Monash University Publishing | Contacts Page
Monash University Publishing: Advancing knowledge

Small Screens

CHAPTER 5

Take One Sip When Someone Says ‘Connection’

Passion versus Intimacy in The Bachelor/ette Australia

JODI MCALISTER

It is somewhat surprising, given the success of the American franchise, that it took so long for an Australian network to produce a homegrown version of The Bachelor/ette. The first Australian series aired in 2013, starring Tim Robards as the Bachelor. In 2014, the success of the second season, starring Blake Garvey, prompted Channel Ten to order not only a third season of The Bachelor, starring Sam Wood, but also the inaugural season of The Bachelorette, starring Samantha Frost, who won the second season of The Bachelor but was rejected by Garvey before the finale went to air. Since the inception of the Australian franchise – affectionately known as Bachie – a strong culture of online engagement has emerged. The most well-known examples of this are the recaps written for website MamaMia by Rosie Waterland, but recaps are also published by major newspapers like The Daily Telegraph and The Sydney Morning Herald and news sites such as Buzzfeed, news.com.au, and Pedestrian (as well as being written for the blog of digital publisher Momentum Moonlight by yours truly). Every episode is energetically live-tweeted by viewers under the hashtags #TheBachelorAU and #BacheloretteAU. For many viewers, it seems, a key part of the pleasure of engaging with Bachie is engaging with it critically.

Because of the nature of the format – one Bachie, many contestants – the show offers a proliferation of versions of love through its multiple potential romantic relationships. One version of love is ultimately successful, as the Bachie chooses a partner; however, this version of love is not necessarily the one most responded to by the audience. The culture of engagement that has emerged around Bachie is useful source material here, because it offers a useful litmus test as to which versions of love resonate most with viewers – which is very revealing as to how we think about, imagine, and construct love in twenty-first century Australia.

Love Languages: Bachie Buzzwords

Bachie is frequently lampooned for its distinct linguistic markers, phrases usually related to romantic attraction. These phrases are often incorporated into drinking games, which are apparently common pastimes among Bachie viewers, especially for premiere and finale episodes. Buzzfeed’s drinking game for The Bachelorette (subtitled ‘Get Maggoted to The Bachelorette’) is a good example of this: it suggests that viewers should “take one sip when … someone says ‘connection’, ‘felt a spark’ or ‘definite chemistry’” and two sips when “someone says ‘journey’” or “‘here for the right reasons’”.1

Because these phrases are used – and overused – so much on Bachie, they have to an extent lost their meaning: a classic case of semantic satiation. That said, these words are revealing about the expectations of romantic love created by the show. If, as Niklas Luhmann suggests, love is a “symbolic code,” one which “encourages one to have the appropriate feelings,” these Bachie buzzwords are clearly part of it.2 Understanding them tells us important things about the ways in which the show constructs romantic love.

Connection

The term ‘connection’ is (over)used in multiple different ways in the show, with references to ‘instant connections’ between Bachie and contestant sitting alongside the idea that a connection is something that has to grow and be actively nurtured (by the contestant rather than the Bachie, who presumably does not have the time to be looking after so many connections at once).

This, then, is drawing on multiple constructions of romantic love. The idea that a connection is instantaneous, based on something ineffable that passes between two people before they even speak, is not new: the mythology of Eros/Cupid and his arrows is an ancient one. But it is also one that is shaped heavily by a culture of romance. The idea of love at first sight is in play here, one that Eva Illouz suggests is a cultural label which provides a useful way of imbuing physiological attraction with meaning.3 Although the idea of the ‘connection’ is not as strong as ‘love at first sight’, this instantaneous attraction is clearly still valued by Bachie, something we can see by the emphasis placed on the white rose. Typically, the Bachie will give red roses to the contestants s/he has chosen to continue on to the next episode. However, in the 2014 and 2015 seasons of The Bachelor, the Bachie has also had the opportunity in the first episode to hand out a white rose to the contestant to whom he feels the strongest connection. Because this is so early in the show, there has been little time for genuine emotional intimacy to evolve: instead, the white rose is given based on initial impressions only. Anthony Giddens writes that “[t]he ‘first glance’ [of romance] is a communicative gesture, an intuitive grasp of qualities of the other”.4 The prized white rose is based on this first glance: on an instantaneous sense, based on very little, that a romance might develop.

This is not to say that the white rose is based solely on a glance. In the 2015 season of The Bachelor, Bachie Sam Wood awarded the white rose to contestant Heather Maltman, who ultimately finished fourth on the show. “I feel like she’s someone I’ve known for a while already,” Wood said in the first episode. “She’s smart, she’s funny, and she’s incredibly beautiful, and I can already see the start of a connection there”.5 The phrase ‘start of a connection’ is telling. While the instantaneous connection is prized, it is not the whole of the thing. The connection is something that must be developed over time, through communication (which typically takes place, in the Bachie franchise, on the prized ‘single dates’). This speaks to a modern romantic notion, which David Shumway terms “intimacy”, as opposed to passion: “The discourse of intimacy makes emotional close ness, rather than passion, its Holy Grail,” Shumway writes.6 Passion – some thing which, we might assume, is at least partially inherent in the instantaneous connection – is irrational, immediate, and intense. Intimacy, on the other hand, is shaped by a deep emotional closeness which must be developed over time, mirroring the Bachie-contest ant connection which must be developed.

Journey

‘Journey’ is perhaps the most frequently ridiculed of all the Bachie buzzwords (including, occasionally, by the contestants: on a post-Bachelorette finale interview on The Project, Bachie Sam Frost mentioned that she said the word ‘beautiful’ about a thousand times on the show, and laughed when host Carrie Bickmore quipped “at least it wasn’t journey”.7) But the ridicule levelled at the word has done nothing to quell its pervasiveness in the show, which signals its semantic importance.

The journey is one of Western literature’s most common narrative staples, and it is one that is frequently interpolated into romantic stories. Even the most cursory glance at the publication guidelines of Harlequin Mills & Boon, the world’s most well-known romance publisher, reveals the proliferation of the word ‘journey’: the guidelines to their Romance line emphasise the importance of the “journey to falling in love,”8 while their guide to writing a synopsis describes the romance arc as a “journey from chemically charged first meeting to happy ending”.9 Romantic love thus becomes a kind of quest narrative: a journey from one emotional place to another.

For a quest to be a proper narrative, it must have obstacles: something which is argued by Denis de Rougemont, one of the first historians of love, who argues that obstacles are consistently generated in romantic narratives in order to drive the story forward, because without obstacles to overcome, there is no narrative.10 The obstacles are clear in Bachie: on their quest for true love, the Bachie must overcome the temptations of false love and the lure of people they do not have a ‘connection’ with. Similarly, a plethora of obstacles are set before the contestants – sometimes quite literally, in the peculiar Bachie phenomenon known as ‘group dates,’ where contest ants compete for the privilege of alone time with the Bachie.

In short, the idea of the ‘journey’ is a narrative one, and allows the show to frame the interactions of Bachie and contestants as a love story. It is fundamental to the way the final romance is constructed: as Jean-Claude Kaufmann puts it, “For someone who wants to be in a love story, the story is just as important as the love”.11 The journey posed by the Bachie process is foundational for the final romance: as Bachie Sam Wood tells winner Snezana Markoski when he declares his love to her, “When I think about this adventure that we’ve been on, I don’t think of it as the end, I think of it as the beginning of what I know will be a beautiful fairy tale. But I also think it’s important that we remember how it all started, on this crazy roller coaster”.12 The declaration of love marks the beginning of a fairy tale happily ever after – just as it might in one of Harlequin Mills & Boon’s romance novels. But it is also the endpoint of a journey: a narrative of falling in love, of overcoming obstacles to achieve an ultimate aim. “To be in love is to be the protagonist of a story,” Catherine Belsey writes.13 This story is a quest story, a journey story, and such an understanding is intrinsic to the way we understand love in the Western world.

Constructing Romance

I have already referred to the work of David Shumway, who sees in modern romance a shift away from what he calls “romance” or “passion”, which incorporates infatuation and attraction, towards intimacy, which privileges a deep knowing of the other: that is, communication and emotional closeness. In her monograph on romantic love in Britain, Claire Langhamer proposes something similar, arguing that:

in the first half of the century ‘to love’ might mean to ‘take care’ of a partner, [whereas] in the second half of the century it increasingly meant understanding them and cultivating their self-development. Crucially it also meant expecting them to do the same for you. Psychic transformation as well as personal satisfaction lay at the heart of the new-style emotional intimacy.14

However, although the idea of intimacy is arguably the primary model in the modern West for romance, the idea of passion has not entirely disappeared. Indeed, Bachie Sam Wood’s final speech to winner Snezana seems to speak directly to the excerpt from Langhamer above: “I’ve never felt like this about anyone in my life before. You make me a better man. I want to spoil you, and I want to look after you forever,” he tells her, incorporating both the desire to take care of her and the idea that their love is crucial to his self-development.15 Sam’s love for Snezana, it seems, lives somewhere in the space between the two ideas of romance and passion.

This is not especially surprising, even though ‘passion’ is in some ways an old-fashioned notion. As Shumway notes, “[b]oth discourses promise a great deal in the name of love. Romance offers adventure, intense emotion, and the possibility of finding a perfect mate. Intimacy promises deep communication, friendship, and sharing that will last beyond the passion of new love”.16 While intimacy might dominate modern love more broadly, the format of Bachie places particular emphasis on passion and romance. Contestants have only a limited time with the Bachie, and much of it takes place in what we might call an adventurous setting: dates frequently involve extreme sports, such as skydiving or parasailing, mimicking the adventure inherent in the idea of passion. Intimacy is still important, and the show takes pains to demonstrate that conversation and communication between Bachie and contestant is key, but the emphasis placed on passion sets love on Bachie apart somewhat from what we might think of as “ordinary” love – if love can ever be said to be ordinary.

To consider the balance of passion and intimacy that must take place on the Bachie journey – these two different types of connections – I will now take one particular relationship (or ‘journey’, as perhaps I should say) as a case study. This is the relationship between Bachie Sam Wood and contestant Heather Maltman, who finished fourth on the third season of The Bachelor.

Heather, Sam, and the Problem of Lana

As mentioned above, Heather was an early frontrunner on The Bachelor, and was the recipient of the coveted white rose, signalling that Bachie Sam felt the strongest connection with her initially. Although this was based on only a few hours acquaintance, the reasons for this connection spoke directly to an idea of intimacy, because they were based in communication. “Our conversation is flowing so easily it’s actually ridiculous,” Heather comments to the camera. “I can’t get over how much I can actually be myself around this guy”.17 Similarly, when Sam he gives her the white rose, he tells her, “Since I met you, a few short hours ago, I can’t believe how easy you are to talk to”.18

The ease with which Sam and Heather could communicate, and the speed with which they exchanged highly personal stories, was highlighted by the show, and well-received by viewers, many of whom believed Heather would be the ultimate winner. In the show’s fourth episode, Sam and Heather went on their first single date. On this date, the intimate ‘connection’ between Sam and Heather was evident to many viewers, particularly after they had a conversation about her troubled upbringing and the death of his mother. The news.com.au recap of the episode described this as “legitimately touching,”19 while the PopSugar recap called it:

actually the most heartfelt, genuine moment I can remember from all three seasons of The Bachelor. It’s truly heartbreaking. This deep conversation sets their relationship at another pace and suddenly it seems like Heather’s back in the lead.20

Rosie Waterland agreed, writing that, “He gives her a rose. They kiss and she is absolutely 100% going to win this whole Sparkly Hunger Games. Bachie Wood is clearly smitten, and she KNOWS it”.21 But this date also contained the kernels of what would ultimately be the downfall of Heather and Sam’s relationship. “I feel like we’re in danger of becoming fantastic friends,” Sam confessed to Heather, clearly implying that, while the ease of their communication boded well for a relationship – mobilising an idea of intimacy – there might not be a romantic, passionate ‘spark’ between the two. Sam was not the only one to express this thought: “I can’t see anything romantic between them,” contestant Emily Simms remarked.22

Heather did not share Sam and Emily’s feelings on this matter, repeatedly insisting that her feelings for Sam were more than friendship, while simultaneously stating that she believed a solid friendship was the foundation for a lasting romantic relationship. “I think before anything else, I want to find someone I can be friends with … I just want you to be a mate that I could go have a beer with,” she told Sam on their first meeting: a notion that she stuck to through the entire series.23 While Sam initially told her that he was open to this vision of friendship-first romance, as the series progressed, he changed his mind. “Every time I try to explore the romance with Heather, she bails out a little bit,” Sam claimed in the thirteenth episode. “She’ll go to calling me ‘dude’ or ‘man’ and it’s really hard to go to that next romantic level”.24 The ‘romance’ Sam is referring to here is almost exactly the romance referred to by Shumway: a level of passion and intense emotion that is not based on communication, but on a sort of ineffable attraction.

The fact that Sam felt his connection with Heather was missing this passionate element became particularly evident – to viewers, and, one imagines, to him – after he met intruder and eventual series runner-up Lana Jeavons-Fellows in the ninth episode. Sam had an instantaneous attraction to Lana – “I’ve got this sense of déjà vu back to the very first night where I remember how instantly you can click with someone,” he said.25 While he also felt an instant connection with Heather (as the white rose proves), it quickly became clear that these were connections of different kinds. When Sam talked about Heather, it was usually in terms of how well they communicated: “The great connection I have with Heather just allows us to pick up where we left off – the banter’s there, the jokes are there, the conversation picks up almost exactly where it finished last time,” he said in the thirteenth episode.26 When he discussed his relationship with Lana, however, it was in very different terms: “She has these amazing eyes, and I’m so attracted to her – I’m just not sure how she feels about me,” he said in the same episode.27 We can see here clearly the ideas of passion and intimacy represented. With Heather, Sam had intimacy but not passion; with Lana, passion, but not necessarily intimacy.

The comparison between Heather and Lana was subtly encouraged by the show. Physically, they looked quite similar, and they were often dressed alike: for example, when Lana entered the show in the ninth episode, she wore a sparkly black dress almost identical to the one Heather wore in the first episode. This similarity was picked up quickly by recappers: Rosie Waterland immediately dubbed Lana “Heather 2.0”28 while the Daily Mail ran an article about the pair’s similarities, called ‘Double Trouble’.29 However, despite the visual similarities between the two, the differences in their romantic “connections” with Sam were also noticed. In her recap for the tenth episode, discussing Sam and Lana, Waterland wrote that:

Bachie Wood insists that she’s a really, really ‘interesting’ person, a strange adjective to use when he’s only spoken to her for a total of fifteen minutes. But then, I suppose we do need to remember that Bachie Wood often confuses the word ‘interesting’ with ‘hot’, and then his Bachie Peen gets all kinds of confused.

In the same recap, discussing Sam and Heather, she wrote that:

He gives her a rose. They kiss. Talk about feelings and she’s clearly won this whole freaking thing unless he ends up loving her like a little sister or something except nah he won’t she is clearly the one who will engulf his Bachie Peen for eternity.30

Sam’s passionate connection with Lana is portrayed here as shallow compared to the intimate one he shares with Heather. But the introduction of Lana fundamentally changed the … journey? … for Heather and Sam. I do not presume to know here the emotions felt on either side, but in terms of the narrative presented by The Bachelor, there was a definite shift. Whereas previously, Heather had been identified by many as the frontrunner, the emergence of Lana provided a major plot twist in the love story. In her recap of a Sam/Lana date in the eleventh episode, Rosie Waterland wrote that:

They dance, and Bachie Wood says that Lana has knocked his Bachie Peen sideways and talks about falling in love really fast and says something about ‘reassessing where his heart is at’ and oh holy Oprah this chick has won this whole damn thing. HOW COULD YOU FALL OUT OF LOVE WITH HEATHER THAT FAST? YOU LOVE HEATHER NOT LANA THIS ISN’T RIGHT.

… He’s mesmerised by her. He cannot even deal with his Bachie Peen tingles right now. He can’t even remember Heather’s name at this point. Heather is dead to him. He wants Lana to engulf his peen forever and ever.31

Lana thus became one of the new frontrunners, her passionate connection with Sam apparently trumping Heather’s intimate one. In the fourteenth episode, where Heather was eliminated, it seems unlikely that it was an accident that Sam gave roses to fellow contestants Snezana and Sarah before climactically choosing between Lana and Heather: a symbolic choice between passion and intimacy. “I’ve been wanting and hoping that what I’ve felt has been an amazing friend ship can become more, but I just don’t think it can,” Sam tells Heather.32

It is worth noting that Sam ultimately rejected Lana as well, choosing Snezana in the season finale, with whom, as I noted above, he shared a connection incorporating both intimacy and passion. But the disparate reactions to the eliminations of Heather and Lana signal something quite clear about the way viewers imagined romantic love. Heather was a fan favourite, but Lana was not. On Lana’s elimination, viewers were largely relieved. Arguably, this had more to do with the fact that winner Snezana (affectionately dubbed “Parmie”) was well-liked, but on the whole, audiences never warmed to Lana. Heather’s elimination, on the other hand, led to an outpouring on social media. 2Day FM wrote that the episode in which she was eliminated was “epically mindblowing [and] life-altering” and “the nation has been in shock since”,33 while news.com.au ran an article entitled ‘Sam Wood slammed after dumping Heather on The Bachelor’.34 Similar articles were run by many other news sites. PopSugar published a piece called ‘Why Heather Ticks All the Girlfriend Boxes,’ demonstrating just how strongly viewers had espoused the idea that Heather – and the idea of intimacy her connection with Sam represented – was ideal.35 (I, I must confess, added my own voice to this trend of pro-Heather thinkpieces – my recap of the episode in which she was eliminated was liberally filled with “true love” gifs from The Princess Bride.)36 What was particularly telling was the enormous groundswell of support for Heather to take on the mantle of Bachie in the 2016 season of The Bachelorette: to begin a new narrative journey explicitly positioned as heroine of a romance. This demonstrates clearly how her particular style of doing romance, based on conversation, jokes, and friendship, resonated strongly with the viewership.

Bachie and, in particular, the responses to it, is fruitful ground for studying the way we think about and imagine love in Australian culture. While the show privileges the idea of passion, and promotes its importance in creating a romantic bond, the case of Heather shows that, on the whole, it is the idea of an intimate romantic connection that resonates most with Australian viewers.

 

1Jenna Guillaume, Tahlia Pritchard, and Mat Whitehead, ‘We Made A Drinking Game For “The Bachelorette” Australia,’ Buzzfeed, September 23, 2015, accessed November 2, 2015.

2Niklas Luhmann, Love as Passion: The Codification of Intimacy, Harvard University Press, 1986, pp.8–9.

3Eva Illouz, Consuming the Romantic Utopia: Love and the Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1997, p.4.

4Anthony Giddens, The Transformation of Intimacy: Sexuality, Love and Eroticism in Modern Societies, Polity, Cambridge, 1992, p.40.

5The Bachelor Australia, Season 3, Episode 1, Channel 10 and Shine Australia, aired 29 July 2015.

6David Shumway, Modern Love: Romance, Intimacy and the Marriage Crisis, New York University Press, New York and London, 2003, p. 3.

7The Project, Channel 10 and Roving Enterprises, aired 23 October 2015.

8‘Harlequin Romance (Mills & Boon Romance) Guidelines,’ Harlequin, n.d., accessed 2 November 2015.

9Lesley Wainger, ‘Writing the Dreaded Synopsis,’ Harlequin, n.d., accessed 2 November 2015.

10Denis De Rougemont, Love in the Western World, Princeton University Press, 1940.

11Jean-Claude Kaufmann, The Single Woman and the Fairytale Prince, Polity, Cambridge, 2008, p.62.

12The Bachelor Australia, Season 3, Episode 16, Channel 10 and Shine Australia, aired 17 September, 2015.

13Catherine Belsey, Desire: Love Stories in Western Culture, Blackwell, Oxford, 1994, p.ix.

14Claire Langhamer, The English in Love: The Intimate Story of an Emotional Revolution, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013, p.38.

15The Bachelor Australia, Season 3, Episode 16.

16Shumway, 2003, p.27.

17The Bachelor Australia, Season 3, Episode 1.

18Ibid.

19Jo Thornely, ‘Jo Thornely Recaps The Bachelor Episode 4: Where a Tiny Peck on the Mouth Can Mean the End of Civilisation as We Know It’, news.com.au, 7 August 2015, accessed 2 November 2015.

20Genevieve Rota, ‘10 Things You Need to Know About Episode 4 of The Bachelor’, PopSugar, 9 August 2015, accessed 2 November 2015.

21Rosie Waterland, ‘Rosie Recaps Episode 4: It’s Obvious in the First 5 Minutes which Girls are Going Tonight’, MamaMia, 6 August 2015, accessed 2 November 2015.

22The Bachelor Australia, Season 3, Episode 4, Channel 10 and Shine Australia, aired 6 August 2015.

23The Bachelor Australia, Season 3, Episode 1.

24The Bachelor Australia, Season 3, Episode 13, Channel 10 and Shine Australia, aired 9 September 2015.

25The Bachelor Australia, Season 3, Episode 9, Channel 10 and Shine Australia, aired 26 August 2015.

26The Bachelor Australia, Season 3, Episode 13.

27Ibid.

28Rosie Waterland, ‘Rosie Recaps The Bachelor Episode 9: Guess Which Girl Just Stormed Out during the Rose Ceremony?’ MamaMia, 27 August 2015, accessed 2 November 2015.

29‘Double Trouble! The Bachelor’s Heather Maltman and Lana Jeavons-Fellows Show Sam Wood Has a Type with Their Similar Features and Identical Side-Part Hairstyles’, The Daily Mail, 26 August 2015, accessed 2 November 2015.

30Rosie Waterland, ‘Rosie Recaps The Bachelor Episode 10: The Lights Went Out. Naughty Things Happened,’ MamaMia, 28 August 2015, accessed 2 November 2015.

31Rosie Waterland, ‘Rosie Recaps The Bachelor Ep 11: Bachie Wood Finally Realised He Can’t Keep All the Girls. Breaks Down’, MamaMia, 3 September 2015, accessed 2 November 2015.

32The Bachelor Australia, Season 3, Episode 14, Channel 10 and Shine Australia, aired 10 September 2015.

33‘Bachelor’s Sam and Heather No Longer Friends?’ 2DayFM, September 11, 2015, accessed 2 November 2015.

34Tiffany Dunk, ‘Sam Wood Slammed After Dumping Heather on The Bachelor’, news.com.au, 11 September 2015, accessed 2 November 2015.

35Genevieve Rota, ‘One Guy’s Opinion: Why Heather Ticks All the Girlfriend Boxes’, PopSugar, September 15, 2015, accessed November 2, 2015.

36Jodi McAlister, ‘The Bachelor Australia Recap – Season 3, Episode 14’, Momentum Moonlight, 11 September 2015, accessed 2 November 2015.

Small Screens

   by Michelle Arrow, Jeannine Baker and Clare Monagle