2019 truly was a simpler time.
We'd never heard the word "coronavirus," masks were largely limited to Halloween or weird Eyes Wide Shut parties and no one was shell-shocked from nine months of limited human contact. No, those naïve inhabitants of 2019 were instead consumed with a commercial for a stationary exercise bike and its retrograde gender politics. We couldn't stop talking about the Peloton Wife.
Like we said, a simpler time.
For those whose brains have understandably pushed out all recollection of the firestorm this commercial started in early December last year—because, you know, 2020's thrown a lot at those precious operating systems of ours—allow us to refresh your memory.
Just in time for the holiday gift-giving season, the luxury tech-fitness brand Peloton released a commercial titled "The Gift That Gives Back," featuring our nameless and exceptionally fit heroine as she received one of the stationary bikes from her husband for Christmas. In the spot, she chronicles a year's worth of workouts via video diary, which she presents to her husband as a gift of his own.
Backlash to the ad was swift, as critics swarmed social media with accusations of sexism and sizeism. As one Twitter user cracked, "Nothing says 'maybe you should lose a few pounds' like gifting your already rail thin life partner a Peloton."
Escalating matters was a savvy Ryan Reynolds, who capitalized on the public furor by tracking down the actress who played Peloton Wife and casting her in a new commercial for his liquor company, Aviation Gin. The ad's storyline seemed to be a direct continuation of the earlier commercial. With the camera trained on her traumatized face, it pulls back to reveal two friends sitting alongside her, watching with concern.
After Peloton Wife remarks, "This gin is really smooth," her friends tell her "You're safe here" and "You look great, by the way!"
The actress playing Peloton Wife was soon identified as Monica Ruiz. In a Dec. 6 statement released to E! News, Ruiz said, "I was happy to accept a job opportunity earlier this year from Peloton and the team was lovely to work with. Although I'm an actress, I am not quite comfortable being in spotlight and I'm terrible on social media. So to say I was shocked and overwhelmed by the attention this week (especially the negative) is an understatement.
"When Ryan and his production team called about Aviation Gin, they helped me find some humor in the situation," she continued. "I am grateful to both Peloton and now Aviation Gin for the work and giving me the opportunity to do what I love to do."
In a subsequent appearance on the Today show, she told host Hoda Kotb she believed she was to blame for reaction to the initial commercial. "I mean, honestly, I think it was just my face. It was my fault. My eyebrows looked, like, worried, I guess," Ruiz said. "People were like, 'She looks scared.' I'm telling you: It was my face—that was my problem. It just exploded from there. She looks worried and I'm like, 'Oh no! My eyebrows—they moved!'"
Peloton was quick to defend the campaign. "We constantly hear from our members how their lives have been meaningfully and positively impacted after purchasing or being gifted a Peloton Bike or Tread, often in ways that surprise them," a spokesperson for the company said in a statement to CNN. "Our holiday spot was created to that fitness and wellness journey."
"While we're disappointed in how some have misinterpreted this commercial," the statement concluded, "we are encouraged by—and grateful for—the outpouring of support we've received from those who understand what we were trying to communicate."
Also defending the ad? Sean Hunter—aka Peloton Husband.
The actor appeared on GMA3: Strahan, Sara & Keke on Dec. 9, where he admitted he didn't see the backlash over a seemingly innocuous commercial coming. "It was a two-day shoot...I have one line...and we finished, and I just went back to my normal life... And then, boom, when it comes out, all this negative backlash. It blows me away," he said. "It's shocking, right? I kept watching it, trying to find where it was—what is negative about it? I don't know, I just don't know."
Hunter added that he felt he was being unfairly associated with the content of the ad itself. "People have to remember I'm the actor, this isn't who I am," he continued. "I'm a totally different person in real life. And you know, I'm a teacher. I teach children...My face is now the face of the patriarchy. It's so whoa, hold on a minute...slow your roll. That's not who I am. You have to differentiate the actor from the role and from the person."
Ultimately, it was Hunter who got the last laugh when, on Christmas Day, he revealed that he gifted girlfriend Cassidy Baras—what else?—a Peloton bike. "Here's hoping this goes over better the second time.... Merry Christmas to my actual girlfriend," he wrote on Instagram alongside photo of the couple posing with bike, before adding, "(pls don't leave me.)"
You know, just in case.
Sadly, that's exactly what happened. As Hunter told E! News one year later, "I'm unfortunately not with my girlfriend anymore, but she does have the Peloton and surely uses it! When I got it for her she was so stoked and used it a lot. Hopefully she didn't dump the bike when she dumped me."
He continued, "You most certainly can alert the world that @pelotonhusband is available, and should probably get a name change. The husband name might not be working."
The Peloton curse strikes again.