In the premiere episode of this season of ABC’s The Bachelor, our host Chris Harrison made his audience a promise: “This will be the craziest. Bachelor. Ever," he vowed. “No, really,” he continued, most likely sensing the eyes rolling out of heads in living rooms across America, “it really will be the craziest.” ABC and Chris Harrison make their loyal fans this promise every single season, and we’ve learned not to take it very seriously. But somehow, this season actually seems like it might be the craziest, for a very simple reason.
Here’s my theory: Bachelor Farmer Chris is by far the most boring Bachelor we’ve had in a while (especially after the fireworks caused by Juan Pablo one rotation ago). Chris Soules is generically handsome. He seems genuinely bewildered every time a woman wants to speak to him, even though these women come from a self-selecting group of women who want to listen to every word he says. Each sentence he utters sounds like it should be followed by a “golly, can you believe it. Girls!” He once gave an earnest disquisition on alfalfa sprouts. Since two hours of listening to this man giggle and make out would be terrible TV, the producers seem to have stacked the deck. This season comes front-loaded with high-drama contestants: two widows, two virgins (let’s not even get into the weird sexual politics there), a single mother who named her son Kale and regularly discusses her belief in aliens, a potential psychopath (Kelsey), and several first-date admissions of personal crisis and tragedy (under standard series protocol, a recently deceased father doesn’t come up until at least date three). Viewers can normally expect one story line like this a season, but now we’ve got these characters all rounded up into one highly combustible group.
The idea of “women going crazy” is a trademark of The Bachelor franchise and a very specific formula — big house, too much idle time, lots of booze, no distractions (TV, sex, iPhones, etc.), not to mention producers pushing your buttons. It's a formula designed to push women toward becoming the most heightened, dramatic versions of various “bitches be crazy” stereotypes. On The Bachelorette, male contestants tend to coalesce into a brotherhood (and often appear to like each other more than they like the woman they are there to compete for) — viewers probably don’t want to believe that a group of would-be Prince Charmings sent to vie for the love of a good woman would be anything but rational, kindhearted, and noble. But “good TV” means watching women terrorize each other, so The Bachelor has its stock characters: the vulnerable girls with sob stories (like Emily Maynard), the über-villains (like Courtney Robertson from season 16), your quintessential “psycho bitches” (too many have played that role to count), the off-puttingly quirky girls (like Madison of the vampire fangs in season 15), and, of course, my favorites, the inappropriately drunk.
That’s why there’s something refreshing about Ashley Salter, a.k.a. Ashley Onion, so named for her first-episode antics. The 30-year-old hairstylist from Brooklyn is probably the most shameless weirdo to ever grace The Bachelor, including the chick who wore vampire fangs. On the first episode, Ashley wandered around glassy-eyed, rambling incoherently about pomegranates, and then plucked (what she thought was) an onion from a tree. By the third episode, she spent a paintball group date stalking feral cats and wandering around babbling incoherently about the Mesa Verde. During last night’s episode, she professed her love for Chris, perhaps prematurely, but at least poetically: “Look at the moon. It’s so weird to me. And we’re sitting here, like that’s weird to me. I just love you. I love everything about you. It sounds crazy … I actually do feel that way, so I hope that resonates within your mind tonight.”
Most women wait until at least the fifth episode before they decide to pledge their love to a man they met roughly two days ago. Other contestants have labeled her possessed and seem genuinely unnerved by her. Bachelor Chris himself went on Jimmy Kimmel Live and actually declared her nuts; when Kimmel asked, “True or false: seems to be crazy?” Chris responded, “Crazy,” without hesitation, the same way he mauled her face on the show.
Either she brilliantly understands that the way to get more screen time than she actually deserves is to let her freak flag fly, or she’s a performance artist using this show as a medium to critique the manic pixie dream girl. No matter what: She’s a welcome break from yet another doe-eyed blonde blinking up at our generic hunk-a-dude of the season.
Unfortunately, outliers like Ashley Salter aren’t a long-term solution to the Boring Bachelor problem — they’re fillers until the real “wife-potentials” start to pull ahead of the pack.
Ashley Salter didn’t get a rose last night, but she actually left with a fairly calm exit interview. “I feel nothing," she said. "I am who I am. I’m not worried about me." Then she made some owl noises and left without sobbing or convulsing the way most contestants do. Farewell, Ashley Salter, oracle, truth-seeker, who, despite communing with feral cats, had the healthiest approach to the show. That is: Don’t engage with psycho-villain contestants (feral cats are much nicer), emptily mimic the expected game plan of other contestants (that early declaration of love is pretty common), and then walk away unscathed. She might have been dubbed the craziest, but compare onion-loving Ashley to the six other women who willingly ran through the mud in wedding dresses to compete for a square-jawed lip-attacker — Ashley Salter might actually be the sanest.
Without Ashley, will the show fall back into boring oblivion and moments of heightened romance and constant, extended love metaphors? Judging by the episode previews, ABC has taken great pains to make sure that won’t happen. The plan is to let Boring Bachelor Chris hide behind a smoke screen of induced female insanity and bludgeon us with dramatic moments — business as usual, but this season it’s on steroids. And if not, the network has an insurance policy: a contestant falls and has to call 911. Keep watching! Never a dull moment on ABC’s The Bachelor!