Jillian Harris, who is either 29 or 30 depending on the interview, is a Vancouver interior designer born in Peace River, Alta. As demonstrated on the ABC reality television series The Bachelorette, seen in Canada on Citytv, she is also one of the great small-screen emoters. Harris, the show’s first Canadian star, does perfect-pitch longing, heartbreak and indignation, and has made her girlish squeal—whether in greeting a man or responding to subsequent witticisms—into a blues singer’s plaintive cry for love: the Ma Rainey of the YouTube age. “I’m here to find the person I’m going to spend the rest of my life with,” she said last week, an episode in which—four times—she declined invitations to sleep with a suitor in the so-called Fantasy Suite, thereby sealing her bona fides as a chaste Canuck. (Past bachelorettes haven’t delayed such proceedings). Still, like the raunchy Rainey, she excels also at lust.
Appraising California business developer Kiptyn, 31, Harris sparkles: “He’s got that six pack or eight pack or 12 pack, or whatever is going on,” she allows. As a contestant in last year’s The Bachelor (of which The Bachelorette is a gender-reversing spinoff), Harris caused a stir when, slipping into the warm candlelit waters of a New Zealand hot tub with toothy Seattle account executive Jason Mesnick, she parted her legs and straddled the object of her desire while cameras lurked nearby. “One of our producers got so embarrassed watching they had to turn away,” show host Chris Harrison later gushed.
And why not? Each episode is only as good as its most awkward scene. Yet Harris has undeniable poise: petite, perky and coquettish in a girl-next-door way, she exhibits good humour and obvious smarts while promoting the show (ABC would not make her available for this story). She applied for The Bachelor, in which 25 women vie for the attentions of an eligible man, while drinking wine with a friend (as if priming herself for the liquor-fuelled shoot). “I always thought the girls were a bit of a train wreck,” she told Peace River DJ Damien Gnass of past seasons. “I think my application said something like, ‘I’m a good polished redneck from northern Alberta and if you want your ratings to go through the roof, give me a call.’ And they really did call.”
Asked later what it must be like watching Mesnick “hold everybody’s face the same and kiss everybody the same,” she told Ellen DeGeneres: “It feels like growing up in a small town in northern Alberta. Like—‘Wait a second, that’s my boyfriend over there!’ ” Her turn as the bachelorette now puts Harris in charge: like Mesnick, she cavorts and makes out with her harem. Then, with much pomp, she dispatches one (to those staying she hands roses; tears are distributed to the unlucky). The two-hour bacchanals—shot, among other places, in Vancouver, Whistler and Banff, in honour of her roots (“a glacier is prime real estate for falling in love,” she says)—feature indiscriminate hand-holding, open-mouth kissing (one wonders what she uses as a palate cleanser) and cringe-inducing declarations of “like.”
When, in the Rockies, she engages in intimate alfresco embraces with “bad boy” Texas country singer Wes, you can hear the crunch of snow as a cameraman moves in for a close-up. Harris can’t seem to sit on a couch with a man without wrapping her legs around him. “I wish I had a bigger vocabulary so I could describe how I feel,” another hapless contestant, Robby, 25, says before Harris dumps him from the Rocky Mountaineer train somewhere near Radium, B.C. “Obviously, I feel very rejected,” he says as Harris watches him disappear from her perch on the caboose. “What was it? Tell me quickly,” pleads another, Jake, a stolid commercial airline pilot, when he’s sent home, a reality TV Count Vronsky.
The season has also featured a foot fetishist (“her feet are ridiculous . . . and I have critiqued a lot of feet,” he says, fondling her toes with the blank stare of a man in the front row of a strip joint), the self-promoting singer (who may or may not have a girlfriend), and a nebishy Philly realtor (“He doesn’t have a problem finding women,” his brother told Harris, “they just go away”). Of the two cheesecakes remaining—the bland leading the bland—one failed to rise to the occasion once Harris did drag him to the Fantasy Suite. It’s not clear whether the show empowers its star or reinforces nasty stereotypes about women wielding power. What’s inarguable is that the show cheapens love.