20 December 2020
I am not a woman of ritual. There’s very little in this world that I do because I’ve always done it, not a birthday tradition or a makeup routine or even a consistent time for breakfast. But this, I do. The Bachelor Scale, my yearly ranking of The Bachelorette‘s cavalcade of mediocre suitors, that happens come hell or high water or global pandemic-related scheduling shifts or the shitshowiest season to ever shitshow. I almost forgot this year, for lots of reasons, but I’m back just in time. I’m late but I’m here so, to borrow a phrase from 4000 years ago or 2018, let’s do the damn thing.
The first (and, I guess, second?) thing we need to discuss is the Bachelorette herself. That’s a difficult task this season since there are somehow two Bachelorettes and yet no Bachelorettes I’m interested in discussing. It’s hard to say which has been worse, Clare’s hyper-defensive and remarkably unreasonable theatrics or Tayshia’s grating gigglefest of a Barbie dreamseason.
I’ve never been a Tayshia fan mostly because I don’t buy what she’s selling. She’s easily one of the most beautiful women ever on the franchise and I do appreciate that with her there’s a level of at least superficial sophistication and basic eloquence that’s occasionally or often missing from The Bachelor‘s casting pool of 22-year-old wannabe instamodels. But I’ve never felt that I can see her clearly and that’s (usually) my one true criterion for investing in a reality TV contestant. She’s so polished and smiley and very clearly easily led by producer suggestion and well-chosen words of affirmation that I have no real sense of what she’s actually about. This season features an uncharacteristically engaging cast of men, many of whom one might even go so far as to call people of substance, and it’s been fascinating to watch Tayshia attempt to keep her bushy-tailed facade in tact when faced with genuinely difficult stories or even *gasp* a thoughtfully worded question about her stance on an important social issue. It’s fascinating to watch her programming glitch when one of the men breaks through the niceties-niceties-kiss pattern she’s so perfectly mastered but that’s about all that’s fascinating about Tayshia Adams.
Unlike Clare Crawley, the Bachelorette who never quite was. Yes, Clare technically was the Bachelorette for about two weeks (it took production four episodes to wrap her story but by my count it was only two full rounds of dates). And, yes, technically, I guess, we’re calling Dale her “winner” and pretending that their (doomed, right? The general take on them is “super doomed”?) engagement fulfills her arc as if she was properly the Bachelorette. But Clare was never really the Bachelorette because she never did the fundamental thing a Bachelorette does- date the contestants.
It’s true that many of the franchise’s leads have a clear frontrunner from very early on (Nick was all-in on Vanessa from their first date, Ben seemed ready to marry Lauren well before hometowns, and you’d have to be crazy to not know Jojo & Jordan would work from the fireworks that flew between them on night one) but this season was always different, and not just because of Clare’s let’s call it “specific” personality. Jojo & Jordan really is the closest analogy because his proximity to celebrity led to his name being leaked pre-season so she was able to do some light stalking before meeting him. And actually, now that I mention it, I’m thinking about Kelly & Peter and the effect that meeting her before the season began clearly had on him (even if he screwed it up; he figured it out in the end at least, silly Peter). From even just the small bit of pre-premiere exposure she had to his instagram, Dale clearly had a place in Clare’s head before her season even began and if there’s one thing we know about Clare it’s that once she makes up her mind she is absolutely not going to be moved.
And thus she wasn’t. Clare Crawley was met with the single best group of men The Bachelorette has ever seen (I’m retroactively very fond of Kaitlyn’s group as well but I’m going with “best” here for effect, get on board) and she could not have cared less. All those aforementioned people (especially Peter; Peter actually took it too far, silly Peter) went in with open minds, or at least the appropriate amount of “I really don’t know this person At All” anxiety that allowed them to engage with the other people in the room. Jojo could have picked Luke. She wasn’t going to, but she could have and that’s the point. At the very very least, she treated all the non-Jordan men as if they were worthy of love, even if it wouldn’t be from her. Clare treated her men like they were a nuisance.
In her defence, I’m sure that’s what they felt like. Being the Bachelorette is one of those things, like cruises or McDonalds delivery, that looks great but you just know is not actually that great. It’s a lot of sitting through awkward conversations with people you don’t like that much who range from “actively terrible” to “pretty lovely but who cares because they’re not the guy you like, you just want to talk to the guy you like!” It’s very suited to a Tayshia-like personality, which is why the guys all seemed to flock to her like water in a desert. Clare chastised the men for every perceived slight (how dare you not worship this woman who has shown no interest in you at all!) so the fact that Tayshia smiles at them seems to be going over very well.
One last thing about Clare before I move on to the men, who are the only thing keeping me going through this dreadful season with two aggravating female leads, a very heavy production hand when it comes to editing and contestant manipulation, and a very uncreative production effort when it comes to planning dates within the confines of this janky little resort-bubble. Well, actually, this isn’t really about Clare so much as about the reaction to Clare from both the viewers and production: We Knew This Already. Let me say that again: WE KNEW THIS ALREADY! Perhaps the thing I find most frustrating about this season is the insistence that the harsh Clare realities are somehow brand new information. They really really are not.
I will admit that even I was so excited to finally get an adult Bachelorette that I didn’t think too much about the person we were actually getting and what we knew about her so far. In the choice of a 39-year-old Bachelorette I saw production finally stepping back from their toxic fetishization of youth and validating the existence of older single people. I also hoped an older Bachelorette would mean older Bachelors (something producers annoyingly needed two casting rounds to figure out but eventually did get mostly right) and older contestants means all sorts of good things like emotional maturity and life experience and, perhaps most importantly, actual careers (which is not to say that you have to be career-focused to be a good mate but it’s a lot less likely that an anesthesiologist moves to LA to start a lifestyle blog after the show if you know what I mean). I love Dean, I really do, but if we could stop trying to marry off people who live in vans, I think that’d be a step in the right direction.
But back to Clare- WE KNEW THIS ALREADY! Despite production’s desperate attempts to pretend that her two seasons on Bachelor in Paradise barely existed and the absolute gem of Olympic counter-programming that was Winter Games never happened at all, we do actually know Clare fairly well because we’ve seen Clare on many many iterations of this show. We’ve seen her get engaged before! But I guess we don’t talk about that? Long story short, Clare’s always been like this. She’s hyper-emotional far past what could be considered reasonable and she has a long history of being so hyper-focused on what she wants that the feelings of those around her cease to matter at all (there was a cocktail party on Juan Pablo’s season that almost perfectly mirrors the one this season when she decided that her time with the guy she liked was the only thing that mattered, leaving all the other contestants waiting around).
What’s especially frustrating about the empowerment narrative production has spun around Clare’s emotional outbursts is that it runs parallel with their systematic delegitimization of non-hostile female emotion. A crying woman on The Bachelor is almost always framed as someone to be pitied or mocked but a ranting woman expressing anger, no matter how unfair or disproportionate, is framed as finally empowered. To be very clear, I’m not saying women shouldn’t get angry (women have a lot to be angry about), I’m just taking issue with the consistent anger > sadness paradigm and how the related editing validates bad behaviour. Give me Hannah yelling at Luke any day but anger can be dangerous and the false narrative created around Clare’s anger is not a good thing. Clare got dumped then Clare got mad (hurling some pretty unfair revisionist history accusations and brutal character assassination; I’m no Juan Pablo fan but yeesh) and we were told with great Chris Harrison authority that all that screaming was just evidence of her incredible maturity.
All this to say, season after season, Clare already showed us exactly who she is and we therefore should have been prepared to get exactly that. The editors, “Greatest Seasons Ever” writers, and our own faulty memories let us down, as they so often do, so when we got what we should have expected, we all freaked the fuck out (it’s almost meta if you think about it). If she were a little bit more rational and considerate of others, I dare say I might have really enjoyed a Bachelorette like Clare, a “for better or for worse, this is who I am” type. But I draw the line at a complete refusal to participate in the thing for which you signed up. To say nothing of how she treated the men, the only word for which simply is unkindness.
Isolated from the brutally manipulative character editing that only served to accidentally elevate my annoyance (there’s a Madonna/Whore essay in there somewhere if someone smarter than me wants to write one), the two women each have their good qualities and they foil each other well. In Clare’s shadow, Tayshia’s politeness reads as kindness; in comparison to Tayshia, Clare’s impulsivity and uncompromising nature can be falsely remembered as refreshingly honest. Somewhere in between the two extremes is an actually good Bachelorette but the practical result of this season is that 1+1=0.
But what we did get this season were some damn good Bachelors! Maybe it really is the age thing, or maybe that second round of casting just made the producers a little pickier (Ivan is literally the only major contender to come out of that original group), or maybe the fact that the next Bachelor lead is already chosen and there was no Bachelor in Paradise to peacock for meant that the men were less concerned with getting noticed to up their star status. Whatever it was, this is an awesome group of men with genuinely interesting personalities and backstories beyond locker room antics and basic family drama. They mostly have real jobs, the kind you have to train for then actually care about once you have them. They’re fairly well spoken and even their drama is fairly polite; you don’t get the feeling that this lot’s likely to threaten to hit someone he disagrees with. Just look at how they’re crowded over on the “Love” side of my very scientific Bachelor Scale. I’m sad none of them will be The Bachelor and even sadder that the 2021 Bachelorette contestants will likely take up most of the available BIP spots when that show finally comes back. But we’ve got them now (well, some of them; I waited so long to write this piece that most have been eliminated already, but I’m ranking them anyway) and they are the only thing getting me through this monstrosity of a season.
Here are my thoughts on the men, in the order of how much I like them (again, not the order in which I think they’re right for Tayshia, though I’ll touch on that in my comments as well). Because this article is coming much later in the season than it usually does, I’ve decided to include as many guys as I could remember and not just those still in the running (the finale is this week, that would be futile). Ok, here we go:
This franchise has never seen a man like Zac before. He’s really handsome but in that way-more-attractive way where it has more to do with his smile than his abs. He’s articulate and goofy and has listening and communication skills that would be considered special in the real world let alone in the monosyllabic jockville that is the usual Bachelor pool. His backstory is more than just human interest tragedy, it’s genuinely complex and informs who he is in a way that makes him feel real and not just like some too-good-to-be-true Bachelor prince. I would love love love to see him as the Bachelor in a future season, though I’m sure if anyone from this season ever gets the call-up, it’s more likely to be…
This guy! I anticipate a storied Bachelor Franchise career for Ben, at the very least on Bachelor in Paradise though he seems like a prime Bachelor candidate if a) they ever revisit this pool of men after Matt James’ season and b) they’re willing to have a THIRD guy named Ben in the leading role. Though he looks more like your typical Bachelorette contestant (he’s my superficial pick of the season for sure; have you seen those shoulders?!), like Zac, Ben has a lot more to him than most guys you see on this show, even the interesting ones. To the best of my memory, he’s the first person on the franchise to ever openly discuss mental health and, even in the moments when his story is about what he’s not able to say out loud, his struggle with vulnerability is palpable, relatable, and utterly engrossing.
Though he also has an interesting backstory, Ivan is a bit more of a typical pick for the top of my Bachelor Scale. He’s handsome, soft-spoken, intelligent, kind, and completely drama free. He’s the frontrunner I picked straight out of the limo. Incidentally I also think he’s the best match for Tayshia.
One of the things I keep saying about this cast is that there are a lot of “men of substance”. The Bachelorette often casts pretty simple guys who are fun to watch but realistically you (or at least I) wouldn’t really want to talk to. Even my all-time favourites (with the possible exception of Nick Viall) I think would bore me pretty quickly. But we’re already at fourth place on this year’s scale and we’re still talking about people who have stories to tell and opinions about the world and the ability to express those opinions thoughtfully and eloquently. About once a week since this season began I have out loud said the words “Riley is so cool”. He’s whip smart but not showy about it and, with only rare exceptions, he always picked the exact right moments to speak up, when things actually mattered. You could see him get frustrated when arguments would devolve into shouting matches because you got the sense that if everyone would shut up and listen to him he could easily win the day with logic. He’s also got serious game and will absolutely clean up in his hopeful return for Bachelor in Paradise 2021.
The personality of the season did not get nearly enough air time. Eazy was a total charmer who was a great narrator and really fun without being unserious. In a more normal season, we’d have seen a lot more of him. I fully expect to see him on a beach in Mexico this summer no matter how many standout guys the next Bachelorette cast has.
I was always torn on Kenny because my eyes screamed no but my brain screamed (a tentative) yes. I hated his look (over-styled hair, terrible clothes, tons of tattoos, chyron that read “Boy Band Manager”) but I liked most of the things he actually said and since that’s what matters I’m still putting him on the Love end of the scale. Kenny was fun, and when there was a disagreement about something, I often found myself thinking “Kenny makes an excellent point”. There’s something about his partyboy vibe that makes me wary but based just on what we were shown in this season, I’m pro-Kenny.
Aw, Joe. What a catch. He got no airtime and never had a shot but, man, in the real world? What a freaking catch.
Even though they’re superficially exact opposites, I feel about Bennett much the way I feel about Kenny. I like him, but I’m also worried that if he does BIP I’ll regret putting that in writing. Part of me wants to say that all the douche warning signs are obviously there and where there’s smoke there’s fire but the part of me that always wanted to stand up for Kalon also sees insecurity in that level of performative superiority. Plus he’s really funny. And looks like Superman (not really in an attractive way, just in a “your face kind of amazes me” way). I don’t know, I think I’m more here for Bennett than most people.
A total cutie whose “hometown” date was so sweet I could scream, Brendan is exactly the kind of quiet unassuming dreamboat I love to watch on this show but would never pursue in real life (I’d accidentally squash him like a bug then be plagued with guilt my whole life). Love him, he’s great, he’s only this low on the list because he’s gotten very little screentime.
Also seems super cool, also did not get enough screentime. This season’s weird truncated timeline really deprived us of time with the men. Demar always struck me as smart and grounded but the only thing the show showed us for sure was that he’s really into turtlenecks.
Poor Jason. His intense alpha male energy is a little much for me but there’s a well-meaning joviality to Jason that’s incredibly winning and I’m excited to see him again (the producers clearly like him). The only guy to get a full one-on-one with Clare before she blew up her season, Jason got the real short stick. He was too far down the road with Clare to switch gears in good faith but he was too not-Dale to ever have a real shot with Clare. Other than the guys Clare actually cut (that’s the real low blow), Jason’s the only guy to really suffer because of the switch-up. All the kudos to him for leaving of his own accord, though; a “right reasons” move if I ever saw one.
Oh, Dale. The man, the myth, the legend. He’s got one of those faces that I can see why other people find him attractive but I don’t. Also I never heard him speak (despite the other guys saying he never shuts up?) and I can’t like someone whom I never hear speak. He seems alright though, I guess. I like that he proposed. Not because it was even remotely appropriate for him to propose, but because he knew the show was forcing Clare to expect it and he didn’t want to leave her hanging. He had her back. I don’t have much faith that they’ll last but you never know.
I’m only listing this long-gone man because I wanted to mention him as one of the strangest casualties of the Clare era. Not only was he cut way earlier than he would have been if it had been a full Tayshia season (I mean, that face!) but he got a weird semi-villain edit because he uttered a very standard Bachelor-verse white lie “I’m here for you” (it’s possible! Not likely but possible) then openly admitted to not knowing much about Clare (which was fair, he’d met her like 15 minutes earlier). I’m not super invested in him or even completely convinced he’s not a total douche but a shot at redemption for Brandon would be the fair thing for the producers to do (not that they’ve ever done anything because it was fair).
What I liked about Blake mostly came down to his Canadian-ness. Everything from his accent to his references to his vocabulary felt really comforting; he was the home team and I always root for the home team. But he was the one guy whose too-easy pivot from Clare to Tayshia irked me and I often felt as though he was mostly just interested in attention (either from the show/audience or from the pretty girl, whomever she may be). Also that facial hair was bad news.
Hoo boy, the biggest victim of the Clare era. My read on what happened here was a very simple misunderstanding that is incredibly easy to justify from Zach’s perspective when you factor in the reality that the last time he saw Clare he and the other men were chastised for not being assertive enough with her. But I think his move to overcompensate accidentally (and I really mean accidentally) triggered something for Clare that had absolutely nothing to do with Zach, which caused her massive overreaction and the incredibly uncomfortable way in which he was sent home. I strongly feel that Zach did nothing wrong so the accusatory tone the show took with him from this moment really does not sit well with me. However, I also don’t think Clare did anything wrong here since her reaction in the moment felt really genuine and rooted in past trauma, which is not her fault. I don’t love how the show handled it and always take issue with how Clare simplistically frames things in retrospect to suit her perspective but what actually went down in the moment was a sad case of simple confusion and complicated emotional reaction. Zach’s only so low on this list because I don’t actively like him, not because I dislike him. This whole thing was a real shame and I really hope it doesn’t haunt Zach (or Clare for that matter) too much.
Poor simple Chasen. He looked like Val Kilmer (a neutral observation more than a compliment or criticism) and seemed like a decent enough guy. Alas this was a smarter house than average so his dull-eyed nothingness read as far more neanderthal-ish than it usually would. Throw this guy into, say, Jojo’s season and he would have fit in fine.
Seems like a fine guy. Real job. Absolutely no need for that villain edit. Far too pretty.
Oh, Young Noah. I do think Noah put up with a lot from Bennett that he shouldn’t have had to endure. I think he’s a nice enough kid and he was even decently cute once he shaved that moustache but, as much as he claims he didn’t, he did stir up drama unnecessarily and manipulate Tayshia with his accusations about the other guys (that “questioning her judgement/integrity” thing really got my goat; they were doing no such thing and then she wouldn’t shut up about it because he made her defensive with his clever framing). This is why we shouldn’t have 25-year-olds. I strongly believe 32-year-old Noah will be a great catch, or at least a decent one.
Ew. Ed was my least favourite guy this season by a long shot (does Yosef even count?). I found him deeply unattractive to the point of being annoyed that he was on the show. He was also weirdly aggressive, a tattle-tale, a whiner, and neither sharp nor funny. What was the point of Ed?
Whereas there was actually a point to Yosef, even if it was an unpleasant one. What was so interesting about his criticisms initially is that they were true. Clare was inconsiderate of the men and somewhat crass and I agree that the indignities of the show should be rebelled against. What he got wrong was blaming Clare for everything when a good half to two thirds of his actual complaints were about the show itself, over which she has basically no control. And his tone, of course. Even if your points are completely right (and maybe half of Yosef’s were), that doesn’t matter at all if you make said points with cruelty. I think the “oldest Bachelorette” thing was spun completely out of context (he was not criticizing her for being old, he was expressing the same sentiment we all felt which is that we expected an older Bachelorette to be more mature and poised than the usual Bachelorettes and he was disappointed that that didn’t prove true) but the tone with which he chastised Clare was unkind and self-righteous and that’s inexcusable.