Sharleen Joynt on Episode 9 of The Bachelorette

The former Bach contestant, podcast host and FLARE columnist shares her insider's POV on the ninth episode of Tayshia's season

Presented by SkipTheDishes

Content Warning: This story contains references to suicide and other mental health issues.

A question I’ve often been asked over the years is whether or not contestants get paid to be on this show. (It often surprises people to hear they do not!) But after nine episodes of some of the weightiest and most touching stories I can remember on this franchise, I’m going on the record to say this particular group of guys deserves to get paid. In terms of content for a television show, they are pulling more than their weight this season, sharing personal struggle after personal struggle, the likes of which they frankly shouldn’t need to share. In the past, these stories have been more in the context of (or pigeon-holed into the context of) what kind of a partner it’d make them (e.g. how a contestant’s parents’ divorce affected what they looked for in a relationship). But these days, the timeline and expectations surrounding “opening up” feel more extreme and no-holds-barred than in years past. These personal stories are now ranging in topic from race (Ivan), to estrangement from family (Riley), to addiction (Zac), to eating disorders and now suicide (Ben). Given this is also a season without the usual Bachelor bells and whistles, it’s hard not to wonder if the guys are expected to pick up slack—the lack of distraction that travel and elaborate dates a non-pandemic season might have provided.

I understand sharing vulnerabilities for the sake of getting to know each other better, and I get that the show can’t make anyone do or say anything. But they can prod and pressure you, and that’s what I felt uncomfortable with last night. I personally think one of the most important aspects to sharing one’s story is the freedom to do it on YOUR timeline, when you’re comfortable, when you’re ready.

Last night, Ben became the first-ever contestant on this franchise to reveal he’d attempted suicide. He attempted twice and fairly recently, in 2018 and 2019. Leading into the dinner date where Ben shared this, we got a voiceover of Tayshia’s that went: “I don’t know if we can be something if he doesn’t open up to me.” (Apparently it wasn’t enough to tell Tayshia—and America—about his 15-year battle with anorexia and bulimia mere days before.) While that sentence of Tayshia’s could have been taken from anywhere (meaning, it’s very possible she didn’t say it relating to this date, or even about Ben at all), the narrative created by the show was nonetheless clear: SHARE EVERYTHING. And if you’re on a 1-on-1 date with a cold meal in front of you, SHARE IT NOW. Empty your pockets, open up about that thing you’ve never told anyone, let every last skeleton out of the closet. Not sharing enough, and not sharing it on time, suggests being “closed off” or not serious about a relationship with the lead.

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But what if you are serious about Tayshia, but you don’t necessarily want the world to know something private and personal? What if that something is so private and personal, you haven’t even told the person closest to you (in this case, Ben’s sister)? When the stakes are about proving one’s sincerity and interest, and the terms eerily resemble an ultimatum (“I don’t know if we can be something if he doesn’t open up to me”), is that really an environment that instills comfort and readiness? Last night, Tayshia said, “I know you’re holding back.” Ben responded with how uncomfortable it is for him, especially given his past and upbringing, to share certain things. Tayshia responded, “We’re just talking. I get it, you’re guarding yourself. But I’m here, and I’m interested.” When Ben continued to struggle, instead of telling him to share only what he felt comfortable sharing, or to wait until he felt ready, Tayshia said, “We have time.” I’m not blaming Tayshia specifically here, as we know in many ways she’s just the messenger and it’s part of her role as the Bachelorette to encourage contestants to let down their walls with her. But at what point does encouraging someone begin to resemble pressuring them?

I totally get the need for your partner to open up to you, and certainly, the show cashes in on the carte blanche that claims every personal struggle shared is in the interest of bringing that contestant and the lead closer. But notice how Ben’s story about his failed suicide attempts was given the same, generic, sad-backstory treatment as any other admission—it was suggested this somehow bonded him and Tayshia the same way it did when Brendan and Tayshia related over being divorced. Not all traumas are the same and they shouldn’t be painted with the same, general “opening up” brush, to be followed by fireworks or a private concert. Further, the fact remains that this is a filmed television show; this ISN’T two people “just talking.” In fact, while it was suggested Tayshia was a support for Ben, I strongly feel pressuring someone to share information they don’t necessarily feel ready to share in fact demonstrates the opposite of trust in a relationship. Trusting someone means giving them the benefit of the doubt that they’ll share things with you when they feel ready. Trust and comfort doesn’t come from forcing someone to tell you their innermost demons.

Last night, the show painted Ben’s confession as a long-awaited relief, as some weight that needed lifting. But in my eyes, a great burden was instead placed on him: the burden of sharing something on national television he hadn’t even told the person closest to him and appeared to have no intention of sharing, the burden of being the “public figure” to speak out about suicide. I do think what he did was incredibly brave and I do believe good can come of it. But the elephant-in-the-room-question remains: Was it really responsible on the show’s part to place that burden on Ben?

I’ve mentioned before that, while at “casting weekend” in Los Angeles, one of the many, many pieces of paperwork a potential contestant must complete is a Scantron-ish questionnaire of over 500 questions. (Being the paranoid contestant I was, I actually took photos of these quizzes and, in writing this, was able to refer back to my own album to confirm.) Combined with the other questionnaires, you answer close to a thousand questions about yourself, your personality and your most private thoughts. The results are reviewed by the show’s psychologist who meets and chats with you. Considering Ben hadn’t told his sister, it’s perfectly possible he lied about his suicide attempts, but I have to imagine that at the very least, the show’s psychologist had an inkling. And if UnReal is to be trusted (the scripted show created by a former Bachelor producer, in which Everlasting’s psychologist does share personal information about contestants with production for the sake of using it to manipulate them), it’s not a huge leap to imagine what the psychologist knows is shared with producers. I, for one, find it hard to believe production wouldn’t have had at least an idea of what they were pressuring Ben to share, which leads to a series of uncomfortable questions about ethics and safety.

Was it safe to cast Ben on this season? Was encouraging him to share his recent suicide attempts with millions of viewers exploitative? Remember, this is the same show that has had to dedicate segments of Tell Alls and After The Final Rose specials to combatting cyberbullying. (This happened with both Kaitlyn’s and Peter’s seasons.) We know former leads and contestants have received everything under the sun from trolls: racial slurs to death threats to messages telling them to kill themselves. I realize addressing these issues with segments is better than saying nothing, and I appreciate the show’s inclusion of a suicide prevention hotline at the commercial break following Ben’s admission. But the fact remains that this show is not exactly known for its care and management of its casts’ mental health, both in the moment and long term.

It was incredibly courageous of Ben to tell Tayshia about his two suicide attempts last night. I genuinely believe what he shared could go a long way towards destigmatizing mental health issues that can make so many millions feel so alone. If addressing suicide on this public forum can help alleviate the judgment and misunderstandings surrounding mental health, and especially if anyone struggling can see and relate to Ben and it causes them to seek help, all the better. Ben mentioned utilizing therapy to gain clarity and to overcome the dark periods in his life, which too can inspire others to do the same. I truly hope Ben continues to receive the help and support he needs. Appearing as a fan favourite and frontrunner on The Bachelorette will not make those needs magically disappear, and now with the many new dynamics being a public figure brings, I sincerely hope The Powers That Be are prepared to continue to support him.

My episode 9 frontrunners are…

Zac C, 36

Zac continues to delight at every turn. I smiled to myself when, while Tayshia worked herself up into a frenzy about his “cheating” confession, he patiently listened and finally asked, simply, “Can I tell you?” What I particularly appreciated was how he didn’t TELL Tayshia the story was silly and meant nothing, but rather he SHOWED it by sharing pertinent information (that this happened in 6th grade!!) and nothing more. Zac shows maturity and depth at every turn and I appreciate that those are traits Tayshia appreciates!

Ben, 30

The cost of being a frontrunner isn’t cheap, and Ben continues to make this show look good. From the very first episode, we’ve known Ben was something special, but over time we’ve learned just how complex he is. I really enjoy his bone-dry sense of humour and you can tell he’s really adored among the men, so combined with his deep sensitivity he’s a very compelling contestant to watch. I do think he’s a major frontrunner in Tayshia’s eyes, and we all know he’s going very far.

Brendan, 30

There’s nothing I can add or say about Brendan that I haven’t already. He’s definitely getting a Hometown.

Ivan, 28

I also have nothing to add about Ivan this week! We continue to get regular Ivan airtime and it’s tough to imagine he isn’t also getting a Hometown.

 

If you or someone you know is struggling, contact Crisis Services Canada at 1-833-456-4566, find a 24/7 Crisis Centre via the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention or reach out to a resource in your province:

British Columbia: Province-Wide Mental Health Support Line (24/7 hotline: 310-6789) | Alberta: Distress Centre Calgary (24/7 hotline: 403-266-4357) | Saskatchewan: Prince Albert Mobile Crisis Unit (24/7 hotline: 306-764-1011) | Manitoba: Manitoba Reason to Live (24/7 hotline: 1-877-435-7170) | Ontario: Connex Ontario (24/7 hotline: 1-866-531-2600) | Quebec: The Quebec Association for Suicide Prevention (24/7 hotline: 866-277-3553) | New Brunswick: Chimo Helpline (24/7 hotline: 450-4357) | Nova Scotia: Mental Health Mobile Crisis Team (24/7 hotline: 1-888-429-8167) | Prince Edward Island: Island Helpline (24/7 hotline: 1-800-218-2885) | Newfoundland: Mental Health Crisis Line (24/7 hotline: 1-888-737-4668) | Northwest Territories: NWT Help Line (24/7 hotline: 1-800-661-0844)