As the smog that was “Juanuary” lifts, we can finally digest what happened in Vietnam. Clearly, Juan Pablo has ruined The Bachelor. He is a special kind of mean disguised as a nice guy. And that’s the worst kind.
The more he talks, the more he sucks, and viewers and critics have been hopping off the Juan wagon. Kate Dries at Jezebel wrote “he’s totally ruined himself as a sexy and viable life partner.” Willa Paskin at Slate called out both Juan Pablo and the show, writing, “The Bachelor continues to present itself as romantic, out to find a good man a life partner, a soul mate, a true love—all while behaving like a pimp.”
I’ve spent a lot of time over the years defending The Bachelor. I’ve tuned into the ABC ratings horse ever since a girl from my high school was rejected at the sort of altar in season three (Hey Kirsten!). I have no delusions about what The Bachelor is—predictable, sexy television, with a gloss of good-clean fun. But Juan Pablo’s unconscionable behavior—the gay-bashing, the slut-shaming, and the constant excuses and deflection of any blame—has taken the show to a new unwatchable low for the almost 9 million viewers who continue to tune in despite (or because of) how unlikeable The Bachelor has become.
Last week in Vietnam, Juan Pablo humiliated hair stylist Clare after a dip in the ocean turned into real-life sex. He, quite reasonably, regretted doing it in the open water with a near stranger on national television. Then Juan Pablo took this bad feeling and heaped it onto the object of his initial desire with a number of strange excuses: “I’m too fair with people...I have a daughter...I should have said no, but maybe I would have hurt you.” Juan Pablo insisted that Clare look at him and “stop crying.”
Yesterday’s episode was ripe for Clare to assert herself and save the show. Instead, she accepted an anemic apology. ("I don't want you to feel bad.”) After he made her promise that she would never cry because of him again, Clare realized “that Juan Pablo is worth staying for.”
But what is so damn great about Juan Pablo? ABC touted him as a “fan favorite,” but to be fair, Juan Pablo was cut so early and spoke so rarely in Desiree’s season of The Bachelorette that we never got a chance to really know him. He was just a boyishly handsome guy who talked about soccer and his daughter a lot. But the real draw was his exotic accent. An accent that turned out to be so powerful that it diverts attention from the actual words Juan Pablo is saying.
There have, of course, been lackluster men on The Bachelor. The unattractive Ben Flajnik had his own naked ocean drama. By the time he picked the hot mean girl for the final rose, America was just relieved that none of the other girls got stuck with him. I’m still convinced Tom Cruise act-a-like Jake Pavelka is a sociopath, a theory supported by a chillingly disconnected, disgustingly self-satisfied demeanor in the after the final rose interview. (The one where he yelled at his ex, Vienna, until she cried.) And I haven’t forgotten how Jason “You’re such a bastard” Mesnick dumped his chosen (on television) to shack up with the runner up. “I think the worst thing in the world is to live your life with regrets,” he explained. Ew.
Yet as bad as these men were, they each possessed redeeming qualities that managed to fool us for most, if not all, of the season. Juan Pablo’s impudence cannot even be contained in the first four getting-to-know-you episodes. It’s still the honeymoon phase and there’s so much to dislike.
Juan Pablo is an attention seeker. He’s always “on”—in the interviews with producers and on dates with women—which puts the focus on him. Even his compliments are a chance for Juan Pablo to show just how charming he can be. “Woooooooooow. Look at youuuuuu in your dreeeeeeeess,” is really “Does everyone remember that dress that I got her?” (Related: Why does Juan Pablo keep picking out clothes for his dates to wear? )
He’s also paternalistic, refusing to kiss Renee because she has a son. But the courtesy doesn’t extend to non-mothers which means he’s either lying or he's honest and the “winner” will end up with a man harboring a serious Madonna-whore complex. And in the interest of brevity: he’s corny, sloppy, chauvinistic, homophobic, manipulative, creepy, rude, boring, and not as attractive as ABC tries to convince me he is.
But most importantly, and lest we all forget, Juan Pablo reminds us constantly that he has a daughter. He tells anyone who will listen that he’s a single father. This could be the language barrier, or the producers at work, but to my ear, a single father is a man charged with most of the parenting. I think of the small but growing number of men (almost 1.6 million in 2012) that take primary responsibility for their children.
Because Juan Pablo is single and a father doesn’t make him a single father. His ex-wife, Carla, is in the picture and according to reports, Juan Pablo pays her child support. And if the Countdown to Juan Pablo is any indication, the man has a lot of help—parents of small children can’t usually travel all over the world for work, work out with a trainer “every day” and still have time to play indoor soccer, and when he picks her up he says that Friday is “daddy time.”
I have a small child. And I, like other parents use him as an excuse all the time. Late? You know how kids are. Drinks after work for another birthday? I’d love to come, but daycare. Watch your cats? My son’s allergic. So when Juan Pablo pulled the daughter card to diss who he wanted to, telling Lauren in South Korea, “I have a daughter and I don’t want her to see Daddy kissing,” it felt icky, but forgivable.
But it’s too much when he used it to tell Clare she should be ashamed of herself. She was hurt, but in a way that’s not part of the agreed upon schadenfreude. As she says, she just wanted to swim in the ocean. If there’s something Juan Pablo should hope to hide from his daughter, it’s this. You don’t use your kid to hurt other people. And you don’t get to say terrible things and cover it up with an aw golly shucks, ay yi yi, cry at the end of the rose ceremony, routine.
And that’s what makes things worse for Juan Pablo—the women this season are likeable. The closest thing to a villain is a sweet pediatric nurse (who makes sick kids better for God’s sake). I may not want to hang out with Clare, but she’s genuinely excited. Opera singer Sharleen is interesting and accomplished and she has her feet on the ground concerning the ludicrousness of the show. And though he got rid of her last week (mistake) I could have watched “dog lover” Kelly throw out zingers on a show of her own. (When Clare said she didn’t want octopus, Kelly countered with, “Please, I know you’ve swallowed bigger things than that.”) Still, not a single one of them can see through the act.
I love listening to women talk about how a man they just met on a TV show makes them all “eventually open up,” “feel like they haven’t felt in a long time,” and “see a future with” the bachelor. And week after week, we see the same rejection speech—because she was “totally here for the right reasons”—followed by a tearful limo ride home. Any wrongness felt by delighting in the pain of these women can usually be shrugged off by the couch wisdom that this is just a reality show and an assuredness that they’d be just fine soon enough. By the end, we’ve all bought it, too, and it feels like those two people on the real and metaphorical cliff might actually make it.
But this season, I’m keeping in mind the sensible question Assistant District Attorney Andi pouted when she wasn’t getting enough alone time with the worst bachelor ever. "At the end of the day I'm wondering what am I doing here?”
There is a lot of talk about finding princes in The Bachelor. Juan Pablo’s no prince. I won’t be watching anymore, until someone else realizes it, too.