Right, then. The latest edition of The Bachelor ended last night. This is notable because, by all accounts, there was an increase in viewers. The franchise, into its 17th edition, was in decline and now it's not.
Why? Well, there is speculation that a lot of people enjoyed gaping at the Bachelor himself, the blonde and strapping Sean Lowe. He was described as "a devoted Christian" by The New York Times and as "a born-again virgin" by himself. That's some kinda catnip to some viewers, apparently.
It's amazing what some people will gape at on TV. In this neck of the woods, I think a lot of people are gaping at a certain commercial for Rogers services because they are expecting a dramatic twist any time soon. The commercial, to peddle some nifty way to program the PVR using your cellphone or such, features a husband and wife discussing the matter. What everybody knows is that the husband is now a totally different guy from a few months back, and the wife hasn't noticed yet! People gape at it because, they figure, any day now she's going to notice and she'll scream, or her head will explode, or something. Betcha.
Anyway, it interests me that The Bachelor is still going strong and, tonight, another hoary reality TV franchise is back. You have to wonder what makes people gape at certain repetitive reality series.
Hell's Kitchen (Fox, CITY-TV, 8 p.m) is what I'm talking about. Gordon Ramsay returns to shout at people working in a kitchen and generally be difficult and demanding.
From what has been available to see in advance, the 11th edition of Hell's Kitchen is pretty close to the first 10 editions. Ramsay sees two cooks trying to work together in the kitchen and yells, "Hey, Dumber and Dumber!" To someone who presents a dish that looks a bit runny, he snaps, "Did you throw up on that plate?" At a guy who has slowed down the pace in the kitchen, he screams: "Do me a favour: Get out! Get out! Get out!"
And he doesn't mean it in the way that Stacy means it on What Not To Wear when she sees someone who has had a makeover. Stacy is expressing pleasant surprise. Ramsay means get out of the building before I set your hair on fire.
It is a fact, of course, that as a cooking show, Hell's Kitchen is a crock. All sizzle and no steak, so to speak. This edition takes place in Las Vegas, where Ramsay is opening Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill at Caesars Palace. The winner gets to be the joint's head chef. There are 20 contestants, divided into teams of 10 men and 10 women. From the start, the men's team is clearly a bit slow, bumbling, even dim-witted. The women's team has more creative cooks and works well together. The women win in the early going and get taken by private plane to a winery in California. The bumbling guys get to clean fish all day.
One new twist is that there is a live audience, of 2,500 people, in an auditorium for some of the competition. They hoot and holler a bit. But a measly new twist is not what keeps people coming back to Hell's Kitchen. One reason is the show replicates the worst workplace experience – the shouting, the insults, the failures and the egotism. After a hard day at the office, people watch and think, "At least my day wasn't as bad as this fandango."
Ramsay goes out of his way to be off-putting. In a recent lengthy profile in Men's Journal magazine, which had his full co-operation, he emerges as someone driven but also disturbed, vindictive and proud of that. He comes across as Simon Cowell-from-hell. You have to wonder how long Hell's Kitchen and other Ramsay vehicles can keep going – won't people get tired of the nasty, explosive persona?
Me, I don't think so. Ramsay succeeds because, secretly, many viewers find him a very attractive figure. They sure do want to spend a lot of time with him.
This occurred to me because one of the reasons given for the success of The Bachelor, in its recent edition, was that many people found Sean Lowe deeply attractive, a dreamboat. In a Q&A with People magazine, Lowe was asked about the intense speculation surrounding his time spent in private with the ladies wooing him. When asked, "Well, maybe people like to picture you naked?" his answer was, "I don't know why."
To which one can only say, "Get out! Just get out!" His was a deeply disingenuous answer. Of course a lot of viewers want to see him naked, find him attractive, have fantasies about him. I think the same actually applies to Gordon Ramsay. It's just a perverse version of the attraction that Sean Lowe incites. It takes all kinds. And that's why both The Bachelor and Hell's Kitchen are still going strong – sexy-time fantasies.
All times ET. Check local listings.