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The Bachelor Winter Games begin with cross-country skiing and smooching

If kissing were an Olympic sport, The Bachelor Winter Games would have a shot at a medal.

What could be the Bachelor franchise’s most irreverent spinoff yet started its four-episode run Tuesday with a soupcon of sports, some tongue-in-cheek humour and lots of lips meeting.

Granted, the coupling up was about on par with Winter Games’ summer sibling, Bachelor in Paradise. If you think about it, the Winter Games cast of worldwide Bachelor/Bachelorette alumni should really be kissing even more, given the much shorter shooting window compared to Paradise.

Host Chris Harrison has said the raison d’être for Winter Games is romance rather than competition, so to that end we came out of the first episode with six couples, five of them international.

Both Canadian cast members, Kevin Wendt and Benoit Beauséjour-Savard, have hooked up: Kevin with American Bibiana Julian; Benoit with American Clare Crawley.

Also swapping spit were American Josiah Graham and New Zealander Ally Thompson; Australian Courtney Dober and New Zealander Lily McManus-Semchyshyn; American Luke Pell and Swede Rebecca Karlsson; and Americans Dean Unglert and Lesley Murphy.

Will any of them last? Guess you’ll have to watch the next three episodes or read the spoilers to find out. But how hard must it be to maintain a long-distance relationship that spans countries when North American contestants have failed over different states or provinces?

Besides, you know obstacles are going to be thrown in the paths of those who have bonded. We already know two love triangles are brewing: between Kevin, Bibiana and the woman who holds the record for tears shed on Bachelor/Bachelor in Paradise episodes, Ashley Iaconetti; and between Clare, Benoit and German Christian Rauch. (Clare disingenuously told Christian her kisses with Benoit were “sweet” rather than passionate. So not only has she gone back on her vow to quit Bachelor, she’s stockpiling suitors for a rainy, or perhaps snowy, day.)

As always, the Bachelor franchise pays lip service to love while manufacturing enough drama to keep romances from running too smoothly.

This series won’t pull viewers away from the real Winter Olympics, but it may score with Bachelor fans.

Here’s what I liked and didn’t like about it.

The international cast: Although we North American viewers don’t know them, it was fun to see fresh faces mixed in with ones we know oh so well (come on down, Clare and Ashley). There’s something appealing in these fractured times about the idea of people from all over the world coming together for some camaraderie and competition, even if it’s just on a silly reality show.

Mind you, the non-Americans and Canadians didn’t get a lot of screen time unless they were kissing someone or their name was Yuki. Yuki Kimura, a failed Bachelor Japan contestant, is clearly Winter Games’ breakout star, whether she was sharing her limited English vocabulary (“Thank you, OK, hello, goodbye, I love you, will you marry me”); or discussing the concept of big hearts and small hearts with Benoit over the closing credits (“I don’t know big heart. I like face only,” she said, referring to Dean).

The opening ceremonies: The series commandeered the main street of tiny Manchester, Vermont, for a faux Olympic-style opening, with a parade of the cast members divided by country (sure, New Zealand had shirtless men doing the haka, but Canada had a fake Mountie who looked like Justin Trudeau); flag-waving spectators; amusing commentary from Harrison and real sports anchor Hannah Storm (Hannah on Ally: “My favourite fun fact is that she has a tattoo of a sloth on her behind. I mean, can you think of any good reason to do that?”); and its own anthem, which had people removing their hats and holding their hands to their hearts as if it was a real thing. My personal favourite part was grand marshals Trista and Ryan Sutter carrying the Bachelor version of the Olympic torch, a lantern brought from the Bachelor mansion in L.A.

The competition: The sports part only exists to justify the use of the word Games in the title and to facilitate the handing out of date cards, which go to the male and female winners of each race. As a non-sports fan, I say good call on limiting this part of the show. It has entertainment value (people falling, Luke unzipping his shirt for speed-skating), but it’s not the main event.

The rose ceremony: Obviously going on dates and handing out roses are part of any Bachelor show. The twist here is that cast members vote by secret ballot to send people home every week based on who’s not “serious” about finding love, adding an extra layer of rejection. On Tuesday, we lost Americans Eric Bigger and Jamey Kocan (disappointing in the first case; no big deal in the second), American Lauren G., China’s Zoe Tang and Brit Laura Blair. Zoe and Laura both left in tears, with Laura fearing the men didn’t like her as a person. There was a popularity contest veneer of meanness to the whole thing that I didn’t enjoy.

The Games continue on ABC this Thursday, and Feb. 20 and 22 at 8 p.m. However, I won’t be recapping all of the episodes.

You can email me at dyeo@thestar.ca, tweet me @realityeo or visit my Facebook page.

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