WSOP 2015: What's real in a time of love in a time of war
Eugene Katchalov was supposed to be The Bachelor. Not a bachelor. He was supposed to be The Bachelor on the Ukranian version of the popular TV show. A native of Ukraine, Katchalov's poker superstardom made him a bit of a national hero. And, well, he was single. It was sort of a no-brainer.
So, off he went to Ukraine where producers--a breed of human more fickle than any woman ever--tested him for ability to be The Bachelor. It turns out, he's not very good at the whole bachelorhood thing.
That is not to say he couldn't be a very good reality star. After all, he's ridiculously smart, has spent days on television, and has the face of an actor. It is to say, however, that being a bachelor wasn't in his future.
Among the female contestants of the show (and for the purposes of the story we're just ignoring the ridiculous conceit that a woman should compete for a man) was a young woman named Anna. When producers asked her which of the men they should pick to be The Bachelor, she picked Katchalov. The producers, as they are wont to do, ignored the best possible advice and picked some other dude.
By and by, Anna "won" the show, which--surprise!--didn't translate to true love or anything like it. It made her a Ukrainian celebrity but left her with a guy in whom she had no interest at all.
"Absolutely nothing," Katchalov said with a smile.
If you know how love stories work, you know where this is going. The thing is, this love story is happening not too far from one of the bigger political crises the world has seen in many years, a thing that screams "reality" every day.
Anna's family comes from Kharkiv, the second largest city in Ukraine, one very, very close to the Russian border
"It's only 60-70 miles from the war zone," Katchalov said.
The Ukrainian economy is in trouble. The conflict with Russia remains as tense as it has been. Eastern Ukrainians are packing their cars and heading west. Meanwhile, Anna's family and friends remain in Kharkiv.
"Obviously everyone is scared that the war is going to move there," Katchalov said. "It's scary because her family is there. That's all that they know."
While the tension may be taut, while the economy may be frightening, love abides.
Anna and Katchalov have mutual friends who sensed some electricity. They offered to make an introduction. After a month or so of chatting, the poker player and the reluctant bachelorette met up. If you're wondering what that noise is...it's love, love so brilliant and real it's put them on the cover of the tabloids.
Katchalov has never been in a relationship so serious. It's evolved so fast--they travel almost everywhere together, including to Katchalov's first day here at the 2015 WSOP Main Event--Katchalov still smiles in surprise.
"She understands the emotional highs and lows of poker," he said. "It's very hard for an outsider to know what you go through, because it's the total opposite of a normal job."
Officially, Katchalov is still a bachelor, but he is no longer an eligible one. How long that lasts? Well, the reality show producers don't have any control over that. True love can't be story-boarded, nor can it be blogged. We'll just have to wait and see what's next for the couple that's making its own reality far away from reality TV. The mystery of love? Well, that's the most real thing in the world.
Brad Willis is the PokerStars Head of Blogging. Photos by Jayne Furman of PokerPhotoArchive.