he’s soft-spoken, he was all about Kaitlyn (I honestly think he would have left if Britt had won the vote), and that gorgeous iron rose- best intro gift ever. But then he all but disappeared. Joshua’s not the guy for Kaitlyn- he’s too sweet, too tentative, too quiet, they’re on two completely different frequencies and he’ll never be able to keep up with her. None of that is a knock on Joshua at all (or Kaitlyn; it’s just a bad match) but it means that he’s been downplayed in the edit enough that’s it’s been really easy to forget about him, no matter how lovely he may be. And because he’s at the back of the pack, he’s near the forefront of the Nick backlash (insecurity breeds jealousy which in turn diminishes empathy, every time). My love of Nick means anyone who doesn’t support his showing up immediately sinks down a few spots on this list. But poor Joshua never would have claimed his rightful top spot anyway because he’s gotten so little air time I feel like we barely know who he is.
I suspect Ian might be the red herring of the season. The premiere gave us the hard sell on him as the Hero- he’s handsome (maybe the most objectively hot guy this year), he’s athletic (a professional runner), he’s smart (a Princeton grad), he’s got a story (after a car accident he was told he might never walk again), he was always into Kaitlyn over Britt- but something’s gotta give with this guy. No one’s that perfect (though he certainly has been thus far- not a lot of screen time but he’s been a rare mature presence in the house). The season preview suggested that some of the guys (or perhaps just one guy) get upset over Kaitlyn sleeping with someone before the fantasy suite (please, god, don’t let it be Nick; the internet will have a field day if it’s Nick). Something in my gut tells me it’s Ian who does the shaming or maybe even leaves. Mind you, I said the same thing in Ali’s season- I was convinced it would be Roberto who broke her heart because he seemed too perfect (I was wrong; it was Frank)- so I very well could be completely off track with this, but I feel like there’s something about Ian we’re not seeing yet. As it currently stands, I like the guy; he’s done absolutely nothing wrong and is thus firmly in the middle of a scale that only goes as far as apathy, but I’ve got my eye on him.
8) Ben Z
His whole speech about not showing emotion because his mother died was a bit strange and the only reason I was cool with him pretending he isn’t afraid of snakes after he proved he’s definitely afraid of snakes was that he seemed okay with the fact that Kaitlyn clearly wasn’t buying it. Ben’s a classic Bachelorette guy who’s charming and sweet on the show but it’s nearly impossible to tell who he actually is when he’s not trying to win over a hot girl. His date game is on-point but I feel like I know how Jared would act with the cameras off while just sitting watching a movie with his partner of many years, I can’t say that about Ben (or most of them, to be fair, which is why I love Jared). I’m also conflicted about Ben Z because on one hand I think he’s one of the hottest guys on the show but on the other hand I would definitely be a lot more attracted to him if he lost like 40 pounds of muscle. Yes, I realize that’s weird, but don’t you think a less jacked Ben Z would look great in a sweater? Maybe some glasses! What was that? I’m describing a completely different person who in no way resembles Ben Z? Whatever; shut up; I’m allowed my Bachelorette fantasies.
This silly-haired doof was almost completely invisible save one unfortunate segment about how the other guys think he’s dumb, but this week he stepped up as the only (yes, Only) non-Jared guy to have actual perspective and grace about the Nick thing. Just as my love of Nick hurt jealous Joshua, so too does it elevate understanding Justin.
Issue #1: I have no idea who Ryan is other than “the guy with the hair”.
Issue #2: Multiple stupid comments about the Nick situation.
Result: Nope. Not at the bottom of the pack, but nope.
I don’t have a strong reason for ranking Ryan above Corey because they share a very similar “wait, which one is that?” identity. Corey has even less of a personality than Ryan at this point so he ranks a little bit lower but, really, they’re tied. Maybe he’s great? The producers are clearly not interested in us finding out.
Okay, hear me out. I know JJ’s an asshat. If Amy Schumer says it’s so, it’s clearly so (easily the best ITM in the history of The Bachelorette right there). But he’s game for whatever when it comes to group dates and I was actually really intrigued (if not moved, definitely intrigued) by his genuinely complex emotional dilemma around Clint’s departure. The writing was on the wall for his best friend so, faced with being stuck in a house with guys who had all just testified against the two of them, he panicked and threw Clint under the bus to try to prove his loyalty to the other guys and to Kaitlyn. It was a slimy move, but I understand it. Alpha male Clint (already out of the Bachelorette game but still very much invested in his real friendship with JJ) was understandably pissed at the betrayal and (because he’s a little bit terrifying) absolutely went off on his beta buddy when he tried to apologize. It was a bizarre scene between two not-particularly-likeable guys but it was seriously compelling drama filled with actually really complicated emotions. JJ’s ridiculous, but he’s not inhuman (plus he likes showtunes! Too bad he wasn’t on that awesome Aladdin date) so, every once in awhile, I like him enough to not rank him dead last.
The leader of the stupid Nick nonsense, Tanner has not existed At All until this issue arose and is clearly only throwing up a fuss because he knows having one more guy in the house means he’s likely to go home even sooner than he already would have. He knows he has no shot with Kaitlyn (and, based on his body language in their greeting hug on the group date, I’m not convinced he really wants one) so the more Tanner fights for his right to stick around, the more I’m convinced that he’s just in this to be on TV and travel the world. Boo!
Joe’s fine, I guess, I just got really angry when he sat in the back of the New Amsterdam on the Best Date Ever and talked about how theatre is dumb. Fuck off, Joe.
Jonathan’s fine too, I guess, but he represents the only thing I don’t like about this season- residual Britt. I liked Britt on Chris’ season (I think she got a pretty rough edit and unfair frontrunner backlash) and I see absolutely no reason why being Team Kaitlyn has to mean bashing Britt, but her ghost is getting in the way of my enjoyment of what should rightfully be known as Kaitlyn’s Season. It should have been Kaitlyn all along; the producers knew that; everyone knew that. But ABC just had to string her along for ratings (they had to know most guys would watch the previous season to find out what they were getting themselves into, and that almost every guy would vote for the chill sex-positive girl with the potty mouth over the crying beauty who doesn’t wash her hair very often). Watching Britt lose out on Bachelorette was as brutal as watching her budding relationship with Brady has been sweet, but it makes me angry that Brady was the only person who left the show to follow the woman he was actually interested in. A good chunk of the guys voted for Britt on that first night and many of those guys were extremely vocal about said preference. Jonathan is the only one of those guys left in the house (thank god; how much of a disaster was Kupah! ugh. And Tony!). Unlike Jared- who appeared to vote for Britt because he needed to vote for somebody then immediately told Kaitlyn about his vote and started fresh getting to know her as if it was any other season- Jonathan was really interested, only interested in Britt then promptly just traded her in for another girl when pursuing Britt meant not being on TV anymore. A few seasons back, poor Ashley had to spend her entire season worrying that the guys wished she were Emily Maynard. Thankfully, Kaitlyn’s incredible sense of self has helped her push through that after a first night full of self-doubt and insecurity. Jonathan is the one remaining reminder that Kaitlyn has a reason to feel insecure. I just can’t have that so, here he is, ranked 3 whole spots below JJ.
The horror of Jonathan’s continued presence on The Bachelorette is actually the perfect segue into the delicious drama of UnREAL. There is only one reason why the producers would insist on including Britt in the Bachelorette season even though they knew the fans would never accept anyone but Kaitlyn- they wanted to see her cry. That’s it, that’s the whole story. I don’t generally think the Bachelor producers are evil (from here on out I’m just going to say Bachelor in reference to all dating shows, especially within the franchise) but that was a villain move. That was mean spirited and conniving and the sort of thing that gives shows like UnREAL their leg to stand on. Nick’s villain edit, the slut-shaming Kaitlyn’s about to endure, the “Clint & JJ are gay!” segment from last week, these are not the franchise’s finest moments- nor do I honestly believe them to be indicative of what The Bachelor is all about (whenever I start to lose the faith, I think about THIS)- but they are perfect fodder for a scripted drama about the morality of manipulation.
It may seem like a soapy indulgence for Bachelor haters but UnREAL is actually a darkly funny and psychologically complex show perhaps most interesting to the few true Bachelor fans willing to give it a try. Last week’s premiere episode took us behind the scenes into the control room where the always great Constance Zimmer rules the show-within-the-show “Everlasting” with an iron fist. She’s tough and funny in that deep-seated-hurt kind of way that showrunner Marti Noxon knows all about (never fear, Noxon-phobics, she’s on her game here; it’s as if she never wrote for Glee at all). Quinn (Zimmer) has re-hired reluctant but wildly competent producer Rachel (Shiri Appleby) whose Network-esque meltdown almost ruined the previous season, until some fancy editing actually turned her antics into a ratings spike. Rachel, a former woman’s studies major (alright, Marti, that’s maybe a little too on-the-nose), is up against a wall personally and in order to keep her job is forced to trade on the contestants’ trust in her to exploit them on air. And she’s really good at it. She reveals their deepest insecurities divulged in confidence, uses alcohol to lower their defences, and even works with the show psychologist to access their weaknesses, at one point using a contestant’s history of abusive relationships to force her to open up to the Suitor (aka the Bachelor). It’s horrific, but it’s business, and Rachel is able to get by as long as she tells herself that she hates it.
Last night’s second episode was a particularly intriguing one in light of the reappearance of Nick Viall on The Bachelorette. In a triumphant moment of defiance, the Suitor (Freddie Stroma, unsure as of yet if he’s meant to be a somewhat spineless good guy or an occasionally shiny scumbag) eliminated the season’s designated villain and kept Quinn’s chosen sacrificial lamb (the superb Breeda Wool as Faith, a virginal tomboy with a big heart and mountains of insecurity) so the young producers are offered a cash bonus for delivering a new villain option. Jay (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman), a rare minority on the production team, goes straight to the only two black women in the cast, encouraging them to play into combative stereotypes (ala Omarosa) in order to get screen time. One (Christie Laing’s refined Shamiqua) refuses but the other (Natasha Burnett’s fame-hungry Athena) is game to start random fights and throw around unfounded accusations of racism. Rachel takes a different tactic when faced with no clear villain on her roster of contestants and a desperate need for the cash reward (Rachel’s plot-driving “troubles” are probably the weakest element of the show but they’re also totally ignorable if you read into her subconscious enjoyment of how great she is at her corrupting job). When tragedy befalls one of the so-called “wifies” (aka a frontrunner), Rachel edits together footage of her completely understandable distress to sell Quinn on the idea that she could be the new villain. But the selection of a new villain isn’t a one-episode moral compromise like Rachel’s earlier manipulation of eliminated villain Britney (90210‘s Arielle Kebbel) as she searched for the perfect soundbite; reframing well-meaning lawyer Anna (the radiant Johanna Braddy) as the villain means abandoning what would have been a frontrunner edit and setting her up for failure time and time again, across the whole season, in ways that could very well mess with her entire life. It means pitting the other girls against her by spreading lies about things Anna supposedly said and reframing innocent moments with sinister music and selective editing (not to mention the psychological and health risks she starts to take in one of the show’s darkest turns). Athena is playing along with Jay’s antagonistic plan (anything to be memorable) but Anna is being set up as something she’s not in an almost eerie echo of Nick’s uncalled for villain’s edit, taken to a haunting extreme.
The upcoming third episode dives further into Rachel’s psychology as we’re introduced to a captivatingly torturous mother/daughter dynamic. Back at the Everlasting mansion, a familiar Bachelor conceit collides with irresponsible producing (on the part of ambitious also-ran Shia, played by Aline Elasmar) in a bleak storyline that traumatizingly feels both out of the question and tragically possible at the Bachelor-friendly intersection of fame hunger and casual chauvinism.
Here’s the thing- there’s a very real possibility that Bachelor Nation will avoid this show because it messes with the romantic ideal they’re fully invested in believing is 100% un-manipulated. Reality haters might ignore it, underestimating UnREAL‘s capacity for honest drama because of its association with something as trivial as The Bachelor. The sweet spot audience is likely people like me, those with an interest in and general fondness for the iconography of the subject matter but whose acknowledgement of the darker reality of reality TV production hasn’t robbed them of the ability to distinguish UnREAL‘s enlightening elements from its dramatic embellishments. But UnREAL deserves an audience wider than the few people who live in that small sweet spot; it deserves a big audience, one that encompasses Nashville‘s soapy romance fans, devotees of Mad Men‘s antihero morality tale, Bachelor diehards and everyone in between. If it can survive, UnREAL has the cast and creative potential to be a long-lasting favourite, but it will only survive if a lot more people give it a shot.
The Bachelorette airs Monday nights at on ABC with UnREAL following at 10 on Lifetime.