This story contains spoilers from Episode 7 of ABC’s “The Golden Bachelor.”
With his abundant hair and smooth-talking demeanor, Gerry Turner, the 72-year-old widower searching for love on “The Golden Bachelor,” is the undisputed breakout star of the fall TV season.
But many of the viewers who’ve flocked to the show — boosting ratings for the long-running reality franchise — have been equally charmed by the vivacious women vying for his heart. They’ve dispensed with the usual reality TV catfights and formed palpable connections in between the pickleball matches and group dates.
Producers have wisely played up this aspect of this series, cutting to the women singing “Hava Nagila” while dancing the hora in the pool or debating the source of their virulent farts — was it Edith’s guacamole or Susan’s meatballs? — while doing each other’s hair.
Four of the women bonded so intensely they even gave their friend circle a catchy acroynym: ASKN, as in “you’re askin’, we’re tellin.” The group consists of April Kirkwood, 65, a therapist from Port St. Lucie, Fla., who pretended to hurt her ankle during a pickleball tournament in order to get more attention from Turner; Susan Noles, 66, a wedding officiant from Aston, Pa. who revealed she once made out with a woman during a round of “Never Have I Ever”; Kathy Swarts, 70, a retired educational consultant from Austin, Texas, who famously told co-star (and finalist) Theresa Nist to “zip it” because she was talking too much about her connection with Turner; and Nancy Hulkower, 61, a retired interior designer from Alexandria, Va., who cried movingly when she put on a wedding dress for a photo shoot on the show.
None of the ASKN ladies came close to capturing Turner’s heart — or even made it to the top three. In Thursday’s “The Women Tell All” special, Turner, who gave a rose to fitness instructor Leslie Fhima, 64, in last week’s episode, shocked fans by picking Nist, 70, over radio host Faith Martin, 61.
But plenty of fans are hoping for a road-trip spinoff with these outspoken women — who, for the record, welcome any and all comparisons to “The Golden Girls” and “Sex and the City.” On the eve of “Women Tell All,” the ASKN foursome spoke with The Times about why “The Golden Bachelor” felt like summer camp and their plans for a girls trip to St. Maarten next year.
Why did the four of you form such a bond in the mansion?
Nancy: Truly the word that comes to mind is “serendipitous.” We never expected it. From the first night in the mansion, it was like a girls party and we fell in love with each other. When people come together and they’ve all had a loss or a horrible divorce, we could sit with each other and not even have to say anything. We were cheering for each others’ success.
Susan: We were all in the same place for the same reason. As April, Kathy and Nancy will testify, we would stay up and just talk all night long. And then we get hollered at that the lights have to be out.
Nancy: It was like camp.
Kathy: I think the universal language here is laughter and we laughed when we should have been sleeping. They would come in and go, ‘Ladies, you have to go to sleep.” And so we’d all scuttle back to our beds.
Susan: By the end of this experience, that hall monitor was in the room with us.
April: I never got to go away to college, so I called her the RA. I love getting in trouble because I never got to get in trouble [when I was younger].
Kathy: There were seven of us in the room originally and then it was down to four. We took it upon ourselves to move the beds around, we had them all lined up in a row. So we just yakked.
April: On a serious note, it wasn’t an organic situation. Although we were mature women, we couldn’t stand behind our name, our children, our careers, our home. We had nothing. We had to stand on our own until we met each other.
Kathy: I think there’s something special about being in a confined area with women who don’t know your backstory, and the willingness to share your stories about your losses, your triumphs, the good times in your life and the bad times. In sharing, I felt like we all became stronger. We’re strong women that have had incredibly happy times, and incredible sadness, and I love that we all could share that with each other.
What subjects are lighting up the group chat these days?
Kathy: Our trip to St. Maarten in January.
April: [holds up a box containing an inflatable raft] Susan got us all one of these.
Kathy: We rented a condo. We’re going to have some fun in the sun.
April: I kind of see us as “Sex and the City.”
I assume you were all pretty familiar with “The Bachelor” before you signed up to do this show. What was the most surprising thing about being on the show?
Susan: For me, it was the bonding. Watching the younger [women on “The Bachelor’], it’s slightly more petty. They’re just not as mature as we are. It was really a big thing for me when I got there that they took all my electronics away. I had no phone, no iPad and we had nothing to do but get to know each other.
Nancy: That was refreshing to me. You’re totally present. That’s what afforded us the time when we could all be together and bond.
April: I was afraid because of all those young girls fighting. I thought, “These women might be vicious.” In retrospect now, I really see how we were all triggered at moments about our past. You saw Nancy crying in the wedding dress. I’m even thinking about Gerry right now, maybe he was triggered because when you get married to someone else, you really do bury the past.
Kathy: My husband died after we were married almost 46 years. I don’t bury the past. I take every relationship, every event, and it’s an opportunity for growth. Gerry wasn’t my guy but I hope to have a second chance at love. I will take with me the experiences from my marriage.
Susan: I think what she’s saying is you’re not going to go and start a relationship and get married to somebody and dwell on your past.
April: There’s an aspect of letting go. That for me is a big step into healing. One of the things that I realized from the show was meeting all these women and hearing their stories — I knew that we were all strong, vibrant women with a zest for life and humor. We have things to say.
Nancy: Just FYI, we are all still looking. I’m still waiting on Colin Firth. He’s still single.
I was going to ask about that. Have people been sliding into your DMs?
Kathy: I literally had a 32-year-old guy reach out to me. And I said, “How old are you?” And he said, “How old do you think I am?” I said, “Oh, no, we’re not playing this game.” He said, “I’m 32 and I said, “I have children older than you.” “I like older women.” I said, “Not me. Adios! See you later.”
Susan: For me there’s not as many men as there are people sharing their stories. It’s like, “You’re giving me hope.” That is the best message of all.
Kathy: We have all had so many people reach out. My neighbor is fighting cancer. I didn’t even know that. She said, “Kathy, watching the show has given me a reprieve from what I’m dealing with.” I’ve had people come up to me in the airport. Most, believe it or not, are 20- and 30- somethings. They say, “You’re [all] so wise and funny and give us hope for the future.”
Nancy: We would like to use this as a platform for good and helping other people realize that there’s hope.
It seems like people are responding to the show because it’s exciting to see older people portrayed as full human beings on TV, especially older women.
Kathy: We are not invisible. My joke was calling people “yousta.” I yousta play golf. I yousta play tennis. Now I sit on the couch. And the message, for me, is get up off the sofa. You only have one chance to go around in this world. So grab every opportunity. I think the four of us — and really every woman in that house — portrayed that.
Would any of you have been willing to move to Indiana if it worked out with Gerry?
Susan: I don’t think anyone wants to move into a home that he and his wife had. You’d have to have a new, fresh start.
Kathy: The truth is all of us have children and grandchildren. I don’t think, in my opinion, it’s realistic. I have two children who live here in Austin with me and I have two grandchildren. That’s what airplanes are for. But I don’t think any of us were moving to the pond in Indiana full-time.
Nancy: [to April] I loved it when you said, “I don’t know if I could see myself walking to the mailbox in Indiana and then looking around and going, ‘Where do I go for Botox?’”
Fans have noticed that Gerry seems to prefer brunets to blonds. What is your take on that?
April: Every human has a type. We all carry a basket in our mind of what we think we would like. Susan went further than us and she has dark hair, of course.
Susan: I made him laugh.
April: She made him comfortable. I made him nervous. I think I intimidated him a little.
Kathy: We’ve got to give Gerry a break here. He had 22 women. I should live so long to have me in a room of 22 guys to pick from.
April: I would play them like an ace. I’d have them spinning.
Susan: I would probably fall in love with more than one.
Kathy: It didn’t take long before the four of us really realized that Gerry was a nice guy but probably not our guy. When we were up late and the RA was giving us a hard time, one of the things we talked about was the fact that only one woman was going to walk away with Gerry’s heart. We all agreed that there were three or four women that we could see were very invested in Gerry. I said, “Some of these women are going to get a broken heart and that’s not going to be fun.”
Susan: When I first met him, I looked into his eyes. He had very beautiful blue eyes. He was very present in the conversation. I thought, “I hope to spend some time with this man. I would like to see where this goes.” But we never had that time.
Nancy: Maybe everybody [should] get a one-on-one date. That’s the only way you can have an inkling of, “Could this be the guy?”
Kathy: It’s a show for entertainment. But it’s also a show about finding love and sometimes it’s hard to balance those two.
How have your families responded to the show?
April: My family was petrified because I am crazy when I’m in love. They’ve seen me in love and it gets really bizarre. But since I wasn’t that connected to Gerry, they were very pleased I was very ladylike. It’s been emotional lately. For me, this show has brought out a lot of things that are unhealed still or that I’m still grieving. I live to be healed. I live to learn lessons.
Susan: April learned how to have girlfriends.
April: I never had any girlfriends. I have not had women love me. My mother was mentally ill. I got married and had my children. I had my own team.
Nancy: I don’t have grandchildren, but I have three children. They have always seen me as Mom. I went on the show with their support. And all of a sudden they’ve seen me in a new light — she’s not just Mom, she’s doing things out of her comfort zone. She is putting herself out there. For all our kids, it might be a new perspective.
April: Kathy and Susan live the life I would like to live. They’re much more socially active. Susan goes for it. If someone called her tonight and said can you be on a plane to Vegas at 1 a.m., she’d be packed.
Kathy: What my kids all said to me, I think they had the fortunetelling ability because they said, “Mom, we hope you come out of this having had a great adventure, and meet some wonderful friends.” I’m here to tell you I came away from that mansion with some incredible friends. You’re looking at ‘em right here. That’s not something that you can manufacture.
Susan: My daughter is my biggest supporter. My son was appalled. Then my opening [line] with the six inches [Susan made a risque joke about her high heels, saying she was “comfortable” with six inches]. He’s like, “Mom, you should think, will my son like this statement?” I go, “Do you really think that I think about what comes out of my mouth?’
April: I would like to end by giving you guys all the blessings. [welling up with tears, hands in prayer] You are God’s child. Great things happen to you. Nothing can stop it. And so it is. [blows a kiss with both hands]
Nancy: Meredith, are you busy in January?
Kathy: Susan, I’m telling you now, you are wearing a top on your bikini [in St. Maarten].
Susan: I go there all the time and I stay on the French side for a reason.
Kathy: I don’t care if it’s French, Dutch or Romanesque, I’m going to wear a bathing suit top.
Susan: I’m not telling you what to do! To me, it’s about the freedom. It’s not a pretty thing. Trust me, I’m 66. It’s a free-feeling thing that I enjoy.
Kathy: Wave a flag for freedom. Put on a bathing suit!