Written by Kelsey Duchesne
My relationship with The Bachelor began as a secret. I couldn’t quite figure out why I liked it so much, because when looking at the show's surface, it seems like something I would absolutely hate. A bunch of ladies pining over one dude? Pass. The prize is a promise to marry someone you’ve known for 3 months (but have only seen them for a fraction of that time in front of cameras?) Pass. They never actually eat the food on their dates? A HARD pass. Yet every time I watched an episode (because I was bored or folding laundry or excuses, excuses, excuses) I was hooked. I was mesmerized. I would scream at the television “Don’t share your personal tragedy yet! It’s not time!” Or “She’s not here for you, Sean!”
For those of you who have been able to ignore the phenomenon (to which I'm genuinely impressed), The Bachelor is a reality television series about a man (or woman- let's not forget The Bachelorette) trying to find (fame. or--) true love. He does this by moving into Bachelor Mansion, meeting 25-30 women, and sending a few home each week in an extremely dramatic fashion (there are lots of crying-in-limo scenes.) During this time they travel to tropical beaches, attend bizarrely intimate concerts, and stare off into a sunset while revealing their deepest insecurities. In the end, the Bachelor can only choose one winner, who he can ask to marry or continue to date. The formula is simple, and the results are pure magic. Today I will break down the Bachelor (the good, the bad, and the ugly) and help you answer the question you've always (okay, maybe not always) wondered: Should I be watching the Bachelor?!
FIRST OF ALL: IT’S NOT ABOUT LOVE- IT’S ABOUT THE GAME.
The reality of The Bachelor (and Bachelorette) is well known: love is the exception, not the rule. In the 30 seasons The Bachelor and Bachelorette have been on television, only 6 couples are still together. And when you think about it, that number should amaze you! Two people who met on live television and spoke to each other formally in front of a camera and didn’t eat or have sex or talk about their favorite TV shows got married and are still together? Incredible! This is why you shouldn’t see it as a show about love, but how long you can last.
The Bachelor is a game. It is a fight for air time, a whirlpool of psychological torment, all coated with a layer of sexual tension. It’s a game! There is only one winner! Every person on the show knows this because they have purposely signed up for a television program where only one person will be claimed victorious. They have basically invited you to watch them perform, and dammit, here you are.
STRATEGY IS EVERYTHING
A seasoned Bachelor fan like myself will tell you: you can’t just win The Bachelor by being a nice, chill girl he can just “hang” with like one of the boys (but is of course also very beautiful and smart and interesting. Essentially, what every girl is expected to be always.) No! Likeability and being attractive is only a small fraction of what you need to win the Bachelor. The contestants come in at an even playing field: they are all hot. They are (almost) always charming. They have ombre hair. If you really want to win the Bachelor, you have to study the game and find the best course of action. For example, on last week's episode, Leah decides she's going to use her PRECIOUS 1-on-1 time with Ben to complain about how Lauren B. is “fake in the house.” Cue eyeroll (also not to be petty, but she was lying.) To the outside eye, this may seem like good move- play the victim card, right? WRONG. DO NOT USE YOUR TIME TO TALK ABOUT HOW ANOTHER GIRL IS NOT HERE FOR THE RIGHT REASONS. YOU WILL GO HOME. I screamed this at the television, but Leah persisted, even showing up to Ben’s hotel room to continue the discussion. Note to future contestants: THIS IS HOW THE PRODUCERS TRAP YOU. After more complaining about Lauren B., Ben politely asked her to leave his hotel room, and, um, the show altogether. It’s textbook. It’s classic. And Leah would have known this if she learned the strategy (which is especially easy to do if you make it into a drinking game).
THE PRODUCERS ARE EVIL GENIUSES
In the last several years of The Bachelor, the tone has noticeably changed. It was around the time when viral moments became popular, and content became easy to share. The Bachelor stopped taking itself so seriously, and you realized the beautiful truth: these people are in on the joke. The beauty of The Bachelor (and the team that creates it), is that they are entirely aware of what everyone thinks. They are so self aware, in fact, that they will completely set up a scenario or joke for you. They get to be the creator and the butt of the joke, almost as if to say “Yeah, we get that this is pretty silly, but you’re loving it, right?”
In a recent episode, Bachelor Ben and his girl gang are in the beautiful Bahamas, cruising in a sailboat, with their ombre hair flowing in the wind. Ben then tells them what is in store for them: they will be feeding island pigs. (Repeating for emphasis: feeding island pigs.) As Ben explained to the women how to protect themselves from the pigs if they get too friendly (arms crossed across your chest), I squealed with the delight of an island pig preparing to feast. Who thought of this?! What beautiful person decided to pitch this date idea? As Ben tried to have “meaningful” conversation with the women, the giant island pigs waded and swam in the distance. I clapped as the date came to an end. The Bachelor has become increasingly goofy, and continues to create scenarios that they know people will write and talk about. Ahem.
IT IS THE ULTIMATE SOCIAL EXPERIMENT
The Bachelor is a breeding ground for bizarre relationships that I can’t get enough of. Two attractive people who think they're in love but have never spoken in private? Watching it. A group of women living in a beautiful house and becoming friends as they date the same man? Basically a younger/sexier Sister Wives and I’m WATCHING IT. Chris Harrison as the Dad-figure who checks on the kids in the finished basement? Cringing and, yes, watching it. The interpersonal relationships on the show are so suspended from reality, you simply can’t turn away.
THE TRUE SHOCK: YOU CARE ABOUT THESE PEOPLE
It’s a realization that every Bachelor fan experiences- you care about these weirdos! You have a favorite and you want him or her to find love! You watch a father get tearful on hometown dates and when he says “I just want what's best for you,” you nod and hold up your wine glass for a cheers. You’ve witnessed the progression of relationships, and despite how legitimate they may or may not be, you end up admitting to yourself that you actually want a satisfying conclusion. If anything, The Bachelor is an excellent example of well-crafted storytelling, and if you allow yourself to caught up in what's real and what's not real, you’re missing the point.
NOW, THE PROBLEMS THAT NEED SERIOUS FIXING...
(WAYYYY) TOO WHITE
The lack of racial diversity gets increasingly frustrating each season, a longtime criticism that the show chooses to ignore (note to casting: the 1-2 women/men of color on the show each season is not a valid fix.) At the beginning of each season, the contestants tend to blend together, and are difficult to identify as they all look, um, exactly the same. Do we really need 3 Laurens? 2 Ashleys? If we do, can they have some identifiable qualities to separate them? Last month, President of ABC Paul Lee responded to criticism and was quoted as saying “We're doing a whole lot of tweaks… I'd be very surprised if The Bachelorette in the summer isn't diverse. I think that's likely." Whether his statements are true remains to be seen, but I sincerely hope this necessary change is made. Ultimately, it will make such a better show.
OBVIOUS SEX SHAMING
The way that sex has been treated on the Bachelor is uncomfortably old fashioned, especially for a show about a guy dating 25 women. Up until Kaitlyn Bristowe’s season in 2015, sex was rarely discussed. It wasn't until the final 3 contestants get their overnight, no-cameras Fantasy Suite date, where sex is implied but still not referenced. It's always felt bizarre and ritualistic, and a way for the show to add some sort of sexy-element without actually being sex positive. When Kaitlyn had sex with contestant Nick Viall before the Fantasy Suite episode, the media went into a full-blown frenzy. Kaitlyn sobbed on camera, and the remaining contestants were furious. Kaitlyn’s choice to have consensual sex with a man she's dating became a scandal, but the reality is: men and women who are dating have sex, and the backlash is a reminder of how suspended from reality the show is.
Despite its flaws, I still have a sincere hope for the Bachelor, and I am still a dedicated viewer. I watch the show in the same spirit my Dad watches the New England Patriots- I talk strategy, evaluate the players, and shout at the TV when a play doesn’t go the way I planned. I see the Bachelor and Bachelorette as a self-aware mind game rather than a show that pits women against each other for the attention of a man. I am able to do this because I pay attention to the smaller moments with as much intensity as the dramatic ones- I see the contestants supporting each other, even though they are dating the same guy. I see women speaking up when they are not being heard or respected. I see women who are very focused on creating bonds with other contestants in the house, and others that have no interest in being liked. Spoiler: all of these types of women are okay. It makes for a more interesting program. In no way do I judge these women for being on The Bachelor- most often times, I am rooting for them.
As my Dad knows there are problems with the NFL desperately in need of fixing, I am aware that the Bachelor still has a lot of room to grow- but I’ll keep watching as it progresses. I will still identify as a feminist- a feminist who loves reality television- and that’s totally okay. (P.S. - Shout-out to my Dad, Jim! Did you ever think your love for the Patriots would be discussed in this format? Love you!)
I now leave the decision up to you- The Bachelor, yay or nay???