If you’re looking to spend just a few moments with the least important thing in the world to care about right now, allow me to offer this up: For the first 20 minutes or so of this week’s Bachelor, everyone was really, really cold.
For reasons surpassing understanding, the rose ceremony that kicked off this week’s episode was held in what appeared to be a normal house, with walls, in Wisconsin. From the footage inside, though, it was clear that they were instead filming the ceremony inside some kind of open, unheated, barn-style space. It was clearly freezing. In their one-on-one producer interviews, the contestants huddled inside blankets. The big opening showdown between Taylor and Corinne took place with them both shivering next to a picturesque fire. At the rose ceremony, most of the women wore coats or blankets over their insufficient cocktail dresses, and the pauses between delivering each rose began to look less like pauses for romantic drama and instead like a form of hypothermic torture. Every time Nick took a deep, theatrical sigh, his breath appeared in front of him like a mint-scented cloud.
In this time of political unrest, governmental chaos, and bobcats running loose through our nation’s capital, sometimes it’s helpful to let your brain rest on some more mundane but equally baffling questions about the world. For instance — what on earth would justify a rose ceremony held inside an unheated barn, in Wisconsin, at night, when it’s cold outside? Did the women know it was going to be cold, and bring coats for that purpose? Or did the producers supply them? Many of the one-on-one interviews seem to be taking place inside a more substantial space with walls — why not have the rose ceremony in there? Did no one realize how distracting it would be to watch a gaggle of women shivering in cocktail dresses, while the mere act of breathing caused their breath to billow out from their mouths as they tried to happily accept Nick’s roses?
True, this is hardly the biggest standout element of the episode. As Ali Barthwell aptly points out in her recap, this same episode has a group date on a plantation, and does so without ever mentioning slavery! Haha! Corinne and Taylor go on a two-on-one date in the bayou, where a tarot-card reader pronounces that Taylor is a “water sign,” and Nick proves to everyone’s shocked surprise that he prefers the contestant who will happily show up naked on his hotel doorstep whenever he desires.
But here’s why the women freezing in a barn was still my favorite thing about the episode: The Bachelor always hinges on its ability to paper over the fundamental unreality of its entire premise. True love found amid a group of attention seekers and amiable dummies, manufactured to appear magically while under the constant gaze of producers and cameras — this is not plausible. The franchise’s success lies in the thick, gloopy layers of stuff it uses to fill in the cracks of that premise. Stuff like roses, and inter-contestant drama, and dates at plantations, and weepy backstories, and dancing in a second line.
Occasionally, though, the carefully designed settings and producer machinations peek through, and we get to see the franchise for the hilarious farce it so often is. The most exciting versions of that are when producer intervention is visible on the series — when you can hear a producer actually ask a question or a producer appears onscreen to calm someone down. It’s also pleasantly theatrical when bodily realities break into the fiction of the series, resulting in the glorious horror of Chad and his incessant eating. Corinne, for her part, has taken up some of that mantle this season, insisting on sleeping when she wants to and ordering massive steaks from room service.
Being so cold that you’re clearly uncomfortable? This is the most boring, most ordinary, most delightfully dumb way to puncture The Bachelor’s always-absurd romance bubble. Oh sure, those women all said their lines and followed their parts. They tapped their toes impatiently while they waited for Nick to call their names. Nervously, they chewed on their lips. They shot dark glances at their rivals. But no real person in that frigid barn was worried about whether she was going to get a rose, or how much Nick actually liked her. When you’re standing in the cold, all you want is to not be standing in the cold any more.
The other notable thing about the rose ceremony scene is that it was an unusually visual failure. There was just no way not to see that everyone in that room was standing there enshrouded in a veil of their own frozen exhalation. And at a time when reality-show visuals seem increasingly vital to the running of the world, it’s fun to notice the places where they fail, because it’s a sign that while the narrative is telling you one thing (True love! Crowd size!), your eyes are telling you something completely different. Trust your eyes on The Bachelor. There was no romantic tension in that barn. There was only shivering.