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‘Bachelor Pad’: The Secondary Market For The Primarily Pointless

Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
August 8, 2011

ABC’s The Bachelor debuted — if you can believe it — all the way back in 2002, in the days when trying to create “romantic” “couples” on television seemed like it might take off. But in time, sleaze-fests like Temptation Island and Joe Milliionaire, brutal affronts to marriage like Married By America and Who Wants To Marry A Millionaire?, they all fell by the wayside.

The survivor, no pun intended, was The Bachelor, which braved a nearly spotless record of abject failure in its basic mission to become a ratings success that has now run 15 times with bachelors and seven times with “bachelorettes.” (No one uses the word “bachelorette” outside of this franchise, but you can’t very well call the female editions The Needy Hottie.)

The Bachelor is not only the sole survivor of its generation of bloated Dating Game progeny, but it’s also the standard-bearer of what became ABC’s self-consciously “classy” reality brand. This doesn’t mean that the show actually is classy, but it is marketed as if it were classy. Not for this show the rat-eating of the iconic first season of Survivor, or the gawking of The Biggest Loser, or the wallowing freak shows of much of basic-cable reality.

No, this is about the gauzy lighting, the roses, the swirling orchestral music that accompanies a [profoundly fraudulent] marriage proposal [that's almost certainly doomed] made by a [buff and dull] man to a [tiny and dull] woman. In the same way This Is Spinal Tap is a comedy shot like a documentary, The Bachelor is a train wreck shot as a romantic melodrama. Cravenness presented as love; sad wearing happy’s clothes.

That’s what makes Bachelor Pad such an incongruous development. Bachelor Pad, which returns tonight for a second season in a punishing three-hour premiere (“You’re in or you’re out,” it seems to be saying, mob-style, as it cold-cocks you), isn’t pretending to be anything it isn’t. It isn’t telling you it’s classy. It’s gleefully vulgar, straight-up.

Where the original show is supposedly about finding love, this one is a competition where cast-offs from Bachelor seasons — nine men and nine women, in this case — all come back and live in a mansion and compete for a $250,000 prize. The rules are sketchy, the way you win is unclear, but each week, one man and one woman are sent home.

The driving force behind Bachelor Pad is the discovery in recent years that it’s cheaper and simpler to develop the secondary market for existing “reality” personalities than it is to cast new ones. Survivor now recycles old cast members all the time; CBS has sent former Big Brother and Survivor contestants over to The Amazing Race, and MTV has known for years that the best thing it ever got out of Road Rules was The Real World/Road Rules Challenge.

But as much as that secondary market has flourished, it wouldn’t be what it is without an additional discovery: former reality-show contestants have a remarkable tendency to sleep with each other. I had one of them explain this to me once, and basically what I was told was that if you take a lot of people who were cast because they’re young and hot, and you send them to a lot of the same network parties where there’s a ton of free booze, eventually, there’s going to be some sex. And because every season, The Bachelor(ette) introduces 25 or 30 new people into its alumni association (motto: Ex victoria WOOOOOO!), it probably has an even better chance of that happening than other shows do.

And so, in the Bachelor Pad cast, you have people who are currently dating, people who dated in the past and broke up, and one wreck to rule them all: Jake and Vienna.

Jake and Vienna are the one couple here that actually had anything to do with each other on the original show, as opposed to being drawn from different seasons. When Jake was the actual Bachelor, he picked Vienna to propose to, and they stayed together for a few months. They then had some sort of enormously ugly breakup that led to an enormously ugly on-camera interview in which he suddenly seemed to have a seething, scary temper and she seemed even more irritating and spoiled than she had before. Ironically, while the engagement came off as utterly phony, their bitterness toward each other was clearly genuine.

So naturally, it seemed like a great idea to lock them in a house together for a few weeks and film the whole thing!

Much of that three-hour premiere — just keep saying “three hours?” to yourself, and you’ll get a sense of the appropriate level of despair — concerns this unhappy reunion. Vienna is in the house with a new boyfriend, a guy named Kasey who, and I promise I am not making this up, went out and got a tattoo during the Bachelorette season where he was a contender, just to prove his devotion to his motto, which is that with any woman, he is there to “guard and protect her heart.” Thus did he become Weird Tattoo-Getting Guy, and now he is Vienna’s boyfriend. And he is determined to guard and protect her new sassy haircut from the likes of Jake.

Jake, on the other hand, needs to feel like the good guy, and he knows that he cracked during their breakup interview and came off like a creep, so he’s looking to fix his reputation by making up with her and wishing her well. Or at least that’s what he says.

This is the ultimate secondary market. The show is now creating a storyline about the back story of a couple that only has a back story because of the show. It is an infinite echo chamber of relationships that don’t really exist. Jake and Vienna are on the show because they hate each other, and they hate each other because they were on the other show. We’ve reached a new dimension of unreality, where if these people can stay unhappy enough and can only have relationships with other people from television, they might never have to have jobs again.

The original dream of reality-show contestants was that they’d all become stars. They’d all break out and get talk shows, or get into acting, or otherwise parlay their success into something else. What they’ve learned is that for about 99 percent of them, there is nothing to parlay. (And you have to worry about adverse consequences, too. Ask Richard Hatch about prison.)

The market is saturated with people who other people talked about a lot for about 13 weeks, both positively and negatively. That’s not a thing. It’s not a pitch. It’s not anything outside of its own world. If you want to make your reality appearance into anything, your best shot is making it into more reality appearances.

But every time you double down on that life, the perceived level of the show you’re on drops. The Bachelor pretends to have a drop — just a drop — of sophistication. It doesn’t embrace being trash. Bachelor Pad embraces being trash. You have to give up a little more of your self-respect every time you punch your ticket again. There’s a secondary market, but every sale requires you to sell harder and more cheaply. [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

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