Who is Corinne? Is she Here for the Right Reasons?ABC

This post reveals minor “plot” points of episode 5 of The Bachelor season 21.

Call it The Corinnetervention. During Monday’s episode of The Bachelor, the women remaining on the show—frustrated to the breaking point at the antics of Corinne Olympios, the season’s resident woman-child—gathered upon a plush couch, wine goblets in hand, and offered her their indictments. Corinne, they said, is overly sexual with Nick Viall, the season’s appointed Bachelor and the women’s collective boyfriend. She is also too immature for the 36-year-old Nick. (It’s not just that Corinne is 24, the women insisted; it’s that—as she is fond of reminding her fellow castmates—she is a 24-year-old who has a nanny.) Corinne, also, is too “privileged.” She is too disrespectful. She slept through a Rose Ceremony. Perhaps above all: In a show in which the frenemyships among the women who are dating the same dude serve as a reliably satisfying b-plot to the central romances, Corinne is decidedly Not Here to Make Friends.

Which makes her, on the one hand, simply that most classic of reality-show characters: Corinne is this season’s appointed villain. She foments drama. She is a bikini-clad agent of chaos. She is a factory-formed fusion of Vienna from Jake’s season and Chad from JoJo’s, with a little dash of Olivia from Ben’s thrown in for good measure: She is wacky, and brazen, and she really, really does not care what you think. But Corinne is also, despite her outspokenness (“I definitely know how to turn on the sex charm,” she says into the camera), a cipher. She invites, even more than disdain from her castmates or delight from her viewers … doubt. With her, the question isn’t just the typical one—is she Here for the Right Reasons?—but also the more basic: Is she here at all? Is Corinne really a 24-year-old “business owner” from Miami, looking for love? Is she an actor? Is she “a preteen girl who got trapped in a Big and/or 13 Going on 30–style body-swap”? Is she in on the joke? Or is she simply the butt of it?

The Bachelor, which has spent its 20 previous seasons figuring out what audiences really want from “reality,” is tantalizingly opaque about all of that. In a show that has long derived drama from its villain edits, Corinne offers a newer kind of character, based on a newer kind of trope, based on a newer way of teasing viewers. Corinne Olympios, “business owner” and nanny-haver, is getting the conspiracy edit.

Take her antics on the show. One the one hand, they come from Corinne herself—from the camera’s observations of her behavior and of the commentary she freely gives in the show’s confessional booth. The business owner (and model?) regularly turns on the “sex charm” (so often and openly, in fact, as to prompt Fox News to ask, of the show’s “raunchiest season ever”: “Has The Bachelor gone too far?”). She removes her bikini top while in a pool with Nick. She dresses in a trench coat with very little underneath, to surprise him with 1) herself and 2) a can of whipped cream. Later, on a date at a dairy farm with Nick and the other women, Corinne expresses her distaste for the rustic setting by declaring, “I want to be at a spa, being fed a nice taco. Preferably … chicken.”

But. Corinne’s Corinne-ness has also been enabled—and amplified—by the show’s producers. Last week’s episode of The Bachelor found Corinne surprising Nick, during the pool party he threw for the women to celebrate his birthday, with an enormous bounce castle that had been installed in the mansion’s driveway. Yes, the kind you might see at a kid’s birthday party or a county fair. She took credit for the “surprise.” And then she bounced, in a bandeau bikini top that required censor-blurring from the show’s editors, with Nick. When they fell down, she straddled him. More censors. More sex charm.

And then, just as suddenly and magically as the bounce castle appeared at the Bachelor mansion: The other women got wind of its presence. They left the pool to watch the scene unfold between Corinne and Nick, disgusted with her (and with Nick for indulging her). Nick, meanwhile, told the cameras how much he appreciates Corinne’s sense of fun—fun, he said solemnly, being a key component in any lasting relationship.

What drama, all in all! But of course: If you know anything at all about the behind-the-scenes workings of shows like The Bachelor, it is that the contestants—even the “business owners” who have nannies—have basically no power, within the constraints of the show, to do things like order bounce castles to appear on the mansion’s driveway. The contestants on The Bachelor are, on the contrary, systematically detached from the outside world: They don’t have their devices. They don’t have the internet. They don’t have magazines. (Indeed, one Moment of Drama on JoJo’s season of The Bachelorette came when Vinny smuggled in a contraband issue of InTouch to show the other men.) The castmates have each other, their Moroccan lantern-lit mansion, and whatever little treats—foodstuffs, booze, more booze—the producers see fit to provide them while they live in isolation. It’s an environment meant to put people on edge, for drama-devising purposes; it’s also an environment in which a bounce castle will appear only if a producer decides that a bounce castle should appear.

The show’s audience, generally, understands this. They, too, read InTouch. They, too, understand the machinations that inform “reality.” And so, they will also be unsurprised when, directly after Corinne pulls her stunt with canned whipped cream, an ad for Reddi-wip airs. (The brand has been a sponsor of The Bachelorette, too: Last season, it ran a cheeky ad in which the can had to choose between a bowl of strawberries and a plate of brownies.) And they will know that, when The Bachelor airs footage of Corinne “sleeping through a Rose Ceremony,” the rose she has already received placed delicately next to her, as if she is starring in her own, Moroccan-lantern-lit version of Sleeping Beauty … the odds of this tableau having come together organically are very, very low.

But that’s the appeal: not the scene itself, but the questions it provokes. Is this girl for real? And, relatedly: How real can she be? When Corinne explains of her napping, later on, that “Michael Jordan took naps. Abraham Lincoln took naps,” is she … serious? When she goes on a tirade, after that date at the dairy farm, about her unwillingness to “shovel poopie,” is she … kidding? When she offers an extended metaphor about how she is “a corn husk”—in that “you’ve got to peel the layers back. And then in the middle is this luxury yellow corn with all these little pellets of information. And it’s juicy. Buttery. You WANT to get to that corn. Nick needs that corn”—is she making fun of herself? Or of us, for watching all this absurdity? And for sort of wanting to get that corn?

It doesn’t matter, and that is the genius of Corinne, and of the Bachelor producers who selected/enabled/created her for the show. She is both nihilistic and inclusive, a person to be watched and a puzzle to be solved. She is a walking, talking, castle-bouncing conspiracy theory.

And: She is a product of her times. The Bachelor’s 21st season has found the show offering an official Fantasy league to allow the members of Bachelor Nation to more actively participate in its antics. It’s a season that is airing in the wake of UnREAL, Lifetime’s drama satirizing—but also illuminating the production-side workings of—The Bachelor. It’s also a season that was produced during a presidential campaign that revolved, even more than usual, around actual conspiracy theories. It is airing during a time that familiarized the American public with the coinage “alternative facts.” Nick’s season of The Bachelor, in other words—a season starring a man who has been the subject of some speculation as to whether he, himself, is There for the Right Reasons—is exploiting not just drama. It is also exploiting conspiracy. It is indulging in the paranoid style. It is inviting its viewers to question, to doubt, to peel back that husk to find out whether corn, on its own, can be Buttery.

It’s brilliant. And it’s fit for an age that, even when it comes to the most widely viewed of broadcast TV shows, encourages audience participation. The Bachelor is, in many ways, a 21st-century tribute to P.T. Barnum, the 19th-century showman who understood that the only thing more thrilling than being witness to wondrous things is the ability to question whether those wonders are fake. Barnum knew that reality can be boring—and that “reality,” after awhile, can be, as well. Mystery, though, is enduringly compelling. On Sunday, just before the latest episode of The Bachelor aired on ABC, Corinne’s mother told TMZ, of her daughter’s on-air antics, that “most of it is fake.” Mrs. Olympios, however, prefaced that comment with this: Corinne, her mother confessed, “decided either you are two people that get remembered—the winner or the villain.”

What, exactly, did Corinne “decide” for herself? What, exactly, is “fake” here? It’s unclear. But will I be watching The Bachelor next week to try to answer those questions for myself? Without a doubt.

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