The season finale of The Bachelorette fulfilled all of my mildest dreams. It had everything I've ever wanted: love, loss, and a surprising amount of bodily fluids — except for one thing: it was mind-numbingly safe.
Despite the dramatic music and exotic settings, The Bachelorette could easily be renamed The Safest Show On Earth - at least, it wins this award for the "reality" category. It is sanitized to the point of surrealism; it's the fun house mirror of romantic entanglements. There is something recognizable going on - people are falling in love! marriage! wedding rings and breakups! - but none of the drama and the action really resembles the living, breathing, demanding, brooding and sweating organism that is an adult relationship. Perhaps this is what "romance" really is, and I've been missing it all these years, but I'm more inclined to think that the version of love that appears on The Bachelorette is an immature dream, a junior high school girl's fantasy of what her life will someday look like.
There were two Big Moments in the season finale. First, Ali had to end things with Chris, which she decided to do a day early, thus breaking the arbitrary rules that define this odd game. Second, Roberto had to propose to Ali, because even though she was picking him... Actually, I don't know why the bachelorette doesn't propose. Girls just don't do that, I suppose.
Anyway, for Big Moment number one: The Breakup. In contrast to the weep-fest that was Frank's departure, this is rather restrained and calm. Ali cries a bit, and says some truly horrible breakup lines (memo to world: "Hang in there, okay?" is not a good thing to say to someone you've just dumped), but Chris takes it like a champ. His stoic man training does not fail him, and though he may look like he's going to cry, he doesn't let a single tear drop down that chiseled face.
He even has the strength to tell her: "Go see if he loves you." Fortunately, his heartbreak doesn't last long. Just minutes after Ali leaves, Chris sees a magical rainbow, which is totally his mom's way of saying: (slow clap) "Good job, Chris." I didn't expect his dead mom to be so sarcastic, but whatever. The rainbow also proves that Chris is, like everyone keeps saying, such a Good Guy. He's the best friend, the underdog (and I'm willing to bet, the next bachelor).
And while we're on the topic of my predictions, I saw Ali choosing Roberto from a mile away. Who didn't? The lady could not keep her hands off him. If I had a nickel for each time she told him how sexy he was, how hot, how steamy and out-of-her-league, well, I would probably go and buy myself a slushy (though after watching the totally pointless shower shot, I understood the appeal). In the end, Ali chose Roberto, and Roberto chose Ali. After much hemming and hawing about whether or not he was ready for marriage (hint: you're not), he got down on one knee and proposed to his beloved beach bunny.
Is this what we wanted? It is sold to us as the perfect ending, the ending we were all waiting for, but I can't be the only one who was bored, right? There is a nagging part of me that thinks the majority of the television-watching public would really rather be watching them fight and call each other names. I can't think of any other explanation for The Bachelor Pad, the new spin-off show featuring ex-contestants who are thrown into a house to "look for love" while competing for cash. The previews claim it has "all the things you love about The Bachelor," a list that includes guitars, drama, fighting, betrayal, backstabbing, cheating, scandal and "a whole lot of crying." It's an easy formula: take all the rejects and put them in one room with enough booze, roll cameras, and see who comes out alive. In a lot of ways this is what I expect from reality television - a heavy dose of schadenfreude and the fleeting thrill of unkindly thinking at least I'm not you.
But at the same time, everyone I've ever watched the show with has started at least one statement with the phrase "If I were the bachelor/bachelorette...". There is an undeniable urge to place yourself in their shoes, to become an Ali or a Jake or a Jillian (perhaps this is why there is now even a Bachelor video game). Maybe it's because we've all been there - or at least, we've all been in a similar place in our own mundane lives. We've been dumped and fallen in love with the wrong person and been forced to leave a really nice dude because something just wasn't right. We may not be traveling around the world with a harem of willing men, but we have waded through the fucked up mess that is love. The polished nature of the show makes breakups feel so much less terrifying, and true love seem readily available, willing to follow the path set by producers and god alike. It's not just heartbreaking - it's an opportunity to grow, an idea that I've railed against before. Add to that the vague veneer of "reality," and it suddenly seems like all those romantic movie tropes exist - in Real Life! It doesn't help that the contestants speak almost entirely in platitudes and bromides, which, while obnoxious, are easily recognizable and sometimes even a little comforting. I think this desire, to tell the person you're leaving "it's not you, it's me," is the second most real thing about the show (the first being the rivers of sweat flowing down their faces. Hey, it's hot in Bora Bora). We've all used phrases like this to soften the blow. Most of us have probably also said crap like "trust your heart," or "love works in ways that we can't explain."
While The Bachelorette is really just an endless string of cliches building in intensity from week one to week twelve, there is something about it that keeps me watching. Sometimes I think it's the shots of suitors crying in the limo and the awkward serenades, but other times I suspect the appeal lies more in the safety of the story. In this world, everything goes how it is supposed to go. Even when people mess up and make the wrong decision, like choosing to marry the smoldering hulk of manhood over the Good Guy, we still get a happy ending, albeit a rather boring one. So, here's to you, Ali and Roberto. I hope you both are very happy, and I truly believe you will (maybe) have some beautiful, dim-witted children some day. Let's just pray they never need you to open up a coconut.