When Alisha Aitken-Radburn found out she would be a contestant on The Bachelor, she told one person—her housemate, Hannah Smith. Just a few years ago, when Alisha was USU President and Hannah was NUS Education Officer, they were workshopping what they would say on conference floor. This year, when Alisha came to prepare her opening lines to the bachelor, she naturally turned to her good friend and confidante.
“I honestly didn’t have too many strategies going into the show,” she tells me. In that sense, The Bachelor is a world away from the cauldron of student politics and federal elections, where Alisha first cut her teeth in tense negotiations and campaign planning.
“Walking from one end of Eastern Avenue to the other, and giving [a Socialist Alternative member] a hug, and then catching up with someone from the Liberal Club,” helped prepare her for the interesting characters in the Bachelor house, she says.
But building a connection with someone is not something easily strategised or prepared for. Alisha made it halfway through the show—not a bad effort for a contestant, who in her own words, “struggled to hold a conversation” with Nick ‘Honey Badger’ Cummins.
Cummins has faced huge backlash after refusing to pick a winner in the finale, and further escalated tension by offering to “buy the girls a drink” if they were hurt.
Alisha doubts whether the Honey Badger’s feelings for the girls were actually genuine. “I felt like he was going through the motions to make this TV show, rather than actually wanting to … know somebody and find that connection.”
She compared it to girls being led on in the outside world. “A lot of these women had sacrificed a lot to be there … I think maybe that was a bit lost on him.”
She counts herself “incredibly lucky” that she didn’t have substantial feelings for him.
“I’m a really emotional person, I would really spiral [on the show] if I had those feelings.”
Artwork by Matthew Fisher
Four months after leaving the Bachelor mansion, Alisha says that though she knew finding love on the show was a long-shot, she was still disappointed that she “didn’t have those butterflies in [her] stomach”.
Instead of being a frontrunner, Alisha took on the role of house commentator (arguably with more charisma than host, Osher Gunsberg). She was also portrayed as a villainous ‘mean girl’, in a trio with Bali designer Cat Henesey and photoshoot director Romy Poulier.
Going into the show, Alisha was “acutely aware” she might be painted as a villain.
“I know myself and I know that I don’t tend to hold my tongue.”
That frankness cost her some fans. “I had a lot of direct messages on Instagram telling me I needed a nose job, that I needed to throw myself in front of a bus,” she says. In her tenure as a student politician, Alisha received a fair share of criticism, but never on this scale.
After serving as USU president in 2015, Alisha went on to work as an ‘advancer’ in Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s office, working behind the scenes to organise his appearances.
Her decision to go on The Bachelor sparked judgement from friends and strangers alike. As Pulp put it, rather harshly, “she chose reality TV over using her degree and working for a politician”.
She admits it was difficult to “put aside everybody’s opinions” about whether she was endangering her future career prospects.
Although she had “a bit of a bumpy road” after leaving the Bachelor mansion, she’s landed on her feet, now working as Director of Events and Fundraising for NSW Labor.
“I sat around … tried to exercise and tried to fill my hours,” she says. “I wouldn’t be completely genuine if [I said] I wasn’t a little worried for a while there.”
But Alisha has no regrets. Her experience on the show made her have “a real proper think about what [her] priorities are in life.” She remembers sitting in her first Media and Communications tute, wanting to become a news reporter for Channel 7. Going on The Bachelor and back into the media industry gave her an opportunity to crystallise her thoughts.
A self-professed “hopeless romantic”, the show also helped her to reflect on the ideal qualities she would want in a partner.
“If I had to do it again I’d prefer to be in the action rather than commentating on the action.”