I have been a faithful watcher of The Bachelor (and all of its attendant spinoffs) for over nine years. NINE YEARS! The first season I watched all the way through was Jake Pavelka’s, way back in 2010 (and here’s proof! I covered that season and subsequent seasons on my old reality TV blog, TubeTopix, and later, for money, on Previously.tv). And boy, have these past nine years been a journey. But as we come out of this latest season of The Bachelor and gird our collective loins for the coming onslaught of The Bachelorette, featuring one of the least articulate candidates for marriage to have ever graced our television screens, I find myself wondering if I can keep watching this show.
There have been approximately 500 think-pieces written about why The Bachelor is bad, misogynist, hokey, ageist, white-washed, and just plain awful, and listen, I ONE-THOUSAND PERCENT AGREE with all of those assessments. This franchise is TERRIBLE. The values the show promotes are retrograde and sexist. (This season, for example, the lead, Colton, asked the fathers of the four grown women he was pursuing for “permission” to marry their daughters. Putting aside the fact that he was making the same request to four different men, what outmoded notion of “respect” does he subscribe to in which the desires and autonomy of the women he’s dating come second to the preferences of their fathers?). The storylines the show sells are fake to their core, and the idea of romance that it peddles is, frankly, creepy. (Rose petals scattered on beds, bubbling hot-tubs, slow-dancing on platforms while being ogled by strangers). Let’s be clear: I very deeply dislike and mistrust this show. However, I keep on watching it.
…But should I?
Here is the point where I could write my own lengthy think-piece about why I watch The Bachelor and any number of other “dating” reality shows. Apart from pure, unadulterated Schadenfreude, I think one of the main reasons I continue to watch is because these shows are fascinating anthropological experiments. It’s interesting seeing what people will do on camera when they’ve convinced themselves that “love” is a prize to be won, how people will contort themselves into their idea of what an ideal partner should be, how quickly people (read: women) will subvert their own desires and agency to “win” whatever man they’ve been told they’re supposed to want to marry. It’s not good, any of this, or admirable. But it is interesting, especially for a smug, married lady like me. But now that I no longer have the excuse of watching this “professionally” (since I no longer receive cash-money to recap the show), I find myself questioning more and more whether I should be continuing to support its popularity and, honestly, wasting my own time on what has become a sub-optimal viewing experience.
This coming season of The Bachelorette, in particular, is posing a real challenge for me. For those of you who haven’t been keeping up with the latest news out of Bachelor Nation, the newly crowned Bachelorette is one Hannah B., a 23-year-old pageant queen from Alabama who, God bless her, does not talk good. The woman cannot string a sentence together without flailing like a fish thrown onto the shore. She seems wild-eyed and unhinged in a way that could make for good television, but could also signal a lack of ability to carry a show like this.
But my biggest issue with the new Bachelorette is that Hannah B. is twenty-three years old. Serious question: how many twenty-three-year-olds do you know that are actually ready to get married? I’m willing to guess zero, unless you live in a religious community of some sort. And Hannah B., pardon me, does not strike me as a particularly “old soul.” Which is FINE. But, like, why are we watching this chick date a bunch of dudes when we all know that she’s not actually going to marry any of them? The entire premise of the show is that the lead is supposed to pick a life partner from among the contestants. And yes, the show’s track record at creating successful pairings is dismal. But the prospect of an engagement at the end of the season at least adds some sense of stakes to the endeavor, and an engagement, however ill-advised, is far more believable if the people involved are not fresh out of college, or pageant school, or whatever it is Hannah’s been doing for the last five years since she reached voting age. It’s just silly. Even as someone who actively hate-watches this show, I need there to be something I can hang my hat on. In past seasons, I have loathed various leads and contestants, but there was, crucially, a sense of mystery involved about the outcome.
But now, things in this franchise feel even more artificial than ever before (and that’s saying something). For one thing, the women on this past season of The Bachelor were so very young. The woman who ended up “winning” Colton in the end, Cassie, is also twenty-three. She expressed numerous times throughout the course of the show that she was not sure she was ready for a commitment. And, sure enough, in the end, she and Colton ended up just… agreeing to date. Which is sensible. But not that interesting. Also, many of the contestants on this past season were obviously on the show in a bid to launch careers as social media influencers. One of the final three women, Hannah G., actually IS an Instagram influencer. Like, that’s her job. It strains credulity to think she came on this show to “find love.”
What this past season made me realize is that earnestness among the contestants is a key component for a successful Bachelor season. They can be idiots, and delusional, and mean, and vapid, but as long as they’re mostly earnest, I’ll watch, because the show feeds into my anthropological curiosity. But if the contestants are just a bunch of pretty people trying to up their followers, I’m out. And I fear that this coming season of The Bachelorette is going to be more of the same.
Are any of you watching this show? Do you agree that it’s gone downhill or has it always been boring and I’m just now cottoning on to it?