The Worselands

Stalingrad. Agincourt. Waterloo. Those were but skirmishes. No battleground has proved more devastating, more soul-crushing than Arlington, Iowa, where true love goes to die.

Or infatuation, but I’m not one to split hairs.

I’m not one to pull punches either, so let’s call a spade a spade. Last week was awful – like Ashley I. trying to form analogies awful. After the show I did everything I could to forget all that lost cash the way gamblers have for centuries. But while memories fade, the red ink in the ledger doesn’t.

When I dragged my ass out of bed at the crack of noon that Tuesday I could barely stand the sight of myself. Four. Hundred. Grand. It was looking unlikely that I’d be making that cash back with my pretty face. I barely looked like ten bucks, let alone a million. The mirror was unforgiving.

Yeah. It was the mirror’s fault. Passing the buck would’ve been nice, but I didn’t have any to move. In an effort to get things back on track I grabbed the bottle of Listerine. I leaned my head back only to be met with the same emptiness I had in my pockets. I forgot I’d killed it last night, which explained the morning’s worse than usual hangover. Apparently nothing mixes with depression like minty hopelessness.

I needed to make that money back. With four hours and two days of Bachelor on the horizon, there’d be plenty of opportunity – but not at the upcoming Rose Ceremony. A blind man could see that Megan wasn’t long for that show. The people who bet on this stuff may be rubes, but they’re not idiots. We were all prepared for the gang to go to Iowa and we were well prepared for she-of-the ever-changing face to be off the guest list. That was a given.

But we didn’t know that Arlington would turn into a goddamn war zone.

There were hints, sure. We heard of wars and rumors of war – Britt like you’d never seen her! – but even that couldn’t deter me from having her open the week at 2-1. Maybe that’s just further proof I need my head examined. But she was the front runner, had been all season. That type of status doesn’t disappear overnight. It had to be good enough to generate some action on the other girls. At least, that’s what I hoped.

I was also hoping for some more bat-shit craziness. Instability creates variance, which makes people question what’s really going on, which makes them do stupid shit like bet their hearts instead of their heads. After the Bout in the Badlands I was afraid we’d start to see some civility, some normalcy, but it turns out you’ll have to go sell crazy someplace else – we’re all stocked up here.

In the land where the prairies meet the hills, outside of a store that sells liquor, pizza, chicken, and frozen yogurt in some kind of order (and really, what more would you want out of a town – a stop light? People? Everyone’s a critic) the fuse was lit. Carly, in true I’m-not-winning-this-so-I’m-taking-down-anyone-I-can fashion, had her head on such a swivel she was doing her best Linda Blair impression.

Nobody was having that town, but when you’re staring down three other girls who’ve been getting serious attention from The Big Bad Bach and you’re not sure which one to torpedo, the answer is always the one who’s been openly making out with the object of your affection in front of everyone.

Look, we may never know exactly what was said, how it was said, or any conversations that followed – all I know is that money started moving on Britt. Hard. In fact, the whole goddamn board exploded. Britt dropped to 3-2 and would have gone even money except for Jade’s reveal – to Carly of all goddamn people – about her appearance in a magazine that me and all my buddies read solely for the articles (must be why I missed her photo spread). Stock was falling all around, except for Whitney, who emerged from the crucible of Iowa unscathed. Chris fawned over her, the city was enamored by her (Des Moines needs way more attractions), and the Bach’s buddies loved her so much they gave each other celebratory butt-slaps (maybe it gets lonely out in the corn fields).

A cigarette was fixed in my mouth when they announced the next group date: Kaitlyn. Carly. Britt.

Jesus. H. Christ. I was staring down the real possibility of two of those girls going home, and with them a lot of dollars from my bank account. Those three alone made up most of the action. And me without any Listerine in the house.

Predictably, Carly went full on kamikaze, gunning directly for the USS Caked-On-Makeup. Just as predictably, Mr. Man did his best FDR impression and let it happen. Kaitlyn, as usual, was the Cool Girl (only much less stabby) and rose above the fray. When He-of-Little-Tact handed her that rose, I just about did a backflip.

The rest of it played out as I imagined. Britt was sent home, sobbing, and Carly was sent home…also sobbing. But resigned to her fate. While the rest of America listened to her cry and lament over the fact that she still hadn’t found a man to validate her (young women, if you take nothing away from the Bachelor, understand that it is actively trying to undermine your self-worth. But hey – cocktail parties!), I took care of accounting. Carly had paid out well, but I had so much action on Kaitlyn that, when all was said and done, I’d gained fifty-large to chip away at last week’s debt.

But no time for love, Dr. Jones. There was another episode a mere twenty-one hours away, home visits at that. I went to work on The Big Board, which reflected everything we’d been seeing: Jade was the favorite to be sent home next (3-2), followed by Kaitlyn (3-1), Whitney (5-1), and Becca (6-1).

I checked the off-shore system as soon as I tweeted the odds. There wasn’t an immediate reaction, which didn’t surprise me. The commercials weren’t letting us in on anything, no bombs to be dropped. But at air time, when the Parade of Roses came to town, it was time to take cover. Some of revelations are big, others small, but there’s always one doozy during this portion of the show, the one that changes everything.

Like the fact that ABC is too goddamn cheap to fly Chris and the crew to Vancouver.

Examine, if you will, exhibit A: Kaitlyn is from Vancouver, British Columbia.

Exhibit B: “My family spends the winter in Arizona,” Kaitlyn says with a sincere smile, explaining why her home visit is being filmed in Phoenix, not Vancouver. This little scene was filmed in mid-October, which, last time I checked, ain’t winter – not even in Canada.

Exhibit C: Her parents are divorced, yet they’re all hanging out in Phoenix. Did they get shared custody of the snowbird destination in the settlement? I’m dubious.

Exhibit D: Her sister’s just hanging out with the family in Arizona, seemingly down for the “winter” as well. Most jobs don’t just let you take off four months. Highly dubious.

Exhibit E: “Thank you all for being here,” Kaitlyn says. There was clearly an effort in getting everyone to Phoenix. I normally don’t thank everyone for being in a place they already were. Dubes.

Exhibit F: “Let’s go on a date to a recording studio with no explanation about why this is significant, why I hang out here, or why we’re not doing something that is special to me, like, say, dancing. The teaching of which I do for a goddamn living.

I may be paraphrasing that last bit, but it’s clear that The Bachelor preemptively dumped half of its budget into booze the first two weeks and now they’re scrambling to cut corners. If only they disclosed the numbers on how much was spent for each home-visit. I’d love to get that over-under action. Regardless, it was a high-profile reveal that shook me, and hopefully Chris – who’s stuck trying to find love with the help of some two-bit operation – to the core.

As for other unveilings that weren’t exactly news, Jade posed for Playboy.

But we knew this. Hell, every kid who was at that football game at Chris’ high school who learned her name and has access to a smartphone knew this. But honestly, if there’s a Bachelor season that doesn’t feature a girl who’s taken her clothes off for money, the producers and casters have failed in their jobs.

Corn Dog, for his part, handled the, uh, uncovering (I get one pun a week, I’ve used it wisely), perfectly. Really, he did. He said, correctly, that her past was her past, her choices are her own, and if they pursued a relationship together that they’d deal with the choices together. Incredibly solid stance. I hate that I like this guy.

So despite the fact that money was pouring in on Jade, I wasn’t about to change the lines on her. Maybe I’m getting soft in my old age, maybe I was never hard to begin with. But I thought I had a chance to collect on her. Kaitlyn’s “home” date looked about as fun as an O’Doul’s keg stand. Becca wasn’t going anywhere, that much was clear. So I did the only thing I could – I moved the line on Whitney 2-1. I barely understood why I was doing it, but I had a plan.

There was no way she was going home, but people can be easily conned. They see a line move in that direction and they think there’s inside information they’ve missed out on. Nobody can resist trying to be part of an exclusive club. Dollars started trickling in steadily at first, then it turned into drinking from a fire-hose. By the time I sent out the “all bets are off,” text, the cash on Whitney and Jade was dead even.

When Chris Harrison showed up for the Rose Ceremony, I was already playing the angles: what a worst case scenario would mean for next week, how much I’d have to get back, what was the absolute best situation I could fall into?

As I generated hypotheses for my thought-experiment, I looked up to see Whitney receive the first rose. I gave a knowing nod. I had security. It was looking like things might not turn out terribly.

The second rose was picked up. I sat there knowing he was going to give it to Becca. Smart TV, the only way for it to play out. Go with the easy play and save the drama for last.

Which is exactly why he gave the rose to Kaitlyn, because Cornucopia would not know intrigue if it bit him in the goddamn ass. I watched as Jade and the rest of my big pay-day went up in smoke against Becca, who’s a veritable buzz-saw until Chris figures out there’s going to be no sex in the champagne room (I’ll be offering up odds on that prop bet – don’t you worry). I avoided whatever heartfelt goodbye they were trying to have. The concept that you’re going to split with someone on national television after they’ve exposed themselves to you, literally, and have it play out smoothly is complete fantasy. Money is reality.

The week didn’t turn out to be a total crisis. Between the two days I managed to put 100k toward my debt. Sounds like a lot, but it’s only a quarter of what I need. To make matters worse, I’ve only got two weeks left. But I wasn’t about to let anyone see me sweat, especially the Geek. I texted him: “Sorry you were busy to place a bet this week, Jimbo. I took all the other poor suckers for a cool hundy. Would have loved to have won my money back.”

I didn’t get a response until the next morning. “Hey Clint – sorry for not betting this week. I was at NBA All-Star Weekend blowing all the money you owe me on lap dances for complete strangers. So I’m gonna need that cash soon. The Cousin’s itching to get involved.”

Great. Collections. Losing and saying goodbye to your cash are only the third and second-worst aspects of gambling respectively. The king of the mountain is when payment is exacted even when it isn’t in the form of cash. It doesn’t just hurt, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

And here I am all outta Listerine.

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