When I was a young girl, there were several certainties that I clung to for comfort in a turbulent world. One was that I would one day find a man exactly like Pacey Witter/Seth Cohen/that kindly old professor in Little Women (don’t ask) who would realise he loved me all along.
Another was that when a man enters a dating show explicitly to find the love of his life, he will actually pick a women at the end.
I was naïve. Perhaps we were all naïve. Because when Nick “Honey Badger” Cummins announced that he was the star of the new season of Channel Ten’s The Bachelor, we all made a grave error: we believed he actually wanted to find a partner.
Last night in a Bachelor Australia first, after a painful eight weeks of crying, bullying and slut-shaming among the contestants – which directly and indirectly led to three of the bachelorettes leaving the show – Cummins arrived at the finale to choose between a property valuer named Sophie and a radiographer called Brittany. And he chose … no one.
“Both of you are amazing women,” Cummins said soberly. “And trying to find my way in that cloud is too much for me right now.”
I’m not entirely sure what that means, but I do know that it equates to: “Actually nah, thanks though”.
The formula of The Bachelor finale is always the same: the good-natured and sympathetic host Osher Günsberg (the MVP of Australian television) leads one woman (the loser) to a secluded beach/park/resort carpark, where she has her heart gently broken by the Bachelor. Then the other woman (the winner) is led in and, after making her feel like she lost for several minutes, the Bachelor presents a ring, or his face to be kissed.
But last night, something changed. Cummins told the first contestant, a crying Sophie, “I am not able to wholeheartedly commit to you.” While she was escorted to a waiting limousine, it was clear that a smiling Brittany was the winner. “I can’t give 100% of me to you,” Honey Badger told her, as her smile faded. Wait, what?
How did this occur? Could we have foreseen this glitch? How could Honey Badger not fall in love with one of these 28 women – fine women, women who were “laid-back” and “fun” and extremely complimentary of his physique? If the basic tenets of reality TV are crumbling, what does that mean for society?
Well, nothing, probably. But in a season of The Bachelor in which Channel Ten seemed to be leaning in to comparisons to popular fictionalised drama UnREAL – a show about the manipulation and immorality behind the scenes of reality dating shows – it’s amazing that we did not predict the biggest revelation of all: that the format itself doesn’t work.
Some will argue Cummins has the right to refuse to choose just because he was obligated to. In past seasons, we’ve seen couples get together in the finale only to break up months later; or worse, to realise that they actually preferred the runner-up when it came down to it. The wrinkle in this season is that perhaps Cummins did find the woman of his dreams – but that woman decided that the show was a bit crap, and voluntarily left in the penultimate episode.
A 23-year-old Indigenous youth worker named Brooke was the frontrunner for most of the season – but on Wednesday night walked out of the rose ceremony, saying that she needed “reassurance” that Cummins had feelings for her, which was a transparency that the show would not allow. “This wasn’t the plan,” Cummins muttered into her shoulder.
In rejecting the remaining two and leaving the audience without closure – he “didn’t want another girlfriend,” he said; he “wanted a life partner” – Cummins actually perfectly encapsulated how unsatisfying modern romance can be; the equivalent of ghosting, of swiping left, of leaving the read receipt on his texts and never responding.
After she was dumped, Sophie cried silently in her hotel room, but was interrupted by Brittany who, in barely concealed fury and disbelief, explained that he “picked nobody”.
Both women decided he was in a “lost place”, and clutched each other’s hands in grim satisfaction. They were the ones who had done things correctly – they had put on the sparkly dresses, hit their marks, never once forgot his name. It was the football player who had screwed this up. “I feel sorry for him,” Sophie said. “It’s his loss,” said Brittany.
Throughout the show, Cummins had always had trouble expressing how he felt. This was partly due to the fact that you can’t “give away” who the frontrunner is, and partly because he seemingly does not like talking about his feelings. And we shouldn’t be too surprised how it ended up: in an interview with Men’s Health published before this season aired, but conducted after it had been shot, Cummins was asked who his ideal partner was. “It wouldn’t be one of the ones on the show, that’s for sure,” he replied – before being apparently cut off by a publicist.
When Cummins bucked what was expected of him, it didn’t feel like a punk act from some renegade of truth. It felt like a limp end to a show in which 28 women were made to perform impossible roles – be funny but not weird, be relaxed but always seems invested, be into him but not too into him, be glamorous but get muddy – and the man in charge could simply decide he wasn’t interested any more and call the whole thing off.
What we do know is that a man, after kissing and caressing many dates, disappointed two women who ultimately turned to each other for comfort. I guess it really is “reality” TV after all.