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It seems like a good moment to reflect on the place of reality television in New Zealand. The Kills and Moon episode has been the high-water mark of cultural vacuity, but there is something bigger at play here; the problems are more than superficial. It’s only in its second season but The X Factor has already become a feature length paean to late-capitalism. It’s as though the whole thing has been produced by Adam Smith and directed by Ayn Rand. Dominic Bowden swaggers about like a young Ronnie Reagan.
But it’s more than just The X Factor. The problem is that there’s nothing “real” about these shows. The “homes” on The Block are empty shells, soulless facades. We all know that Police Ten 7 uses green screens; the crims are inserted in post-production. All the “food” on My Kitchen Rules tastes like styrofoam. It is styrofoam—the cauliflower is plainly made of those little foam things that your digital camera was boxed with. Anyone can see that the courgettes are urinal cakes.
Luckily, things are about to change—The Bachelor New Zealand has revolutionised reality television in this country. Finally, this is television with heart, a show in which the hook-ups are real and the rejections count. Reality television, it seems, is no longer a misnomer.
Here’s how it works: 20 New Zealand women and one convicted fraudster vie for the attentions of New Zealand’s most despicable male. Each week the action culminates in a tacky little ceremony in which some of our hopefuls receive a rose signifying their continuing involvement. At the end, one of these poor women will marry this dreadful bastard.
Prior to the two maiden episodes, little was known about our hero. The network was keeping quiet about it, as were most major news networks. In a tantalising series of promos, TV3 showed us that our Bachelor was an equestrian, and that he likes to loiter down at the viaduct. And startlingly, after almost three hours with the guy, we know little more about the Bachelor, other than that his name is Art Green and that he is definitely anything but eligible.
In what is ostensibly a “get to know the Bachelor” section, we learn a little about Art, and it’s all terrible. The Bachelor starts with the basics: “My name’s Arthur, I’m 26 years old, I’m living in Auckland and I run my own health food company.” Unfortunately, there’s almost nothing more to the guy. We learn that he is fond of running on the beach (curiously, Art prefers to run in a singlet but ride his horses shirtless) and that he is better than Mike Puru at tennis. So far, so good. Art mumbles something about entrepreneurship and “pre-orders”, but neglects to mention that the company that he “owns” is in fact run by friend Ryan Kamins and the substantially more famous cricketer Mitchell McClenaghan. Nope, apparently it’s Art’s company. After seeing Art in business and in the gym (presumably the only two places he has been), we’re whisked off to the third—his family home. We meet Art’s family at a mansion so palatial we can only assume the father is some sort of international arms-dealer.
After an interminably long time hanging out with the family Green, we get to see Art prepare for an introductory cocktail evening. The guy lives by the credo “healthy body, healthy mind” but appears to care much less about what adorns his body. His just-been-to-Nepal anklet and third-form-bully G-shock are surely lowering his IQ by at least a bit. Art’s formal get-up is no better. He looks like a middling law student on his way to that ridiculous ball they’re always going to.
At first it’s a relief to see Art with some fucking clothes on, but once he opens his mouth one can’t help but wish he’d just get back on his horse. As Art’s potential fiancées emerge one-by-one from a sleek black rental car, he finds an exciting variety of ways to alienate them completely. Art’s first potential fiancée gets Art’s whole repertoire of “well”, “yeah” and “definitely”, and an indiscrete rubbing of his clammy hands on his rumpled pant leg. Art’s clearly well out of his depth. Upon learning that Danielle had intended to compete in Ironman, he confidently assures her that he once competed in the Auckland half marathon, a substantially less impressive endurance event. Art treats each of his encounters as an opportunity for a disturbing game of one-upmanship followed by a lascivious “checking out” process as each woman hurries towards the safety of the mansion and what is surely better company.
Art, presumably short for Artless, is at best a hopeless fool and at worst a vainglorious arse. The prospect of spending weeks in his company fills me (let alone the women and poor Mike) with dread. Luckily, the show redeems itself—the involvement of Puru and the women (or, as Art and Mike insist, “the girls”) is a real source of hope.
Clearly the product of a deranged mind, The Bachelor is the brainchild of Flipside’s Mike Puru. While the show is ostensibly another MediaWorks production, with Puru as host, it becomes abundantly clear that Mike is pulling the strings. We don’t see a lot of Mike in these first two episodes. He appears when you least expect him—grinning silently beside Art at a Rose Ceremony, or suddenly apparating into a scene to whisk our contestants off to another one of his product-placement-saturated dates.
Obviously a devoted student of David Lynch, every one of Mike’s appearances manages to cultivate a tone of confusion and hopelessness unmatched since Lost Highway. His speeches to the contestants are despair writ large. To put it simply, he’s giving us televisual expressionism of a calibre never before seen in New Zealand.
Puru’s also nothing if not a masterful fixer. In the first two episodes there’s been a flight on a seaplane, an island picnic, and a thrilling jet-boat ride. He even managed to borrow a Russian oligarch’s superyacht for the day, as if the show needed another display of wealth of such disgustingly filthy lucre.
But Mike’s not without his flaws. Completely out of step with the zeitgeist, his primitive view of gender politics ensures that the contestants are constantly being portrayed as “catty”, and he’s done nothing to deter the bumblingly offensive Art from referring to them as “the girls”. It’ll be intriguing to see if Mike can grow out of his regressive views or if they’ll continue to colour his show.
And then there’s the contestants themselves. 21 women, mainly drawn from the upper-crust of the big urban centers, and all a fair few IQ points clear of Art. There’s a real mix of professions—teachers, advertising executives, yoga instructors—but we’re struck by how any of these people could be interested in our glassy-eyed fad diet entrepreneur. Such is life.
Mike’s bold and uncompromising direction meant we got to know far more about some contestants than others:
Rosie loves danger so much that it has become the guiding principle for her global adventures. She says she has visited both Israel and Jordan and found the thought of nearby gunfire “thrilling”. Rosie’s politics are unsettling but she redeems herself in the first Rose Ceremony by preemptively walking out. Presumably she’s heard there’s trouble in the Crimea and is off to check it out.
Poppy is an English yoga instructor. She’s got Art performing the “tree pose” within about five seconds of meeting him. “I can see why trees do it.” Poppy gives him the benefit of the doubt.
Kristie’s a “dog person” from South Otago. It remains to be seen how an animagus will fare. Kristie quickly gets some alone time with Art and says she’s not here to make friends, clearly operating as more of a “lone wolf”. She locks eyes with Art and “time stands still”. We know how you feel, Kristie.
These contestants are talented! We have a champion in our midst. Danielle, a 35 year old barrister from Auckland, won the National Piano Accordion Championships in 1997. One can’t help but speculate that there are substantially more competitors in this particular competition than there was in 1997—who knows how Danielle will go with so many contestants. In a clever budgeting move, Mike appears to have convinced Danielle to provide the show’s soundtrack, perhaps guaranteeing Danielle safe passage through the early rounds.
Then there’s the fraudster. One of our contestants, Danielle Le Gallais, was sentenced to 18 months in jail in 2005 for stealing almost $40,000 from a former employer. Danielle has Art sussed immediately, and gets “given” a rose within minutes of meeting him—we can only hope that she has also made off with Art’s gaudy G-shock.
Now that we’ve met these smart young women and this awful man, how are things going to play out? In the early episodes, things begin to settle down into a pattern of set piece dates and talking heads—it’s easy to forget that this thing will ultimately end in a marriage. At first, we find the women lounging nonchalantly on a sort of Bachelorette Band Stand, clearly waiting for someone to come along and say “hello ladies”, which Puru dutifully does. One of them is going to be going on a date! Art has chosen Poppy for a date on Kawau because she “seems like fun”—the viewer is left to imagine Art’s lecherous wink. Poppy’s date goes well and Art gives her a rose. Poppy relaxes a little too much and does a small fart.
Now Mike has decided that Art should take a number of women on what is called a “group date”, which most closely resembles a group interview—Art seems just about to hand the women an A4 pad and a roll of sellotape and instruct them to build a bridge that can support his bodyweight. Some of the women join Art on various vessels as they potter about on the ocean. This group is obviously favoured by Puru, for they are finally given the opportunity to drink out of real-life glass. This time, Dani is given a rose.
While Art is busy with Dani, Chrystal holds court on the top deck, confidently assuring the troops that while women seek emotional security, men are more interested in physical attraction. Chrystal’s right on the money if she’s talking about Art, but Danielle sees her polemic for what it is: lazy stereotyping. “Chrystal was very opinionated,” Danielle (the fraudster, not the accordionist) complains in her piece to camera, “and wrongfully so.” Brilliant. One can’t help but suspect a significant portion of Chrystal’s money could end up in a Swiss bank account at any moment.
This time, Art has only 13 roses for 15 girls. Luckily, Mike has done the arithmetic for us—two more women will be leaving the mansion. Danielle gets the last rose in a tense finale and Puru appears in a cloud of smoke to bring things to a close.
And thus stepped The Bachelor into the hell-scape. Kills and Moon are but a distant memory. The Bachelor is potential realised, promise delivered—the platonic ideal of reality television. One can only imagine what Mike’s got in store for us next week. Thank God for The Bachelor.