I’m not sure whose job it is to screen potential applicants on The Bachelor Australia, but they really stuffed up with Nick Cummins, AKA the Honey Badger.
After leaving without picking a winner and being hounded by A Current Affair while holidaying in Port Moresby, Cummins resurfaced for an interview on the Sunday Project, in which he discussed the profound distress he experienced due to taking part in the show.
“I’ve never been in a mental space as low as I have been on that show,” said Cummins. “I was dealing every day with not being able to say what I wanted to say to the girls, and sending girls home at times when it’s not fair, it’s not right.”
He comes across as completely gutted, perhaps traumatised, even six months after filming ended. The interview itself was prerecorded because Cummins was too nervous to speak in front of a live audience.
You have to wonder: how did nobody on the production team not notice he was a nice man with a functioning sense of right and wrong before they picked him? Surely they have assessment processes to weed these people out, some kind of testing regime to make sure only cynical, self-centred people are permitted on the show? I always imagined they sat the potential Bachelors down and made them fill in the Hare psychopathy checklist so they could easily identify those with low empathy, grandiose narcissism, superficial charm and a willingness to manipulate others.
“Sorry mate, you’ve only scored 6/40 on the test, which gives you a rating of ‘normal person’. That’s not going to work for us. Have you considered applying for MasterChef instead?”
Apparently not, because Cummins slipped through the net. I suspect his public persona had something to do with it: he’s a rugby playing, ocker-sounding larrikin who is well known for using a lot of colourful Australian slang. How could a guy who says “goes like a rat up a drainpipe” and “sweating like a bag of cats at a greyhound meet” be so sensitive?
The Bachelor is a truly nightmarish program, where contestants are expected to perform like dancing ponies in order to win the affections of a suitor. It generates much of its narrative by getting women drunk and inciting them to argue on national television.
Romance, or the performance of romance, is treated like buying a brand of cat food at the supermarket. Even if there is clearly chemistry between the Bachelor and one particular contestant, the show has to be a certain length, which means all the other women must be strung along just so they can be formally rejected.
It’s an amped-up, overdramatised version of the absolute worst bits of modern dating culture. People appear not as fully formed human beings but as products with a certain set of selling points, and of course the nature of reality TV means a few contestants will be coded as villains too. Being the Bachelor means participating in this awful circus without being affected by how obviously degrading it is for everyone involved. Frankly I’m surprised this is the first time a Bachelor has spoken about how morally injurious the show is.
Cummins is not wholly innocent here. He wasn’t grabbed off the street with a shepherd hook; he must have seen the show before he agreed to appear. Clearly he made an extremely stupid decision and is suffering because of it. But watching his Sunday Project interview, it’s hard not to get the impression that he didn’t quite understand what he was getting himself into.
“I just hope people work out and realise that it’s not a documentary, it’s a reality TV show,” says Cummins, and he might be speaking to himself just as much as he’s speaking to the rest of us. He says he doesn’t regret appearing on the show, but only because he doesn’t really “believe in regrets”. It’s interesting to watch him coming to terms with the experience: I don’t get the impression that this is some kind of PR stunt.
He is, by all appearances, honestly trying to process what has happened to him and what it meant for him to be complicit in something he finds so repulsive.
Most people, even if they acknowledge how depraved shows like The Bachelor are, seem largely unconcerned by their existence because the people involved in them are there voluntarily. But watching Cummins’ horrendous experience play out in public raises some uncomfortable questions about the level of cruelty involved.
Why does being on this terrible show give normal people psychological breakdowns? Why is it that one of the most popular forms of entertainment involves debasing people like this? The voyeuristic pull of The Bachelor is strong, but like Nick Cummins, it might be time to face up to what it’s actually doing to us when we watch it.
Eleanor Robertson is a Sydney-based writer