Friday, September 14, 2012

The Trashiest, Most Satisfying Show of the Summer

I just watched the most satisfying television season finale I've seen in a long time. It paid off long story arcs, it had surprises, it had romance, it had betrayal, it had reversals, and like the all best dramas, every revelation was at once completely surprising, and totally made organic sense. I refer, of course, to Bachelor Pad 3.

I have made a few embarrassing admissions in this space. I confessed to having quit drinking because of multiple bedwetting incidents. I revealed that I once plotted the murder of my roommate's dog. I admitted to almost burning down a cabana at the best destination wedding ever. But I am really genuinely embarrassed to reveal this, because I could feel my own standards lowering with each commercial break, but at the same time I feel a need to scream what a great piece of entertainment I just witnessed, the same as I felt when I was the only person I knew watching Homeland last season.

First: What is Bachelor Pad 3? (Other than the greatest reality show ever?) It is the third season of the trashy, (more) exploitative stepcousin of The Bachelor franchise, filmed at the same opulent Los Angeles mansion used for The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. (You can't let a place like that sit vacant, with no trashy reality shows filming in it, for more than a few weeks -- that's just dollars and sense.) Like The Bachelor/ette, it is a competition, but unlike The Bachelor/ette, the grand prize is not a wedding engagement that will go south faster than cheese left in the sun -- it's $250,000, which should last at least a couple of weeks longer.

The contestants are already familiar to the audience, because it is composed entirely of past Bachelor/ette hopefuls, a gene pool characterized by a willingness to do almost anything on camera, including but not limited to:
a) proposing marriage
b) using the word "bro" more than three times in one sentence
c) declaring undying love ten minutes after meeting
d) open disdain of clothing that might obstruct the camera's view of one's rigorously maintained abs
e) Listing "VIP Cocktail Waitress" or "Data Destruction Manager" or (my favorite) "Luxury Brand Consultant" as your actual occupation, right under your name and face, on national network TV

The genius of Bachelor Pad is that while the object of the game is to win money -- not to pretend to fall in love -- the game is structured to encourage and then exploit the relationships that always blossom when you put 16 under-30 tanning enthusiasts in a big house with a pool, a hot tub, 24 cameramen, and ten cases of liquor (per person). Everyone is expected to pick an opposite-sex partner, who they are not required to (but in nearly all cases immediately do) sleep with, to compete against the other teams for the money. There is a ridiculous, Double Dare-esque challenge each week, and the winners are both immune from being eliminated in that week's voting. Since the contestants (as opposed to the audience) vote each other off the show, alliances are formed, hollow promises are exchanged freely, and bald-faced lies are currency.

There is an alarming amount of discussion as to who does or does not "deserve" to be on the show: it is Bachelor Pad's version of The Bachelor/ette's contestants constantly accusing each other of not being on the show "for the right reasons." I don't understand what they're arguing about -- from what I could see of these people, each and every one of them "deserved" to be lied to, double crossed, sexually humiliated, revealed to be genuinely stupid in a spelling bee, run through a totally demeaning hot fudge sundae obstacle course, and made to sing completely off-key to a packed house.

A few different story threads came together to make this season so enormously satisfying. The first was the game of musical chairs conducted by a lunkhead named Chris, who only a couple weeks before Bachelor Pad had just made it to the final "hometown" round of The Bachelorette only to be dumped (and then take it as badly as any contestant ever has). Emily, the bachelorette, as well as all the ladies on Bachelor Pad, mentioned how handsome Chris was every time they ever said anything about him ever, which just goes to show how bad I am at judging male attractiveness, because I thought he looked like what a handsome guy would see if he looked in a funhouse mirror that stretched all his features toward the center. 

Dreamboat/optical illusion Chris.
Anyway, when Chris arrived, he was quickly claimed as a partner by "VIP Cocktail Waitress" Blakely, a tall, conventionally beautiful, obviously damaged young lady (though, at 34, by far the oldest on the show) who drove Chris insane by interrupting their strategy/makeout sessions to make him swear repeated loyalty oaths and reassure her that their week-old relationship would last forever. (At some point, she also revealed she'd worked at Hooters for 13 years, which is not relevant in any real way but I still feel bears mentioning.)

Soon Chris was sneaking away from Blakely to see Jamie, a slightly less overbearing but no less insane bikini enthusiast who interrupted their makeout sessions (undiluted by strategizing, as they were not partners) to talk about nothing in particular. Blakely soon realized what was going on, and Chris continued to seperately assure both Blakely and Jamie that he would be with them until the end -- though he maneuvered to get Blakely voted off, presumably to replace her with Jamie as his partner. But Jamie got even more annoying than Blakely in short order, talking about love and babies and the future three days after he'd slept with someone who he obviously hated.

Chris shocked everyone in the house when, after winning the right to go out on a date in one of the challenges, he passed over both Jamie and Blakely for dropped a girl named Sarah, who no one had previously noticed was on the show (including the guy she slept with in the second episode) and who either lied when she told the producers to list her age as 28, or has lived her life to this point like Robert Mitchum. They hit it off spectacularly and literally got a room while Jamie told the cameras at surprising length how much faith she had in her future with Chris.

All this is to say that Chris didn't make many friends on the show, but despite being hated by every voting member of the house with an intensity you could feel through your TV, he managed to make it to the final round because he kept winning challenges, which gave him immunity at all the key moments. He eventually had the pleasure of personally eliminating the (first) woman he scorned, Blakely (thanks to one of the show's many delightful mid-episode rule changes), but she got her own little happy ending when Tony, the affable if slightly dopey lifeboat she'd leapt to from the Viking funeral of Chris' bruised (but quickly recovering) ego, proposed to her in the finale. Despite its being the most obviously doomed union since Michael and Lisa Marie, it was still kind of sweet to see these two genuinely swept away by an unexpected romance: unexpected by Tony because he clearly thinks Blakely is the most beautiful woman on planet Earth and thus way out of his league, and unexpected by Blakely for exactly the same reason.

Running parallel with this storyline was the Passion of Michael and Rachel. Michael had actually split the $250,000 purse from Bachelor Pad 2 with his ex-fiance, who he'd spent the season trying to win back but who ran off with and later married another dude on the same season of show. Michael claimed that last time had been for the money, this year was for the honey: that after squandering the hookup possibilties of the Bachelor manse on a lost cause, this time he was going to rip through the female cast like a chainsaw. (He put it a little more delicately, but not much.)

Having won the previous season, Michael quickly asserted himself as the puppetmaster, the learned sage, the power broker in the house, telling people who to vote for, assuring the people he was maneuvering off the show that he was doing no such thing, and generally assuming the air of a bemused dictator. (Michael is one of those guys who seems way too handsome to be so intense, until the camera pulls back to show that he's about 5'3" -- then everything else about him suddenly makes sense.) He won a group date in one of the challenges, and brought three of the ladies and after making out with all of them, one at a time, on an uncrowded dance floor, he chose Rachel, the least (visibly) crazy girl in the house and thus the most attractive, to be his Puppetmaster Queen.

From that point, while everyone plotted and schemed and swore allegiance and declared war and double-dealt empty promises all around them, Michael and Rachel were content to make out on a wicker couch by the pool, pausing only so Michael could take his tongue out of Rachel's mouth long enough to tell one of his lieutenants who everyone should be voting for. It seemed they would soon cruise to victory, the cash prize, and the storybook ending all Bachelor/ette winners dream of: a four-week engagement, followed by six months of vicious tabloid backbiting.

The contestants were soon told that in the next round of voting, they'd only be voting for women, and that whichever woman was eliminated would decide on her own which man would be leaving with her. (The on-the-fly rule changes are never not awesome.) Since Chris was by this point persona non grata around the house, Michael engineered a plan to get everyone to vote for Erica (the player most obsessed with the "deserve" issue), while tipping her off that Chris was behind it, thus getting rid of Chris.

It looked like it was working -- so well that Erica confronted Chris and promised to take him down with her. Chris responded by taking her in the voting both with him and voting for someone else, so when she was eliminated she took Michael with her, leaving Rachel sobbing in the driveway, heartbroken and left without a partner.

And so it was that the other pair of finalists came together: Rachel was forced by default to team up with the only other unattached player: Erica's partner, Nick, a muscular, 6'3" bit of curly-haired beefcake that had not opened his mouth in any of the previous episodes. Rachel was despondent to be separated from her true love of the last nine days, and threatened to leave the show repeatedly, while Nick shrugged, gave her a lot of pep talks, and tried to keep her head in the game. They reached the finals by winning the final challenge, which was to perform "Sister Christian" as a duet and be judged by its authors, the founding members of Night Ranger.

A short aside on this challenge: I have always believed that even people who can't sing anything can sing something. Like "Mary Had A Little Lamb," or something by The Doors. The three couples who participated in this challenge definitively proved me wrong.

After winning the last challenge, Nick and Rachel were awarded the right to choose their opponents in the finale, and Nick had a surprisingly difficult time persuading Rachel to make the totally obvious move and choose the hated Chris and Sarah -- an obvious move because the winning couple would be decided by balloting all the eliminated players, all of whom loathed Chris. Rachel wanted to bring her best friend's team, which would have been incredibly stupid, as they were the best-liked couple in the house.

All of this brings me to the finale.

There was Tony and Blakely's engagement, as I mentioned, which was sweet, but it came paired with the revelation that Michael, despite many on-camera declarations of love and long-term intentions for Rachel, had forgotten her the moment he left the house and continued chainsawing through the female cast of Southern California. He offered some unconvincing apologies and she seemed to fully realize, right there on camera, that he was a tool when she cut him off, mid-forced apology, with a terse "We get it, Michael."

The final vote was little more than a formality; Chris tried to apologize to Blakely and Jamie for treating them like an allergy sufferer treats Kleenex, in hopes of salvaging enough votes to win, but Nick and Rachel took it in what may have been the first "landslide by default" in the history of televised democracy. 

Just before the knife went in.
Look at her: she doesn't suspect a thing.
And here's where things got really good: Nick and Rachel had one more task, which was to separately declare whether to keep or share the $250,000 prize. If they both said "share," they split it down the middle. If they both said "keep," they both got nothing and the loot would be divided among their fallen castmates. If one said "keep" and the other "share," the one who said "keep" would get it all and the one who said "share" would get bupkus.

This looked like it would also be little more than a formality, partly by precedent: both prior winning couples had shared the cash, and there was no reason to think that wouldn't happen again. Indeed, Rachel made a dramatic feint in her vote-casting speech like she might say "keep," but she didn't, because what kind of asshole would do that?

This kind, it turns out: Nick stunned a nation of hardened, cynical reality TV veterans by keeping the whole prize for himself, gleefully (and quite correctly) explaining that no one had given him a moment's thought the whole season -- no one had even bothered to try and sway his votes one way or the other, much less seen him as a threat. He went on to remind Rachel that she'd threatened to leave three times, and that she'd spent 89% of their partnership sobbing on the phone with Michael. (In subsequent interviews, Nick has also said that he saw the last two episodes of the season the night before the finale was taped, and saw Rachel repeatedly dogging him, which tipped him off the keep/share fence.)

And this is where it transcended it genre and became the most satisfying dramatic enterprise in my recent memory, because as Rachel pouted indignantly and Nick patiently and logically explained why he didn't owe her squat, you could see it slowly dawning on the faces of all the other players that Nick was right, that he'd well and truly WON THE GAME, and that he was the first person to correctly use the word "deserve" all season. Nick didn't just win Bachelor Pad, he was the Richard Hatch of Bachelor Pad: the one who won and through winning showed everyone how the game is supposed to be played.

I seriously doubt that a team of Oscar-winning screenwriters could have come up with such an organic but still totally surprising, logical, character-driven plot, so, even though I'm still embarrassed to admit that I even watch you, my hat is off to you, Bachelor Pad. I wish they would just get rid of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette and just have four seasons of Bachelor Pad a year, because this season was a definite game-changer (in the literal sense of the word), and I can't wait to see how future players approach it.

1 comment:

  1. Now, I wished I would have watched & can only hope the next season is watch worthy!