For fans, the journey to the end of The Bachelor NZ season two was an excruciating one. But, as Alex Casey finds, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel with the latest season of UnREAL. Contains spoilers.
Everyone’s afraid of the difficult second season, especially in New Zealand reality television circles where our talent pool runs dangerously dry faster than you can finish saying “remember Shae Brider?” But perhaps there is no bigger disappointment under our belts than The Bachelor NZ season two, during which recapping and podcasting each week began to feel more and more like a very specific kind of Gollum-based torture.
Thankfully, the second season of UnREAL has arrived in perfect time to remind us how the “real” reality sausage is made, and that it isn’t all Dad jokes and ocean wees. Set behind the scenes of a fictional reality show entitled ‘Everlasting’ – a Bachelor replica so close it hurts – the deeply dark drama follows the personal lives of the twisted producers and show-runners. Jerking the strings behind the curtain, we see how make the reality monster move – all the while dealing with their own screen-worthy dramas.
I’ve already covered the general vibe of the show last year, and after watching the first episode of S2 last night, am convinced it is the perfect antidote for reality fans to the literal sick-in-your-mouth experience that has been The Bachelor NZ. Let me count the ways:
UnREAL knows the franchise inside and out
Remember how in The Bachelor NZ they didn’t even have a final rose in either season? And The Fantasy Suite wasn’t even called The Fantasy Suite but a ‘Stay Over, If You Like Doesn’t Matter Either Way Yeah Nah Room’? Either TV3 is peddling an unauthorised version of the original like that time my dad took me to a “Spiced Girls” concert, or the producers haven’t watched enough international Bachelor.
With UnREAL, there is no such problem, thanks to creator Sarah Shapiro having worked on NINE SEASONS of The Bachelor US (and hating every second of it). Half the fun of watching is figuring out how many of the terrifying production insights are grounded in truth. They might not accidentally kill contestants on The Bachelor NZ, but the way in which story producers massage answers out of the weak and vulnerable is something that even our own Bachelorettes can attest to.
There’s tonnes of hallmarks of classic Bachelor even in the first episode, from throwing the women into bikinis for the sake of it (volleyball date, anyone?) to having a cookie cutter version of Mike Puru – all white teeth and good hair – welcome the women to the mansion and then disappear back into his cave. And so, so, many Glamour Boutique-style sparkling dresses. “It looks like My Little Pony threw up” says Quinn. Same.
… but they want to change it
Shapiro being borne of The Bachelor school of hard knocks also invites another area of expertise: a challenge of sorts to the franchise to address the glaringly racist elephant in the room. Looking back on the history of The Bachelor, both here and in the United States, it’s patently clear that there’s a very tense whites-only thing happening.
Never in US franchise history has there been a non-white Bachelor or Bachelorette – so UnREAL has gone ahead and done it for them.
Shit is meta. It’s a call to arms from an ex-producer frustrated with the problems of the show, poking the bear to see if they will ever step up and even the playing field. You’ll probably have your own opinions on whether The Bachelor is the right forum to straighten out the race and gender disparities in the media, but I’m on Rachel’s team.
Closer to home, there’s no denying that race was an enormous factor in The Bachelor NZ season two. The ‘pushy Persian’ Naz made it to the final two on the show – all other non-white competitors went home before final 10 – but not without a charming touch of actual racial segregation (Naz, Claudia, Metz vs The World) and some bad commentary about her non-white name:
Generally better tattoos
Let’s compare Quinn and Rachel’s possibly ill-thought out but also incredibly kick ass tattoos (that says “money. dick. power.” btw):
With the nightmareish and confusing body art as seen in The Bachelor NZ:
Nailing the casting
The Bachelor NZ season two suffered from an extraordinary casting problem, namely that they seemed to choose a Bachelor who wasn’t particularly interested in finding love, and a bunch of women who they stripped of their sparkling personalities through a relentlessly blanching edit. They barely even knew each other’s names.
UnREAL knows the casting process inside and out, and how reality personalities are refined or manipulated to set up tensions, cliques and friendships. It may be the most dreadful technique out, but you know you are going to be entertained when Quinn barks across the room for “bitches, wifeys and sluts – oh my!”
Just keep an eye out on the woman in the Confederate flag bikini – I get a bad vibe off her.
Much better soundbites
The writing on UnREAL is so sharp you could julienne Ceri’s sad kitchen capsicum. Quinn and Rachel pace around the set quipping back and forth like an evil version of the Gilmore Girls, dropping incredible truth bombs such as:
Dealing with issues, not dogwashing
Remember when Ceri was trying to talk about her past abusive relationships and Jordan dangled a teddy bear in her face to keep things light? You’ll get no such coddling on UnREAL, airing out issues of mental health, sexuality, race and gender all under the twinkling lights of the Everlasting mansion.
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Just the first episode has tackled sexism in the workplace, racial stereotypes, slut-shaming, Twitter pile-ons and the construction of modern masculinity in Chet’s Bear Grylls-style excursion. Definitely a lot more to chew on than a piece of Fleur’s infamous giraffe poo.
Click below to watch the return of UnREAL on Lightbox today, with episodes arriving express from the US at 5pm every Tuesday