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The Bachelor: So Fake It's Real, or So Real It's Fake?

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This fall, I swore my Bachelor-blogging days were over and moved on to loftier pursuits like recapping Melrose Place. I even told myself I would go cold turkey on this season of The Bachelor because A) I can't stand Jake and B) I bet I could date 25 potential-future-husbands of my own in the time I spend watching those painfully long episodes (how does a rose ceremony with 6 girls last 45 minutes???). But, like someone driving by an accident, I just couldn't look away. So I tuned in this week to see what was up.

At first everything seemed to be running as usual. The Bachelor powers that be gave Jake the requisite contest-to-Bachelor personality makeover -- emphasizing his rougher, manlier side. Throw in a healthy dose of Jake riding around on motorcycles in a leather jacket, add footage of him "roughing it" in the wild (aka shaving topless in the middle of a winery), mix in some tactful cutting away every time he gets choked up and....voila: freshly baked New and Improved Bachelor! Within minutes of digesting, that self-pitying, sobbing figure in a pilot uniform, toting around luggage and a cardboard personality is barely a memory.

The girls -- sorry "potential future wives" -- are the same as always. I can't really tell them apart except it seems that the bigger their hair, the less suited they are for Jake (and the more room they have to store the crazy). Otherwise, tiny and blond seems to be the way to go (with one Brunette left who's there to prove the rule). Oh, and like bachelors of the past, Jake eliminated any woman over the age of 25 (he's 31) as soon as he had the chance. In homage to both Jason and Deanna's seasons, Jake got rid of both girls on the 2-on-1 date even though he didn't have to. And of course, all of the girls hate one girl (the one with the weird name) because she's fake/mean/not there for the right reasons.

Yes, everything was running as usual -- until the last 10 minutes of the episode. But to make sense of it, we're going to have to backtrack for a second to earlier in the season (and I, hard as it was, went back and watched an earlier episode). When this season began, commercials heavily promoted the DRAMA that erupted when one girl had an "inappropriate relationship" with a "staffer" on the show. Now, on the actual episode little, if anything, happened (and the resulting drama was definitely lower case). Chris just tells Jake and the woman in question that the show has become aware of this "inappropriate relationship" and that she has to leave.

We never actually find out about the nature of the relationship, nor do we get a hint as to who the mystery "staffer" may be. (A camera guy? Chris's assistant? Some guy who works in marketing department at ABC and played lacrosse with the lady in question in high school?) In fact, the whole ordeal begged the question -- was it even real? But whether it happened or not, the ordeal was a first for the show. Never before had the line between on and off screen been placed so dazzlingly front and center.

So, with that event under our belts, we return to this week's episode. We are inching toward the end of the Rose Ceremony when Jake starts to freak and needs to take a minute to gather his stormy thoughts. He leaves the room, and tells a woman waiting outside that he wants to speak to Chris. (She's probably a producer but still -- seeing another woman is shocking and feels wrong. Isn't Jake supposed to only see his potential future wives and no other women?) Then, a shaky hand-held camera follows him outside where a camera guy and some crew members, all in winter coats, stand around Chris -- who waits right dab in the middle of the courtyard, with no coat to speak of. Jake then proceeds to ask Chris for advice because he wants to send two girls home instead of one.

This isn't the first time we've seen a bachelor freak out at a rose ceremony. But usually, Chris is waiting in another room, poised on his mark, ready to give some helpful advice. This is the first time we've seen this kind of "rough" footage: the shaky camera, the staff members on screen, etc. And so this begs the question again: Is it real or completely staged? And does that even matter given that the important thing was the decision to show it.

After leaving, last season's Bachelorette Bad Boy Contestant Wes Hayden made a big deal about his bad edit. He spoke to the press about it how the episodes were heavily contrived, all his lines were spliced out of context and how the producers had created a character that was very far from who he really was. (The ever-thorough reality Steve conducted a lengthy interview, which you can find here or read a summary of here.) Although the fact that reality television is strong -- um -- "edited" is not earth-shattering news, Wes' complaining garnered a relatively substantive moment in the reality television spotlight (whatever that means). Even if people didn't believe him, the hand of editors and producers suddenly seemed a little more glaring than usual.

So, is this new trend to cast light on off-screen events (whether real or staged) an attempt to address this shift in our perceptions and give credibility back to shows like The Bachelor? The "inappropriate relationship" ordeal seemed to be a wink to viewers that said: yes, there are people working behind the scenes to craft this -- but even we don't have control of them -- that's how "real" this show is. It is so real, we only have one shaky camera following Jake around as he does all sorts of surprising things that weren't planned at all! Or can this all just be chocked down to the network trying to pump some new life into a tired franchise eager to maintain its big numbers?

One thing is for sure. In the words of every great Bachelor and Bachelorette contestant past, this shift is starting to get real. That, and ABC has officially succeeded in sucking me back in.