We started this contest with 68 couples — a new record for Autostraddle March Madness — and then our A+ members stepped in and narrowed the field to 64. Then, we opened the voting up to our entire readership and, now, after six rounds of voting, we have our champion: congratulations to Maya Bishop and Carina DeLuca of Station 19, our favorite set of Trope-Y Wives. Or maybe we should officially dub them “Trophy Wives” because it’s the second year in a row that the Station 19 ship has taken home our March Madness crown.
Every year, I build our competition about a theme and, this year, it was built around the tropes that have been the bedrock of some of our favorite stories. What pushed these two characters together? What made them enchanting to watch? What made you want to cheer for them, as a viewer? This year’s four regions — Forbidden Fruit, Enemies to Lovers, Opposites Attract and Friendship to Lovers — are really the foundation upon which so many queer ships are built. But even if these couples all start from a similar place, what sprouts up can be radically different but equally beautiful.
That is, if they’re given time. Because, that’s the advantage that Maya and Carina have in this contest, right? We’ve had time to see them grow as people, to grow together…to fall in love and to break each other’s hearts and to put them back together again. When Maya meets Carina at Joe’s, we know who Maya Bishop is. She puts her ambition ahead of everything else: ahead of her friendship with Andy, stealing the promotion that should’ve rightly been hers, and ahead of her relationship with Jack, abandoning him when he seemed like more of an impediment than an asset. The abuse she suffered as a child — though she only realizes its impact later — still drives her as an adult.
But Carina’s love changes her. It makes her see the world with new eyes. It makes her want to be better. So on the day where Carina needs her more than ever — when her brother’s in surgery after being stabbed — Maya’s there. Even though she’s the Captain and there’s an inspection that day. Even though there’s a four-alarm fire that’s sparked downtown. She’s there, steadying Carina’s shaking hands, as she tries to light a candle, listening as Carina talks about her bond with her brother, and celebrating with Carina when her brother pulls through the initial surgery.
Likewise, when we first meet Carina on Grey’s Anatomy, she’s non-committal. She has a relationship — with Arizona, with Owen — that it lasts until it exhausts its usefulness and then she moves on. She’s not looking for forever when she sits down next to Maya at Joe’s Bar, she’s just looking for right now. But slowly, she starts to shift and invests in her relationship with Maya despite her own misgivings…until one day, Carina ends up in front of Grey-Sloan, just before she’s slated to board a trip back to Italy, and she proposes to Maya.
“Marry me,” she pleads. “I know I’m a stubborn idiot and I don’t want to get married just because the government says we have to, and I still think marriage was invented to keep women as property, but I’d much rather do something that I don’t want to than lose you.”
And yes, it helps that these two actresses are beautiful and have electric, unparalled chemistry together…but it comes down to time. They’re on a show that hasn’t been forced to squash their romantic arc into one season. Every couple in this contest resonates with someone but we grow more connected with these characters the more time we spend with them and Station 19 has afforded that time to Maya and Carina. And so, of course, the fandom grows — and of course it wins contests like this — because fans are willing to invest in characters when those shows are willing to invest in those characters too. I wish other shows, networks and/or streaming services would take the lesson.
For the third year in a row, we incorporated a bracket challenge into this year’s March Madness. It was intended to be a way to integrate one of my favorite aspects of the NCAA tournament into our own competition but, honestly, it’s turned into a great way to rebuild my self-esteem when my NCAA bracket goes bust. I finished in the top ten again this year but finished just slightly behind my performance from last year. And, because of the best things about being in a bracket competition is competing with your friends, I’ll note that I came in first place among our TV Team…just barely edging out Carmen’s picks. It’s a small bit of consolation because in every other fantasy sports competition we participate in together — WNBA Fantasy, NCAA brackets, etc. — I end up finishing in second place just behind Heather. Finally, some vindication!
So, how did y’all do? Let’s check out our final leaderboard:
Despite having won last year’s competition, Maya and Carina were not favored to repeat: only two people — including “slay station 19,” our bracket competition winner — selected #Marina to win this year’s edition of March Madness. More people were convinced that Generation Q‘s Bette and Tina or A League of Their Own‘s Greta and Carson would come out on top. But it wasn’t just “slay station 19″‘s correct championship pick that won them this contest: our top two finishers were the only people in the entire competition who had both Maya and Carina and Emily and Sue among their Final Four and had Maya and Carina advancing to the championship round. Those decisions turned out to be the difference.
Before we bring Autostraddle March Madness 2023 to a close, a word of thanks:
Five years ago, I was just a few months into my tenure as a writer here when I pitched this idea to the editors. I knew it could work — Heather had shown me that it could work — but it was a big swing. It required an investment of both time and resources to make come to fruition. And, perhaps most of all: it required a lot of faith from the editors that I hadn’t really earned yet. But, by some miracle, they saw the vision and gave me a lot of latitude to bring it to reality…and now, we’ve five years into this thing we call Autostraddle March Madness.
It’s been so fun. Every year, we’re finding new ways to make the contest better — from adding international shows to the bracket challenge to expanding the field to creating eye-catching graphics — and this year, to make the contest fairer. Each and every year, it continues to be a big swing and each and every year, you make it worthwhile.
But this year, in particular, you really stepped up: both by participating in this contest in unprecedented numbers and by supporting the fundraiser to keep Autostraddle alive. Your support means that we can do this. Your support means I can afford to spend hours tracking down 68 participants for this contest and writing about all of them. It means that Viv can create some snazzy graphics and that our tech team can create a system less suspectible to spam voting. It means that Heather steps in whenever I faulter and do whatever needs to be done. It means that Carmen can oversee it all and keep us focused on the vision. It’s truly a team effort. It’s a big swing…and the big swings aren’t possible without you…so, thank you.
Let’s do this again next year, shall we? That is, unless I can figure out a way to turn the Women’s World Cup into pre-text for another fandom competition.