Here’s something I don’t understand about “The Golden Bachelor”: How can a reality show so contrived, so cheesy and fake, be so real?
It’s hard to imagine someone more earnest, even Forrest Gump-like, than Hoosier Gerry Turner, the 72-year-old golden guy who signed up for this dating show in order to find the love of the rest of his life. When engaging one-on-one with the contestants who participate in Week 2 of the show, he doesn’t seem to be eyeballing their rack or, in fact, looking anywhere besides their eyes. We see warmth and empathy, and they don’t seem faked.
With one or two exceptions, the women seem equally earnest, albeit with an intensity that borders on desperation. Among themselves, they’re playful, with cooking tips and jokes about who has to get up at night to pee (they have to room together, something no grownup really wants to do!). But that’s not the main thread of their relationship, of course.
And so the game plan is laid out: The second week includes a birthday celebration for Gerry, a race to the clothing racks to select ridiculous costumes for equally ridiculous photo shoots (replicating romance-novel covers), the first individual date (with Theresa, at Jack’s Cadillac diner and motel, a 1950s retro location seen in dozens of movies), a cocktail party at the Bachelor Mansion, and the inevitable Rose Ceremony. Think of it as a (non-deadly) “Squid Game” for the dating set.
If there’s a theme hovering over the entire enterprise, it may be loss. On their date, 70-year-old Theresa shares that she, like Gerry, married her high-school sweetheart and was with him for 42 years before he died of kidney failure almost nine years ago. Leslie, 64, reveals that she, again, like Gerry, uses two hearing aids.
The most moving example of loss came from Nancy, a 60-year-old retired interior designer from Alexandria, Virginia. Nancy’s publicity headshot shows a vibrant honey-blonde who looks great in black. It may have been the white that did her in: One group of costumes for those photo shoots was wedding dresses, and Nancy donned one of them for some wedding-theme photos.
After the shoot, Gerry sits down with Nancy to ask what’s wrong, why did she seem down or distant? (Remember: Gerry has been surrounded by women, a wife, and daughters, all of his adult life – of course he noticed!)
Wearing that wedding gown reminded Nancy of her happiest day, she says, of her marriage to her late husband. There’s nothing fake about the woman sitting there, still dressed in white, with Gerry’s hand on her shoulder; now, the golden girl who looked like a vibrant match for the Golden Bachelor is comparatively pale and flat. She isn’t looking at Gerry, but rather gazing back decades to younger times filled with promise.
“I’m strong enough to be alone,” Nancy says in a different video clip. But she still hopes not to be. A rose from Gerry at the end of the “group date” portion of the day suggests she may not be.
At the end of the episode, Gerry hands out roses to the women who will allow themselves to be humiliated on prime-time ABC-TV the following week. That’s when we deduce, by process of elimination, who won’t be coming back.
Among those not getting that floral tribute was Natascha, 60. An ebullient (“funky, colorful”) Black New Yorker who calls herself a “pro-aging coach” (the alternative being . . . ?) and midlife speaker, Natascha sashayed through the garden during the end credits, suggesting that the producers do the Rose Ceremony in chairs (“You have people in here 60, 70, and above”), pointing out that there’s chair yoga, chair exercise, chair aerobics. So why not a Chair Rose Ceremony? I get the impression that true love wasn’t really on Natascha’s mind, that she had signed up for the novelty of it all.
Jeanie and Peggy also say their goodbyes to an anguished-looking Gerry this week. The official biographies for the two women focus on their careers and hobbies – 65-year-old Jeanie, from Tennessee, is retired, loves scuba-diving, and “is ready to look for love”; Peggy, 69, goes on missions to volunteer as a dental hygienist and is into . . . go-karting!
The mystery of the week was Marina, a 60-year-old L.A. educator. She received a rose from Gerry at the end of the Week 1 premiere yet didn’t appear in Week 2. Her absence wasn’t addressed during the show, but a post on the Golden Bachelor’s Instagram page showed host Jesse Palmer sharing the news of Marina’s withdrawal with Gerry, who then got to FaceTime with her to say goodbye. Family issues called out to her, the single mom explained, and family needs come before fun.
But . . . fun? Not for most of the women – except for those who can parlay their Bachelor appearance into future gigs, as some Bachelor Nation participants have in the past. And not necessarily for us viewers, either, except those who also slow down to gaze at highway accidents, hoping to see a twisted corpse or two.
Whatever else, the manipulation is masterful. Out of a contrived situation comes stressful participation by thousands of us who, by all rights, should not care one whit. It brings to mind the Super Bowl – why should we care which million-dollar athletes triumph over other million-dollar athletes?
So, hand it to the TV geniuses who must have paid attention to the mid-century American poet Marianne Moore (herself a major Brooklyn Dodgers fan until they decamped to Los Angeles). She wrote that poetry can present us with “imaginary gardens, with real toads in them.”
And so can reality TV.
Catch up on the action.
If you missed last night’s episode, click on the image below to watch and get caught up on the trials and tribulations of Gerry’s search for love.