Understanding the case for Anna over Summer requires comparing the two young ladies outside of Seth Cohen’s orbit.
The OC’s production creates a framing bias – viewers see the two young women on Summer’s home turf and through Seth’s eyes. Furthermore, both Summer and Anna are at their worst when they’re competing for Seth – when they’re vulnerable and lack confidence. The audience, however, has the privilege of witnessing Summer regain her swag, but not Anna.
As an 11th grader, Seth remembered Summer’s 3rd grade sympathy for hungry squirrels and could recite Summer’s 6th grade poem entitled “I Wish I was a Mermaid” on command. Despite my best efforts, I cannot not like her. This double-negative was spoken in the days when Seth’s relationship with Summer solely entailed receiving verbal abuse. So you really like Summer? Seth’s response: Since I was 10.
Anna edited a literary magazine, shared Seth’s interest in comic books, challenged Seth’s witty banter with her own, and had the morals, intellectual curiosity, and confidence to corner Caleb Nichol in his own house about the ethics of destroying local wetlands for real estate development. Anna and Seth were a fit. Anna and Seth were logic.
But love isn’t always about logic. For seven formational years, Seth would picture Summer’s face every time he heard a love song, read a story with a moving romance, or fantasized about his own romances. Summer was cooler than Seth. And more attractive. And unattainable for so long.
Seth was right to choose Summer. He was right to eschew logic. Because Summer drove him crazy like Anna never could. To Seth, Summer was about guile, pride, drama, and glamour – a mix that, while not ideal for stability, leads to magical moments. And who cares about stability in high school? In Anna, Seth would have locked down an amazing girlfriend. In Summer, Seth achieved a dream.
Beyond Seth’s Orbit
Seth was always going to choose Summer. But, in an alternate universe where Seth had never had a crush on either young lady prior to his seventeenth birthday – a world in which Summer’s status as Seth’s boyhood crush did not grant her first mover advantage – Anna would be the consensus choice.
The bounce to her step, her reactionary facial expressions and head bobs, and the eye contact she makes when she smiles wide underscore Anna’s contagious positive energy. And through her multifaceted style, this energy bubbles to the surface. She sports a hip haircut, coordinates her outfits, and accessorizes phenomenally. In school she preps out. Out of school she rocks tees. And her cocktail gowns are classy with character.
She’s unashamed about flossing at school in the middle of the day and proud to share study habits, recall knowledge about bacteria, and use the word “anathema” in casual conversation. Outside of intellectual settings, she’s quick enough to keep up with both Seth’s sarcasm…
Seth (on Thanksgiving): “Marshmallows and cornflakes, suddenly I’m not so happy to be eating.”
Anna: “Well, then all you’ll be eating are your words.”
… and Summer’s condescending insults.
Seth (in Biology class): “Anna just sailed to Tajiti!”
Summer (to Seth and Anna): “Sailing is, like, soooo not the fastest way to get anywhere… I mean, if you had flown you woulda gotten there a lot sooner.”
Anna: “You should be on the Debate Team.”
But what’s more impressive than how she responds is how she creates. When she kisses Seth for the first time at the school carnival, it’s a calculated surprise that shocks everyone (in a good way), Seth more than anyone. When Seth leaves her alone in his room at Thanksgiving, she carpes the diem by playing jenga with Captain Oats (Seth’s toy horse).
Anchoring and directing Anna’s energy is her innate sense of right and wrong. She’s not obsessed with being cool and dresses to package herself as attractive and artistic, not to look hot in a slutty way. She’s humble, good natured, and grounded in reality.
Summer (to Marisa): “What the hell is Seth Cohen doing with Tinker Bell? She’s from Pittsburgh! That’s, like, the 909 of the East!”
…and her obliviousness to foot-in-her-mouth moments that makes a man want to harness her passion – interpret those ‘rage blackouts’…
Seth (in Mexico before they were dating): “Admit it, Summer. Our chemistry is undeniable.”
Summer: “You know what else is undeniable? The pain this fork is gonna cause when I jam it into your eye!”
… as a quirky byproduct of an enchanting young lady brimming with excitement. She’s both intentionally and unintentionally hilarious – at Casino Night, because she’s superstitious, she forces Seth to blow on her dice all night and calls him “Rabbit Foot” because she neither knows nor cares about his real name.
But, unless you’re Seth Cohen, I see only two logical reasons a man might choose Summer over Anna:
1.) The man finds Summer far more physically attractive.
2.) The man is drawn to the fact that Summer needs him more than Anna does.
The show does not frame Seth’s decision as physically driven, and both ladies are extremely attractive, so reason (1) should not carry too much weight for the general public. But reason (2) is more substantive. A lot of men might admire a young lady as confident and put together as Anna, but might not see her as a compatible partner. Many men value the give as well as the take requisite for most healthy relationships; and, the barrier to enhancing Summer’s life is far lower than the one to improving Anna’s. While Summer is a bully on the surface, she’s a receptive audience. She listens to what Anna has to say about flossing and bacteria, and she expresses gratitude after Anna teaches her acronyms for biology class.
While the two caveats above might steer some towards Summer, Anna is the superior choice for the majority of men. Summer simply requires too much patience. Anna sailed to Tajiti, but sleeping on a couch is beneath Summer. Summer storms away when she’s losing an argument. She lies about being a virgin to her best friend, Marisa, and she dresses cookie-cutter hot – either expensive or slutty. As a seventeen year-old, she networks at cocktail parties, cornering the rich older men to pretend she’s interested in their jobs while making sure her low-cut top is well displayed.
Summer is the prom princess, whereas Anna is the young woman former classmates see at the 5th reunion and wonder how she flew under the radar in high school. Anna’s the diamond in the rough that shines far brighter than the manufactured plastic beads jumping out at you from store windows – but obtaining that diamond requires (a) finding and (b) knowing what a diamond looks like outside of a jewelry store.