Why we aren’t doing The Bachelorverse anymore: we’re all out of critiques
My wife and I used to have a podcast. It was something that helped me briefly court a kind of understated fame, by which I mean we found out exactly two people who were not friends or family were listening to our show, and we had no idea how they found us. As far as I know, our poorly-mixed reality show recap could have playing in dozens of cars each Wednesday morning.
Our premise was more fun to come up with than to try to reliably execute, but we still had a great time: The Bachelorverse treated The Bachelor and it’s related shows the same way you would a comic book canon. Playing with the idea of the show as a constructed reality, we would try to figure out what did, or didn’t “really” happen within the Bachelor. We decided on a simple canon. The shows we considered “real” were The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, Bachelor in Paradise, the now-defunct Bachelor Pad, their instagrams, their appearences on Jimmy Kimmel, and the stuff that later aired on Freeform. Within this schtick, we operated as a married couple who made fun of the contestants, discussed their emotional intelligence (using the term even before it became infamous on Nick’s season), and critiqued racist and sexist elements of the show. We even got a friend, Andy Pokel, to do theme music for us. (find him on Bandcamp, where he and his wife Elise, a dear friend from Seminary, do an annual christmas album)
By accident, we started doing the show at the same time as Rose Buddies was starting up, hosted by legitimate Podcast star Griffin McElroy and his wife, Rachel. Their show also continued while the basic shows were off the air, expanding to other reality dating shows, while we only made new episodes to recap Bachelor episodes that were airing. Also, by accident, we stopped doing our show just after they made the pivot to doing Wonderful. I suspect that our reasons were similar.
As you may or may not know, Bachelor in Paradise was interrupted this season when allegations of sexual assault began to swarm on set between Corinne, a much-maligned member of the cast, and Demario, who had seen his own controversy during Rachel’s season. People had all kinds of hot takes on it, and it doesn’t need to be recapped here, but everyone agreed that it was very, very poorly handled. You can read about that breakdown for yourself, but what was clear was that ABC was interested in milking this for a bit of drama rather than working to ensure the safety of their cast. It led to a season that ended in a bizarre anti-climax, with Chris Harrison simply telling the cast it was time to go home.
The two of us have limited time in our weeks, and we like to spend a lot of time together. This podcast was something Melissa and I enjoyed doing, but we eventually realized it was taking more from us than it was giving, and that’s because:
The Bachelor is Bad TV
And not just “guilty pleasure” TV, it’s straight up bad. I’ve learned to appreciate certain elements of reality television, mostly by osmosis because it’s what Melissa watches when she just wants to relax. From our favorite HGTV shows, to reality cooking shows like Masterchef, to Keeping Up The Kardashians, reality TV depends on a formula that repeats certain story beats with enough variation to create distinct moments that stand out. Even if every episode of House Hunters follows the same, basic formula, down to some of the language used by the voice over, it’s still easy to remember this young pastor in Nashville, or that divorced mom in Portland. The repetition gives us a sense of comfort, and the diversity gives us a desire to see more.
The worst reality TV gives us endless repetition because they chose a boring subject, and then tries to pretend that’s not the case by insisting that what you are seeing on screen is actually very interesting. Houswives is among the worst iteration of this in my opinion. I watched it for an afternoon with Melissa (these particular housewives were from Beverly Hills) and over the course of four episodes, they talked about two topics: whether or not one of their cast really had Lyme’s disease (with an added dimension of who was the first to cast aspersions on her diagnosis), and a weird sparring match over the C-word that never went anywhere interesting. In middle school I loved Dragon Ball Z, but the main criticism of that show was that they’d spend episodes at a time just powering up. Let me tell you this, I’d rather watch ten episodes of Goku screaming at the camera, trying to power up, than have to see even one more flashback of Lisa Rinna trying to summarize the wikipedia page on Munchahusen’s.
The Bachelor takes this to another level entirely. To begin with, the episodes are two hours long, and often two nights a week. Even accounting for the fact that we used to watch them on Hulu, it was still an hour and half of viewing time per episode, longer if a lot of people were watching at the same time and we got a lot of commercials. This is fine, if the content of the show respects the time commitment it asks, but it doesn’t. The show constantly stretches itself to fill the time allotted to it, rehashing the same, weird conversations over and over again, and creating confessionals that sound like they were constructed through predictive text, if you only gave the AI the words “amazing” and “journey” and then fed a bunch of inspirational posters into it. Sometimes my phone would just appear in my hand out of nowhere. The drama that played out would be gone over again and again, until we had seen every angle of every minor spat. It was deeply boring.
But the show is supposed to have a formula. It goes like this: after little bit of preamble, there is a date, either group or 1 on 1, depending on where we are in the season. These usually involve typical reality show stuff: games and challenges for groups, fun activities for 1 on 1s that involve a trip to someplace strange and interesting. Then there’s usually a second date in the second half. In between there are shots of people left at the mansion or else discussing what’s going on, rehashing their drama, etc. At the end of the episode, there’s a Rose Ceremony, in which the Bacheloron (our chosen word for the Bachelor/Bachelorette)gives roses to the people they want to keep in the game. If you don’t get a rose, you go home.
This lasts for about an week or two at most before some dramatic event (heralded as the “most dramatic in Bachelor history” by Chris Harrison) pushes the Rose Ceremony into the start of the next episode in the interest of creating artificial suspense.
The show, in a word, is boring. The drama is stale, and even when it is interesting, it gets so driven into the ground by the desire to create a cast of heroes and villains that it feels like a marshmallow left in a cupboard all year. You might think it’s going to be a light-hearted distraction, no nutritional value, but maybe something to liven up your cocoa, and what you get is a hard to chew through nasty lump. Only this one wants four hours of your week.
The show knows it’s boring, which is why they regularly make fake trailers to entice you to watch. Trailers for the show often contain large stretches of material that never make it to air otherwise. Even worse, they sometimes use audio from different seasons to drum up interest, such as last year when they took an audio clip of someone saying “Are you pregnant?” and used it to promote an episode of Bachelor in Paradise in which a contestant was planning to have sex for the first time. The resulting show contained neither sex nor a pregnancy scare. The other way you know it knows it’s boring is because:
The Bachelor Uses dangerous or distasteful moments for entertainment
The situation with Corinne and Demario revealed a lot about certain elements of the show. Reportedly, there was one producer who insisted the staff put a stop to what they were doing before it went any farther, but there’s also a question of how Corinne got so drunk to begin with. It’s clear that she was over-served by series mainstay Jorge, who did not resume his duties as bartender when the show came back. But this isn’t the first time the show has dipped into unsavory territory.
The first thing that comes to mind for me is Chad, who was cast in the role of douchey villain during Jojo’s season. In reality, Chad was a terrifying man convinced of his right to dominate everything he saw before him. When he was finally sent home, there were promo shots of him hiking back to the house where the other men were staying, presumably to follow up on some of the threats of violence he had made earlier in the season.
ABC saw him a magnet for drama, and thus, ratings, and so cast him on Bachelor in Paradise, where he immediately attached himself to Lacey. The pair took shots, joked with each other, and made out for a bit. When she tried to break away and Chad clearly wanted more, he began grabbing at her, using his considerable strength to keep her from leaving. There were a few other altercations, either scary situations between him and women on the show, or constant threats of violence toward men. He was booted from the show, but the real question is, how did someone so toxic and violent end up on a show like this anyway? The conditions on Bachelor in Paradise are designed to encourage jealousy, anger, and discomfort in the most even-keeled contestants. Someone like Chad should never have ended up on the show, but the producers put cast members at risk to stir up some drama.
This is one of the other issues with the show: they can’t separate good drama from people just talking about something wild that happened. People were talking about Chad because he was awful. ABC saw the buzz and assumed people wanted more Chad. Without being able to evaluate what people like or dislike, ABC is constantly throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks.
Then there’s situations like what happened with Lee on Rachel’s season. The Bachelorette always includes, in its staple cast members, a self-described “country boy.” This was always a dubious practice, but the first “country boy” since Trump took office demonstrated why. With an alt-right haircut and a carefully curated drawl, Lee set out to insult and rile up as many cast members as he could, and specifically targetted Kenny. Kenny was a single dad, a professional wrestler, had a great sense of humor, and was black. While Lee never came after his skin color overtly, he dogwhistled Kenny by going to Rachel and insinuating that he was being aggressive and violent out of nowhere. When confronted about the racist undertones of his comments, Lee laughed it off. During the reunion episode at the end of the show, Chris Harrison put Lee in the hotseat, and brought up a handful of tweets from before he was on the show. These tweets compared the NAACP to the KKK, called Black Lives Matter a terrorist organization, and claimed women were just feminists because they were ugly. People asked him why he wanted to be on a season with a black bachelorette, but that glides over a bigger question: why did ABC cast him in the first place? It’s hard for me to accept that no one had seen the tweets before. If they didn’t, it leads me to question what passes for an ABC background check. If they did, did they get this guy on national TV just have Chris Harrison do a milque-toast dunk on him at the end of the season? The show didn’t know whether or not it wanted its first black bachelorette to be big deal. They didn’t know whether or not they wanted to engage race in america. They hinted at some criticism Rachel received and some of the pressure she felt for being the first black bachelorette, but the show was unsure of itself, and so it started to say something, but trailed off.
But all of that is an issue in the first place because:
The Bachelor Constantly Undercuts it’s Own Message
When I ask people why they watch the different shows in the Bachelorverse, they usually tell me they like the drama and it’s a pretty light show. I’ve outlined why I think it’s boring, but to each their own. Then there are people who get swept up in the romance of it, and that’s where I have to start questioning why people are watching it. The show is designed to evoke a fairy tale romance, but it destroys any chance for an actually healthy relationship at every turn.
A good example of this is Peter from Rachel’s season, who was being seen as someone who was untrustworthy because he wasn’t sure he would propose to Rachel if she chose him. To be clear, the show does not require a proposal at the end, and seasons used to end without them rather frequently. Peter wanted to be with Rachel, but he wanted to get engaged after they had had some time to be together outside of the confines of the show. To Rachel, and many viewers, this was unacceptable. Everyone was so caught up in the spectacle of a potential engagement that they lost sight of the fact that getting engaged within the confines of this show is a terrible idea and has a terrible track record to prove it.
By the time someone is engaged on this show, they have only known their intended for a handful of weeks, have not seen them for long stretches of time, and are dating other people UP TO THE MOMENT OF THE PROPOSAL. The problem is that a bunch of ostensibly monogamous people are forced into a polyamorous relationship that only goes one way: the contestants date the bacheloron, they date everyone else. The show also has none of the safeguards that polyamorous people put in place to protect themselves emotionally (for example: wanting to be in a polyamorous relationship). So after dating 30 people in the span of six to ten weeks, you then have sex with three of them, send one home, and decide which of the other two you want to marry. By the time they are engaged, they have often not settled on where they will live, how many kids, if any, they want, or any other major issue in a relationship. Often, people who want to have these conversations get left behind for someone more easy going. We shouldn’t be shocked or even sad that many of these relationships fall apart, we should be amazed that any have lasted any length at all.
My wife and I got engaged fairly quickly. We met in early January 2014, were Facebook official by the end of the month, exchanged “I love yous” a couple of weeks after that, were essentially living together by the summer, and she proposed in early September. Already we have a timeline of more than ten weeks. Additionally, as far as I know, neither of us were dating 30 other people in increasingly extravagant dates. Also, to my knowledge, Melissa did not consider proposing to another person, and go with me instead after meeting my family for a couple of hours and getting a quick tour of my hometown. We had also discussed where we wanted to live (easy, the Twin Cities, because we both already lived there) and we talked about whether or not we were going to have kids. Almost four years after our first date, we’re still going strong, because we had time and space to figure out what we wanted and whether or not the other person could provide what we needed in a partner. But in the interest of speeding to an exciting spectacle, ABC sets up couples for failure. For that reason, I’d beg anyone who is single and lonely and watching the Bachelor and sighing over how great and romantic it is to look elsewhere. You don’t want what they have. Find somewhere else for aspiration.
Finally, it’s an empire in decline. People are not interested in returning to the show, and I wonder if the ratings are going to start plummeting. They’re so desperate for a bachelor to focus on that they dug up Arie, a Bachelorette contestant from five years ago. At this point, who is this show for? It’s boring, it’s offensive, it cheapens love, and no one wants to be on it. Does it exist to funnel contestants into Dancing With the Stars? Who knows? Who cares? Not us, and so, dear listeners, we are off to do other things. This podcast started out as joke, but the real joke was on anyone who wanted to try to engage this show critically. There’s just not much more to say after a few seasons. It’s all the same bullshit, which is why any long-running podcast on the show tries to take it seriously. Attempts to earnestly critique become repetitive, because the show is repetitive, and as the show fails to learn its lessons, they become increasingly depressing. Do not watch this show, watch something else, something better, like literally the Kardashians.
On the other hand, we very occasionally make jokes about recording a Grey’s Anatomy podcast so look out for that, probably never.