Locked down and looking for love
M-Net viewers will remember the months leading up to the Covid-19 lockdown last year, during which adverts were flighted for the debut season of the South African version of The Bachelorette. They featured an attractive young woman making eyes at the camera and telling viewers to
“say my name”.
Now, six weeks into the first season, we know that her name is Qiniso van Damme. We also know that she’s a fun-loving 28year-old model and social anthropology master’s student who’s familiar to viewers as one of the 22 women who competed for the attentions of bachelor Marc Buckner in the second season of The Bachelor SA; sister to DA firebrand politician Phumzile van Damme; and, of course, looking for her perfect partner even in these uncertain times.
Series director Tasneen Henderson and representatives from M-Net Channel 101 say the decision to produce a South African Bachelorette series made sense in light of the popularity of the first two seasons of The Bachelor and the “great track record of the format”.
They hope the show, centred on one woman’s search for a partner, will be strengthened by the narrative: a strong, independent woman takes control of her destiny, sexuality and life.
Aiming to cast someone familiar to the audience who’d already appeared in a season of The Bachelor, they felt that the engaging Qiniso was a standout option. Her army of prospective suitors were chosen by taking into account her personality profile. “[We considered] what she was looking for in a life partner and her preferences in terms of personality, personal ambitions and values.” The team also ensured that the channel stayed true to its commitment to reflect diversity and inclusivity. Though the season finale of the second season of The Bachelor was affected by the lockdown and had to be conducted virtually, it was a completely different experience to produce The Bachelorette — a show that relies on intimacy — under lockdown restrictions. The show’s producers explain: “It was filmed in a quarantine bubble, which meant that the cast and crew were tested, went into quarantine and only then filming began.”
The series was shot in a mansion on the banks of the Vaal River. It’s not an easy job making sure a group of men competing for one women’s attention don’t get out of hand but, Henderson says, “a production representative was made available 24/7 to Qiniso and she’d only interact with any of the gentlemen when the crew was shooting. The gentlemen were taken care of by their house father, who ensured that they were fed, stuck to their schedules and were kept safe.”
A balance had to be maintained between allowing the budding romances between the bachelorette and her suitors to happen as naturally as possible — and allowing them to be captured by a camera crew.
Henderson says: “It takes a lot of effort to technically capture the reality that goes on during the series. The production creates spaces in which the crew can film as much as possible without interfering in the interactions
between the participants. That’s important to get right — we’re not dealing with actors. It’s a heightened environment but the relationships and emotions you see on screen are real. The format offers enough dilemmas and twists to keep things interesting.”
Covid-19 conditions made the technical challenge even more arduous. The number of crew allowed on the set was greatly reduced, which meant that things took longer to happen. “The agility of the team was impacted — no-one could breach the quarantine bubble for anything other than an emergency.”
Despite the challenges behind the scenes, the success of the show came down to what happened in front of the cameras. Henderson believes that the success of the Bachelor and Bachelorette formats around the world are testament to people’s natural attraction to love and romance.
“South Africa is no exception. Qiniso was
wonderful to work with — she was able to make herself vulnerable, opening up to the men and the viewers,” she says. “The show tugs at our heartstrings because it’s a rejection or acceptance of the whole package. We see our flaws in these characters so their feelings and victories are ours.”
With camps of supporters already championing their favourite suitor on social media and rooting for their success, it remains to be seen who’ll receive Qiniso’s coveted “Final Rose”.
Henderson promises that even though everyone has their prediction of who Qiniso will choose, in the end it’s about the journey, not just the destination. “The love story that’s unfolding will take you on a roller-coaster ride, so stay tuned,” she says.
The Bachelorette SA screens on M-Net Channel 101 on Thursdays at 7.30pm