You can’t go home again, especially after you’ve suffered embarrassment on reality TV. A few years ago, I was a contestant in Season 1 of The Bachelor Canada. I didn’t last long, so I empathize with the women about to get dumped on TV.
After my first-and-only rose ceremony, I was hungover or, more probably, still drunk. The cocktail party wrapped filming as the sun came up and I hadn’t slept a wink. I was put in a white van filled with skinny women with puffy eyes and wine breath.
As the effect of the Champagne wore off, I realized I was doomed. Worse, I was broke and homeless, with two suitcases full of evening gowns.
Dumped off at the Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal in Victoria, I bought a ticket with a debit card that I prayed wouldn’t be declined, then clumsily wheeled my suitcases onboard and found an empty row to occupy. I curled up in my seat, hood up and sunglasses on, shielding myself from the world. With my cellphone blinking low battery, I called my mom only to get her voicemail, an exercise I repeated five times, as though Sisyphus expecting salvation at the top of the hill.
I couldn’t go back to my West End, Vancouver apartment, which I’d subleased to a man in his mid-20s. He responded to my Craigslist ad, desperate to get away from his psycho roommate. Even still, he was tentative about our arrangement when – because of the confidentiality agreement I signed to be a contestant – I couldn’t answer simple questions such as, “Where are you going?”
“Well, as long as it’s not prison,” he said, finally giving in and signing the rental agreement.
On the ferry, I mentally flicked through my Rolodex of options. I could go to Monique’s Yaletown condominium and crash in her spare bedroom. A week earlier, we were constructing my Night One outfit – laying out jewellery and matching lipstick to my freshly purchased dress from Holt Renfrew.
“If you get sent home early,” she said, “you can stay with me.” Except, while filming, my mild nerves, calmed by fiddling with vintage earrings on loan from Monique, escalated so severely that I unconsciously twisted the delicate French wires until they snapped in half and the earring’s semi-precious stones were lost on set.
(To this day, I wonder if Monique noticed the continuity error: I wear her earrings at the beginning of the show – before my mascara smears and my teeth are stained with red wine – then I show up with bare lobes at the night’s end.)
I was too ashamed to ask friends for help.
Savings squandered on heels and high-definition makeup, I played cash-flow roulette and took a cab to a three-star hotel in Tsawwassen, where I loaded up on Advil, chased with Gatorade purchased from a vending machine. I prayed my mom would call me back.
What was I thinking? That I’d find my future husband on a reality TV show? Rationally, no. Most couples who meet on dating shows go their separate ways once the camera stops rolling, itching to pursue contracts as anchors on entertainment news television.
Did I think I could launch my own celebrity? Establish a lifestyle brand? Nix that, an empire? I don’t even have an Instagram account. My tips are confined to gems only fellow lawyers would appreciate, such as: “Keep a highlighter on your bedside table for nighttime reading.”
I used to have an objectively “great” job at a downtown law firm, which could be simultaneously boring and stressful. I had great friends, whom I often pounded back cocktails with, numbing myself from said boring work stress. I even assure you, I had no problem meeting men. (Dating men, however, was a different story. It’s hard to get to date No. 3 when you are forced to bail on a night out in lieu of urgent court briefs.)
My mom returned my call and, thanks to her Airmiles account, I’m soon on a plane, touching down at a blip of an airport surrounded by dense bush.
In the months before the show airs, I hide under a rock as big as the Canadian Shield, in rural northwestern Ontario. My tulle miniskirts and sparkly blouses look ridiculous on the clothesline in our backyard, contrasted against white pines and birch. I let my eyebrows grow bushy and missed calls collect.
“You’re hiding out in Thunder Bay?” my friend, Jennesia, exclaims, when I muster the courage to answer her call, “Are you crazy? You don’t go to your hometown to avoid gossip.”
I eventually found a job at a local law firm, citing “wanting to be closer to family” as my reason for abandoning big-city life in Vancouver, although I quickly became unsatisfied with the quality of cases on my desk, which were mostly simple slip and falls and rear-end collisions.
One day, I heard my name on the radio as I drove to work. The news was out. I felt nervous arriving at my office, there are only a handful of radio stations in Thunder Bay.
I soon had a text message from a childhood friend, Alexandra. “Oh my God! Tina, we MUST have a viewing party! I will invite the girls!”
But I won’t be there, I thought. I handed in my two-weeks notice. I’d accepted a job back in Vancouver. Sure, it was cowardly, but it turns out I’m not a lover or a fighter. I’m a flighter.
This piece was originally published in the Globe & Mail, Facts and Arguments, October 11, 2017.
Photo: Copyright, Laura-Lynn Petrick, 2017