How significant is Brooke Burton’s turn as the Australian Bachelorette?

By: | Post date: October 19, 2021 | Comments: 1 Comment
Posted in categories: Australia, Culture

The Australian Bachelorette is about to screen Season 7. Its protagonist is Brooke Blurton, who was a contestant on The Australian Bachelor Season 6. Brooke Blurton is bi, and has has made out with another former female contestant, Alex Nation, on the followup Bachelor In Paradise; so this is her third outing on the Bachelor franchise. The contestants this season are 8 men and 8 women. Brooke also has Aboriginal ancestry on her mother’s side. Her entry into the Bachelor franchise has occasioned much laudatory commentary about her being the first LBGTQI and First Nations participant in the series.

Debuting, Wednesday 20 October, 2021, on Channel Ten Australia.

What follows is not Hegelian dialectic, it’s probably just strawmen and centrist waffling, but I think it interesting enough to propound nonetheless. YMMV.

THESIS

Brooke is a strong proud woman, proud to be Aboriginal, proud to be LBGTQI, proud to be a social worker trying to make life better for her fellows. She has been unlucky in love on the show—walking out on Bachelor Nick Cummins,

before he in turn walked out on the two finalists; and then… mumble mumble, whatever happened with Alex

and with the bloke she ended up pairing off with after Bachelor In Paradise.

But now, she is going to find her one true love. And she will not be limited to one gender in her quest, for she sees no gender.

Her debut as the Bachelorette is a milestone for inclusion and diversity on Australian TV. The producer has said to The Age how proud she is of the move:

“The franchise needs to be brought into the now, to our contemporary world, whatever that means,” says Innes. “It needed a jolt.”

(Sure. That’s if you don’t count Alex Nation from Bachelor 4, the two other contestants from Bachelor 4 who ended up dating after the show, the African American Blake Garvey on Bachelor 2, or the Fijian Jimmy Nicholson on Bachelor 9. The Dutch Ali Oetjen on Bachelorette 4, I’ll grant you, is a stretch.)

(But we don’t speak of Blake. Oh, that cad.)

ANTITHESIS

Milestone.

Pull the other one, it’s got fucking bells on.

The Bachelor franchise is not a salve to the heartbroken, and it’s not a vehicle of societal progress, and it’s certainly not a “social experiment” like the execrable drunken gaslight-fest that is Married At First Sight claims to be. It’s an exploitative contrived reality TV show, with antiquated notions of romance and courting, that people throughout Australia watch in order to mock.

Eight queer women in the Bachelor mansion in evening wear, alongside eight blokey blokes in tuxes? Is that what the Revolution is supposed to look like? That’s even more ludicrous than the show usually is. And wake me up when there’s eight bi blokes in the Bachelor mansion wearing whitey-tighties.

The Australian franchise actually has a better track record for long-term relations than I thought: three marriages, two with children, and one engagement with children, out of 17 contestants. But people routinely joke about the contractually required 6 months post-competition before contestants break up (and not without reason). People snark about contestants only going on the show so they could get relocated as a TV reporter from Tasmania to the mainland (true enough, yet Reader, she married him).

And the thing about robust systems is, they envelop their criticisms, and neutralise them. That’s why Germany isn’t communist: Bismarck coopted social welfare. That’s why Chomsky can say what he wants: he’s the court jester of the military-industrial complex.

Snarking recaps about the “Bachie”? (My favourite: a shot of a confused Bachelor, with the spoken caption BACHIE BOT MALFUNCTION! BACHIE BOT MALFUNCTION!) The TV channel embraces all that, and neutralises it. They know it’s mock-watched, and they play up on it. They foster a culture of it. Contestants actually go on the show in subsequent seasons, speaking among themselves about “the bachie”.

The flaw of the show is that it takes interesting people, and turns them into mush, because the show’s narrative weighs them down. The Bachelor and the Bachelorette are routinely recruited among former contestants (Richie in Bachelor 4, Matty in Bachelor 5, Sam in Bachelorette 1, Ali in Bachelorette 4, Brooke in Bachelorette 7) and media personalities (Nick Cummins in Bachelor 6, Georgia Love in Bachelorette 2, Sophie Monk in Bachelorette 3, Angie Kent in Bachelorette 5) who display humour, spark, ironic detachment—a personality. Once they are the stars, they have to turn into opaque everymen and everywomen, fully committed to the show’s premise: the opposite of why they were recruited.

I can no longer watch Bachie after what they did to Nick “Honey Badger” Cummins. To those north of the Murray, he is a sporting legend of rugby; to those who are unaware of rugby (like me), he was that charming guy advertising underwear, with delightful blokey quips reminiscent of a gentler past—which not only Anglos get to be nostalgic about. He was a postmodern Mick Dundee without the overt xenophobia and sexism.

He did try, bless him, Nick, some subversive promo spots,

some mugging and eye rolling with the High Drama of the competition, but he couldn’t escape the confines of the formula. Brooke Blurton, infamously, walked out on him before he could walk out on her. What Nick Cummins did next may have been because he preferred Brooke to the remaining two contestants, as I thought at the time—or (as Brooke dished out on her next appearance on the Bachelor franchise) it may have been because he had a WarGames moment of clarity (“the only winning move is not to play”). He walked out on the show.

That made him a winner and an honourable man in my book. He upended the confining ethos of the show, and refused to succumb to it.

Not in the book of the rest of the country, either, who hounded him like they hounded Blake Garvey (that cad!). He did penance the old fashioned Aussie way—going for a week-long hike down the Kokoda Trail (a WWII site for Australians in Papua New Guinea, which has somehow turned into an Australian secular equivalent of the Camino de Santiago). And then, he did the TV penance Australian celebrities have now adopted: getting humiliated on another Reality TV show. (For disgraced celebrity chef George Calombaris, it was singing disguised as a duster on Masked Singer. For Cummins, it was being screamed at by British soldiers on SAS Australia.)

Not a winner and an honourable man in Brooke’s book, either, who has been talking smack about Nick ever since (most recently, applauding her female footballer friend on SAS Australia for boxing against him, and landing a punch). Brooke Blurton takes cheeky swipe at Nick Cummins.

I thought I was proud of you for giving the honey Badger a good 👊🏽 for me 😜 but you beyond make me proud of the intelligent strong woman you are.

That’s not cheeky, that’s Build A Bridge And Get Over It. By going on the Bachelorette, perhaps.

I loved Angie Kent as one of the many snarking viewers featured in Australian Googlebox. I couldn’t stand to watch her get the same treatment, and stopped watching.

ANTITHESIS II: REPRESENTATION

(Told ya it wasn’t Hegelian dialectic.)

Nor has representation been the Bachelor franchise’s strong point. East Asians are rare, South Asians quite predictably get sent home after the first couple of episodes, and the Bachelors and Bachelorettes have mostly been chiselled Anglos (though three winning contestants have been East Europeans, at least).

Though the caddishness of Blake Garvey wasn’t stunt casting: Vince McMahon didn’t screw Bret Hart, Bret Hart screwed Bret Hart. Broke up with the winning contestant before the finale aired, had propositioned the runner-up, ended up in a relationship with the second runner-up—and when they broke up, they did a moping photoshoot together in a women’s magazine. It was all quite bizarre, and no surprise that Garvey has kept a decidedly low profile since.

Buzzfeed can absoutely go and get fucked for their typical Buzzfeed headline:

An Indigenous, Queer Woman Was Just Cast As “The Bachelorette”, Making Australian History

Hey, they’re plenty diverse! Ali (far right) is Dutch, and Georgia (far left) is brunette—and FUCK YOU, Buzzfeed, for reducing the Bachelorettes to Anglo bingo. And not a WORD from you on the delightfully sarcastic Angie Kent in the middle, who will always be a delightfully sarcastic Goggleboxer to me, lounging around her flat with her flatmate making fun of the telly, because I never could bear to watch her bleached of personality as The Bachelorette #5.

In fact, we’ve not had a POC lead on either series since 2014, when Blake Garvey was cast as Bachie.

Oh, you remembered him. Good. (That cad!)

Aussies are absolutely rejoicing in the news — commending the producers for finally giving Australia the kind of representation that really matters.

Right. That’s what really matters.

The gushing queer and POC testimonials in the article, and how this is a season that We Must All Watch, I cannot but find rebarbative. It’s still the Bachie, people. It’s the same show it always was. Last Bachelor series confected scandal out of one drunken contestant calling another drunken contestant a “c*nt”. Do you really think you’re going to get your woke vindication from this show? The trailer already finds the sainted Brooke shocked! shocked! that some of the male and female suitors have ended up hooking up with each other.

[EDIT: this answer may well have been collapsed for the quote. Which just boggles my mind…]

I am annoyed at myself for being disappointed. I’d been seduced by the fact that, as an undercover reporter from the first season of the Bachelor wrote, with all the contestants stuck in the Mansion for days on end and only a couple of hours a week of sighting The Bachelor, they ended up forming intense camaraderie with each other. I was hoping there’d be a queer woman/blokey bloke rapprochement, exuding pure wholesome.

But of course not. Never forget: this is 2021 Australian Reality TV. 2021 Australian Reality TV does not do wholesome. (Cooking competitions, maybe. You’re likelier to see a minority win there, too…)

Masterchef Australia finalists, 2018

(Not much more love from me for The Bachelor Australia’s diversity problem will be its death knell. Just ask the magazine industry | Grace O’Neill: “It’s overly simplistic and factually inaccurate to suggest that print media could have been salvaged by diversity alone.” Yes, O’Neill. Yes it would.)

And oh, what was it Brooke saying about the show two years ago? Bachelor In Paradise’s Brooke Blurton says her romance with Alex Nation “wasn’t genuine”

Although Brooke says she’s glad to have made history by being the first woman to share a lesbian kiss on an Australian reality series, the Indigenous social worker felt as though she was pressured into pursuing her relationship with Alex.

“I knew that there would be the pressure of having a same-sex relationship, but I wasn’t really going into it like that. I wouldn’t say it was forced, but they (the producers) were really going with it,” she said.

No! Really? A confected romance on Reality TV?!

As for why she quit, Brooke says she grew tired of being pressured to play “the angry black girl”.

Incredible! I thought it was because Nick Cummins (that cad!) told you he wasn’t going to pick anyone, and he was uncomfortable with the show premise, and you concluded he should never have been on it…

… sounds like you came to exactly the same conclusion, Brooke. Wonder why you chose not to mention that story on Bachelor in Paradise?

“Obviously, they’re making a TV show and you hear that quite often. You’re basically characters in a show and you have to conform to be that character. If you don’t conform, they [producers] are quite aggressive with how they speak to you. I didn’t necessarily conform… and the manipulation is definitely there.

“I think they wanted me to be the angry black girl, but I was not that. I think they wanted me to step up and be controversial on camera in front of the girls which I don’t think is right. That’s not how I deal with confrontation. They stick you in these environments that are very testing and trying. You know, late nights, early mornings. It’s chaotic.”

Unbelievable! I never!

And two years later, this selfsame show is going to be at the vanguard of social change in Australia? They’re going to tell Brooke’s story truthfully and sympathetically? And they’ve earned a nation’s undying thanks for putting the underprivileged and the ignored on our screens?

The other one has bells on, like I said.

SYNTHESIS

Brooke Blurton is not a spokesperson for a sexuality or for the First Nations of Australia (even if she does put Noongar/Yamatji on her Instagram page). Brooke Blurton is not a vapid clotheshorse wound up to play an outdated Barbie doll fantasy. She’s both. She’s neither.

Brooke has a history of hardship and rejection that she has harnessed to make her into a strong person, even if she did speak of it in a TED talk. She was too black for her white peers, too white for the Noongar and Yamatji; she was bullied, she was molested at the funeral of her suicided, drug-addicted mother, she was kicked out of home by her father at 15, and she has turned her life around following guidance by a teacher of hers into a life of service, as a social worker…

… And that does not mean that she’s Mother Teresa and above criticism (neither is Mother Teresa, after all). That doesn’t mean that we’re not getting something confected and sanitised on TV (which she admits, after all). And for what it’s worth, it doesn’t mean that I should “Yass Queen” her about her ongoing grudge against Nick Cummins, either. (That was a private conversation she leaked, after all. And then she wonders why he was upset when she told him she would blurt it out on national TV, a year after she’d blocked his number.)

Brooke is someone who went on TV because, eh, why not. Like her peers on the show. All of them have stories, even if few of them as momentous. All of them have something to prove to themselves. All of them have foibles. All of them, I don’t doubt, are looking for happiness, though I’m hopeful not all of them are sold on the mythology of Bachie (or that inevitable phrase used among contestants, “you’re not here for the Right Reasons”). And it’s not like Brooke has any illusions by now about how the Bachelor franchise works—as we saw above. Unlike Nick Cummins, Brooke Blurton has chosen to work the franchise, rather than be worked by it. Well… let’s see how successful she is.

Before Brooke there was Megan and Tiffany, contestants who ended up dating each other, in the limelight, and then breaking up, because they found that off the show, they didn’t actually have that much in common. That’s fine, fortunes of love and all.

There was all this pressure. The biggest thing was letting down the LGBTIQ community.

… That is not fine. Megan Marx is not the anointed spokesperson of the LGBTI community any more than Brooke Blurton is either of that community, or of the First Nations community. It’s nothing but regrettable that both of them are feeling pressured to be anything more than twenty-somethings trying out a date or two.

And yet diversity does matter. It is important to see East Asian faces on Australian TV outside of cooking competitions, and Aboriginal faces outside of the ABC, and an occasional guest star role by Deborah Mailman. Even if the Grauniad and Buzzfeed say so. And Brooke on commercial mainstream telly tomorrow night is something of a win. I wish her luck, and I hope she’s going in with her eyes even more open this time, now that she’s been foisted with all this expectation.

I hope the minorities of all stripes watching the Bachie for affirmation tomorrow night go in with their eyes open too. It’s still the Bachelor franchise.

Myself, I’m going to watch it on the off chance that that blokey bloke/queer chick camaraderie happens after all.

And lament the absence of the gentle ocker humour of Nick “Honey Badger” Cummins. Nick ‘Honey Badger’ Cummins’ Bachelor disaster talks a bit about the mental healths struggles he had, after going on the show: it was the show, not the social media two-minute hate, that drove him to seek strength in the New Guinea jungle.

And lament too, something he had to offer—and for that matter, so did Brooke—that was even more important than minority representation in public life, because it’s what makes everything else possible.

Integrity.

“Out of respect to these women, if I can’t stand here right now and say I’m picking her and I love her…if I can’t say that, why would I start something with someone?” he told interviewer Lisa Wilkinson.

He later admitted to ABC Radio National that he didn’t want to fake a relationship for three months as a contractual obligation.

“And what’s more important, me just saying ‘yes’ and going through the motions and dragging some girl through all this media about how we’re in love and then three months down the track after the contract’s over, um, we’re allowed to break up. I’m not going to drag them through that rubbish … and break her heart. Bugger that.”

Debuting, Wednesday 20 October, 2021, on Channel Ten Australia.

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