Date Expectations

The Bachelorette makes her debut.

Welcome to the World Cup of reality television dating

The premiere of The Bachelorette (ABC, Wednesdays, 9 p.m. ET) was good! After a week of rushed sociobabble about whether the two-season Bachelor franchise would play well in reverse—with a woman, rather than a man, choosing a spouse from among 25 candidates—it seems that our somber concerns were misplaced. Far from representing a dramatic role reversal, this new setup—suits in a semicircle, blonde at the center—is iconic; it recalls a debutante ball or any scene in Trollope in which lords and baronets vie for the attention of an heiress.

The bachelorette Trista Rehn does, it seems, come with an impressive dowry: She is not just a former Miami Heat cheerleader (Heat = hot) and a physical therapist to children (nurturing, maternal), she is also the ticket to the living, breathing World Cup of prime-time dating. Whatever these guys would think of pretty Trista were they to meet her on Amtrak, here on reality TV, she is super-endowed, the male crowd’s sole object of desire, a prize to be won in a (to date) good-natured competition.

Appealingly, Trista is also filled with desire herself. Nothing about her is aloof; she’s upfront about her lifelong loneliness, her wish for a husband, her fantasies of motherhood. “I’ve been alone for too long,” she admits. (This is what Aaron, the network’s last bachelor, warily used to call “emotion.”) For the delectation of our passionate heroine, the show offers up a range of square-shouldered giants (height must have been a requirement), including one cowboy, a few pilots, several firemen, and a few pro athletes. America’s male sweethearts, as chosen by ABC.

We might also expect to learn more about these guys than we did about the female contestants on The Bachelor. Trista appears to like bona fide conversation, and she’s willing to talk to the men about work, hers and theirs. Thinking back to Aaron’s dates, I can hardly recall a single discussion that wasn’t directly about romance or relationships. Did any of those bygone bachelorettes ask Aaron about banking or his new career as a restaurateur? Did Aaron ever ask the women about their lives, apart from “Do you trust me?” I don’t think so—but here, on Episode 1, Trista listened to a poet read from his work, talked to an athlete about his opportunity to play basketball in Sweden, and fielded a question about her interest in pediatrics. Of course, a smarter show might not mean a better show, and we’ll need fireworks alongside these earnest exchanges. But I take the group’s range of interests as a good sign.

Trista also seems to be much less immersed in the operations of this show than the two past bachelors have been. Often, Alex and Aaron seemed like ABC’s on-set consultants rather than hot-blooded lovers or players with something to lose. Even when it came to discussions of sex, Alex and Aaron played it safe, judiciously referring to “chemistry” as only a minor part of the love puzzle. Trista, for her part, says point-blank, “The one thing I want in life is to be in love,” and, point-still-more-blank, “The person I’m most sexually attracted to is Charlie.” If the exciting scenes from the episode are any indication, Trista’s going to prosecute that attraction. And many, many others.