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Squee: Bachelor New Zealand

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Romance fans, there is a version The Bachelor that isn’t terrible! Let’s visit New Zealand, where at least one man will fall for you when a koala poops in your belly button.

My reading took a nosedive as we hit the March pandemic anniversaries, so I turned to television. Every season I try to enjoy The Bachelor, and most years I angrily give up midway and read Elyse’s recaps instead. I want my dating shows to show people falling in love, not (just) making fools of themselves. Documentary-style dating shows, like Dating Around, are one of my favorite comfort watches. I adore where people become smitten over conversation, with no appropriative shaman ritual needed.

Luckily, I found The Bachelor New Zealand from 2015, now available on HBO Max. Bitches, this show is wonderful. It avoids my three major problems with the Bachelor franchise:

-fucked-up depictions of women
-undateable leads who we’re supposed to pretend are a catch
-and failed HEAs that leave viewers devastated, angry, or bored.

Or all three, in the case of the recent season.

Instead we get laidback hangouts in beautiful places, a swoony lead who wants women to eat on their dates, contestants unafraid to be their true wacky selves, and women who look like they’re having fun. When I needed some tension-free television, The Bachelor NZ offered a relaxed vibe in a gorgeous location where everyone’s kind to one another. Also, I could look up the winner to confirm I wasn’t going to hate them (or myself for watching).

First, I have to acknowledge that, yes this show still has a bunch of women competing to date one man. The whole conceit of this show is ridiculous, but I think we’ve established that I love ridiculous stories. At least they let people eat on this version.

Despite the unequal setup, the representation of women seemed loosely related to how humans actually date. Art, our Bachelor, has a bunch of bossy sisters, and runs a natural food company. He chooses his first date because the girl reminds him of his mum, and he thinks it’s cute when his date farts when they’re cuddling on the beach over vegan snacks. As soon as he remembered she was a vegetarian, and made food for her, I was a goner.

I just farted on the Bachelor

The women on this show are unapologetic about their needs, and willing to walk away if he’s not a good fit to meet them, which is fucking refreshing. For example, one woman is looking for a man to be her bodyguard when she travels to war zones.

Show Spoiler
She quickly figures out that sensitive Art is not a good fit.
A South Asian woman doesn’t kiss in public, and Art is unfazed and respectful. Even the “villain” of the show is just a woman who doesn’t like being interrupted, and she isn’t interested in getting out of her comfy chair to woo the Bachelor. Girl, drink your mimosa and wait for that feminist dude to come to you!

This behavior wouldn’t even get you screen time on the US version of the show.

The gender dynamics on Bachelor NZ are a serious selling point. During group dates, Art seeks women out for conversations, instead of reclining like a pasha demanding women fight over him. He expresses genuine care and concern when women are struggling. Early on, a woman with the most intense mascara expressed how uncomfortable she was being on tv. Art gives her a spontaneous and generous embrace, and it melted my shriveled crone heart.

Art is excited when a cat joins his date

There are a few awkward ducklings who are new to dating altogether on the show, and they’re presented with compassion. I was less compassionate when I screamed at the screen, “No, why would you make your first date on a reality show?!” Still, the majority of participants feel like grown-ups. One woman is still married but separated, and it’s no big deal. Instead of picking the women apart like some US Bachelors, Art seems to fall in like easily.

The women see it as equally important that they figure out if Art is a fit for them. They’re not afraid to point out his flaws, like when he decides not to send anyone home one week, and the ladies complain that he seems to like having a bunch of girlfriends a little too much. At one point they organize an attention boycott, pushing him to figure out which women he’s most interested in. Art is good natured in the face of this tough love.

Bachelor NZ is like the Great British Bake-off of dating. The women cheer each other on, and work together to make sure everyone gets time with him. Some of the women reject him, but it feels like a reasonable breakup, not something manipulated and teased out for maximum drama. When the villain is a bit high maintenance, the other women are perplexed, asking openly “why wouldn’t you want to be nice,” like they’ve never seen a reality show before.

We just stumbled into this picturesque rose arbor

I also have to mention that Bachelor NZ is just beautiful to look at. Nearly every date on the show is in a gorgeous spot. A designer friend recommended the show to me, noting that every shot is pleasingly framed. And it’s true: even the cocktail parties are held in a lush garden, with sparkling fairy lights and cosy furniture. For a show with an artificial conceit, the cinematography feels alluring but never artificial. The dates are also perfect eye candy for those of us who can’t travel, and don’t live in NZ.

Strolling down the beach, during the golden hour

At its core, this show worked for me because Art is my favorite type of romance hero. He’s a remarkably dateable Bachelor who treats women with respect. My interest waned in the US version because of how rarely the bachelor is a catch. He’s generally a bland, minimally ambitious dude with little tolerance for the women’s actual feelings, and questionable emotional intelligence. In contrast, Art is kind, has reasonable expectations, was clearly trained well by his badass mom and sisters to always get consent before kissing, and is happy to take no for an answer. The show ends with an invitation to a relationship, not a proposal.

To be clear, this is still the Bachelor, so it’s not politically groundbreaking television. This is the story of White, thin, mostly blonde people engaging in hetero mating rituals. But I enjoyed seeing the show stripped of the drama and toxicity, and I loved seeing people date while cleaning crocodile cages, cuddling pooping koalas, and falling off horses. Also, the kissing is minimal for the first several episodes, which was a blessed relief after watching the last Bachelor make out with his eyes open. If, like me, you like low conflict romances, and watch reality dating shows because you want to see people fall in love, I recommend this trip to New Zealand.

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