Deep down I knew this was going to happen.
Over four weeks, they likely could not have come across worse. I was transported back to Year Eight – a place I was not intent on revisiting – where a trio of outgoing girls almost obsessively tear you apart for reasons that are not entirely clear.
Romy, 29, reduced a woman to tears on Wednesday night’s episode, after accusing her of being a hypocrite for kissing their shared boyfriend. Along with Cat, 24, the pair ridiculed the appearance of several women, mocking one for showing off her midriff when she didn’t even have abs, and laughing that they were relieved when they saw what the intruders looked like.
I could go on. And on. And on.
I know, of course, these women have been edited and produced and what we’re seeing is a manufactured truth. But it is a truth, nonetheless. You cannot edit words into someone’s mouth.
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When I told friends I’d be speaking to Cat and Romy, they insisted I ask: “Are you aware of the difference between being honest and being mean? Were you bullies in high school? How did you feel watching the show back? Do you regret someone of the vile insults that came out of your mouths?”
And they’re only the questions I can print.
I had no qualms about asking them tough questions. You signed up for a television show, I thought, and then you said some unequivocally shitty things that you ought to be held accountable for.
And then I met them.
These two women – to put it plainly – are not okay. Romy, in particular, is broken.
Neither were really the women I saw on television. They were far more complex. A little bit funny, a little bit sad, and wearing deep pain on their faces.
On Thursday, for the first time, Channel Ten allowed them to preview the episode early, likely sensing how bad things were about to become.
“I didn’t think it could get any worse than my single date,” Romy said. “And it did. And it wasn’t a nice feeling to see yourself in that light.”
After watching the scene where Tenille left the mansion in tears, Romy said she “felt awful…
“It’s something I’m not proud of. It didn’t feel nice at all.”
She reflected: “One little slither of our personalities have been shown and it’s the ugliest side… it’s a real shame.”
They didn’t re-watch the episode live last night. But when Cat checked her phone after her elimination had aired, she was confronted with more than 500 direct messages on Instagram.
According to Cat, they were “telling me to go kill myself and that I’m a waste of space and I’m fat and I’m ugly. No one wants to hear that.”
They both agreed they said awful things on camera, and Romy repeated more than once, “I’m not trying to make excuses…”
I asked Romy why she chose to leave, given she made it clear during our interview that she really did like Nick.
“It was completely impulsive…” she replied, and then explained why she thinks her gut was telling her so strongly it was time to go.
When she returned home, she spoke to her mum and dad and went to bed.
That night, her father, an otherwise perfectly healthy man, suffered a stroke.
“We had to say bye to him,” she said. “He’d had such a big aneurysm bleed in his brain… and that was the last normal conversation I’ll have with my dad… he’s brain damaged.”
Now, Romy’s tragic family circumstances do not absolve her from the abhorrent things she said. The two things – in a lot of ways – don’t have anything to do with each other.
But what her story highlights is that there is still sympathy to be had for someone who has made some questionable decisions. There is much about Romy and Cat’s lives we did not see in a contrived hour long episode of reality television – and to reduce them to the worst things they’ve ever said is frankly lazy.
There was one thing Romy said to me that I won’t forget: “Is it going to be okay? Do you think it’s going to be okay?”
Because right now, for Romy, it isn’t.
If we want an answer to the question, “How does it feel to have the whole nation hate you?” then we have it.
It feels like shit.
It’s – to quote Romy – “harder than you could ever imagine”.
If our aim is to destroy these women, to bully them for bullying others, then we are hypocrites.
Their behaviour is worthy of conversation. They were absolutely ‘The Mean Girls’. Perhaps that’s who they are in real life too – we don’t know.
But I do not accept that these women deserve death threats.
They do not deserve to be threatened and ridiculed and called ‘ugly’ and ‘fat’ when we’re condemning them for doing just that.
It’s easy to imagine that these women live inside our televisions and once we switch them off, they disappear too. But they don’t. Tonight they will try to sleep, and they will check their phones, and they will call their parents over dinner and check: “Is this going to be okay?”
We must do better.
And if we do – I believe they will do better, too.