I'm Watching Provo's Most Eligible So You Don't Have To
As someone who is generally averse to most forms of reality TV and who holds a general disinterest for the puddle-deep lives of the majority of its stars, I will admit that I was not swept up in the moderately viral Utah Valley version of the long-running “Bachelor” series despite encountering its constant ripples on Twitter. My interest was equally un-piqued by the newly (for trademark reasons, as I understand it) dubbed “Provo’s Most Eligible” until I noticed that a few Twitter personalities (“royalty,” per the show itself) had glommed onto it and found myself clicking through a few of the teaser videos on YouTube only to decide that this show was going to be so absolutely unbearable that I had no choice but to fashion it into a post-modern cross, lift it up on my shoulders, and subject myself to its weight in order to digest it for those wise or lucky enough to have eschewed it in the first place.
Without further preamble, let’s launch straight into it. Provo’s Most Eligible is the kind of painfully saccharine production that could only have originated in Utah Valley and from the getgo it’s difficult to figure out whether there’s any level of naive sincerity to the whole affair or if it’s something more cynical drummed up to parody both the lowest common denominator of reality TV and the nightmarish world of dating in Happy Valley. The answer, as far as I can tell from both the show’s producers (the tagline is “the Cringe is Back”) and the show’s content, is “both.”
Another complicating factor in trying to separate out which is which is the participants themselves, and since the first episode was focused entirely on introductions and forming “teams” of suitors, let’s talk about the characters that are representing Utah Valley to the entire internet community.
There’s a stark contrast to the three women on the show, Bee, Lauren, and 19 year-old Ellie, and the boys courting them. With varying levels of enthusiasm, each of the girls demonstrates a core personality that seems to emanate from somewhere other than the opportunity to ham it up on camera. In the first part, while the three are discussing the first group of potential bachelors, you can see the disappointment, followed by an immediate but insincere tonal correction toward collegial enthusiasm, on Ellie’s face when the vast majority of suitors match with either Bee or Lauren. The disappointment is actually endearing given how rare displays of actual human emotion are on the show.
And let’s be clear: every single display of meaningful emotion comes from the women, whether it’s a surprising but beautifully vulnerable confession from Bee about how she talks to her future children at night, or Lauren having prepared friendship bracelets for the bachelor she seems to be actually interested in (he, of course, ruins the moment by saying in his one-on-one that, “I guess she’s really into me!”), or Ellie choosing the pale computer science major for her team over a slough of generation Z dandies, you can see that the producers have successfully chosen three women that audiences will find worth the investment of their time and emotions. Bee, in particular, exudes a natural energy and effortless charisma that instantly centers her as the star of the show.
Unfortunately, now we have to talk about the suitors, a group of post-adolescents who seem to have joined together in a concerted effort to be the Wonderbread and mayo sandwich yin to the bachelorettes’ charming yang. There’s an uncanny valley feel to the entire group, the sense that they are almost human but just non-human enough to set your teeth on edge throughout the entire show. Whether through producer-driven coaching or through careful but misplaced personal planning, each of the young gentlemen seemed committed to embodying the “[insert superficial, single-faceted trope here] is not a personality” meme. I quipped, perhaps harshly, on Twitter that the suitors were the human equivalent of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup, and maybe they’ll prove me wrong, but after one episode I am not dissuaded from that thesis.
The bachelors, each desperate to somehow burn themselves into the collective memories of the three prospective eternal companions, appear to have gotten most of their dating advice from the old VH1 show “the Pickup Artist,” in which sludgy virgins attempted to trick women into thinking they were interesting by wearing stupid hats. There was “fanny pack” guy, “I hear you like fruit so I brought you an entire uncut pineapple” guy, “Chipotle gift card” guy (who then had the presence of mind to ask a 19 year-old white girl if she had ever been to Chipotle), and a variety of “if I do or say this one thing they will find me adorable” guys, with dance-offs, dollar-store pickup lines (and often accompanying gifts), crudely manufactured but oft-repeated personality slogans (“I just want to have a silly-goose time”), and of course a Great Value Mormon James Dean.
None of these was as deeply painful to process as one contestant aggressively stroking the knee of a bachelorette he had just met and another doubling down to both force her hand onto his chest while then engaging in a knee stroke. One got the sense that each of these boys had spent a decent amount of time on “manliness” blogs looking for EVOLUTIONARY PSYCHOLOGY tips on fooling women into ignoring their tediousness.
That said, one holds out hope that within this wading pool of bachelors, a few might evolve like prehistoric lungfish to exhibit a personality beyond a pink suit and rollerskates or running a meme account. The women in the show are interesting enough to create their own center of gravity, but the show will only remain captivating if they’re able to pull some of these manlings into their emotional orbit.
On a final note, credit where credit’s due: the producers promised cringe and they absolutely delivered. The combined hour and 45 minutes of the first episode had me both fascinated and nauseated at the same time. In particular, the final scene in which each of the selected suitors is brought up to be placed on a team was as intense as any World Cup penalty shootout, with an added layer of gut-twisting emotional awkwardness when a suitor had to tell one of the girls to her face that he was joining another girl’s team.
I can’t really say I enjoyed watching Provo’s Most Eligible but I can say that I found it to be, for better or worse, a surprisingly stimulating experience. Remington, the show’s host, does an admirable job as an asexually charismatic foil to the brimming testosterone of the majority of the suitor pool. The show is practically exploding with the modestly dressed sexual frustration that characterized so many people's college years (and beyond) in Utah Valley. The challenge now is going to be maintaining that level of nausea while dragging some form of vulnerability out of the show’s male participants, without which they’ll simply be parasitic remoras attached to their would-be love-interests with their suction-cup heads. I suppose there could be some value to cheering against all of them collectively as being equally unworthy of the women they’re pursuing, but one hopes that the show is just sincere enough to allow for the crystallization of actual emotional bonds. We’ll see.