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The Scarlet & Black

Alum Charlie Eddy ’16 appears on Irkutsk’s “A Free Heart”: Siberian women fight for Eddy’s heart


For fans of “The Bachelor” who find last season’s Ben Higgins too boring and next season’s Nick Viall too desperate, Grinnell’s own Charlie Eddy ’16 offers a different sort of bachelor to fawn over. The campus was abuzz last week with news that Eddy, who graduated in May with a degree in Russian, has resurfaced in Irkutsk, Russia — as the star of a Bachelor-like reality TV show called “Svobodnoye Serdtse,” or “A Free Heart.” Clips from the program available on Youtube and Instagram show Eddy getting a makeover, jamming on the balalaika and bestowing flowers upon his lucky contestants, 11 local Irkutsk women vying to be his wife. These videos are circulating among students, faculty and staff alike — even those who have never seen the bachelor before — all eager to see more and more of Eddy’s search for love.

“We’d heard a rumor here and there, but it seemed kind of preposterous,” said Professor Todd Armstrong, Russian, on how he learned of Eddy’s TV gig. “Patrick [Armstrong ’18] forwarded me the Instagram, and that’s when it broke in the department. We shared it around, and everybody was watching it — that was on Wednesday. By Friday I had students sending me all the clips.”

The video clips are available on the Instagram and Youtube accounts for ‘Utrenniy Kokteyl’ or “Morning Cocktail,” a daytime television program in Irkutsk that features “A Free Heart.” Thus far, four segments are available on Youtube, with more forthcoming as Eddy continues to narrow down his choice of mate.

As convincing as the reality show may seem, Eddy likely got the gig through his experience in Russian theatre. Last year, Eddy received the John Mohan Russian Study Award, a grant that allows Russian majors to pursue study in the Russian-speaking world while at Grinnell or after graduation. Eddy used his award to study at the Raikin Conservatory for Performing Arts in Moscow, an exclusive acting school to which he was invited. This followed his study abroad experience at the Moscow Art Theatre during his third year, where he studied performing arts.

“I think he had established some contacts in Moscow … through the acting world and through the theatre world,” Armstrong said. “In Russia, the theatre world is very small — everybody knows everybody. I don’t know how he got invited or recruited for this role, but clearly it worked, and it took off.”

Although Eddy was originally established in Moscow, Irkutsk — where the show takes place — is a very different city. 2,600 miles and five time zones east of Moscow, Irkutsk is set firmly in Siberia, where Russia’s European and Asian influences meet.

“While [Irkutsk] has a traditional Russian culture, it also has a unique cultural context,” Armstrong said. “It’s remote, so it has a less western feel to it. It’s not Moscow, it’s not the center of Russian culture. It is provincial, and in Russia, provincial means something different than in America.”

Stella Gatzke ’17, a Russian major who spent a semester abroad in Irkutsk via the Middlebury School in Russia, was also able to shed some light on Irkutsk’s cultural context.

“It’s not European at all. It’s in the middle of Russia and towards Mongolia. You can definitely see that Asian influence,” Gatzke said. “They always say that Russia is 90 percent white people, but there were a lot of Korean immigrants and Chinese immigrants. It wasn’t anything like St. Petersburg and Moscow.”

When watching clips from “A Free Heart,” Gatzke especially noticed the evident Russian gender roles playing out between Eddy and the contestants.

“Gender roles were the main thing that jumped out at me,” she said. “Russian gender roles are a lot more traditional than ours are. It’s the woman’s job to find a man. There are actually a lot more women than men in Russia … but dating shows like that are pretty popular. My host had one that she liked to watch with me.”

Armstrong also picked up on the traditional Russian gender roles at play in the show, noting that the depiction was likely a combination of Russian culture and the nature of reality dating shows.

“It really does play into our gender stereotypes about Russian women and Russian men and those relationships,” Armstrong said. “You know, they’re all feeding him, they’re all singing to him. All of those things, which are kind of schmaltzy from our perspective, are sort of normal there — although they probably appear schmaltzy there too.”

Despite Eddy’s unique use of his Russian major, the department is thrilled with his success and hopes to use “A Free Heart” and Eddy’s connections in Russia to strengthen Grinnell’s Russian program.

“What the Russian SEPC would like to do is to set up a couple of public viewings,” Armstrong said. “Especially if we get to where he’s choosing [his wife] — everybody wants to know. We’re also showing clips in our classrooms because it’s great language exposure, the context is very clear. Students can see some language in action in a really unique way, so it’s a really exciting moment for us as a department.”

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