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To be honest, I don’t watch a lot of reality TV. The ones I do watch (usually while folding laundry) are more observational than competitive, with rich housewives used to celebrity life. I still get that drama is a draw, that RHOBH was a more compelling watch when Brandi was getting drunk and in fights with Lisa and trying to make out with people in hot tubs, or when Kim appeared to be using again, than when nice people like Lisa Rinna and Eileen Davidson arrived and appeared to give a shit about Yolanda’s mysterious illness.

UnREAL skirts an interesting line when it comes to showing various sides of its characters. On the one side, they are fictional, so we know that Brandi, the ultimate fighter who goes off on Darius at the end of the episode, is not actually in a rubber room at this moment. On the other—and is it to the show’s credit or detriment or both?—her destruction for the sake of a ratings-grabbing TV episode was really hard to witness. Maybe because the season one contestants seemed stronger? Even with her bulimia and the death of her father, Anna seemed more like Rachel’s equal than her pawn. Quinn gained a shred of sympathy because she was getting shunted off to the side by Chet. Even when one of the producers did something really horrible, like getting Maya so drunk she was almost raped, or switching out Mary’s meds, resulting in her suicide, it was someone like Shia, who we weren’t supposed to like anyway.

This, though, this corrupt manipulation and imprisonment and condescending sneering to Coleman (“that’s how we make the show”), was just not fun to watch. Even at its (previous) low points, UnREAL was pretty much always fun, except when it went too dark with Mary’s death last season. If Anna and Grace got in a bitch-fight over Adam, we enjoyed it as much as Everlasting’s viewers, because we knew they both could take care of themselves. Brandi is a damaged child-abuse survivor, who deserved better than being poked and prodded in front of the TV cameras. Quinn and Rachel may not have know that Mary was off her meds, but they knew exactly what they were doing to Brandi, who was, as Rachel described to Darius, just a person looking for a connection.

It is fun to watch Chet self-destruct, with stupid-ass idea after stupid-ass idea: Tearing up the lawn with ATVs, setting up an obstacle course in which the women can easily hurt themselves, getting shoved to the back seat. The discovery that he’s doing all this because he’s lost custody of his son, blaming “vaginal fairy dust” for all of his problems, kind of cheapens it. Still, he’s a ridiculous buffoon kind of villain, who is so clearly outmatched by Quinn and Rachel that, like them, we just think he’s in the way.

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But Quinn and Rachel turning on each other? That, we haven’t really seen before, and if the setup at the end of the episode means anything, it could be really interesting. They’ve been sneaky around each other and underhanded, but the crux of their fucked-up relationship is that they’ve always had each other: See their final affectionate but threatening conversation that ended the first season, or their matching bestie tattoos that kicked off this one. We’ve seen how Quinn plays Rachel, by messing with her mental issues and her heinous relationship with her parents, and that’s when she’s pretending to be her friend. What will that be like when the gloves are off? I hope we get to find out next week (the episode is titled “Treason,” so that’s hopeful).

Rachel normally would be a bit in over her head, but Coleman could be a helpful advocate for her. I don’t find him near as annoying as Quinn and Rachel say they do: In fact, because he’s a newcomer to the world of Everlasting, he’s the only voice of sanity, which this show needs. What the show did to Brandi is actually awful. There is no reason for Rachel to be stuck on this stupid show. As Coleman has seen, there is a whole world of content out there, just waiting to be filled, And Rachel could be doing something that feeds her soul instead of destroying it.

Although at least this season, she has an honorable goal in mind. By bringing in Darius, she is attempting to change the game overall. As with the last suitor, Darius appears to be as good at playing the game as anyone else, which makes Jay’s revelation about Ruby kind of sweet. She is the smartest girl there, so what can she do that the other girls can’t? Also in the intriguing contestant category, Hot Rachel (I refuse to call her anything else) also seems adept at how the game is played: more of a ticket to fame than romance, which makes her even more formidable than Ruby.

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Chet’s caveman club thinks that viewers want to see girls bouncing on trampolines. But more likely, most of UnREAL’s viewers would probably would much rather see romance unfold. The successful moments that Quinn rolls out with Chantal and Brandi with Darius—as she screams “I am so hard right now!”—play up the romance aspect, much more effectively than the cat-fighting. Darius feeling betrayed by Brandi’s (fake) lies resonates because he actually connected with her. Quinn gets it; she just goes about doing it in such a horrible way.

Stray observations

  • Apparently if you’re totally dissing someone and you don’t want them to realize it, just tell them that you “respect” them or something they did.
  • Hey Beth Ann, Ruby also called you a bitch last week.
  • I am completely meh about Rachel and Coleman’s makeout. It’s nice for her to have someone in her corner that she can (ostensibly) trust, although it seems a little soon. Anyone but Jeremy, that’s my motto. But would still like some closure on what happened to her and Adam after the end of last season: Why is he still calling her?
  • Many thanks to commenter fallingupward (and others) who pointed us to UnREAL producer Sarah Gertrude Shapiro’s recent New Yorker profile. The show went dark this week, but going by Shapiro’s stories from The Bachelor, that was just par for the course. The interview added a valuable dose of perspective to this complicated, fascinating show; give it a read if you haven’t already.

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