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At least we won't have to watch the breakup

By ERIC DEGGANS, Times TV Critic

© St. Petersburg Times
published April 27, 2002

Watching 31-year-old bachelor Alex Michel pick 23-year-old Amanda Marsh on ABC's reality TV hit The Bachelor Thursday, I had to wonder: Why am I so angry?

Miami Heat dancer-physical therapist Trista Rehn -- the last woman rejected of the 25 who sought to become Michel's fiancee on the five-week show -- appreciated the support but didn't share my pique.

"He went with the safe choice," said Rehn, 29, calling from a cell phone in Manhattan during a whirlwind of interviews Friday. "I was sad and hurt and in shock. That's what brought on the tears."

The hourlong finale drew 18.1 million viewers nationwide (second to CBS' C.S.I.); in Tampa Bay, the show drew just 12 percent of viewers -- behind C.S.I. and NBC's combo of Will & Grace and Just Shoot Me.

Viewers saw the smoothly self-obsessed Michel emerge as a master manipulator, telling every single woman he dated what they wanted to hear.

And in choosing the slavishly devoted Marsh, Michael completed the evil circle of backwards gender politics initiated by the series, selecting the woman least likely to challenge him.

Rehn sensed that duplicity early on. "A big reason why I wasn't reciprocating his feelings was because I wasn't trusting him, initially," she added. "After spending lots of time with him . . . I gave in to the possibility."

Marsh, though less mature and well-rounded than Rehn, made no secret of her devotion to Michel, planning a move from Kansas to California on the chance he actually decides to marry her.

Reality TV shows always walk a fine line with viewers: offering spectacles crass enough to freeze channel surfers without crossing the line into repulsiveness.

The Bachelor creator Mike Fleiss, cousin to infamous Hollywood madam Heidi, learned that he crossed that line in crafting Fox's Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?

There, the spectacle of watching a guy choose a wife from 50 potentials was an emotional and cultural car wreck, enough to draw millions. But forcing two opportunists to marry each other once the cameras turned off proved too much, even for a Jerry Springer-saturated public.

Fleiss solved that problem, allowing Michel to present a ring to Marsh but hold it back "to make sure we feel the same way about each other outside the fancy world of mansions and limousines." Yeah, right. And to make sure their eventual breakup needn't involve an attorney or a headline in the National Enquirer.

Even now, Rehn sounds skeptical that Michael and Marsh will stay together: "He didn't even propose to her when their feelings were at their height." But she wouldn't mind participating in The Bachelor sequel -- ABC is currently soliciting participants -- or even a version in which a woman does the selecting.

"Being on the other end and having 25 guys to choose from . . . that would be an interesting experience," she said, laughing. "I wouldn't have thought 25 women could date one man, but we turned out to bond really well."

My advice: ABC should quit while they're behind; a sequel won't have nearly the rubbernecking appeal of this one. You can only watch the same car crash so often.

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