I haven’t had a television since the Great Breakup of 2008, but the other day I caught an episode of “The Bachelor”. (Yes, Jill, I can hear your derisive comment from here! There were mitigating circumstances) I watched with the terrified fascination of observing a train wreck.

In case you haven’t seen this show, it pits 25 women in a competition for the affections of a kind of ordinary guy. There’s lots of helicopter rides, wine, cattiness, and statements like, “my fairytale is just beginning”.  It’s billed as a reality show, which means that probably 90% of the people on it are really looking for fame, not true love, though they all claim they are in it for a ring.

The premise of this show is that the Bachelor will propose to someone, having known her for six weeks.  Along the way he gives out roses to those he wants to stay and sends the tearful rejects packing. He does a lot of calling them “girls” even though nearly everyone involved is in their mid to late twenties. Acknowledging that this is ridiculous, I also find it hard to believe you can really get to know someone when you are being transported to exotic locations and staying in luxury.

So in the interest of fairness, why not have a reality show that’s, well, real? No mansion for the women! Tents only! After all, camping is a very quick way to get to know someone’s foibles. Let’s have them hike in the rain, run down a peak chased by lightning, engage in the frustrating dance of hanging the bear bag, all the while being surrounded by mosquitoes. That will separate the women from the girls in no time.

No fancy meals here. Let’s see how a date goes when gulping down freeze-dried food and filtering water, shower-less. Let’s see who can go off-trail and find their way using a map and a compass.  No surer way to see how much grace someone has under pressure than when stumbling around in a forest with no clue of where to go.

Instead of dates on beaches and in hot tubs, send them on a difficult climb. Have them ford a big river or cross a snowfield. How do they handle failure? That’s a very important clue to how a future relationship will go. Do they help others who are struggling or do they march on ahead with looks of disgust? If they can’t complete the trip, do they collapse in a pool of tears or do they shrug it off?  Do they insist that everyone else turn back also?

I can learn more about strangers on a backpack trip, hike or trail run than I would in any number of other situations. There’s a point where everyone drops their ego and gets down to their bottom line.  The Great Breakup of 2008 was foreshadowed by a disastrous camping trip in which the man in question rolled his eyes when I stopped to take a waypoint, a waypoint that saved us from possible hypothermia in the least and falling to our deaths off a cliff at worst.

It’s interesting how different people can be in the woods, on a river, or on a mountain. I’ve come back from some trips and never seen my companions again, or in other cases, the experience bonded us tightly.  There’s really no way to know before you go. I’ve seen some pretty capable people fall apart and some dimmer bulbs shine brightly. In my own experience, my outdoor adventures have been both humbling and empowering.  I’ve learned things about myself that I’ve carried with me the rest of the time.

And that’s way better than a rose any day.