Alex Casey has a sprawling chat with Dani Robinson of The Bachelor NZ about mansion friendships, ruthless edits, and finding love in a hopeless place.
I went over to Dani Robinson’s house the other week, to get her take on the brilliant behind-the-scenes TV drama UnREAL. As the runner-up of The Bachelor NZ, I thought she would know better than anyone, how much reality TV producers can manipulate actual reality. I txted her beforehand to see if she wanted any snacks. She didn’t, she was shredding for a fitness shoot on Friday which was absolutely fair enough. I ate a Cookie Time in the car as I rolled up to her beautiful Westmere villa.
Dani welcomed me with open arms, relaxed in after-work sweats and a glowing makeup-free face. She was glowing so much. Too much. How the hell is that possible, I glowered to myself, ashen under the dust of 100 Cookie Times. Must be all the coconut water and exercise, dammit. After we watched UnREAL together – the read the resulting conversation here – we sat on the couch and got chatting about her time on The Bachelor NZ.
So you stopped filming at the beginning of March, is The Bachelor NZ still a big part of your life?
Yes and no. 90% of the time I am so glad I did it, and the rest of the time it stings a bit. I didn’t think I would care, and I don’t think people expect me to care. Because of shows like UnREAL, and the Bachelor US, people just think it was all scripted and fake. I won’t let people take it from me like that. It was very real for me, and it’s still real for me. As it is for Art and Matilda now, they have to live and breathe their relationship under all this doubt.
How hard was it to keep quiet whilst all the salacious rumours were flying around?
It was so hard. I heard a rumour that I had won, and breached my contract somehow so they changed the ending. No. Way. They would never get away with that. They put so much trust into us, they have to make it as authentic as possible. How would we have ever kept that secret?
I reckon you are a top contender if they ever do The Bachelorette NZ
I would love it, I reckon they are just waiting till I’m older. I think when I’m 25 that will be prime age, and there will be more of a pool of men. I would hope that by then The Bachelor has become a more socially acceptable way of finding love. The idea isn’t actually that crazy.
Also, The Bachelor NZ was done with a lot of respect. Nobody got humiliated, and there weren’t big orchestrated dramas.
I think the drama from overseas has tainted the show, and given fire to the cynics. People always tell me that it wasn’t real, and I just sit there: like “that was very real for me”.
Was there anything that you didn’t expect during filming?
The overnight dates! But honestly, not sleeping with Art was the easiest decision I ever made on the whole show. And I was very, very drunk that night. When the camera crew left us, I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know there were overnights, I got totally blindsided.
How did you not know there were overnights?!
I didn’t know they were going to do it on the New Zealand one! I didn’t think Art would ask! When the thing said “fantasy dates” I thought that just meant really, really romantic. I ended up staying. Anyway, so we had a spa, I got out and had a shower and was sitting in my pajamas. The crew were all packing up to leave and I couldn’t believe it. And then they were all just like “okay have fun guys we will pick you up midday tomorrow” And they just left!
So that’s the first time completely alone together, right?
Well, there were a few times we snuck away. On our boat group date, I had to go and get dried off for dinner. Somehow, production lost me and Art on the boat for 20 minutes. When they finally found us, they freaked out because we weren’t supposed to be on our own. We had just gone exploring on the boat.
On the overnights, sleeping together was honestly not even a thought that I had. He was dating other people at the time, and I wasn’t even in the mood. Having other girlfriends is a big sexual turn-off. For me, anyway.
It was so cool the next morning, because we just got to hang out like a normal couple. We walked around the Gold Coast, holding hands and having breakfast. It felt so normal, and so cool. At the point I was very sure that it was going to be me.
Seems like you would be holding on tightly to any normalcy as well at that point?
Yeah, that might have been what made me so convinced that things would be okay. It confirmed to me that our relationship was real away from the cameras. I was so worried we wouldn’t be able to talk properly without the crew there.
Sometimes I watch The Bachelor and The Bachelorette and think that maybe polyamory is fine, do you actually think Art had strong feelings for multiple girls at the same time?
My thought is that you can have all chemistry in the world but, if you don’t have time, you have nothing. I have had countless amounts of incomparable chemistry with all sorts of different people, but unless you are both in the same place it means nothing. There’s no denying that Art and I had feelings for each other, as he did for some other girls, but the timing was off.
How did it feel when Art didn’t choose you?
It was one of the worst feelings I have ever experienced. I didn’t feel like me anymore. Art said to me later that he felt like he didn’t know me in that moment, the way I looked at him. And I was just like “fucking ditto, buddy”.
I couldn’t believe the things he was saying to me, I didn’t even want to hold his hand. It felt like I had been poisoned, every moment I was around him. It was horrible. I remember walking straight down the path into my More FM interview, and I was so blindsided. I remember looking at my chaperone and saying “get me out of this dress. Get me out of this fucking dress”. And they were all frantically unclipping it then I took it off and ran onto the beach in my underwear.
I remember sitting on a boat nearby and someone pulling out a box of cigarettes. I hadn’t smoked a cigarette since I was at uni, but I sat there puffing away on this boat. I told the driver of the boat “fuckin’ drive” and we just sped away into the distance.
My little team were standing around me just like “Tell me what you want to do”. I just looked straight at them and said “I want to get drunk”.
I later found out that Art said he saw me at the beach the next morning, just standing in water for about 15 minutes with a coffee in my hand. I must have looked crazy. But at the same time, I thought ‘why didnt you come up to me f***ing pussy?’. He thought I hated him.
How did you hide that kind of heartbreak when you got home?
When I got home I took a few days off work, and went straight to my Mum’s house so she could look after me. My stepdad cooked me my favourite dinner, and he slept in the spare room so I could sleep with my Mum. Then I put my blinders on and threw myself into work.
So, no-one knew at all, right?
How could I possibly have explained without me telling them who the guy is? And what had just happened to me? I told everyone that I was on a health camp in Bali and I couldn’t have my phone. Which is totally believable because I do weird stuff like that all the time. Just Dani the nutter, off again.
Did you see Art before the After the Final Rose?
Yeah, we caught up. He came over and had a huge heart-to-heart with me, which was really nice. When I watched the finale and I heard what he said to Matilda – “it’s always been you” – I was just like ‘we need to talk before this reunion episode’.
I was ready to slaughter him like f***ing Silence of the Lambs. I just felt like it was so disrespectful, not just to me but for every other girl on the show. It was a discredit to all these girls who put their heart on the line, and it made him look like a phony.
What did you think of Art when you first saw him?
I went in with the mindset that I wouldn’t be attracted to him, because I’m really picky. And then on the first night I was like ‘oh god – he’s perfect’!
Interestingly though, there were a few girls who took themselves out of the competition. That seems rare, more rare than American. I think it because the girls did the show for the right reasons, they did it to find love. Whereas in America, I think that the opportunity to be on television overshadows what the show is actually about. You would never do a reality show in New Zealand for fame.
What about the allegations that Art was just on the show to push his special muesli?
I believe that he genuinely wanted to find someone. He’s too kind and too smart, he cares about people too much. It wouldn’t have been in his nature to be like that. He struggled so much sending people home each week.
If you are missing The Bachelor NZ as much as we are, we implore you to watch UnREAL on Lightbox today. Click here, you won’t regret it.
People accuse The Bachelor of being anti-feminist, but I do feel like the New Zealand one showed a different element of the franchise, one very heavy on female friendship.
Yeah, you could have just taken Art out. Girls of the Karaka mansion. You don’t see that overseas, and I like that the editing showed the friendships. But there was so much they didn’t show. Matilda and my relationship was downplayed a lot. We spent every waking moment together, and they didn’t use most of it.
When Matilda broke her arm, I was traumatised. I was there at the hospital, I wanted to go in the ambulance but they only let Art in. I was annoyed by that, I was like “Art isn’t even our boyfriend yet”. After that, I looked after her. When she needed her medication I set an alarm that went off every four hours and would give her all the different pills she needed. We still hang out now. We talk about Art sometimes, we don’t talk about Art sometimes. It’s all casual.
We are all still really good friends, Chrystal stayed over here after Dancing With the Stars finished.
Yeah, so I wanted to talk about Chrystal a bit. What did you make of Chrystal’s fall out post-Dancing With the Stars?
There’s a lot of stuff that happened behind the scenes that the public didn’t know, not just between Chrystal and The Edge, but all of us Bachelorettes and The Edge. They would always talk about us and our families on the show, and that made me realise that they were being inappropriate. It was just bullying for entertainment.
So why do you think that one photograph incident felt like such a ‘moment’?
I think that before that, all the instances were more minor, honestly what we saw with Chrystal was just the tip of the iceberg. This was done very publicly, and it was the perfect opportunity for someone to say “Fuck You” – because it was such a public event. If we had tried to create an uproar about something behind the scenes, it would have been easily dismissed.
Chrystal doesn’t want to be famous or grab another TV show or anything – she just recognised that it was wrong. And fuck MediaWorks if they were going to allow it – if someone like Paul Henry had done something like that he would have been fired straight away. How has he [Dom Harvey] not even got a suspension after all that he’s done?
I told Chrystal to back off a bit. She said her piece, and I told her that silence sometimes speaks louder. That’s something I learnt when the Herald fucked me over with my drink driving conviction.
Wait, what did The Herald do to you?
I told the show that I had a drink driving conviction, and after Danielle L got found out they dug through everyone’s back history and said “THE BACHELOR HAS A SECOND CRIMINAL” on the front page. I sued the shit out of them for defamation, because drink driving is a traffic offence, not a criminal conviction. I didn’t win, but they had to retract the whole thing. I was just like “f*** that”.
Dom Harvey stuck up for me during that time, which I haven’t forgotten. People brought that up a lot during the Chrystal thing, but I was never saying that he was a shit person. I was saying that when people fuck up they need to be held responsible for their actions. Not that he wasn’t a kind a loving person. What we are talking about is the fact that he can say really mean shit and not have any consequences.
Also, did you also know that apparently if you break your contract you have to pay $1,000,000 to MediaWorks? That’s what I heard.
Oh, do we? Oh dear. I honestly can say I have a good relationship with MediaWorks, they were all very good to me. Obviously Chrystal had a shit time, but the only shit experience I had was having my heart broken.
What do you make of the policing of Matilda and Art’s social media. Like the blackface incident?
Fake tanned whole body, more like. It was his whole body! Not even his face. I do think people are nitpicking and trying to find things. Especially after Chrystal and Dom Harvey, it does feel like people’s sensitivity has been heightened. Art and Matilda have just brushed it all off. You just have to try and see the good in people.
How do you think that the franchise has changed?
I think reality TV in general is being held more accountable now, and people are looking for more credibilty. It’s like in the new season of Teen Mom – you see the producers, you see the cameramen, you see everything. It makes it more authentic, which I think has evolved from the public becoming more cynical.
How do you fall in love in such a weird situation?
I’m the wrong person to ask, nothing really fazes me. I just blocked it all off. When the girls would talk about Art, I would just pretend they were talking about a different kind of Art. Not my Art. I was in a little Dani and Art bubble, all the time. The crews didn’t bother me because we were very intense, we didn’t really see anyone else.
Watching it back on TV, what surprised you?
Yeah, there were definitely connections he had with certain people. Someone like Alysha, they had a really good connection. And Nat! Even though she was awkward, you could tell he was really into her by the way he looked at her.
We got into some conspiracy theories about the order that people were standing in at the rose ceremonies, was any of that real?
There were a few things like that. The orange dress. And the baking. Anytime someone would bake something in the house someone would go home. It happened to Danielle L, it happened to Lisa. Then Carissa made kumara fries the day she got eliminated. Nobody baked anything after that.
Did you guys cook in the house?
Yeah, generally someone would just make a big serving of something. Brigette would cook a lot, Hayley was real good at making nice healthy stuff out of nothing. Sometimes our supermarket shopping would come late and we would live off toast. We got to write our own shopping lists, but there were limitations. Someone wanted lime milk for example, but that didn’t happen.
Was there any obligation at your end, if you won, to maintain some kind of relationship for a certain period afterwards, even if it didn’t work out?
Not at all. Not to my knowledge. I get so weird about it, sometimes it feels like it was all a big dream, other times I get really emotional. 95% of the time I’m really happy, but somedays I just think I wish I never met him, I wish I had never made myself that vulnerable on national television.
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