Bachelorette Australia’s first Brooke Blurton episode is a triumph. I finally have my church back

·7 min read

Some say love is like the warm breath of spring after a long cold winter. That’s exactly how I feel about Brooke Blurton’s season of The Bachelorette Australia, which premiered on Wednesday night.

That “winter” wasn’t the country’s economic downturn. It wasn’t Covid-19, or the months-long lockdowns.

It was the cruel, cold tundra of heterosexuality.

I love The Bachelor franchise with all my heart. Not because it’s a masterpiece of modern cinema, but because of the community that is built around the show.

I watch it while on speakerphone to friends, scrolling social media for reactions, live tweeting and taking notes for the podcast I record with my dad. I often joke that reality TV is the closest thing non-religious Australians have to church, but deep down I do mean it.

And these last few years, the pews of that church have been nearly empty. Every Bachelor or Bachelorette season was the same. The formulaic nature of the show transformed from comforting to stale, the #BachelorAU hashtag was basically barren, and many of the funniest re-cappers were struggling to find interesting things to make fun of.

By the time Jimmy Nicholson’s season aired this year it seemed even the network had thrown in the towel. Network 10 denies it, but many suspect its choice to play multiple episodes back-to-back was an attempt to get the tanking season over with, and free up those prime Wednesday and Thursday time slots.

The diminished audience were resigned to the show probably not returning in 2022.

Then something magical happened. This year’s Bachelorette was announced: Brooke Blurton. She is the best possible choice for three reasons.

One: Blurton is the franchise’s most beloved alumni – a frontrunner in the Honey Badger’s 2018 season, and the star of Bachelor in Paradise season two. Australia knows her; viewers are invested in her happiness.

Two: she is the first Indigenous Australian to be cast as a lead. The sheer whiteness of the show’s previous seasons is unforgivable, and Blurton, a Noongar and Yamatji woman, has been a powerful voice when it comes to fighting for representation in prime time.

Three: she is bisexual – and rather than shy away from that, and lump her with the same old collection of 20 gym-rat dude-bros, the show’s producers decided to break the mould and present the world’s first mixed gender casting.

As I queer woman, I was sceptical about the show’s ability to deal with these complicated themes – and I can only imagine those worries would have been amplified for First Nations fans. Cast members of colour have regularly been sidelined by the franchise and rarely make it to the second half of the season; the show has come under fire for egregious queer baiting; and the way it advertised Blurton’s same-gender fling with Alex Nation, in Paradise, felt distinctly voyeuristic.

The producers don’t seem to know it but the commentary community that props up the Australian Bachelor is extremely diverse and queer (the show is the epitome of camp, after all) – so we were all collectively holding our breath when 7.30pm Wednesday rolled around.

The show began with a careful discussion of Blurton’s complex family history, and how trauma has shaped but not defined her. We learned about how central her connection to culture is to her, and she spoke openly about her relationship with her sexuality.

As she stepped out of the limo she was met by three elders from the Bidjigal clan, who gave us the franchise’s first welcome to county. “While you’re here in Dharug country, may the good spirit Baiame watch over you from the high country and take you safely on your journey,” one said, as Blurton’s eyes welled.

Collectively, we breathed a sigh of relief. Sure, the show was way too self-congratulatory about it, given it took it eight years to get here – 19 years if you include the international iterations but, if the first episode is anything to go by, it seems this season could actually be handled with surprising grace.

The worn-out tropes of every first episode so far were immediately turned on their head by mixed-gender contestants. Normally all the men would be beating their chests, starting ego-fuelled fights to speak to the Bachelorette first, but now they were hanging back, intimidated by the confidence of the queer women. By the end of the episode, the women were even coaching the men on how to flirt with Blurton.

I might actually root for some of these men again, now that they’ve been forced to give up the bravado – and watching the friendships and rivalries form across gender lines is already fascinating.

Best of all, the season’s first same-gender kiss was played totally straight (pardon the pun), without a trace of reality TV’s usual “look how hot it is the two women are kissing” energy.

The show isn’t perfect, by any means. The cast is still largely white; masc queer women, non-binary and trans people don’t seem to be represented at all; and there is a weird “team men v team women” thing going on in the mansion. But this more diverse season seems to have been exactly what the franchise needed.

Ratings still aren’t where they were in the show’s heyday, coming in 14th in the overall ratings with 397,000 live viewers – but Blurton’s season had already amassed enough hype that the network renewed The Bachelor and The Bachelorette for 2022 before her first episode even aired.

I know it isn’t cool to care this much about reality TV but I cried scrolling through Twitter, my feed filled with Bachelorette jokes, hot takes and memes. Now that the show actually looks like the people who once adored it, the community has returned in droves. I finally have my church back.

• The Bachelorette Australia continues on Thursday at 7.30pm on Ten. Catch up here

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