Why the 'Bachelor Pad' finale was some of the best reality TV I've ever seen

Full disclosure: I watched the entire season of “Bachelor Pad” and looked forward to every episode.

Also: Much of that is because I worked for several years with Michael Stagliano at North Shore Day Camp. Go on, ask me to send a link to the dance several of us did to N’Sync’s “Pop,” choreographed by Mike and his twin brother Steve.

Sorry, not happening.

I will say, though, that this season I anticipated the two-hour bonanza of manipulation that is “Bachelor Pad” for reasons other than enjoying my former co-counselor serving as one of the only, if not the only, level heads on a show of people who come off as poorly prepared to handle conflict or stress of any kind. And Monday night’s finale, in which SPOILER ALERT!!! Nick declined splitting the $250,000 pot with his default partner Rachel and thus kept it all to himself, leaving her with nothing, offered a shockingly fascinating encapsulation of the show’s, and by extension reality TV’s, exaggerated peaks and valleys of emotion. Consider:

-- Nick boldly kept the money, making what I thought was a compelling case about how he went through the entire game alone and unnoticed, and just because he and Rachel wound up as partners doesn’t mean they had any true bond or trust between them. She didn’t want to be partners with him and supposedly didn’t stick around because of him, so I don’t question Nick’s logic in feeling like he was in it to win it on his own. Except then he went on a completely unappealing rant about how it’s all a game and if he’s a “schmuck,” then he’s a schmuck with $250,000. Yes, it is all a game, but his sensible, outsider’s explanation quickly congealed into something much more cold and mean-spirited. Was he really that detached all along? Is he spiteful about being overlooked all season? Did he feel the need to elevate the intensity of his decision, rather than being so clear-headed about it? I don’t know.

-- In the season’s second-to-last episode, Rachel betrayed her so-called best friend Jaclyn by sending Jaclyn and Ed home, generating tension as to whom Jaclyn would support in the finale. Seemingly, their friendship was badly wounded, if not totally destroyed. Yet she opted to take the high road, voting for Nick and Rachel and effectively re-establishing their bond. If Rachel won the money, she’d always remember that she got there by eliminating a friend who still stuck by her, but hopefully Jaclyn wouldn’t have held that over Rachel’s head, and it’s better than completely severing a friendship if Jaclyn had retaliated and voted against Rachel. Ironically, of course, Rachel won nothing, and all of the fireworks became almost a moot point.

-- Several members of the cast, particularly Blakeley and Jamie, remained upset with Chris, who I thought appeared sincerely regretful of his actions on the show. The most profound aspect came in his description of his family's disappointment with his conduct. It was a stirring reminder that, for everyone of any level of celebrity, when they eventually return to the people closest to them, they're not a TV star or a movie star or that person that millions of fans would fight and claw for the chance to touch. They're just a person spending time with people whose opinion of them really does matter, and it makes you wonder how many stars of reality TV keep in mind how the folks at home--and literally their folks at their home--will feel about their behavior.

-- Tony and Blakeley, the couple who never quite looked right together, not only announced that they were moving in together but Tony proposed in front of his cast-mates and the audience. Blakeley said yes, and their bond ultimately reiterates the notion that you never know where and when love will happen. However, there is still the sensation that the proposal was staged (and assumedly financed) by Neil Lane for the show, which takes quite a bit of the sweetness out of it. As well as Chris Harrison noting that ABC edited out SWAT commenting, before Tony’s proposal, that he was afraid Tony would propose. Nothing like one of the non-“Bachelor”/”Bachelorette” contestants to bluntly voice a truth uninfluenced by TV needs—and have it edited out.

-- That said, after the first several episodes of the season focused on the presence of the fans on the show, the finale barely acknowledged them at all. Sure, most of them didn’t last long, and no one wanted to hear those twins say another word ever, but by generally ignoring them Harrison and the “Bachelor Pad” world implicitly endorsed the perception that “true” contestants exist on a different plane than the fans brought in and mostly pushed aside as outsiders.

-- Among all of the shouting and personal attacks, the most sensible line of the night was delivered by the season’s most continually diabolical person, as Kalon repeated what I tend to shout at the TV on a weekly basis: That the concept of who does and does not “deserve” to be on the show or to win the money makes no sense. All of those people are fortunate to be in a position to compete for a big chunk of change by hanging out, drinking and, yes, stabbing each other in the back.

With an episode that delivers all of that and more, it’s impossible to say that “Bachelor Pad” is trashy or pointless. It may feature absolutely outrageous behavior from people who are not always (or ever) intelligent, and it may traffic in a wildly distorted version of reality--where people attempt to establish legitimate relationships in a totally non-legitimate setting (unless you expect to include Hollywood stunts and helicopter rides in all future dates). Yet even as it unfolds in a vacuum, there’s no denying the truths this season revealed about human nature, for better and for worse. That’s a great thing to be able to say about a series that devotes so much time to hot-tub makeout sessions and contestants who seemingly would be miserable without a massive quantity of available bikinis and hair products.

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U


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