Here for the wrong reasons: How The Bachelor fantasy lost its magic
What became a years-long routine first began on an otherwise forgettable Monday night in September 2002. My mom and I turned on the tiny TV perched on the tall dresser in my parents’ bedroom and watched as a nobody named Aaron Buerge greeted 30 women he had never met as they streamed out of long black stretch limos parked in front of a Los Angeles mansion.
It was The Bachelor. And we were hooked.
Over the years many things changed about the series that would become a ratings juggernaut and required viewing in sororities across America. The selected Bachelors became more successful, the dates more extravagant, and the travel more exotic. As a near-faithful viewer since I was 11 years old, I’ve watched the Bachelor transform into one of the most talked about reality shows on television. But somewhere along the way, the series that gave me my earliest peek into the world of dating lost the magic that made it so fun in the first place.
Suffice to say, Bachelor Nation was not impressed:
There’s no doubt Colton looked great on paper to ABC executives (a former pro football player! Who’s still a virgin! That cries more on camera than Jason Mesnick!).
But his selection was yet another example of producers selecting the person they believe will stir up the most controversy – rather than the contestant who could have the most captivating dating journey.
The problem is, of course, that we’ve already seen Colton try to fall in love before. Twice, actually. First on Becca Kufrin’s season of The Bachelorette, where his brief romance with Tia Booth became a central storyline, then on Bachelor in Paradise a few months later with Tia herself. And that’s not counting a public relationship with Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman before his TV career even began.
Bachelor runner-up and former BIP star Raven Gates summed it up best when she went to visit Tia, one of her best friends from back home, on Bachelor in Paradise this season to reveal her concerns about Colton.
‘I don’t think his intentions are good, I don’t trust Colton,’ she said, just moments after we heard a sound clip from Tia declaring she had been on the best date of her life.
As Tia cried beside her, Raven wondered out loud if he was putting on a ‘façade,’ constantly searching for the next ‘It Girl.’ She looked her best friend in the eye and told Tia not to settle for anything less than she deserved. And, Raven made it clear, she deserved far better than Colton.
It was a surprising moment for two reasons. While watching the episode – a few weeks late – I already knew Colton had been selected as the Bachelor and was shocked producers let the moment air. Here was one of the bigger stars of the franchise personally questioning the most important trait a Bachelor contestant must have – being here for the right reasons.
But what struck me even more about the confrontation was that I had heard those very same words before, from my own best friend, in my own moment of heartbreak. It is when I realized that this was the most real moment I had seen on a Bachelor episode since Rachel Lindsay’s intense and messy break-up with runner-up Peter Kraus more than a year ago on the Bachelorette.
At this point you may be asking, wait what the hell? Why does The Bachelor – of all shows – need to feel real? Isn’t the whole point to watch a bunch of gorgeous people who are forbidden from contacting the outside world fall obsessively in love with each other in a few weeks? While they’re being whisked away on ridiculously epic holidays? And dates where they’re contractually required to be serenaded by obscure country singers?
The funny thing is, seven years on, the Bachelor as a concept is now more realistic than ever before. Sure, most of us aren’t going to walk into a room and find 25 impeccably-dressed people (and a few in animal suits) dying to go out with us anytime soon. But that doesn’t matter, because we have far more people right at our fingertips. With a few simple clicks and a couple of apps, we now get the chance to swipe through hundreds and hundreds of potential mates every day to try and find our own dream date.
But while technology was catching up with the Bachelor, the franchise became obsessed with trying to upstage one season’s scandal from the next. The contestants became more controversial – including, just last season, one man convicted of a sex crime and another accused of sexual harassment (not to mention BIP’s own sexual assault scandal the previous year) – the hour-long episodes were bloated into painful three-hour specials, and fun meaningful dates were kicked to the curb for dramatic two-on-ones that, during the first ever Bachelorette season with an African American star, pitted a documented racist against a black man.
Somewhere along the way, the Bachelor franchise stopped being, well, very much fun at all.
Is all of this ABC’s fault? Not completely. The Bachelor is experiencing the same pains that any reality show that becomes massively popular goes through. There’s a reason why the first seasons of these series always feel so authentic – none of the cast knows what the hell they’re doing. But as a reality show becomes more and more successful, it is bound to attract people who are just hoping to get some screen time for Instagram endorsements deals and paid Vegas appearances.
But, at the end of the day, there are still thrills and pangs to be felt from watching strangers navigate through the world of dating. What the Bachelor franchise needs is to go back to its roots, tapping into stars that have the most charisma – not the most potential for tears - and capturing the spontaneous moments that once made this reality show still feel real.
A few years after that fateful Monday night, my dad finally relented and let me and my mom turn on the Bachelor in our living room. He even sat down and watched the show with us during an especially hilarious season featuring Charlie O’ Connell.
There were still villains and catfights and exotic dates. But Charlie was clearly having such a blast that it was impossible not to enjoy watching it all unfold on screen.
I don’t remember many tears that season, and Charlie didn’t propose to his winner at the end. But it was the perfect example of something the Bachelor has long forgotten. The world of dating is magical and messy – but it’s also pretty damn fun.