Host of The Bachelor, Chris Harrison offered some insights on the show during a recent spontaneous chat.
Okay, look. One of the things that happens at press tour is that you wind up at events where people you would never go out of your way to talk to are right there, standing not at all far away, and it's very difficult not to walk over and ask them your burning questions.
At the ABC/Disney party, Chris Harrison, host of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette and, I'm sure, one day, Bachelorette Babies In Space, was standing a few feet away just after I had been talking about his show with one of my press tour pals, Cristina Kinon of The New York Daily News. We debated for a while, then walked over to talk to him.
As you may have heard — provided you would ever devote even one quarter of one ear to this sort of thing — Harrison recently hosted a disastrous meltdown of an interview involving recent Bachelor Jake Pavelka and his chosen lady, Vienna Girardi, after they had broken up. During the interview, the two wound up having one of those incredibly uncomfortable train-wreck arguments, with yelling and sobbing and accusations petty and non-petty flying back and forth. He accused her of infidelity (and interrupting); she accused him of withholding physical affection (and not caring about her dog). I didn't write about it here, but we talked about it during the Regrettable Television Pop Quiz portion of Pop Culture Happy Hour, if you're curious.
Anyway: At the party, after a few pleasantries, my question to Harrison amounted to, "Jake came off in that interview as weird, controlling and creepy. Discuss."
At first, he nudged the question aside by shifting to the issue of his own alleged bias. (Which I hadn't raised.) He told us that he found himself accused of taking Jake's side, but then also heard from people who (like me) found Jake intensely unlikable.
"If you saw that," he said, "how could you say that I took Jake's side? Because if I took Jake's side, you wouldn't have seen that."
Putting aside what seemed to be his acknowledgment that if he chooses to side with a particular contestant, he can make that contestant look good or bad, I went back to the way Jake, unsettlingly, seemed to snap in the middle of that interview. Harrison wouldn't really go along with any characterization of Jake's behavior other than "he lost his cool," but here's what he said about my sense that Jake was setting off all my red flags about controlling, aggressive guys:
That's good, that it evoked those emotions in you. To me, as much as love, that's what the show is about and what it's always been about, and why women, by the millions, watch our show, is: you've all had that boyfriend, whatever he is. You've all been dumped by a guy like Frank [one of the just-concluded Bachelorette season's men], who was either the bad boy, was the insecure boy, you tried to nurture him, you tried to fix him — do those relationships ever work out? No! But do women always go for that guy? Yes. And so everybody can relate.
At this moment, I had the disorienting feeling that Chris Harrison and I were about to have a breakthrough.
Because this is exactly correct. What this dumb show is, at its core, is an extremely effective cautionary tale about the meaningless of all the romantic trappings in which it specializes. Do not assume that gorgeous pilots with straight teeth are necessarily nice! Do not assume that men who go on "fantasy dates" or accompany you on helicopter rides have anything to offer except their agents' phone numbers! Do not be fooled by swirling orchestral music, expensive jewelry or Jeffrey Osborne singing "On The Wings Of Love"! Do not think that the guy who says "I'm totally into you" the fastest is necessarily the one to pick!
This is what's so great about the fact that these relationships almost never last and often implode spectacularly. The Bachelor sets up phony love stories, implies they are real love stories, and is then foiled by the fact that none of this ritualistic, overblown horsepucky has anything to do with love.
Which is absolutely a lesson one must sometimes learn in real life. Beware, young person! Beware!
So I said to Chris Harrison, "Is it a valid interpretation, then, to say that the lesson of Jake is, 'Don't get involved with a guy like Jake'?"
"No," he said, breaking my heart. "The lesson of Jake and Vienna is, as a woman — or a man, but obviously it's a predominantly female audience, I'll admit that — but the lesson is take from it what you will."
What? How can the lesson be "Take from it what you will"? Booooo!
We were so close, Chris Harrison. So close.