The Fourth Wall

An indecent proposal breaks the rules of engagement

Arie Luyendyk is a retired race car driver — a two-time, milk-drinking winner of the Indianapolis 500 who crashed during a practice lap for the 2003 race at the famed Brickyard and said, basically, “It’s time to get out while the getting’s good.”

It’s a lesson that his son — Arie Luyendyk Jr., also a race car driver — should have, well, taken to heart.

Arie Jr. crashed and burned bridges on national television Monday night when, as this season’s title character on “The Bachelor,” he made Becca the winner of this orchestrated romance … then, as 7.8 million stunned viewers watched, pulled a U-turn after crossing the finish line and decided the love of his life was Lauren, the second-place finisher.

As of press time, at least.

"I told Becca I would choose her every day and I know I made that commitment,” he confessed into the camera, milking his fleeting star-status. “It kills me that I'm going back on that, but I have to follow my heart."

Apparently, Arie Jr. lives by his own circular logic.

This unedited, televised reversal played out as the hearts and roses version of the old joke oft-attributed to W.C. Fields: First prize is a week in Philadelphia; second prize is two weeks in Philadelphia.

How long Arie and Lauren remain a couple is anyone’s guess — after all, the season started with 29 women competing to win this Prince Charming … so there’s no telling how many more pit stops he could make along the way.

ABC has taken some flak for both airing the breakup footage and boasting that it would be trending across the Internet. Many of these critiques, of course, came from those who started their tweet engines and proved ABC correct.

Haterz gonna h8, even though the network and the series’ creator begged viewers to have compassion for those involved.

“These are real people with real emotions,” said the creator. “Let’s also remember that these are real people with real feelings,” said an ABC executive.

Wait … what???

I’m not sure what should be considered the most fascinating part of those quotes. A: that there apparently is some need to inform those who watched “The Bachelor” finale that the show’s stars were actually human beings; B: that after weeks of staged, squirm-inducing courtship rituals that should send contestants and viewers rushing toward the showers (not with each other), the execs suddenly play the “reality” card; or C: they’re ordering their viewing customers how to react.

I mean, the ick-factor here is so high it’s enough to give Barney Google the heebie-jeebies. (Yes, I’ll wait while you … well … go ogle that.)

“Reality” shows — even those with a competition angle — have their ways of playing four-dimensional chess against those who watch them. The biggest trick is to convince the viewers of “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” that, all together now … THERE ISN’T A CAMERA FIVE FEET AWAY FROM THE ACTION. If you believe what you’re seeing is spontaneous and honest, then you’re precisely the type of person that should be watching what hijinks ensue.

Or, as the title character is told in the vastly underrated film “EDtv” after a camera catches him in an embarrassing moment: “Look, Ed, you put anybody on television 16 hours a day, and sooner or later they’re going to roll off a table and land on a cat.”

Where “The Bachelor” truly preys on those across the chessboard is that while the artifice is obvious, the cynicism is kept behind the curtain. It doesn't have the communal schadenfreude that made “Joe Millionaire” such a guilty pleasure. “Joe,” for those who don’t remember, put the usual assortment of earnest or attention-starved women on the trail of a guy who not only wasn’t a millionaire … he wasn’t even named Joe.

You watched knowing the game was rigged, a co-conspirator to those pulling the strings as the would-be fiancees were diagnosed with brain clouds and sent on a mission to Waponi Woo.

The best enhanced-reality competitions, meanwhile, give us something in return for our time. We don’t watch “The Voice,” for instance, in the hopes that Chloe Karaoke (or whatever last season's undeserving winner's name was) becomes a musical icon. We watch for the banter — scripted and otherwise — the backstories of the singers, and to hear songs that we still recognize.

And we watch “Chopped” not thinking we'll eat in the contestants' restaurants, but for the game play itself — the empathy of wondering what entree we'd make from chicken-in-a-can, ginger ale, Swiss chard and jelly donuts.

With shows promoting the quest for true love, though, the reward is short-lived. After 35 times around the track combined for "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette," only seven "winning" couples are still together — not counting whatever happens to Arie and … well, whoever he’s with as we speak.

Meanwhile ... don't shed any tears for betrayed, brokenhearted Becca — she'll back at the starting line on May 28 (the day after after the Indy 500) as the star in the next round of “The Bachelorette.” Anyone shocked — shocked! — by the news ... have a lovely two weeks in Philadelphia.

— Once he gets out of the shower, Mail Tribune copy editor Robert Galvin can be reached at rgalvin@rosebudmedia.com.


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