Watching “The Bachelor Winter Games” Instead of the Olympics |


The opening ceremony of “The Bachelor Winter Games,” on ABC—a
four-episode edition of the courtship tournament programmed against the
Olympiad—featured a parade in Manchester, Vermont. There was a pep band,
a cheer squad, a flag team, a fuzzy clutch of friendly mascots, and a
passel of reality-TV personalities returning to the Thunderdome. It was
like a whimsical desecration of a Saturday Evening Post cover. The
host nation fielded a team of five women and seven men, turned out in
North Face fleeces, star-spangled scarves, and knit caps screaming the
word “Freedom.” Representatives of various international editions of the
“Bachelor” franchise followed the Americans along the parade route, as
fans waved an array of flags. The host, Chris Harrison, shared
announcing duties with the heretofore legitimate sports journalist
Hannah Storm, whose presence indicated that the show’s tongue is in its
cheek—the only way to keep its face from hardening into a ghastly

The premise of “Winter Games” is that contestants earn advantages by
excelling athletically on ice and snow. The two Swedish women in the
mix, like the lone Finnish miss, are here not only to satisfy a Nordic
standard of pulchritude but also to serve as winter-sports ringers.
Likewise, the two Canadian fellows here are not only, according to
community standards, dreamboats but also competent winter sportsmen.
Part of the show’s suspense is in waiting to see whether the producers
will go much too far with their presentation of Yuki, who is a veteran
of the Japanese edition. “I don’t know English,” Yuki says, and it would
be one thing if that statement were absolutely true. In fact, she speaks
just enough English to serve as a kind of Orientalist doll who chirps
cute broken phrases when Anglophones pull an invisible string. Depicting
her in this way, the show sets itself the challenge of skating on thin
ice. Storm informed us that Yuki, like Zoe, who represents China, is not
one of the decadent makeout machines developed by Western culture: “In
China, kissing is about as far as they would ever go, and they’re really
reluctant to even do that.”

The opener built toward a performance of a “Winter Games” anthem.
(Its refrain: “O bachelor, sweet bachelor, we want to see this
through.”) There was sincere confusion among the contestants about
whether to remove their hats for this song, but, in the crowd, a girl in
pigtails held above her heart the flag of the People’s Republic of
China. Then the former “Bachelorette” couple Trista and Ryan, who are
still together, entered. In lieu of the Olympic torch, the couple bore a
lantern, which has the significance of a holy relic within what Harrison
calls “the ‘Bachelor’ universe.”

As ever, “The Bachelor” gives the appearance that competitors endure
long periods of intense boredom relieved only by jolts of vanity, the
intense opposite of vanity, and erratic behavior. The most entertaining
erraticism here emanates from Ashley I., a twenty-nine-year-old from Los
Angeles. When Kevin, a Canadian, having triumphed in the biathlon, chose
Bibiana, a contestant from Miami, to accompany him to a dinner in a
rustic lodge, Ashley I. seethed and snivelled operatically at being
shunted to the “friend zone.” Emoting with the wide grimace and tearful
brow collapse of the Anne Hathaway school, she accented her performance
with unsteady burbling. Someone asked, “Are you laughing or crying or
both?” Ashley I. answered, “Both! It’s what I do.” I would watch a
one-woman show titled “I, Ashley I.”

The daters left the house on their dates. Yuki and Zoe went to sleep,
while everyone else hung out around the house disgracing their elders.
Christian, who has appeared on both the German and the Swiss editions of
the “The Bachelorette,” cast a clinical eye on the hookups going down
all around him and said, “My status in the house now is not the best
one.” He envied Benoit, who was kissing Clare on a sofa by the
fireplace. He watched another couple on another sofa, contorted into a
made-for-TV makeout posture such that Dean’s left hand fondled Lesley’s
left earlobe. He watched Josiah and Ally engaged in what she, as a New
Zealander, called “a bit of a snog.” He watched Courtney, from
Australia, and Lily, from New Zealand, steal away to the top of the
stairs. “I am a little nervous for the first cocktail party and rose
ceremony,” Christian said. His Teutonic accent lent a kind of Werner
Herzog fatalism to his analysis.

In a cruel twist, the rose ceremony depended on men and women being
actively voted out of the ski lodge. The criterion for exclusion was
being on the show “for the wrong reasons”—that is, reasons other than
the pursuit of true love. Of course, ideas about right and wrong take on
a special meaning in this context, among reality-TV recidivists who say
things like “The last time I was on a date like this, I was proposing,”
and “You might remember me from Season 4 of ‘Bachelor in Paradise,’
where I was kind of a jerk,” and “Like, ‘Winter Games’ didn’t exist when
I said that I retired.” We witnessed the dismissals of three Americans
who were never really in the running, plus Zoe and, from the U.K.,
Laura, whose conniving attempt to torpedo Josiah came back to bite her.
Upon seeing these souls depart, Yuki wept. It was a sob session even
more ritualistic than that of a medal-winning figure skater. Perhaps
“The Bachelor Winter Games” exists for those viewers who are immune to
Olympic fever, but not to the strenuous routines of ceremonial passion.



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