Sharleen Joynt on The Bachelor Presents: Listen to Your Heart Finale

The Bach alum—and classical singer—shares her POV on episode 6 of the new Bachelor musical series

I genuinely like being proven wrong when it comes to this franchise. Whenever I’m suspicious of heavy-handed editing or too much creative license, I’m more than happy to discover I was overthinking things, that what we were shown was indeed what transpired. Case in point, in the first half of last night’s finale, I knew I was wrong in my last recap. Last week, I felt there was more to Matt’s side of his relationship with Rudi that we weren’t being shown. I suspected their ups and downs were amplified—and purposely left hanging—for the sake of a climactic ending. But last night, watching Matt come to terms with the fact that he knew he couldn’t picture “forever” with Rudi, I accepted my mistake.

But while The Powers That Be appear to have shown Matt and Rudi’s story more or less at face value, it would seem they couldn’t keep from meddling with this finale entirely. The very thing I’d predicted might happen with Matt and Rudi—a faux bump in the road to throw us off the scent of a predictable ending—is precisely what ended up happening to Bri and Chris instead. Despite the fact that Bri and Chris were clearly solid until the very end, we were fed a storyline that their relationship “changed” for the worse, that things became rocky out of nowhere.

I was struck by how willing the show was to create this loose end that would go untied, all in exchange for an ounce of drama. We were presented with a sudden subplot, via Bri’s heavily edited voice overs, that things with Chris had “changed” after she passed on the Fantasy Suite, that things “felt different” between them. But it became painfully obvious that this was entirely fabricated; not only did Chris have no problem with Bri eschewing the Fantasy Suite, he supported her reasoning. Their serious expressions didn’t reflect a lack of affection for each other; they represented focus or frustration with themselves (in rehearsal), or pre-performance nerves (their ride to the performance venue; waiting in the wings while Trevor and Jamie performed). It would appear, even with the finish line in sight, our winning couple’s pristine, sweet story of effortless compatibility was thrown under the bus in the interest of creating half an episode’s worth of faux suspense. It’s almost scary how reliant on these cheap tricks The Bachelor franchise is. Was the suspense of a final singing showdown alone really not enough? Did we really need to be fed an obviously fabricated 11th hour subplot to stay interested? The Powers That Be sure have little confidence in us, not to mention in their own contestants.

Listen To Your Heart’s contestants are a different breed than your typical Bachelor hopefuls, and I have no doubt that difference is why the show felt the need to roll up their sleeves and get as involved in the editing room as they did. When there are drunken antics, fist fights and sexual assault claims on Paradise, there’s less need to give footage the extra special Bachelor treatment. It can be shown as-is, because the contestants delivered the drama—drama they were no doubt specifically cast to deliver. But on a show where folks are cast as much for their talent as they are their looks and personalities, and with talent being a much rarer commodity to come by, the contestants have proven so gosh darn SINCERE. If Matt were any other Bachelorette dude, he’d no doubt “fake” his connection with Rudi in the interest of serving himself. If this were The Bachelor, I might question Bri’s decision to pass on the Fantasy Suite, knowing that the Fantasy Suite is actually code for time sans cameras. I might question Jamie’s insecurities with self worth, wary of being played a fool with a false sob story. This brings me back to my recap of the series premiere: Talent allows people a certain quiet confidence, the confidence it takes to be completely sincere. It would seem the need to “fake” anything is null when you already possess something that can’t be faked.

Of course, the question remains whether or not Matt did the right thing: Should Matt have stuck it out a few more days, if not for himself, then for Rudi? This would be less of a concern if Rudi and Matt weren’t such a force to be reckoned with on stage, but because it felt as though they were more than qualified to win this whole thing, it’s a question worth asking. If anyone doubted Matt’s inexperience with The Bachelor franchise, he proved it by taking Chris Harrison’s words about needing to picture “forever” with his partner far, far too seriously. Every Paradise contestant knows to nod solemnly at Chris Harrison’s seriousness speeches, as though the host himself isn’t rolling his eyes on the inside while he delivers them. They know to last long enough to garner a career-changing number of Instagram followers, to snag that Neil Lane ring, and to break up months after airing, preferably via a People Magazine exclusive.

Who knew anyone—much less someone who has a very clear gain from this kind of exposure—could be so sincere? Watching Matt opt out of the show last night, I was reminded of my own exit, but even I would tell my six-years-ago self to maybe chill out a bit. Relationships on this show are far from sacred, certainly no more sacred than those in real life, and as long as everyone’s on the same page, no one gets hurt. But a large part of me fell in love with Matt, with what his decision to leave represented. It would appear he is the antithesis of Jed from Hannah Brown’s Bachelorette season: incapable of “faking it,” sincere in his intentions on the show, and evidently confident enough in his talent to prematurely shed the publicity boost that is this show. Matt is so passionate and sincere in what he does, would rather pass on what could be his big break if that big break were remotely contrived.

It’s in large part due to this very sincerity that I found myself genuinely enjoying Listen To Your Heart. There is no doubt this show casts a different sort of person than your next Bachelor or Bachelorette season does, and all the editing in the world can’t hide that. I had already felt my interest in The Bachelor waning; contestants have skewed younger and younger—too young to convincingly seem ready for an engagement anytime soon, let alone after nine weeks. And with the Instagram age inevitably colouring their decision-making, it has made it difficult to trust and therefore really root for anybody. But on Listen To Your Heart, contestants have already chosen their path—a very difficult, competitive path—based on talent, hard work and, above all, passion. There’s no battle for airtime necessary; the performances will give every contestant his or her moment and lay bare who can deliver and who cannot. I hadn’t realized how much I was missing this on The Bachelor until I watched it here, how good it feels to see people being passionate about something other than just each other.

Last night, Listen To Your Heart made sure to emphasize that this was Season 1, suggesting there might be more seasons to come. Obviously, this is pending given the way things are in the world, and I’m sure Listen To Your Heart is probably pretty low on the Bachelor producers’ list of priorities. That said, I think with a little polishing, they have a true gem on their hands. I do think the rules on romance need to be loosened; I’d far rather watch contestants couple up for each performance based on personal and musical compatibility. They could switch partners for each performance or stick with what they’ve got. Jealousy would certainly ensue, and I have no doubt romance would still sprout up all over the place. I challenge this show’s creators to heed to their own premise: They’ve argued the most powerful musical acts are delivered by a couple truly in love. If that’s indeed true, they needn’t play the arbiter of romantic authenticity and shouldn’t fear allowing the relationship cookies to crumble naturally. No need to pigeonhole duos into “forever” relationships—that’s just semantics. If the couple “in love” truly does deliver the most powerful performances, then by The Powers That Be’s own reasoning, they’ll also end up winning.