Reality Bites: The Bachelor

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There are a million reality shows on the naked television. We're going to watch them all, one at a time.

For all my other TV-related flaws, I considered it a point of pride that -- until this week -- I'd never seen an episode of ABC's The Bachelor.

Not like the network has made in inaccessible or anything. Since 2002, there have been 16 seasons, resulting in an impressive 128 episodes (three more than All in the Family, for those yet to meet their RDA for righteous indignation). Granted, longevity =/= quality programming, but clearly *someone* is watching this show. Monday's 17th season premiere seemed like a good opportunity to see what all the fuss is about.

Two hours of my life later, I'm still not sure. This is possibly because my cerebral cortex shut down out of self-preservation roughly 45 minutes in.

To start with: this trend of letting these shows run two (or even three) hours completely baffles me. Actually, I take that back. A 120-minute running time isn't the problem, it's that so many of you choose to sit through them in real time.

6.81 million people watched the Bachelor premiere Monday night, less than the number for NBC's The Biggest Loser -- the show that ostensibly allows America to cheer as the morbidly obese shed pounds but in reality just satisfies a darker need we all have to watch fitness trainers yell at people who can't do a single pull-up (see also: Full Metal Jacket). This is encouraging in the same vein as finding out you don't have inoperable bowel cancer, just regular bowel cancer.

Admittedly, I skipped some of the spectacle. My grandfather, the first man I ever knew who muted TV commercials, never lived to see DVR technology, but I like to think he would've been proud of seeing his grandson mercilessly fast-forwarding through lingering shots of 29-year old Dallasite Sean Lowe posing thoughtfully on the beach, or wistfully on a hilltop. Sean loves family and shirtlessness, and also had his heart broken on The Bachelorette, so naturally he's out to mete out cruel vengeance to as many unsuspecting women as possible.

Ha ha, no. We do get an excruciating rundown of his post-Bachelorette days, with only his thriving career, loving family and rock hard abs to see him through. He believes his "great love" is out there. "Out there" being a location whose parameters are defined by exactly 25 26 women. Seems a bit limiting.

Before the ladies show up, Sean gets a visit from Arie Luyendyk, Jr., runner-up of the same season of The Bachelorette Sean was on (fun fact: Emily from that season was a previous winner of The Bachelor, and several of the premiere's contestants were on something called Bachelor Pad, lots of ... cross-pollination on these shows). Arie offers some questionable advice, punctuated with a lot of "dudes." I could've done without the Indy 500 scion giving Sean kissing pointers.

All he wants is *love*, people. Can't you let him love?

There's also a host: Chris Harrison kind of looks like Mark Walberg (the Antiques Roadshow guy, not the famous one). He's here to introduce some of the women before they start embarrassing themselves on national TV. Some of them are obviously being set up as favorites, for example:

Desiree: a 26-year old bridal stylist, who's cute in a Katie Holmes pre-Tom Cruise soul excavation way Sarah: an ad exec from L.A. who's very into her career. And did I mention she only has one arm? Because she totally only has one arm. Lesley: a 25-year old environmental advocate from DC. This Arkansas native is not into all the "nerds and politicians" in the District. So you became a lobbyist? That's an SEC education for you. Tierra: she's 24 and a leasing consultant. Her intro makes her seem very genuine and down to earth, except we've already seen acting like a complete head case in the extended preview. Or maybe ABC thought we couldn't tell one fake tanned set of sculpted eyebrows from another.

There are also two Houston contestants. Robyn is in sales and engineering, and she can do a backflip? How can Sean resist? SPOILER WARNING: she tries to cartwheel out of the limo and wipes the fuck out. AshLee (one of three Ashleys) is also from Houston. She's a professional organizer. The fact we have professional organizers gives me some insight into what probably killed George Carlin.

And then there are those who are destined to go out in a blaze of glory, like Ashley P, another stylist whose inability to land a man couldn't possibly have anything to do with her weird fixation on Fifty Shades of Grey. SPOILER WARNING: she gives Sean a necktie, procured from her cleavage, when they meet. How many copies did that stupid book sell? We don't get intimate portrayals of the other 16, leading me to believe they won't last long (I know, that's some Batman level detective work). Some of the weirdos show their colors during the limo introduction, in which the contestants are paraded before the bachelor like well-coiffed sides of beef: Daniela does some kind of freaky frat-boy handshake, Kelly from Nashville sings, and Paige was on Bachelor Pad 3 (which sounds like an 80s movie starring Corey Haim, Eddie Deezen, and Bert Convy as "The Landlord").

Sean is especially taken with Tierra, so much so that he breaks the rules and gives her a rose before she even makes it to the house. This is not what is commonly known as a "First Impression Rose," but is just a regular rose like you get during the ceremony. This I know because every one of these chicks has researched the show the way non-stylists from the Midwest The Price is Right. The joke's on him, anyway, as we already know Tierra is b-a-n-a-n-a-s.

Personally, I liked Amanda, who insisted on getting the awkward pause out of the way at the outset, and Desiree (call me "Dez"), because who didn't love Joey on Dawson's Creek?

It goes on until the much vaunted "surprise guest:" Kacie, from Bachelor season 16 or something. Naturally, all the other women could identify her as "Kacie from 'Ben's season'" immediately.

I've (half) joked in the past about how people who voluntarily watch televised torture porn like Criminal Minds and Law & Order: SVU have mental problems, but I think Bachelor fans could give them a run for their money. After all, those shows only require you to subject yourself to an hour of abuse. Hell, the reality programs I (half) jokingly champion at every opportunity (Cheaters, Duck Dynasty) only demand 30 minutes of my precious time. *Two hours?* After 20 minutes of this, or American Idol, I start developing "situational Tourette's Syndrome" and sputter curses at anyone within earshot. After 45 minutes, I'd killed half a bottle of Woodford Reserve. Forced to watch this on a weekly basis, I'd probably end up snorting powdered human adrenal gland.

I'm a little fuzzy on the rules, but it doesn't look like everyone gets designated couch time with the bachelor. From the get-go, the women have to (figuratively) scratch and claw for advantage. It's not helped by Sean handing out roses willy-nilly, giving 12 of his available 19 away before the official ceremony. This is what passes for "shaking things up" on a program that, as far as I can tell, is only one step removed from sanctioned polygamy.

Some of the rose recipients are a surprise: Lindsay exited the limo in a wedding dress and proceeded to get completely 'faced at the mansion (don't worry: both Houston contestants are also in, in spite of Robyn's cartwheel snafu). Meanwhile, some of those who don't receive a rose are no surprise at all: Ashley P, who quickly becomes 50 Sheets to the Wind, decides to shake her ass throughout the house, before wiping out on some stairs. Someone should've used that necktie to shackle her to the wall.

By night's end, it's easier to name those who didn't receive a rose: Ashley H, Ashley P (eliminating two of the three Ashleys), singing Kelly, Keriann (?), Lacey (??), Lauren (the Italian who told Sean her father would break his legs if he broke her heart ... smart move) and Paige (The Curse of Bert Convy). A suddenly introspective Kelly offers what passes for an epiphany: "Sometimes it's easier to focus on things that make yourself happy." Too bad she didn't come to this realization before hauling her ass across the country.

So this is where we are, decades after putting a human being on the moon and conquering the atom, relationship-wise we've somehow reverted to a neo-Victorian construct that is barely superior to the arranged marriages repudiated by so many in this hemisphere. Here are 26 women perfectly agreeable to the notion that firm pecs and a nice smile will be enough to usher them into some mythic, Disney-esque existence, the history of the show itself notwithstanding (the bachelors and their "winners" are 1 for 16 in lasting relationships, in case you cared). And there are 6.81 million others perfectly fine with that.

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