When Brooke Blurton stood beside a lake in a shimmering blue ballgown and professed her love for Darvid Garayeli, it seemed to viewers of The Bachelorette Australia that the proud Noongar-Yamatji woman had finally found her fairytale ending.
While it’s true the months following filming have been filled with love and connection, there has also been profound grief and isolation.
Soon after shooting wrapped on the reality TV show in New South Wales, Blurton got news that her sister, Ky, had passed away suddenly in Perth. Although she was able to secure a visa to cross the strict Western Australian border, the 26-year-old suddenly found herself alone in quarantine and separated from loved ones. Not only was she carrying the responsibility of being the first Indigenous bisexual lead of the global TV franchise, but also the duty of caring for her family and organising a funeral. All while being thrust into the public eye.
“I don’t think people really understand the level of difficulty we’ve had,” Blurton says, sitting on the couch with Garayeli on Friday afternoon, finally home in Melbourne after the marathon press junket day that comes after the Bachelorette finale is aired.
“We’d just been on the show … and you’ve got a massive high and then tragedy. I don’t know, I was very close to hitting rock … ”
As she trails off Garayeli clasps her hand. “You lent on me a lot at the beginning, and we leaned on each other ... We both had moments where we would just cry,” he says.
“But it’s difficult to do that via FaceTime. I felt really like I wasn’t doing enough during that time, because we were completely away from each other.”
Blurton adds: “You couldn’t even get across the border to be able to comfort your partner who’s lost her sister. It’s not an easy thing … there were definitely moments where I was breaking down.”
Garayeli and Blurton became integral to each other’s lives in the months of reality TV-mandated secrecy that came after filming. Blurton says this is why she was so protective of Garayeli when the finale aired on Thursday night and the first bisexual Bachelorette faced a wave of backlash for choosing a man.
“[People online] write this horrible comment and you’re like, ‘You have no idea, and you’re just making a snap judgment on our relationship already’,” she says. “It’s just disappointing to see.
“I read a couple of comments and it was like, I think these people just don’t get the meaning of bisexual, which is an attraction to male and female … I just was really frustrated with the level of biphobia that was happening,” Blurton says.
The campy nature of The Bachelor Australia franchise has always lent itself to a dedicated LGBTQ+ fanbase, but this season expanded and invigorated the demographic. While the new couple were met with a huge amount of support, Blurton was surprised that some of the harshest comments came from within this community. She says she worries young queer people who were inspired by seeing bisexuality on mainstream TV could be disheartened or misled by the online posts.
“I was thinking about the young people that are going to see this and think ‘Oh well, she just ends up with a man so there’s no hope’, or ‘She’s just straight’ … People are just not getting it.
“I really opened myself up this season and showed so much vulnerability in doing it, and I did it bloody proudly. I loved it. And I’m still friggin’ bisexual! Just because I’m with Darvid doesn’t mean my attraction to women just stops.”
“It was pretty disheartening to read [the online comments],” Garayeli adds. “Being such a big groundbreaking TV series, people obviously wanted a certain result … so I get that.”
Blurton’s Bachelorette was clearly a departure for the franchise but one of the most interesting status quo changes was how much influence she had in shaping the season.
“I had been in control of my life literally from back when I was moved out of home when I was like 15, so handing over control … was one of the things that made me feel really uneasy,” Blurton says.
“So I voiced my concerns with production … in terms of like ‘If I’m gonna say yes to this, these are the things that I want. I want to feel like I am in a culturally safe place. I want to be represented with the utmost respect.”
First Nations and inclusivity consultants were brought on board for the season, and elements such as the smoking ceremony to open the show were added.
“The welcome to country, that was a non-negotiable. That was something that I think should be in every year, and it hadn’t been. I was like, ‘Well, I can’t be the first First Nations lead and not do this’,” she says.
“Every concern that I had, in terms of if things made me uncomfortable at any point, I just voiced them and I really felt like they were really heard this season … I wanted to get this right. I had a lot weighing on me.”
But there was still critiques from within the show. Indian Australian contestant Ritu Chhina, who was eliminated from the mansion at the end of episode three, told Refinery29 that while she didn’t have “any major concerns around racism”, she did feel “tokenised” after the final TV edit relegated her to a background character despite being one of the only queer people of colour in the suitor pool.
Blurton says she understands why Chhina felt that way, but ultimately it came down to time constraints.
“We had some really, really beautiful moments … she made me some beautiful, traditional Indian food … and we also had some serious chats about IVF, which I thought were really valuable,” Blurton says.
“So those conversations that I hoped would have aired, didn’t. But mind you, I also see on a production level, there is just so much footage … they simply cannot fit that much in.
“Also if [production] had shown that, people would have been so invested in Ritu, then she would have left, and I probably would have looked like I just sent her home after that.”
As the dust from this world-first series settles and Garayeli – who has relocated from Brisbane to be with Blurton – spends his first weekend in the couple’s new Melbourne home, one big question remains: what’s next for the Australian Bachelor, and can the franchise revert back to its white, heterosexual ways?
“I think it’s just now [about] changing it up in different ways,” Blurton says. “Whether that’s a person of colour, whether that’s just solely a lesbian Bachelorette … a gay Bachelor, I don’t know. I would love to see it,” she says.
“I must admit, this season was played safe on so many levels … and I’d love to see the progression.”
Blurton says she’s incredibly proud that her season brought unparalleled representation of LGBTQ+ and Indigenous communities to Australian prime time. On top of that, she says she really did find the love she was looking for.
“We did bloody well,” she says, turning to Garayeli. “We’re two very strong-minded, strong-willed people, but just so emotionally intuitive with one another. It takes a lot of maturity to be able to [be in] this serious relationship. We’re not backing out.”