The Bachelor Season 18 Finale
Where to even begin with the three-hour deconstruction of American gender politics that was The Bachelor's Season 18 finale? We could begin with the creeping horror that has been Juan Pablo’s gradual unmasking. We could chart how he went from being a wildly popular fan (and contestant!) favorite to being so completely unpalatable to viewers that he was the first Bachelor ever to be met with uniformly stony silence from the live audience throughout his (awkward) exit interview.
Or I could work chronologically and discuss the meaningful warnings his family gave Nikki and Clare about his proclivity for spending his weekend having breakfast in bed and watching TV all day, and being a “hard guy” who is very into himself. But instead I'm going to try to step outside what ABC was showing me and think about what I saw.
It’s very significant how differently this finale was handled compared to the many previous ones. The was the first Bachelor finale couched as a “viewing party,” and we spent most of the heavily edited episode watching audience react, picture-in-picture-style. (Which, seriously, I loved... I wish the show would do every episode this way.) Chris Harrison repeatedly asked audience members to chime in on the action, kept pointing out that Clare had chosen to do this or that, and for once Neil Lane did not appear to tempt Juan Pablo with many, many jeweled rings. (I’m guessing Neil Lane figured that no one would want to ever buy "the Juan Pablo ring" to express their undying love.) Chris also promised a surprise that Juan Pablo had mentioned several months ago, and Juan Pablo didn't know what he was talking about—perhaps a sort of feint to imply Juan Pablo was even jerking the SHOW around! Well I never!
Chris Harrison very nearly lost his long-suppressed temper when Juan Pablo turned on him during After the Final Rose. Did you catch Harrison saying, with giddy sarcasm, eyes glazing over and flawless Caesar Flickerman mask falling over his face, “WHY NOT DO THIS AGAIN?! NEXT UP, MEET THE BACHELORETTE!” It’s a hell of a thing to have to sit there and listen to Juan Pablo of all people articulate exactly how meaningless your show, its thesis, and all you stand for is on a live broadcast of that same show. Truly just screamingly awkward. Don’t listen to him, Chris Harrison, you get paid to travel! But what was fascinating—and what Catherine backed up with her observation that Juan Pablo was “slapping away the hand that fed him” is that The Bachelor finally said baldly that it is not just an extravagant dating service. It’s a Faustian bargain in which you exchange anonymity and a vicarious dating experience for low-level celebrity. How was Juan Pablo not clear on those terms?!
All this to say, it was fascinating to watch ABC and The Bachelor franchise distance themselves from the chilling behavior of Juan Pablo while claiming that he still owed them. Don't get me wrong, I am not defending Juan Pablo, just: Bachelor franchise, why are you shaking your heads right along with us on this one? YOU CAST THIS GUY! You should have screened him for sliminess! YOU HAD ONE JOB! How can you tell people to “give themselves over” and “open up” to the process and then sign up the spiritual heir to Bela Karolyi to conduct 30 simultaneous relationships with young women?
For a man so apparently dedicated to being honest, Juan Pablo managed to very cleverly misrepresent himself, and I don't blame ABC for disowning him. The fact he made his comment to Clare when the mics were off shows an uncanny awareness on his part of how to brand himself and an assumption that she was “in on” that. And let’s put on our Nancy Drew brogues and sleuth that sentence out real quick, shall we? Clare demurely translated it as something along the lines of, “I feel like we don’t know each other. Like, 'You don’t know me, I don’t know you, but he loved hooking up with me.’” Later, when the pain was real, Clare cried, “Don’t tell me you enjoyed fff[bleep]ing me!” So if we put that all together, he said something genuinely chilling to her that cut through the saccharine, simple-hearted Kermit-voiced himbo he’s portrayed himself as.
The Juan Pablo we dealt with in this finale was laser-focused on himself and utterly without empathy. Every time one of the ladies told him she was nervous, his response was “I’m nervouser,” even in the moment with Clare before she was about to find out whether he was going to reject her on national TV. The Juan Pablo we dealt with in this finale was a very patriarchal Juan Pablo, who defended not saying “I love you” back to Nikki and not proposing to her because he was being respectful to her father. SIR, when you told her you had a ring in your pocket you weren’t going to use but you “liked her a lot” and then told her “not to get cranky about it” on national TV, you disrespected HER, never mind the dad you met for five minutes that one time. Your relationship is with Nikki, not her male relatives, and if she’s happy it’s because she’s prolly one of the thousands of ridiculously beautiful yet insecure women on which “negging” works wonders, see Mystery for details.
Nikki cheerfully admitted to staying with Juan Pablo after four months of continually saying “I love you” to him and him not saying it back, which she termed “a struggle,” then later defended their relationship as therefore being more authentic. She contested there were probably Bachelor couples who had walked onstage and said they were in love when they really weren’t, unlike Juan Pablo (not her! She loves him, we know that for sheeze). I have no doubt there’ve been more than a few Bachelors who have talked themselves into their feelings and over-enthused about their partners in the public eye. But here’s the thing, Nikki: That is a Bachelor's way of giving back their partner's equity. That way if they are going to start a relationship they start on equal footing, not maintaining the dynamic of approver and approved, rose-giver and rose-earner. That’s not a control Juan Pablo appears eager to relinquish. And if they do break up, they each leave with some gotdamn dignity.
Ultimately the person who came out looking the best was Sharleen, for leaving first, and then Clare. Because while Clare talked herself back into liking Juan Pablo right in front of our very eyes on their last date together, at least she snapped out of it eventually. And she had the good grace not to let ABC make her confront him on After the Final Rose. She stood up to Juan Pablo, she stood up to ABC, she left with her head held high, and that’s real growth for Clare.
Clare’s real honesty in the face of Juan Pablo’s obvious dissimilation and rampant gaslighting—the way she pushed him away, the way she called him out after the proposal—definitely won her the heroine status of the season. And ultimately, though Nikki is Juan Pablo’s choice, it’s Clare who is the healthier, stronger, happier and overall the much more enviable woman. So congratulations Clare! Do a book, do Dancing With the Stars, go get your life!
And Chris Harrison and The Bachelor Franchise: Get your f-cking house in order. It’s called “psychological screening,” look into it.
What'd you think of The Bachelor's finale and the season overall? What are your final thoughts on Juan Pablo?
AIRED ON 3/14/2016
Season 20 : Episode 12