Before we start, here is a non exhaustive list of things I did to dudes when I was in my early 20s: stalked them on social media, stalked them in real life, changed my personality to mirror their exes, changed my personality to mirror them, dressed like their exes, dressed like them, infiltrated their social circle by befriending their loved ones, wrote them very hectic emotionally manipulative messages, broke into their houses and fell asleep in their beds, listened to Jack Johnson.
I’ve been thinking about these missteps a lot recently. About how embarrassing they were (except the break-in, that was baller), how glad I am that most of them weren’t witnessed, how life destroying they could have been if someone chose to point them out. I’ve been thinking about them everytime I, like the rest of the country, watch The Bachelor. I was thinking about them when Cass pulled out her dream journal last week and God knows I was thinking about them when she said “love at first sight” to Nick yesterday.
From the moment Cass realised who the Bachelor was — a famous sports person who she may or may not have rooted — her fate was set. From her perspective, it was a sign. The universe had brought them back together. An apparent missed connection with a nice guy had been corrected. This was fate. But for the rest of us, another reality was confirmed — Cass is the joke of the season.
There is always one. Someone who gets the awkward music. Who is the recipient of the prestige editing that can re-cut a glance out the window to seem like they’re a Bronte heroine gazing upon misty moors. Someone who gets roasted on Twitter. Someone who makes the ultimate mistake of looking desperate. Even though every woman on screen is part of an pathologically aggressive romantic battle royal where the most complex human emotion is the prize.
This is reality TV’s answer to natural selection. You accept it and move on. But this time, I just couldn’t. Because the fact is you put any of us on TV at 23, ask us to wax lyrically about love, and something cringe-worthy will come out. Add in a few very talented producers and anyone is a goner.
At first, I’ll admit, episode one I was as guilty as anyone when it came to passing judgement. But watching last night something shifted, when she pulled out that diary, hands and voice shaking, so set on saything the things that nerves and anxiety kept her from sharing, I felt massive respect. I’ve never had the balls to say those kinds of things to someone, to be so open and vulnerable. Few of us have said those words to the mirror, let alone another person.
Swap out the music and trim a few of the glassy-eyed gazing shots and Cass’ whole storyline could have been spun as a celebration of radical vulnerability and openness — the internet’s highest prized qualities.
But instead, the wrath her candor invited also highlighted the contradiction at the heart of the show: it’s obsession with “authenticity”.
To be real, honest, truthful is the highest praise you can be given on a reality TV show. Artificial realities are doomed to always be searching for an “authentic” experience. Behind each other’s backs contestants speculate whether intentions are true and virtuous. To be here for anything else than the religious pursuit of true love is to be a charlatan. God help you if just want to be on telly.
With this in mind, it’s almost impossible to remember a more authentic presentation of self than Cass. The feelings she’s sharing (that are being met by eyerolls) are exactly the ones the show says it celebrates. Cass champions true love, love at first sight, fate and destiny — the way only a 23-year-old can. But when we witness someone actually committing to these values it makes us uncomfortable. In reality, that kind of vulnerability is awkward to witness. Not because we don’t quietly wish for it ourselves, but because deep down it’s not Cass we don’t believe in — it’s the rest of the world.
Cass isn’t cringeworthy because of what she’s feeling. She’s cringeworthy because of the looming wave of hurt and rejection everyone can see but her. While Nick is, to his credit, incredibly gentle and sweet in the face of these nuclear declarations of emotion we know how this story ends. Love like this, maybe even first love we don’t know her, ends in first heartbreak. That’s what we can’t look away from.
Please Australia, be gentle. You know this could have been you.
This article originally appeared on VICE AU.