Selfie service: Blake and Laurina stop by the local service station after their pie date.
Once upon a time, TV seemed neatly divided into two categories: fact and fiction. There were documentaries and news and current affairs programs that chronicled the real world, and dramas and comedies, penned by writers and featuring actors playing roles.
But with the explosion of reality TV during the last decade, the lines have blurred and the traditional divisions no longer apply. Now, the genre imprecisely titled reality TV has mushroomed to encompass all manner of variations on fact and fiction, and come to incorporate some worrying mutations.
The programs gathered under the umbrella of reality TV include everything from The X Factor, Grand Designs, Go Back to Where You Came From and Bondi Vet to the exploits of the Kardashians, Brynne Edelsten and the Real Housewives. The genre takes in cooking and renovation contests, talent quests, observational documentaries ("ob docs"), factual entertainment, semi-scripted and unscripted content.
Laurina has threatened to leave the show before.
It's a broad church and it features material exhibiting wildly differing intentions and varying degrees of accomplishment. Sometimes, it's possible to identify well-honed storytelling skills, a canny approach to casting and slick production values. Sometimes, it's not.
Perhaps more than any other sphere of television, reality TV polarises people: many profess to loathe it, while the enduring popularity of programs such as The Block, MasterChef and My Kitchen Rules indicates an appeal to a large and loyal following.
Producer Sophie Meyrick noted at last month's Australian Teachers of Media (ATOM) Conference that the local industry and television viewers can be snobbish about reality TV and still see drama series as the brass ring in terms of prestige. But, as she pointed out, without the "reality" series that fuel free-to-air TV, many TV makers would be out of work: these programs are an under-appreciated driver of employment, an area in which a range of people behind-the-scenes learn and practise their craft.
But no matter how much one might endeavour to understand and appreciate the contentious and continually evolving force of reality TV, nothing can justify The Bachelor Australia. All reality TV shows rely on arousing curiosity: nurturing our investment in the characters; hooking us with the lure of what might happen next. But like the ugliest specimens of the breed, The Bachelor Australia cynically appeals to our worst instincts. It gathers a group of women and sets them up to compete against each other for the affections of one purportedly desirable man. Then it preys on their hopes and insecurities, constructing situations that invite conflict and waiting for the claws to come out.
Throughout the unedifying spectacle – involving ridiculous "group dates", stilted cocktail parties and excruciating "rose ceremonies" – the contestants are continually, and often harshly, judged by their fellow contestants and, implicitly, by the audience. They're also appraised by the prize catch. This season, it's Blake, a tall, pleasant fellow who scrubs up well in a suit and delivers his lines about searching for a soul-mate with an almost-convincing sincerity.
The whole distasteful exercise is coyly wrapped in our culture's cheesiest cliches about romance. As the women talk about making a meaningful connection and seeking fulfilling intimacy, their encounters amount to an obstacle course festooned with flowers, candles, bottles of champagne, gifts of jewellery and the promise of cosy meals at luxe restaurants.
The word fairytale comes up frequently and the chosen women positively purr when they feel that they're being treated like princesses. The goal is to be selected for a one-on-one date with the alleged Prince Charming. So pity poor Laurina who shows up for her coveted one-on-one in skyscraper heels and a short, tight cocktail frock only to find herself trying to strut her stuff in a bowling alley. Then comes dinner: a pie at a street caravan, albeit Sydney's famed Harry's Cafe de Wheels. "Everybody else gets Ferraris and private jets and super yachts and you get a dirty street pie," she gripes, as we watch her squirm.
Laurina has been set up for a fall because this is a cold and cruel game designed to make the woman suffer, to humiliate them, to lure them with the promise of love while exploiting their tears and fears. It milks all the mileage it can from their misery. So while it dangles the promise of a happy ending, it's really closer to the dark side of a fairytale: just beneath the surface of the vine-covered mansion that houses the contestants lie jealousy, scheming and sabotage.
It's true that none of the women were conscripted into the contest, they all volunteered to join the harem. But that doesn't disguise the essential nastiness of the exercise, which relies on our appetite for such a spectacle.
My idea of a good time would be seeing the contestants flinging those red roses back in Blake's slightly smug face, throwing off their stupid shoes, linking arms and marching out together to seek a brighter future.
But I suspect that wouldn't be regarded as must-see TV. Which is a pity because this is the kind of show that gives reality TV a bad reputation.
The Bachelor Australia airs on Network Ten, Wednesday and Thursday at 7.30pm.