The Maclean’s Bachelor panel

One bachelor, three critics, countless possibilities

Sonya Bell, Colin Horgan and Aaron Wherry
<p>Bachelor Canada star and former CFL wide receiver Brad Smith poses for a photograph in Toronto on Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette</p>

Bachelor Canada star and former CFL wide receiver Brad Smith poses for a photograph in Toronto on Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette


Sonya Bell, Colin Horgan and Aaron Wherry discuss the finer points of The Bachelor Canada — in Horgan’s words, “the Iliad and the Odyssey and Wuthering Heights and Sense and Sensibility and the Great Gatsby all rolled into one … but different.”

From: Aaron
To: Colin, Sonya

As all high school textbooks will soon be edited to reflect, there are two pivotal dates in Canadian history: 1812, when the land that would become this nation was valiantly defended against American invaders in one of humanity’s odder conflicts, and 2012, when this country valiantly rebranded as its own one of America’s greatest contributions to 21st century humanity.

Not only did we get to keep the Northwest Territories, but now, with the debut of The Bachelor Canada, we can claim one of the last of a beleaguered America’s great institutions. Without even needing to invade, we have successfully conquered the continent.

For those unfamiliar with The Bachelor, the premise is perfectly logical: a contestant seeking true love is presented with a couple dozen members of the opposite sex, several of whom he will make out with and one of whom, in theory, he will marry. Over the course of several weeks impossibly elaborate dates are had and, one-by-one, the women are eliminated (the weekly elimination involves an ancient pagan ritual known as a “rose ceremony”). This whole process is regularly referred to as the “journey.”

We have mostly abandoned the idea that reality television competitions should deliver on their central promise. (It’s been eight years since American Idol produced a legitimate pop star and I’m not sure a winner of America’s Next Top Model has ever actually gone on to be photographed even once.) And the idea of love is not to be taken too seriously here. Only once so far has the American series (comprised of both The Bachelor and the Bachelorette) resulted in a sustained and durable marriage. The general notion persists, but mostly the next few weeks will be consumed by crying, drinking, kissing, agonizing, sneering and self-loathing. It will be mostly awesome to behold: the most basic of human desires subjected to the most ridiculous construct humanity has so far devised.

The Bachelor in this case is Brad Smith, a suitably lantern-jawed former (Canadian) football player. At the outset, his potential wives included a girl with a tattoo in the middle of her chest who likes guns, a real estate agent who expects to have sex three times per day, a Playboy model, a real-life Tinkerbell who is very religious and, of course, one of Kris Humphries’ ex-girlfriends. The drinking began before the women had arrived at the rented mansion and the gruesome competition commenced shortly after the awkward greetings were made in the cobblestone driveway. “These bitches are ser-i-ous,” explained the three-times-per-day real estate agent. As the sad music played, nine women were made to leave the house after failing to receive coveted roses from Brad.

I’m fairly excited about the potential for this first Canadian attempt at nationalizing the Bachelor magic. Not least because Brad is among those shown crying in the season previews.

From: Colin
To: Sonya, Aaron

I might as well admit up front that while my reality television experience is fairly broad, including a few seasons of Survivor, American Idol and – yeah, I might as well just say it – the Ashlee Simpson Show, I’ve had limited exposure to The Bachelor or Bachelorette franchise. But after Wednesday night, I already love it.

Aaron rightly notes this is perhaps the one show in which contestants seek true love, however loosely that might be defined, including, it would appear, by how real someone’s boobs are. That definition also seems to include the word “skank” and, oddly enough, a fair amount of hatred. All of which, of course, is why we’re here and why the reality television genre still holds our attention – it’s the Iliad and the Odyssey and Wuthering Heights and Sense and Sensibility and the Great Gatsby all rolled into one only this time with a girl nicknamed “Bubba” telling the entire country in glorious third person that “Bubba don’t chase d—, OK? Bubba do not chase d—.”

And it’s actually Bubba on whom this first episode really hangs, I think, even if the more obvious characters are Gabrielle and Whitney. Aaron, you’re right in reaching back to a distant war, because that’s basically what this is. It’s both one man’s war against loneliness and, by its very premise, a quasi-guerrilla resistance to acceptable social behaviour, all set at a safe distance from us. But we all know wars are won one battle at a time. Already, we can see that the Gabrielle-Whitney confrontation will perhaps be the most epic of them all, but there was a battle to be fought in this first episode, and I think it’s fair to say we won it. We had to.

Bubba was at the heart of that battle. In fact, she was it. It’s Bubba—or Rebecca as she’s hopefully known to her real estate clients in Toronto—who confesses to us in a short series of increasingly touching cutaways that her world has been effectively turned upside-down in a matter of a few hours and an endless sea of spray-on tan and booze. We see her briefly in a few shots of the house, framed somewhat apart from the general maw with a couple of other girls who, we have been taught to assume, are probably also soon-to-be-rejects. In an attempt to fight the darkness and catch Brad’s attention, she interrupts one of his various intimate moments outside on the patio, apparently sick of waiting her turn. It was a bold move, made with another girl in tow, no less. It was also one that ultimately proved fruitless. She was sent home at the end of the night. Another, sadder, Bubba confessional: “I’m not like these other girls. They’re all so skinny and I’m not. As much as I’m confident, it’s still hard.”

That right there, my friends, was what we call Real Life, and it was very close to pounding down the door and interrupting the thing we really love about shows like this. Bubba was too real for reality television, so she had to go away before we could sit back and enjoy the spectacle – what we really came for. I liked Bubba and her brash barging-in, to be honest, but she was clearly a hindrance to this operation. That all sounds harsh, I know. But I also know reality television is not here to make friends; to suddenly expect it to start now would be a bit naive. Let’s all cry a (future) Brad Smith solitary tear for her.

But now we are ready, I think, to get to all the really juicy stuff, including how Gabrielle will ruin Whitney’s life or vise versa, or vise vise versa or whatever. And what of Bianka? Will she be a serious factor? Or will she simply be perpetually caught in the middle like Jillian Harris was this week as the messenger-to-Brad, asked to deliver increasingly personal one-liners as if trapped in some weird recreation of that Bridesmaids duelling speech scene?

Sonya, I’m sure, will have an answer.

From: Sonya
To: Aaron, Colin

Like Brad, I’m truly excited about this journey. Especially since, unlike most Canadian programming, The Bachelor Canada seems to have a lot of money to throw around: there’s hot tubs, helicopter rides and guest appearances by Senator Larry “catastrophic pay cut” Smith, Brad’s father. It must have something to do with how strong and stable our economy is, vis a vis that country we crushed in 1812.

My go-to reality TV series are Jersey Shore and Teen Mom, neither of which have a coveted end prize like The Bachelor. I like character development in my soaps, so The Bachelor’s premiere episode dragged a little for me, with its endless parade of limo arrivals of girls I failed to tell apart.

But what I like about The Bachelor Canada already is that it’s equal opportunity pathetic for both genders. Ladies, how are you throwing yourselves at this man, and declaring him your future husband, when you haven’t even gone on a date? (The answer, based on first reactions: Super hot! So Sexy! He looks like an athlete!) And B-Rad (as the dearly departed Bubba briefly christened him), are you entirely unaware that the producers of this show were not searching for the type of girl you’ll want to bring home to mom, but rather the type of girl who will stand at a bar and hiss “Skanks finish last!” at other girls, to the delight of audiences everywhere?

Brad, bless him, has a one-track mind: “I wanna get engaged. I want to start my life.”

Step aside, Stephen Woodworth. We have here a legal definition of when life begins.

To answer Colin’s question, I think Bianka will go on to play a pivotal role in the show. If she’s just getting over Kris Humphries, she’s likely spent the last year of her life watching Keeping up with the Kardashians reruns. She’ll know something about working those reality TV cameras. It’ll be game on.

But so far, the standout contender for me is Gabi—the girl from Oakville who is ironically styling herself as the “real” one. My bet is that long after Brad has caught onto the crazy, the producers will somehow keep her around.

What I’m holding out hope for is a surprise return from the very helpful Jillian Harris. The line of the night (on Mindy): “She’s the one with the boots. She might be more in the friend zone.” Then Mindy got in her own zinger after her departure: “A little part of me hopes he gets stuck with Gabrielle.”

I think it’s going to be a great season, so let’s stay tuned. See you next week.