Once upon a time, in the early innocent days of pre-2017, The Bachelor was fun, plain and simple. At its worst, The Bachelor was overly staged or flat—now, The Bachelor feels like an oddly painful chore. Is it because a man whose name sounds like a slug falling out of your mouth plays the lead? Maybe—Arie is fundamentally lacking in charm, to say the least. But we Bachelor fans survived (multiple!) seasons of Nick Viall. In television or otherwise, we’ve seen more than our share of lackluster men and not tuned out entirely. So, why does this particular season feel so bad? Why, more than ever, does continuing to watch The Bachelor feel like an indefensible choice? I’ve outlined a few theories below.
It’s A Little Too Real
The Bachelor operates with a fundamentally fascinating premise. Other reality shows require interest in a certain set of people, or industry. The Bachelor is relatable to all, since nearly everyone attempts/fails at finding love at some point in life. The Bachelor, ideally, plays out a personal drama with all the caveats of a car commercial. Closed course. Professional driver. Do not attempt. You need to see a gamified version of love, with right moves and wrong moves and people who are more skilled at getting romantic attention than other people. That’s the sport that we’re watching.
Unfortunately, that’s also now the sport that we’re playing. In college, you either avoid parts of campus or accept that you’ll see Friday’s hookup with someone else on Saturday. On Hinge, you’re excited at a match—then you realize he’s matched with every friend you have in the zip code. If you get a late text, you expect that it’s going out, unchanged, to multiple girls. How is TV any different? Even Bachelor contestants seem more real, populating your Instagram feed with FaceTuned versions of their daily lives. As the circumstances seem less artificial, we feel the personal anxiety return. When Dean picks D-Lo, we feel a gut-punch of recognition. When Rachel picks Bryan, we feel cheated out of the fantasy this TV show was engineered to produce. OF COURSE Rachel and Peter couldn’t have worked out in reality—but since when was that ever the point?
Peter: I can’t marry you, I barely know you.
Women Deal With Enough
I can’t speak to the rest of ABC’s viewership, but somewhere around the Cheeto-in-Chief’s inauguration, I stopped enjoying watching women who were set up to fail try really, really hard to succeed. And The Bachelor, by definition, relies on every woman going after the gold. Even when the gold has less charisma than a raw potato with googly eyes. Even when they bring in so many women on the first night that most of them know they’ll go home. While I’ve happily yelled, “CRAWL FOR IT, BITCHES” at previous iterations of night-one desperation, that feels wrong now. Reality TV is too confused with reality. The same emotion that brought me to my first-ever political march in 2017 has sullied my ability to watch the coerced humiliation of women with an uncritical eye.
Do I have a personal attachment to someone like Lauren B, who seems alternately mean-spirited and completely negligible, like a wasp with a broken leg? No. But I can’t in good conscience say she deserves her heart broken—or worse, ending up with Arie.
TL;DR: In an effort to counteract America’s funhouse mirror-inspired standards for women, I’ve had to check my own. Unfairly judging women is less fun when you’re living a Black Mirror episode of the political ramifications.
Arie: *breathes near a woman*
Seriously, Arie Sucks
Yes, Arie could never have tanked the Bachelor franchise all on his own. But it sure doesn’t help that at a moment of national frustration, ABC handed us such a weak-ass prize. I haven’t seen a lowering of standards for the women. Jacqueline and Seinne are accomplished, cultured, and ambitious. Bekah and Tia are vibrant, warm, and earnest. Becca K and Lauren B are…well, apparently exactly what Arie wants, which is the skill being tested here anyway, so good for them. But every one of these women is put in a demeaning position by even appearing on this show, because they’re contractually obligated to compete below their rank. It’s like when they put Kenny in the ring with Arie early on. Kenny would have looked like an idiot if he did anything other than smash Arie into the ground repeatedly, and (god bless) that’s exactly what he did.
These contestants, because they’re so far out of Arie’s league, are put in the ring with Arie and made to pretend he can beat them. They’re playing out a much darker game than “what if falling in love had game show rules.” They’re playing out “what if falling in love had game show rules and also all the good men died.” The Bachelor should provide a chance at a genuinely great catch (for example, the male equivalent of Rachel). Putting them up against Arie just another demonstration of the very real difference in caliber of male vs. female candidates for any given role. (I’m talking about the election again here, and also kind of about how all your amazing friends date such shitty guys. Why is that?) It’s not fair, and it’s definitely not fun to watch.
At the end of the day, I’m too enamored with the vision of a really good version of this show to fully tune out. I want an IRL Prince Charming, and all kinds of women falling for him at once, and everyone trying and failing to stay two steps ahead of their emotions. This Bachelor is nothing more than a dry microcosm of our own frustrations, and ABC needs to stop letting the only “fantasy” element of this franchise be in the contestants’ enthusiasm for Tuscan architecture. When reality looks like 2018, stop trying to make reality TV more real.
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