Shucking Oysters: Reality TV

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Like it or not, reality TV has been a pervasive part of our world for years and it isn’t going away. The first introduction to consensual voyeurism, if you will, was the 1973 TV show, An American Family, where millions watched a family unravel week after week. Since the early 2000s, there has been a massive reality television boom from the quaint to the questionable. 

Boy Meets Boy, the first same-sex dating show was considered groundbreaking in 2003. Viewers watched gay bachelor James Getzlaff romance 15 men, and unfortunately, almost half of them were just pretending to be gay. As someone wrote: “Cruel, offensive, and worst of all, boring.” Perhaps the most successful and iconic to date, is The Bachelor which has been on television for over 20 years. The series boasts five successful marriages, eight steady couples, and several babies. 

And now we have The Golden Bachelor, or more accurately, “The Fox and the Cougars,” 22 women between the ages of 60 and 75 trying to win 72-year-old widower, Gerry Turner’s heart. The producers even swapped the group date staples like mud wrestling and tackle football for a pleasant game of pickle ball. Surprisingly, the “boomer bait” fest drew a healthy 4.1 million viewers during its premiere episode last October. And if you think that it would be hard to find contestants in that age bracket, an astonishing 30,000 women auditioned. 

The 22 women had careers in education, real estate, finance — even cheerleading and competitive aerobics. Some are from a small town and others from a big city. Their musical tastes are varied, classic rock to Harry Styles — one contestant saw the Beatles live. They have names like Ellen, Nancy, and Peggy. And every one is at least 60-years-old. 

“When you get to our age, it’s almost inevitable that you have suffered a loss in some way, whether it’s the death of a spouse or a terrible divorce,” explains Gerry. “And when we share that commonality of loss of a spouse, it really is a huge launching pad for us in conversation. We can cut through a lot of the frivolous talk that maybe is necessary when you’re in your 20s and 30s.”

There are critics. The producer’s insistence on the vitality of its contestants can feel like a step forward, but some see it as “a second teenagerdom.” Hello! It’s “reality” TV, of course all the contestants are active and attractive. 

Mary McNamara of the LA Times wrote, “given this culture’s historic tendency to treat every postmenopausal woman as too old for whatever she’s up to, I worried that the sight of 30 such women vying for the affection of a 72-year-old widower would leave viewers either complimenting their “bravery” and cooing over how sweet it is to see older gals giving it one last try, or excoriating the women as desperate and condemning them for trying too hard to attract romance and attention.”

McNamara adds, “if the actual goal is matrimony, as opposed to some on-camera polyamorous canoodling, I expect women over 30, never mind 60, to be worrying less about how Gerry looks in a bathing suit and more about whether he is going to just leave that bathing suit on the bathroom floor.” And I’ll agree, I too found it painful watching the women being forced to stand awaiting Gerry’s judgment during the infamous rose ceremony. Like Miss America and Miss Universe, the rose ceremony is “reminiscent of choosing teams for dodge ball. And they all knew exactly what they were signing up for.”

As he bids goodbye to Anna, Pamela, Patty, Maria, Renee, and Sylvia, poor Gerry is crying. “The only time I ever felt worse in my whole life is when my wife passed away, and this is a goddamned close second.” But, the most heartbreaking and emotional elimination is November 30, between Leslie, 64, a former aerobics champion from Golden Valley, Minnesota, and Theresa, 70, a securities professional, from Benton City, Washington. Good luck Gerry. [Spoiler alert: Theresa.]

Nicole Gallucci noted that the “petty drama, goofiness, and hot hookups that people typically crave from reality TV dating shows” is not part of the narrative. Going from “a refreshing hour of wisdom, life experience, and maturity of 60 and 70-year-olds having deep, moving conversations about dead spouses, families, and second chances at love” to “two hours of 20 and 30-somethings fighting over love triangles, bouncing from hookup to hookup, and chatting about superficial topics, feels a bit like backsliding.” Or maybe refreshing?

Here’s a reality show: The Lonely, Eccentric Bachelor. I could see at least 200 island bachelors lining up for any chance of “polyamorous canoodling.” Finding 22 women could be an issue, on the other hand.