On Monday night, millions of Americans watched Colton Underwood, this season’s lucky Bachelor, take 13 women to a restaurant in Singapore, where they tried “exotic” foods like bullfrog legs, grilled pig intestines on skewers, and braised pig trotters.
“Ew!” the women squealed as platter after platter of food arrived at the table.
During the meal, one of the women, Hannah Brown—who you may know as the ex-Miss America contestant caught in a pageant feud with fellow Bachelor contestant Caelynn Miller-Keyes—swallowed a fish eyeball to impress Underwood. Another contestant, Hannah Godwin, sat stoically at the end of the table without seeming to make any real attempts at eating before placing a piece of pig intestine in her mouth and saying, “It wasn’t as bad as I thought it’d be.”
If you’re part of Bachelor Nation, you know that people are rarely shown eating on-air during The Bachelor or The Bachelorette. Food is a prop or an oddity, never something humans consume for pleasure. During one-on-one dates, contestants typically sit at intimate, candle-covered tables, often for hours, while their food, which has included plates of gourmet pasta and three-tier platters of seafood, goes untouched. When contestants are encouraged to eat on camera, it’s usually either because they’re participating in a “gross” activity—on Arie Luyendyk Jr.’s season, women ate earthworms during their group date hike at Tahoe—or indulging in food that’s significant to the person they’re dating, like when Becca Kufrin took part in a Buffalo wing–eating contest while visiting contestant Jason Tartick’s hometown.
The Bachelor often portrays international cuisine in particular as a “gross” oddity, placing almost anything that falls outside of the wine and cheese category in the same category as the earthworms. Whenever the usually white contestants come into contact with food you couldn’t get at an Applebee's they are shown mocking it or being grossed out by it. On Juan Pablo Galavis’s season of The Bachelor in 2014, the former soccer player took Sharleen Joynt, who is half Chinese, to a Korean market and declared, “a lot of weird food here.” During Jojo Fletcher’s season, Chase McNary kissed a whole fish on the mouth when the couple explored a floating market in Hua Hin, Thailand, mocking a typical human experience of buying fresh seafood. And during Monday night’s episode in Singapore, Onyeka Ehie ran to a dumpster to throw up after eating a piece of pig intestine.
While it may seem harmless to ask, "Wait, will I die?" on a reality show when presented with a whole fish, as Brown did before swallowing the eyeball, that statement alone perpetuates the racism that has followed Asian cuisine ever since it arrived in America.
A reality show sending its stars to a foreign country presents an opportunity to educate them and the viewers about what life, and food, is actually like there. Education isn’t on the Bachelor franchise menu, though—it has a habit of serving up lazy, prejudiced portrayals of Asian countries and using these locales as backdrops for proposal-worthy dates that the contestants, who are largely white, get to enjoy. The show has an infatuation with Buddhist monks and local temples—Becca visited a Buddhist temple with Blake Horstmann to get “advice” about their relationship, just as Chris Soules and Becca Tilley did while visiting a sacred temple while they were in Bali. The franchise also likes to play stereotypically Asian-sounding music over B-roll shot in Asian countries. And if there’s a monkey within 500 feet of the set, you bet they’re going to get video of it.
When producers take the same tired, exotifying approach to each country they visit, it does viewers a disservice. Thai culture, Indonesian culture, and Singaporean culture are all very different from one another, but you wouldn’t know that from The Bachelor. Missed opportunities are everywhere. On Monday’s episode, during Miller-Keyes's shopping spree with Underwood, we got to see her try on qipao-inspired dresses by a Singaporean designer. There was no context given, and all we got to see was a pretty dress, when in fact, the qipao has so much significance within Chinese culture that they are often worn during weddings.
Monday’s episode similarly didn’t give us any context about Singapore’s flourishing culinary scene. The country is known for having some of the best food in the world, thanks to a blend of Chinese, Malay, Indian, Indonesian, Western, and Peranakan influences. A trip to Singapore is incomplete without a meal at one of its hawker centers, where you can order from dozens of stalls, most of which have mastered just a single dish.
The country is home to dishes like chili crab, a whole mud crab stir-fried in sweet and savory tomato-and-chili-based sauce; laksa, a spicy curry noodle dish served with prawns in a broth made from coconut milk; and kaya toast, which uses a spread made from coconut milk, eggs and pandan. Perhaps one of its most famous dishes is Hainanese chicken rice, in which slices of poached chicken is served over rice made with chicken broth. And the foods that disgusted the women during the episode are ones dearly loved by Singaporeans. When I told my Singaporean friend that frog legs were being shown during the episode, her response was, “Mm… I’m hungry.” Pig intestines are not only eaten on skewers, but also braised in a wok. It’s delicious.
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