"You win some, you lose some, and then there's that little-known third category."
Al Gore was talking about the 2000 presidential election, but he could just as well have been describing the 2018 season of ABC's The Bachelor, which reached its climax Monday night as Minnesota's own Becca Kufrin suffered the epic humiliation of a nationally televised breakup. That came just a couple short commercial breaks after being depicted on what was ostensibly the happiest day of her life, accepting an offer of engagement from wishy-washy race car driver Arie Luyendyk Jr.
BuzzFeed was summarizing the outraged social-media reactions before the interminable three-hour episode was even over, pointing out that this wasn't the first time in franchise history that a bachelor backpedaled on an engagement during the season's run. It was, however, the first time the end of an arrangement was depicted in such brutally extended detail.
As Griffin Fillipitch noted, the episode started to resemble a Terrence Malick movie in its arduously extended denouement. Hailed by unflappable host Chris Harrison as the first major-network reality-show scene ever to be shown entirely uncut, the breakup was shot weeks after Kufrin believed herself to have won Arie's heart forever. Nope, he decided: That organ actually still belonged to the woman he'd dismissed just before proposing to Becca.
We all had to sit there, watching first in horror and then in anger and finally in tedium while Kufrin wept and cursed into her blouse, repeatedly telling the blank-faced Luyendyk to get lost. Even in what was hyped as the most shocking Bachelor finale ever, Arie somehow still managed to be boring.
As recently as midway through the season, it would have been hard for viewers who steered clear of Reality Steve's spoiler blog to see things ending this way. Kufrin's co-finalist Lauren "B." Burnham (like in kindergarten, Bachelor contestants often have to be distinguished with last initials) was an utter cypher, and Kufrin got very little camera time compared to the infamously 22-year-old Bekah M. and the gloriously villainous Krystal.
One by one, though, the contenders for Arie's bland attentions fell away until only the Prior Lake publicist and the mysterious tech salesperson from Virginia remained in the running. To get to the Final Rose, Kufrin had to fend off not only the other women but also her own ex-boyfriend, who stalked his way onto the set (a full year after the end of their relationship) to lay claim to Becca and cast doubt about her devotion to what Bachelor Nation likes to call "the process."
Kufrin quickly sent the ex packing, leaving her to focus on dodging alpacas and wooing Arie in Cusco. By the opening of Monday night's overcast episode, the differences between Becca and Lauren were clear: Becca was the one with personality. Lauren was the one with...er, je n'ais sais quoi. "It's like trying to compare an apple to a starfish," said the simile-prone Becca, in a more generously spirited comparison than other contestants might have proffered.
Arie's family outright told him to marry the Minnesotan, which in retrospect might have been a kiss of death for Becca, the scion of a proud duck dynasty. Those race car drivers. You tell 'em to steer left, they steer right and crash into the stands.
Now that all is said and done (except for Tuesday's live "After the Final Rose" special, which offers even more awkwardness for those who are so inclined), Becca is at least coming out of this with more dignity than anyone else involved — including the homonymous Bekah, who recoiled on Monday when Chris reminded her of having been head over heels for Arie. Come on, Bekah, we all saw you jumping that silver fox in the hot tub.
Sexy Minnesotan though she is, Kufrin's appeals to Arie were always less erotic than pragmatic. Even the adorable scrapbook she made for Luyendyk concluded, "I'm ready to do the damn thing with you!" She sure was, and he sure wasn't.
Did the show cross a line with its discomfortingly, disrespectfully protracted broadcast of the on-camera breakup? Maybe. Longtime Bachelor observer Claire Fallon rightly pointed out that whatever one might have reasonably expected in signing up for The Bachelor, Monday night's debacle fell pretty well outside it.
While nothing seems to shake the show's rock-solid fan base, Monday's episode did prove yet another example of the franchise's willingness to traipse across even the strained ethical norms of reality TV in exchange for ratings.
Last summer, when spinoff Bachelor in Paradise had to suspend filming because a producer apparently blew the whistle over cameras rolling on nonconsensual sexual contact, the show played it up as an opportunity for educational conversations that somehow absolved the show itself of any responsibility for what transpired.
Becca's certainly through with Arie (who state legislators are already threatening to outright ban from Minnesota), but would she take The Bachelor back? Readiness for matrimony, while it might have scared Luyendyk, does happen to be a prime qualification for a starring role in The Bachelorette. Just think of what Mill City marvels Bachelor Nation could swoon for!
Moonlit strolls across the Stone Arch Bridge! Smooches on the Midtown Greenway! First Ave's doors opening to reveal a C-list country singer rocking the Mainroom! Dare we hope for a surrey ride to Minnehaha Falls? Mr. Harrison, we're ready for our close-up. Or...are we?
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