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Lesina Nakhid-Schuster, left, and Lily McManus. Photo/Supplied

God help The Bachelorette

The men may demean themselves but The Bachelorette NZ is not empowering for women, writes Diana Wichtel.

Like a lioness roaming the savannah in search of a mate, 32-year-old doctor Lesina Nakhid-Schuster is seeking romance in the wilds of Karaka, in a beige mansion once owned by Eric Watson, under the scrutiny of a camera crew not interested in the course of true love running smoothly. Nature red in tooth and claw: there must be some sort of evolutionary reason why otherwise reasonable people sign up for this heavily ritualised yet deeply primitive genre, the television dating show.

Lesina has her reasons for entering this particular circle of reality-show hell. “I’ve been so busy leading my life and trying to achieve my goals,” she explained, “that I didn’t prioritise a relationship.” That’s relatable. I’ve been so busy trying to achieve my goal of not losing the will to live that I haven’t prioritised going anywhere near The Bachelorette NZ.

Still, it’s my job. Perhaps there’s something to learn from the first local outing of this spin-off from the wretched Bachelor franchise, in which the woman at least nominally runs the show and it’s the men demeaning themselves by vying for roses. An early episode demonstrated that these guys don’t mind farting on national television. But it would apparently be emasculating for them to be seen holding a rose. So, they get roses in buttonhole form. This highlights the wardrobe discrepancy. Men get to wear jackets with pockets because … patriarchy. Dr Lesina was forced to risk hypothermia in a tight tube of spangled red froth as she waited outside for 22 suitors who arrived doing various arcane mating rituals – breakdancing, frightful rapping, rending of garments – to impress her. Startled back into doctor mode by the cold or Brendon’s ball juggling, Lesina gave him not a rose but a diagnosis: “I feel like your nose is running.” Later, she accepted a white tissue rose made for her by Elliot. She asked if she could use it to blow her nose. It was also running. Perhaps she’d caught something from Brendon.

So far, about as romantic as chronic rhinitis. For one thing, Lesina is about 10 years older than several suitors. One decided to address this anomaly by carrying on as if he was applying for a job delivering Meals on Wheels. “One of my best mates is 32, so I get along with older people,” he blurted. “Older people?” purred Lesina. He was gone by the end of the episode.

The age-gap thing was eventually explained by the arrival of former The Bachelor NZ contestant Lily McManus, in her early twenties. So there are now two bachelorettes in a series not called The Bachelorettes. This seems mildly sexist. In The Bachelor NZ, only the women faced competition and no-rose humiliation. But 22 men apparently can’t be expected to compete for just one woman. The women must also compete for them.

Soon, men were declaring themselves Team Lesina or Team Lily. Young Glenn decided the show had presented him with two women solely to fulfil his fantasy of being with two women. As the eyes of the rest of the cast scanned the room for a means of escape, he pursued an unfortunate line of questioning: “Are you two together, looking for … someone? Not two for one?” Ugh.

At least Lily, battle-hardened to indignity by The Bachelor NZ, brings some levity to what she has described as “this nationally televised tonsil-hockey tournament”. And this time there’s less earnest talk of who is here “for the right reason”. There is no possible right reason. The presence of a mordant voiceover from Jodie Rimmer offers some relief. “While the boys pick their jaws up from the floor and go find their brains …,” mused Jodie, when the two-bachelorettes bombshell went off. The boys seem to be still searching in vain. Meanwhile, Lesina looks as if she might actually be seeking love, god help her.

THE BACHELORETTE, TVNZ 2, Sunday, 7.00pm; Monday – Wednesday, 7.30pm.

This article was first published in the February 15, 2020 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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