I really hadn't been following The Bachelorette. This wouldn't usually be remarkable—as a 23-year-old man, I'm not exactly part of the show's target demographic. But for the past two weeks I've been at home in Williamstown, MA, where locals are expected to have a certain familiarity with the series, since this season it stars our hometown girl, Ali Fedotowsky.
Last night was my last chance to see what all the fuss was about, and so I resolved to watch the finale. I went to the Old Freight Yard Pub in North Adams, where since the first episode of the season, members of the Fedotowsky family and a close circle of friends have been gathering to cheer on Ali's growing celebrity.
Watching The Bachelorette at the Old Freight Yard is like watching the Super Bowl with a bunch of middle-aged women, except instead of shouting they mostly gasp, and the whooping is higher-pitched. The biggest crowd yet came for the finale and made a horseshoe around the TV—a group of cousins in "Fedotowsky Fever" t-shirts in the front, near Ali's sister, Raya, her friends, and a bunch of loud, whooping nurses who work with Ali's mom, Beth Johnson, on the other side. First-time supporters and randoms ringed the outside.
Ms. Johnson herself sat front and center beaming with a near-blinding motherly intensity.
Williamstown is a small town, with only one stoplight and a population of a little over 8,000, but celebrity is nothing new to us. Big stars and respected actors alike shuffle in and out all summer with the theater festival, and the more experienced townie has learned to treat them with a well advertised lack of interest.
"Justin Long was at the Herring last night, he seemed like a nice guy," a local might say, taking care to express that he is unimpressed by the appearance of Justin Long at our bar, and is only noting it as a curiosity, albeit to everyone he sees (incidentally, Justin Long was at the Herring last night, and he seemed like a nice guy).
But Ali was something different. She wasn't just one of the celebrities—she was one of us and a celebrity. Some kind of unstoppable hybrid. Locals liked it when a magazine called her a "feisty New Englander." When Chris came on the show during the finale and Ali said he was from Massachusetts, Beth cautiously asked if he was from the western part or the eastern part. We knew what that was about. We are not from eastern Mass. The nurses whooped when he said "wicked amazing," though.
I was good friends with Ali's little brother Mike in high school, but the manner in which I knew her then was not that different than the way in which I know her now when I see her on TV and in magazines: she was a hot girl that I could only hope to glimpse from afar as she was pursued by guys much more attractive than me. Even then "Ali Fedotowsky" seemed like some kind of celebrity.
My brother was in Ali's class, and he remembers her as shockingly similar to what she looks like on TV.
"What's been surprising about it is seeing her behave that way on reality TV, and knowing that's the way she behaves in real life—those cheerful little laughs, there's nothing forced or inauthentic about it. It's remarkable to know that she's not putting it on," he told me.
When Beth Johnson first appeared on ABC during The Bachelorette we all thought she seemed a bit skeptical of the whole arrangement. But tonight, during the scene where Ali sent Chris away from the show, she was crying. It was her daughter on the television, and this is something that actually happened to her. When Roberto proposed to Ali and asked to become part of the Fedotowsky family, Raya was crying a bit too.
Mike was in Boston. Lord knows what he was doing.
The Freight Yard crowd got chocolate cake with "Congratulations Ali" written in the center; "Roberto?" and "Chris?" were written in the corners. Some cousins from eastern Mass were talking about maybe going over to Cape Cod and giving Chris some Fedotowsky alternatives.
Beth is looking forward to meeting Roberto without cameras watching, though she's had the strange opportunity to watch her daughter's fiancé on television for eight weeks now. Ali will be the big topic of conversation when everyone in town gathers at the bar the night before Thanksgiving this year, but we'll likely forget about it by next year. For now, back to reality.