Praise flooded the internet as Brooke Blurton was announced as Australia’s next Bachelorette. She will be debuting later this year as the first Indigenous and openly bisexual ‘Bachelorette’, which means that, for the first time in any global Bachelor or Bachelorette franchise, it won’t just be the opposite sex competing for her love.
The Bachelor has long faced criticism for its misogynist portrayal of women competing for the attention of a man (this is, of course, with the marvellous exception of Megan Marx and Tiffany Scanlon ditching Richie to be with each other in 2016). The show’s producers are notorious for undermining female friendship by plying women with alcohol and encouraging them to engage in petty fights. Group dates fuel competitiveness and unnecessary nastiness between female contestants, but are considered a ‘winner’ for the ratings.
Unsurprising reports suggest that producers purposefully endorse the jealousy-induced rants and trash talking of whomever wins the bachelor’s favour.
The Bachelor franchise has failed time and time again when it comes to representing the LGBTQI+ community. In 2018, when Blurton debuted on Nick Cummins’ season of the show, her sexuality was exploited mercilessly for ratings. Trailers teased a “big secret,” and “urgent revelation,” only for the contestant to reveal her previous relationships with women. Blurton has since criticised how the producers edited this conversation, minimising her discussion on sexuality. Discourse around Blurton’s sexuality wasn’t that different between the women in the house. On an episode of Bachelor alumnus Abbie Chatfield’s podcast It’s A Lot, Blurton stated that fellow contestants had coerced her into telling The Bachelor that she had dated women in the past. The season of Bachelor in Paradise that same year saw the show criticised for queer-baiting.
As a Noongar Yamatji woman, Blurton will be the first Indigenous Bachelorette. Globally, The Bachelor series has lacked representation of people of colour. Across 41 seasons of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette in the US, only three seasons have featured POC stars. You may remember the 2018 meme of the American cast, in which every contestant featured the same blonde, ombre hair style. The show has faced its fair share of criticism for its lack of diversity amongst contestants. When people of colour are cast, they’re largely given little screen-time. 2020 Bachelor in Paradise star Niranga Amarasinghe was given comparatively little attention and spoke out about the racism he faced on set. In both of Blurton’s previous appearances, she was the only Indigenous representation, and the show faced criticism for tokenism.
Nevertheless, Blurton’s casting is an important shift in the right direction for reality TV. The audience can only hope that the producers will represent Brooke without the homophobia and racism that have infiltrated previous seasons.
In a statement to the press, Blurton said: “If it makes people feel uncomfortable in any way, I really challenge them to think about why it does.” Authentic representation of the LGBTIQ+ community is often lacking. Whilst entirely queer shows are critical, the reach of a primetime mainstream show like The Bachelor dramatically increases visibility.
By removing the script, reality TV in particular has the potential to normalise non-heterosexual expressions of love. While it is often highly edited, and at times scripted, audiences still find themselves rooting for the authentic experiences that leak through the cracks. If we’re going to have to endure reality TV, then it should at least represent our lived experiences.
It might seem a bit extreme to hail the upcoming Bachelorette season as a cultural breakthrough in queer inclusivity, but Blurtons’ debut is an indisputable win for LGBTQI+ representation in Australian mainstream media. With their questionable track record, only time will tell if the producers will positively represent queer experiences, or fall into their old habits.