Golden Bachelorette: Joan Vassos is already a winner. – Slate

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Get the limos ready: We have a Golden Bachelorette. Joan Vassos, a 61-year-old school administrator from Maryland, was anointed the first woman to lead the ABC’s perennial reality dating show rejiggered for senior citizens. It won’t be Vassos’s first rodeo (er, rose ceremony): Like younger Bachelorettes before her, Vassos was plucked from the previous season’s crop of women, having failed to ride off into the sunset with the male lead.

In case you’ve somehow been tuning this whole thing out: At the end of the inaugural season of the Golden Bachelor, Gerry Turner proposed to Theresa Nist. Then he married her on national television. Then they broke up. Yes, all in a few months’ time.

Vassos came out of the whole thing smelling like, well, roses. She left the show midway to support her family. Her daughter had just given birth and was struggling with postpartum depression. She told Turner that she needed to leave, abandon their blooming love connection, and be there for her daughter. While another cast member skipped her own daughter’s wedding in order to pursue Turner and his movie-star smile (before being eliminated), Vassos couldn’t put her own wants—or Turner’s, or ABC’s—ahead of her daughter’s needs. And good for her.

Self-eliminating for whatever reason—rather than being dumped by the lead—is quite rare on this show. Contestants often go home in a pile of tears, wondering what went wrong and if they’ll ever find love (yes, even the ones on the traditional Bachelor, who are more like 25 years old). Vassos left on her own terms. That makes her a winner.

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Vassos also “won” here because she dodged a bullet. Turner seemed, at first, to be a made-for-TV gentleman. He was folksy and polite, sensitive and communicative, and uncomfortably smiley. He captivated the ladies with his good looks, his set of hearing aids, and his touching personal story of losing his wife to a bacterial infection just as they were about to start retirement life together in their dream home. Turner made viewers tear up from the very first Cat Stevens–soundtracked introductory montage.

But, as the series went on, viewers realized the hard truth about Turner. He was—of course!—no better in the end than the twentysomething dudebros who typically vie for female affirmation on The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. Weeks after Vassos went home, Turner led eventual runner-up Leslie Fhima on, built her up with promises of a future together, and then crushed her spirits. It was quintessential Bachelor behavior. The cruelty of the show’s setup is often outdone by the cruelty of its leading man. (When Bachelorettes are in charge, they tend to be kinder and less wishy-washy.)

And then, of course, his marriage to Nist was alarmingly short-lived. It takes two to break up, but it feels safe to say that Turner wasn’t the love-conquers-all golden boy that he was pitched as to the women and to America.

So Vassos, still single, now on top of the world as ABC’s leading woman, is in a much better spot than she would be if she had actually “won” the Golden Bachelor by leaving with a rock on her hand. Now, as Golden Bachelorette, she has her work cut out for her. Vassos will be dealt a never-before-seen hand: a posse of 60- and 70-something men who will surely be much less refined and TV-ready than Turner was. Put a couple dozen males of a certain age in a room and you’re guaranteed to get raunchy jokes, off-color comments, and MAGA sensibilities (which would not even be a new thing for Bachelor Nation). If you’re thinking, That’s going to make for incredible television—well, yes, it’s going to be a shitshow. If you’re thinking, Good luck to Vassos!—well, yes, she’s going to need it.

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