The most popular question I’ve had to answer in the last few months is, at its core, very simple. It is this: Why? Why would the three of us – myself, Sonya Bell and Aaron Wherry – choose to take our Wednesday nights and write about a TV show that everyone seems to agree is sort of silly? After all, the premise of the Bachelor Canada is simplistic and a touch regressive. A man selects from a clan of women the one who he figures might be best for a potential engagement. It’s the kind of thing that some might argue sets our culture back a pace or two, assuming it’s moving forward.
I have no idea how to answer that simple question, apart from maybe saying that the idea amused us. Perhaps this is why everyone else watches the Bachelor – to amuse themselves with a bit of arms-length romance that is open to judgement and fodder for pseudo-gossip, and which has no serious bearing on our lives. This show, we have convinced ourselves, is not actually what it says it is. It is reality television, but not television about reality. We will never be put in such a ridiculous situation, we can assure ourselves. And we would never go to such lengths to find a potentially suitable partner, we remind each other.
Yet, when I looked around at the crowd attending (whether they were aware of it or not) the official Bachelor Canada Engagement Party at the sprawling Muzik nightclub in Toronto Saturday night, I began to wonder about that last part.
“I think I’m probably on a guest list,” I told the enormous bouncer as I walked up to the door.
“Yeah, we’re not open yet,” he boomed down at me, adding that if I would just stand over to the side, he’d let me know when they were.
I looked around, suddenly aware of my surroundings. Getting out of the cab, I’d kept my head down and walked with (embarrassed?) purpose across the street toward the bar. It was only after the bouncer made note of it that I realized there wasn’t one single other soul nearby. I was literally the first one there. It was shortly after ten o’clock.
Without anywhere else to go, I dutifully stood until, about 20 minutes later, I was allowed in, past two lines of female servers in short black skirts and red corsets, who smiled and waited to escort those who’d reserved ahead of time to their tables. Those customers were slowly filtering in, almost every one clad in the kind of clichéd designer gear that declares itself Necessary by crowding the windows of some store with the bass turned up too high, out in the endless reaches of suburbia.
I looked down at my own clothes – a pair of brown boots, some old jeans and a wool sweater with leather elbow patches. I wondered how long I would have to be there.
By the time Brad Smith and Bianka Kamber – the Bachelor and his new fiancé – arrived almost two hours later, I’d seen alcohol-fueled fleeting glances shoot across the bar between groups of girls and guys, watched head-swiveling-sizing-up dance moves beneath the massive disco ball hanging from the club’s enormous vaulted ceiling, and noted the rotation shifts of the go-go dangers in black bras and white tutus who twisted and gyrated as Rihanna belted out what should have effectively served as the evening’s theme: “We found love in a hopeless place.”
I finally said hello to Brad and Bianka sometime after midnight, in their own, crowded, roped-off section by the dance floor. As far as I could tell from our brief interaction, they seemed exactly as they had been portrayed on television. Brad was immediately warm and welcoming. Bianka was equally friendly, if slightly more reserved. She admitted she wasn’t yet used to the attention they were getting. Dozens of club-goers were by that time requesting photos with the couple, and they obliged each and every time. They seemed very genuine – or real, if you will.
I thought about those ridiculous lengths that the Bachelor Canada showed Brad going to for love. And I wondered what the difference is, in the end, between bumping around in front of a few hundred people in some bar downtown and maybe colliding with what feels at the time to be the right girl or guy, and doing basically the same thing on television? Nothing, I think. The fundamental goal is exactly the same.
We are suckers for a good love story, and want one of our own. Some of us get one, and maybe it’s happy or sad or funny or weird. But really, once you’ve found that person you love more than any other, who actually cares how you did it? Nobody. Probably not even you, if you’re being honest.
Just before I left, I chatted to Brad and Bianka a bit about the show and their lives at the moment. I asked Brad whether he kept in touch with Whitney, the “villain” of the show whose competitive streak and elbows-out approach carried her only as far as second place. Brad didn’t give an answer immediately, and instead sort of just sighed.
“All I want to remember from it is her,” he told me as he pointed to Bianka.