Are ‘The Bachelorette’ Producers Purposely Casting Guys With Girlfriends?

Tuesday night, America watched our Bachelorette, Hannah Brown, find out what we’d known for weeks: that her soon-to-be fiancé (and then soon-to-be-ex-fiancé) lied about his dating history before being on The Bachelorette, and actually had a girlfriend back home. (Whether Jed actually called Haley his girlfriend is irrelevant—if it walks like a girlfriend, talks like a girlfriend, and goes on family vacations and tells you she loves you like a girlfriend, you have a f*cking girlfriend.) And Jed isn’t the first guy to compete on The Bachelorette this season with a questionable relationship history. Pilot Pete was accused of ditching his girlfriend to go on the show, although his transgression is definitely murkier and less egregious. When these stories break, it feels like a betrayal for Bachelor fans. The rules of The Bachelorette are simple and finite: you go on this dating show to get some mild Instagram fame, and hopefully find love along the way. You’re not supposed to go on the show if you’re not, at least a little bit, looking for love. If you have a girlfriend (or someone who, by all intents and purposes is your girlfriend) back home, you are likely not looking for love. On a show that is already holding onto a very flimsy premise that this is, in fact, a dating show, and not America’s Next Top Instagram Model, these types of revelations make it even harder to believe anybody is in it “for the right reasons”. They cheapen the entire “journey” viewers have spent weeks emotionally investing in. Given that, you’d think producers would want to find out about this stuff in advance and put a stop to it.

But do they?

The Bachelor is rumored to have a strict vetting process. In her book, Bachelor NationAmy Kaufman describes the process of getting on the show as nothing short of a police interrogation. Hypothetically, the process would go something like this: After sending in a written and video application and being flown out to Los Angeles, Kaufman writes, “I’d be given a 150-question personality test”, noting, “Some of these questions would be asked several times, reworded differently.” After being sequestered in a hotel room with a $50 daily stipend, meeting with producers and a psychologist, the next step would be to meet with a private investigator. “This person,” Kaufman writes, “would be trained to dig up any skeletons in my closet—partly to use for my storyline but also to get ahead of any tabloid stories that could come to the surface if I was on the show.”

Darius Feaster, an ex-college football player who competed on Becca Kufrin’s season (and was eliminated on night one), backs up the intensity of the audition process. He told me in 2018, “The P.I. was asking me about my friends’ histories based on pictures from social media. She pulled up this picture on Facebook and she was like, ‘Tell me about this picture of you and XYZ, what were you guys doing in that photo?’ They try to dig up dirt and see who your friends are and if there is any suspicion [of you] having bad relationships with women—things of that sort. They definitely take it very seriously as far as trying to get to know who you are.”

DeMario Jackson, who competed for Rachel Lindsay’s heart (and also had a girl who claimed to be his girlfriend confront him on the show) says the application is “nuts. Like a next level vetting.” He explains there are “serious background checks, mental tests as well,” and likens the process to “the same that my dad takes for the police force”.

Still, even with this supposedly rigorous process, men slip through the cracks. Just this season, Tyler G exited the show quietly when some troubling allegations of past treatment towards women surfaced. Lincoln (from Rachel’s season) had a conviction for a sex crime that somehow didn’t come up in the background checks, and Warner Bros. simply claimed that they didn’t know, while acknowledging they do hire a third party to conduct extensive background checks. Their explanation for how Lincoln could have made it through was essentially:  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I’ll give the Bachelor producers and private investigators the benefit of the doubt that they are not willfully letting sex offenders compete on the show. But as for guys with girlfriends? It’s a little hard to believe. If Feaster’s, Jackson’s, and Kaufman’s accounts are to be believed, it seems like these producers should have been more than aware if a prospective contestant was in a relationship. How likely is it that they know and just don’t care—or, more than that, they know and are active participants?

According to The Wrap7.4 million viewers watched the first night of The Bachelorette finale, even though there are likely many who knew what the outcome would be. (At the very least, they knew Jed had a girlfriend—the story broke in People and was all over the mainstream media, so it would have been hard to avoid seeing a headline about it.) They knew Jed was being duplicitous, and still they tuned in to watch. Becca Kufrin’s finale reached 6.7 million viewers—that’s 17% less than this year. Becca Kufrin’s final two didn’t have girlfriends back home, but Garrett (her final pick) had faced controversy earlier in the season when problematic memes he liked on Instagram were exposed. However, Rachel’s finale, which did not rely on spoilers, got 14% more views than Becca’s, according to Deadline. So the ratings don’t support a cut-and-dry “viewership has been declining year over year, so let’s invite sh*tty guys to manufacture ratings” hypothesis. And Arie’s finale of The Bachelor, with all the spoilers that he would dump Becca for Lauren, got 7.8 million views—no higher than what the finale of the previous year earned. If the producers are knowingly inviting on guys with girlfriends in the hopes of getting more ratings, they’re not getting a direct return.

On the one hand, it seems hard to believe that a professional P.I. could interview someone and their friends, go through their social media, and never find out about a girlfriend. On the other hand, anyone who’s tried to stalk someone on social media knows that you can only dig up dirt if someone’s posted about it. If Jed and his girlfriend (and Peter and his maybe-ex girlfriend) didn’t post photos of each other on social media or leave cutesy captions on each other’s photos, there would be nothing for anyone to find. And, given that the application is less shrouded in secrecy now and prospective contestants know what to expect, it would be easy for someone to get their friends to cover for them (or lie to their friends and convince them they are newly single).

I think the strongest evidence that the producers aren’t knowingly casting people who are in committed relationships is the fact that they’ve exposed men before. DeMario got booted on only the second episode when he was confronted. Ali Fedotowsky literally chased a guy off her show who had a girlfriend. And even before Jed or Peter, Scott (I know, who?) was confronted by Hannah and kicked off pretty quickly once she found out he was dating someone.

I spoke to Brett Vergara, who’s known for his live Bachelor memes, who says, “Honestly I don’t think they really know!” He admits, “I think they were a bit blindsided by Jed, and Jed and Haley never posted photos or tagged or anything… to give them this ~mysterious single allure~ to their fans so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯”. He adds, “you don’t start hearing things until the guys are released to the world—which makes sense why they took that new approach this year before filming and released most of the guys early and cut a couple based on if anything came out.”

Really, without input from producers (I reached out and haven’t heard back), it’s hard to say for sure. I remember from my conversation with Darius that an issue that came up repeatedly was the idea that the producers go into filming with a sort of outline of how they want to portray each person. They don’t choose who makes it through each round of eliminations, but they have a rough idea of what they want the contestants’ stories to be, and will make certain choices to fit those stories. (For instance, they choose who gets a grand limo entrance based on what they want that contestant’s trajectory to be.) So I think in some cases, like DeMario’s, the producers know about relationships back home and use them in order to create drama on the show later (i.e. invite supposed girlfriends to confront the contestants on camera). But in other cases, like with Jed and Peter, I’d be willing to give Fleiss and co. the benefit of the doubt if the producers saw them making it close to the end. Ultimately, having Jed receive the final rose and then get dumped a few short weeks later, when it’s revealed he was lying the entire time, reflects poorly on the show and does it a disservice. It gets headlines, but it also calls their vetting process into question and undermines the entire premise of the show, which, for now, is that it builds long-lasting relationships.

Images: betchesluvthis / Twitter; brettsvergara / Instagram