How Sophie Monk's toxic Bachelorette men reveal the reality behind TV

Sophie Monk may have won Australia’s heart, but the same can’t be said for some of the men trying to woo her

If this season of the Bachelorette Australia has reignited the nation’s enthusiasm for sometime pop star Sophie Monk – and her broad Aussie accent and no-bullshit attitude has seen to that – it’s also been a timely reminder of how easily male entitlement flourishes in reality TV romance.

The conventions of The Bachelor franchise adhere pretty closely to the traditional romance narrative – at least insofar as that’s possible when your protagonist is dating 14 or so people at the same time. Now 10 episodes into her quest to find her own “down-to-earth Aussie bloke”, Sophie has whittled her list of eligible bachelors down to three: publican and frontrunner Stu; Apollo, the magician who “never grew up”; and winemaker and ex-army officer Jarrod – all united by nothing except their passionate enthusiasm for winning Sophie’s heart.

But passionate enthusiasm hasn’t been everyone’s approach. While the show has never been short on villains, this season’s evictees have really gone above and beyond to put their sense of masculine entitlement on display.

First there was Ryan, who established himself as a villain from the opening episode, first by asking Sophie very blunt questions about her reasons for going on the show, and dropping numerous subtle insults – a classic example of what, in the shady world of pick-up artists, or PUAs, is known as “negging” – like suggesting she, a professional singer, has terrible taste in music.

Ryan upped the ante on that first night by cutting Sophie off and leading her away for a one-on-one chat – “I’ve got some questions I want answers to” – just as she was about to address the whole group. He followed it up with complaints about the group date activities, smashing up a wardrobe that he, a professional builder, failed to put together properly, and making his strict preferences about the kind of women he likes to date clear (she must “look after herself” and not “have a potty mouth”).

Hey Ryan you dropped these on the way out.... your manners. #BacheloretteAU

— Matthew Jones (@_MattJ) October 5, 2017

“Ryan was a man on a mission,” Sophie said early on, adding that his approach was “a bit more aggressive than I’m used to”. Can anyone hear alarm bells ringing?

It was a series of moves right out of the PUA playbook: establish dominance, isolate, neg. Sophie though was having none of it. Ryan later claimed it was tricksy editing that made him look bad but Sophie still sent him packing with trademark self-assurance: “I want someone that wants me, so I’m going to choose them over you.” Ryan didn’t take the dismissal well, swearing on his way out.

Then there was Blake. When this season started, the “investor-slash-entrepreneur” claimed he was “nothing like this show has ever seen before”. “My strategy is to dominate,” he said in the first episode. When it came to how he felt about Sophie, he expressed his feelings in true alpha-male style: “I’m that guy that she definitely needs to be with.”

I hope she ditches Blake the way she ditched Ryan because I legit thought they were the same person until that happened #BacheloretteAU

— steph harmon 🌈 (@stephharmon) October 12, 2017

Blake’s unashamed arrogance made him another perfect Bachie villain, but recent reports of his past violent behaviour have had some commentators asking what the producers thought they were doing by putting someone with a history of violence on a television dating show. He was cut from the show last week, after promising Sophie he would “have her back” during hometown visits, and then failing to defend her at all during a barrage of intrusive questions from his own mother and sister.

When Sophie pointed this out, Blake seemed surprised that she would assess him on his actual behaviour rather than mere words, and marked his exit with a curt “ciao”, some swearing, and the assertion that “the best guy for her is in this limo, on his way home”. Maybe Sophie can make that decision for herself, mate.

#bacheloretteau Anyone else cringing at Blake forgetting this is about a woman, with feelings, and thinks its a game he needs to win?

— Katie Mac (@kupcake_kate) October 18, 2017

If this season has made one thing clear though, it’s that it’s pretty hard to play the bad guy and still look like true love potential when your competition is bending over backwards to make a woman feel good about herself. And how hard is it to have a bit of grace in the face of rejection? As we approach this season’s finale, let’s all take a moment to appreciate our heroine Sophie’s confidence in the face of this all too common horrid behaviour, and hope this is one love story in which a woman who knows her own mind gets her happy ending.

• The Bachelorette Australia is showing Wednesday and Thursday nights on Ten


Stephanie Convery

The GuardianTramp

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