Movies + TV

Literally the Best Thing Ever: The Bachelor(ette)

There are real feelings here, in this unrealest of worlds.


Collage by Camille

Most Monday evenings, you can find me glued to the television, watching The Bachelor or The Bachelorette. If you’re not familiar with this franchise, these are the basics: One good-looking white person with nice teeth is chosen as the Bachelor or Bachelorette, and then 25 potential paramours for that person move into a giant McMansion together. The suitors and the Bachelor(ette) then go on a series of expensive, outlandish dates (repelling down the side of a building is a big one) and week by week, suitors are sent home by limousine. Eventually it comes down to two of these hopefuls, and the men left standing (whether they are the Bachelor or suitors of the Bachelorette) select engagement rings and a proposal is made. Then some dreamy music plays and we’re all supposed to believe that everyone lives happily ever after.

If this strikes you as a breathtakingly stupid way to go about finding a life partner, you’re right. Out of 26 seasons, only three of the “winning” couples got and stayed married. Lots of the “winning” couples get engaged, but so few of them follow through that it’s hard not to be cynical about the process. When I say hard, I mean impossible. And yet I am willing to devote many, many hours of my life to watching these shows, and every single time I find myself rooting for love to somehow conquer all.

Some of my friends find these shows deeply trashy and/or disturbing and/or insipid, but I disagree. They certainly stretch the definition of reality—the contestants’ jobs, for example, are usually listed chronically as “dental student,” “cocktail waitress,” “bridal stylist,” and the like, which seem totally made-up, especially when applied to people whose perfect teeth, cheekbones, and abs (not to mention their willingness to “find a life partner” via televised competition) betray more-showbizzy aspirations. On the other hand, those do seem like plausible day jobs for aspiring young actors and spokesmodels. And I will concede that most of them could really use a thesaurus—I would love for someone to count the number of times per episode people say “amazing” and “awesome”—but they’re also just people making small talk over and over again with a group of strangers. I think we all fall into lazy speech patterns in situations like that. As for whether The Bachelor and The Bachelorette are “trashy” or “good,” I’ll admit that the scenes I loved most in War and Peace were the dinner parties, so judge me all you want, but I think this stuff is timeless gold, and here’s why.

1. Characters
As a fiction writer, there is nothing I love more than a good character. When I say “good,” please note that I don’t mean nice, or sweet, or someone I would like to spend time with. Good characters are complicated and unpredictable. The Bachelor is chock-full of such people—the weepers, the creepers, the sadsacks, the fakers! Take, for example, Kasey Kahl, a suitor of Ali Fedowsky in season six of The Bachelorette. On his first one-on-one date with Ali, Kasey did two things that will forever earn him a place in the franchise’s hall of fame: (1) He composed and sang an original song narrating the date, seemingly unaware of his utter lack of talent in such matters and of how awkward the moment would be…

…and then he got a six-inch tattoo in Ali’s honor.

At that point in the season, there were about a dozen men left. Can you imagine if you were dating 12 guys and one of them got a tattoo that signified that he was going to “guard and protect your heart”? You would call the police. So many people on this show possess a daffy lack of self-awareness that I sometimes envy—I was plagued by self-consciousness when I was their age, which is to say in my 20s, which was not long enough ago that I’ve conquered that beast. These guys always think they are coming off well, even when they are asking girls they have just met if they will “accept these abs.”

There is something about characters whose idea of themselves is so radically different from the way the rest of the world sees them that is totally fascinating (see: Hannah Horvath, Mindy Lahiri, Michael Scott, Kenny Powers). That’s why I continue to watch, even when the Bachelor or Bachelorette in question seems about as interesting as a lump on a log (Judd Apatow’s tweet about Bachelor Brad Womack: “He is the new Ron Burgundy. He has no sense of humor. Nothing he says is a joke ever.”). The show also occasionally spices up the cast with someone with an intriguing job—a funeral parlor director, a winemaker, a tailor/magician. Aren’t you curious about what those people are like? I am.

2. Making Short Term Choices
I believe that a small number of people who go on these shows do want to fall in love. They talk about their hopes and dreams, their “journeys,” incessantly. Despite this, The Bachelor will always, always, always forgo a seemingly stable/nice girl for the one with the most overt sex appeal. (In real life, of course, these qualities often coincide—but the producers of this franchise like their conflicts black-and-white.) Ben Flapjack (fine, his name is Ben Flajnik, but I like pancakes) picked a model that all the other women warned him against, a woman who took the opportunity to stage a mock wedding on one of their dates.

Bachelor Jason Mesnick chose one woman at the finale, about whom he would later tell Jimmy Kimmel, “the way she looked, I would say, was exactly what I was looking for,” then came to his senses (conveniently, right during the reunion special!) and traded her in for someone he seemed to have a real connection with. He and that second woman, Molly Malaney, are married now. They had their first baby four months ago.

I haven’t dated very many people, because I met my husband when I was 22, and I think part of the appeal of shows like this is the idea that one man or woman has all of these CHOICES literally lined up in front of them. They can choose capriciously (hair color is often the deciding factor) or carefully, based on conversations and dates that week, but they always get to choose. Whomever they don’t want to go out with anymore has to leave immediately, but everyone else hangs around and drinks some champagne. Do these choices mean that the Bachelor or Bachelorette will eventually find meaningful happiness and companionship with one of the contestants? Not likely. But it is interesting to watch people decide whom they think they might someday fall in love with, as if you can tell such things after a two-hour hang-gliding date. And hell! Sometimes you can!

3. The Unreality of Reality
The fact that there are zero people of color on these programs is not funny, nor does it reflect the population of our country. I’m exaggerating only slightly: There are usually two nonwhite suitors in the McMansion, but the Bachelors and Bachelorettes have always been white. That’s a divergence from actual reality that I do not enjoy.

But watching two people who just met go on a “first date” in which they fly in a helicopter over a volcano, swim with dolphins, and sip mimosas on the beach, and then watching them break down sobbing when they aren’t asked for a second date? That is strangely compelling to me. Not the actual tears, because it’s usually the rejected women who cry, and I find that sad! But the fact that obviously, since I’m assuming that most of these people are not highly skilled actors, they are having real feelings here, in this glaringly unreal world.

The Bachelor is a lot like The Truman Show. There are stories happening all the time, in every corner of these McMansions, and it is up to the editors and producers to make sure those stories are interesting enough to capture our attention and to make tabloid “news.” To that end, the producers set up every single date, procure the diamond rings, and even arrange evenings when the potential mates can have sex off camera. (These are the nights spent in the “Fantasy Suites,” which are actually just hotel rooms filled with enough candles to start a five-alarm fire.) The producers are in control, and the contestants are well-coiffed puppets, just playing their parts. It is crazy to me that anyone would submit themselves to this kind of treatment, but every season there are 25 more people excited to do just that. Do any these people truly think they’re falling in love? Would we all be just as easily manipulated in that context? If you flew over a volcano in a helicopter with someone and drank champagne with them by the ocean, would it matter that you didn’t know them very well? Or would you just say, Screw it, this is amazing and awesome and I am otherwise at a loss for words, and start making out like crazy?

4. The Fourth Wall, When Actual Reality Intervenes
Despite all that control from on high, sometimes tiny cracks develop where the real world can shine through. No matter how deftly the show is put together, these are actual human beings, and every now and then they behave as such. These are the moments I’m always waiting for. In season eight of The Bachelorette, Emily Maynard discovered that one of the final suitors had previously dated one of the show’s producers, a woman she had come to befriend. It was the type of situation that happens in real life—someone keeps a piece of information secret, and then the truth bubbles to the top after you’ve developed feelings for them.

My favorite moments on the Bachelor shows are the rarest ones of all: the ones where, against all odds and overwhelming evidence to the contrary, two people actually seem to fall in real love on television. It’s absurd, but love is absurd. My grandparents knew each other for mere weeks before they got married, and decades later, years after my grandmother’s death, my grandfather still referred to her as “my bride.” There is magic in the world. If someone can find that magic by going on TV, I give them my full blessing. ♦


  • Viaperson July 11th, 2013 3:15 PM

    I HAVE NEVER BEEN HAPPIER TO READ A POST ON THIS WEBSITE??????? Thanks for articulating the value of this gem of a tv show. The Bachelor/Bachelorette really is a fascinating reflection of our (oft-troubling) cultural perspective on love and relationships and if for no other reason than that, I think it’s worth watching and thinking about (ok, and relishing in).

    Also I am rooting so hard for Chris bye……….

  • JayKay July 11th, 2013 4:08 PM

    Has anyone watched Burning Love? By far the best bachelor/bachelorette/bachelor pad parody out there, and it can definitely be enjoyed while simultaneously enjoying the actual show. I highly recommend!

  • Chloe22 July 11th, 2013 4:27 PM

    Am I the only one who wonders how a group of about 26 women, chosen randomly, could be one man’s soul mate? It is a funny show though. I’m the type of person who won’t believe anything in a certain reality show, and still love it. Like I get all this garbage about enjoying Disney Channel shows. But my argument is, yeah! The typical high schooler does not walk out of the water with amnesia and end up on a movie set (Teen Beach Movie). That probably will never happen, on anyone part of this universe! Chances are, your best friend is not secretly a world famous pop star. But It;s just so hilarious, and not in an ironic way. I mean, does humor always have be realistic? And whenever people get emotional (unless it’s for a tragic or otherwise sad reason) I just laugh so hard. I am so not an OMG THIS MOMENT IS SO BEAUTIFUL I WILL CRY person. When they propose on Bachelor/Bachelorette, I just double over laughing.

  • alienbabe July 11th, 2013 4:38 PM

    I’ve never watched the Bachelorette but this made me strongly consider it.

  • Maggie July 11th, 2013 5:24 PM

    I have watched every season of the Bachelor[ette]. Few people know this about me (until now). Emma I really enjoyed your analysis of this complex and twisted show.

  • Weh July 12th, 2013 12:10 AM

    My infatuation for the bachelor was never able to develop beyond the first couple of episodes. I made the mistake of watching it in front of my first roommate. After rolling her eyes, she called it a horrid show and a couple days later looked at me (w/ zero sarcasm) and told me that wasn’t how the real world worked. That was the pyscho I lived w/ for 2 yrs. This comment went somewhere else…

  • Olive2525 July 12th, 2013 1:16 AM

    Thanks for addressing the absence of people of color on these reality shows which is why I don’t watch any of them, and will not watch any of them!

  • julalondon July 12th, 2013 2:27 AM

    Haha we have that show in germany too and i freakin love it because its so funny!!!=)

  • Sophie ❤ July 12th, 2013 7:00 AM

    I completely agree, and I loved the videos!

  • GlitterKitty July 12th, 2013 11:26 AM

    Oh yes preach it Emma. I watch it with my mom and my sister every Monday night! I love the cheesy fakeness of it!

  • NotReallyChristian July 15th, 2013 3:39 PM

    This reminds me of my all-time favourite reality show (even though it only ran for one series): BRIDALPLASTY. The concept was completely horrifying: a group of brides-to-be compete against each other in weekly challenges to win plastic surgeries, and each week vote off one of their competitors until there is a winner, who will win all the plastic surgeries on their ‘wish list’ so they can look ‘perfect’ for their wedding. The whole thing was awful, and yet an absolutely masterful portrayal of what women have become in today’s society: all of these women truly believed that having a number of painful, irreversible surgical procedures in order to look conventionally beautiful for one day of their lives would make them happy. And the SCHEMING involved was just incredible … seriously, it’s one of the best TV shows I’ve ever seen (if maybe not for the reasons it thought it might be).

  • sarahstyles13 August 8th, 2013 2:55 PM

    This is exactly why I love The Bachelor/Bachelorette! Great article x