This is a series called Sheroes & Zeroes, about the people who defined our year in culture in both terrific and terrible ways.
What a year: it's amazing to think that we've gone through the emotional turmoil of not one, not two, but three shows that are part of the Bachelor franchise. (Does Bachelor in Paradise count? Only for the raccoon.) And it all started off with a bang: Juan Pablo's season of The Bachelor was full of drama drama drama—and one very special lady.
Sharleen Joynt was a notable cast member before her season even started airing. In a show where most contestants say they favor The Bible or Nicholas Sparks, her cast bio noted that Murakami was her favorite author. When she stepped out of the limo, the audience immediately took notice (as we would continue to on each episode) of her perfectly done makeup, great clothes and impeccable posture. She seemed in a league of her own when compared to the other women, whose outfits looked culled from Forever 21 and whose skin tones ranged from spray tanned to even more spray tanned. What was she doing here, this stranger in this land? She was an opera singer, for god's sake!
Well, she was being herself. For those of us who watch this show with some incredulity that only a certain type of person could want to go and embarrass themselves on highly edited reality television in some bizarre quest for "love," she blew that theory out of the water.
To be clear: There have probably been many Sharleens on this show who are not getting their due. It's just that so many of them lurk behind the scenes. They get sent home. They leave, willingly, before we really get to know them, because they get that the show is weird/the whole experience isn't for them/they're just not that into the Bachelor. Sharleen stuck around, entirely and unapologetically herself—no small feat on reality television. How many of us can say we're unapologetically ourselves even when the cameras aren't watching?
"All The Pretty Pandas is an effort to bring together the odd ducks, misfits, and weirdos, in a place where being different is a beautiful thing," Sharleen says of her personal site, where she blogs about fashion, new seasons of The Bachelor (since she's from Canada, she also does the Canadian version) and whatever else she wants to comment on. She's still singing in operas, and she has a new boyfriend who looks like a real cutie.
Bachelor producers and ABC are charged with creating a delicate balance. They have to make it seem as though those who get picked to go on the show (and ultimately get picked to be someone's someone) are living their greatest fantasies. They also, of course, need to make fun of the most ridiculous contestants for entertainment value. Sharleen avoided both fates, proving that there are lots of ways to get your dream life outside of what Bachelor-world presents and that you can appear on this show without ending up in a montage of ladies crying endlessly.
In other words, you can like a trashy show enough to be on it. You can still be yourself. You can keep friends from that experience. You can still find love. Skeptical viewers of the show, some of them "hate-watchers," often treat Bachelor participants as otherworldly women and men who are far removed from us, men and women we can judge and keep at an arms length. Sharleen didn't fit into the presentation the show usually puts forth, and she didn't work with the takeaway many viewers prefer. She showed us that reality TV might not be real, but it is not always entirely fake.
Image by Tara Jacoby