Stop Pretending The Bachelor is Real
We all know by now that The Bachelor and The Bachelorette are fake, right? I’m just asking because the latest edition of The Bachelor seems to have spawned an enormous number of think pieces about Chris Soules’ alleged intention of flinging a woman over his shoulder and carrying his bride back to Iowa in a gunny sack, where she will rear his children and live down on the farm.
The think pieces have dissected this from almost every angle: that Soules is a bad guy, that women are being asked to sacrifice their careers, that farming is an inherently anti-female act, that Iowa is icky and awful, that the Bachelor is at least showing us that farming and Iowa are icky and awful and is therefore honest, etc etc etc ad infinitum.
I have no problem with people writing think pieces on anything. (Hey look, I’m writing one now!) What I can’t stand is how all of these pieces accept that the basic premise of The Bachelor is real and that the people on the show are being honest about their intentions. To wit: that the men and women of the Bachelor/Bachelorette franchise go on the show because they are looking for love. That The Bachelor is just a high-profile substitute for Match.com. That the people on the show genuinely want to get married after six dates or less. That they just happen to feel “a connection” with the Bachelor/Bachelorette and that said connection has nothing to do with being on TV.
Newsflash: The Bachelor is fake. There’s as much planning and scripting and storyboarding of a Bachelor season as there is in a season of Scandal. The producers pour over the pool of contestants the way they would any other casting call. The contestants are selected first based on looks and second on their appropriateness for the role the show wants them to play. They go on the show with aspirations of being famous, of working as models or actors or perpetual reality show contestants. To become the Bachelor or Bachelorette, you have to first appear as one of the contestants who was’t picked on the other show. Meaning you have to be eager to set your life, career and family aside to appear on yet another reality show. And who exactly would want to make that sacrifice again? People who want to be famous, that’s who.
Soules is a perfect example of this phenomenon. The show portrayed him as a simple Midwestern boy who wants to be a simple farmer and have simple kids and a simple wife. And live in Arlington, Iowa, population 426 (soon to be 427!) So where are Soules and his fiance now? Shacking up in Arlington? Um no. The man just agreed to be on Dancing With Stars. That’s reality show number three for Soules during the last 18 months. His aspirations go well beyond “simple” farming, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
It does however, stand in stark contrast to the way Soules was marketed on this season of The Bachelor. Apparently Chris Soules couldn’t stop talking about how Iowa was his greatest weakness and fear and vulnerability – because which woman would want to sacrifice her life and move to Arlington, Iowa??? That was the show’s entire theme this season, and the left and right coast media ate it up like gluten-free pancakes. “Iowa is awful! OMG drama!”
Although the show attempted to horrify you with stats about Arlington – it’s only 1.05 square miles! Population 426! No jobs! No future! – the reality is that Arlington is an hour away from Cedar Rapids, population 128,000, which is known as a center for the arts. It’s only ninety minutes from Dubuque, whose job growth ranked 22nd in America, ahead of Dallas, Texas and Orlando. Yet over at Slate, Liz Stevenson writes, “the show stumbled into America’s jobless, post-industrial wasteland. And the fact that the Bachelor’s main insecurity could be manifested as a real place has made for pretty great TV. The faces of the women as they drove around his sad little windswept town might as well have been their faces as he told them his darkest, most embarrassing secret.”
I don’t live in Iowa, but I am piqued at Slate’s claim, which was taken straight from the show, that Iowa represents some kind of bleak post-industrial and agricultural disaster. Iowa has had gay marriage since 2009, years before New York or California. It has a long history of championing individual freedoms. It’s not as if Soules is taking the girl back to the same bunker that Kimmy Schmidt escapes from on The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. The region is more like Pawnee, Indiana, the fictional town from Parks & Recreation.
The Bachelorette does the same thing, although the sexual politics of their seasons are vastly different. Andi Dorfman was touted as a no-nonsense prosecutor who dressed down failed Bachelor Juan Pablo during his season of the show. (Juan Pablo had a tough time following the show’s script, which was that he was a handsome single dad who just wanted a step-mother for his daughter!) Producers were pissed at Juan Pablo, so Dorfman yelled at him on live TV and was then crowned The Bachelorette.
The theme for Dorfman’s season was that this No-Nonsense Southern Belle Prosecutor loved Alabama football and really wanted an athlete husband! The show then cast Aaron Murray, a failed minor league baseball player who just happened to be the brother of the Alabama QB Josh Murray. The two followed the script and got engaged at the end of the season! They got un-engaged quickly and Dorfman moved to New York City to pursue things that did not involve being a No-Nonsense Southern Belle Prosecutor. Aka she wants to be in showbiz.
All of this is ridiculous, but if it entertains you then that’s great. I’ve watched a few “final rose” sessions myself. I sometimes feel there are two kinds of Bachelor fans – people who watch the show to relentlessly mock it and those that watch the show the way people used to read Jane Austen novels. And though there might be a lot of crossover between the two, neither group thinks the show is real.
There are plenty of things to say about how the series constructs its characters and what that says about gender, sexuality and race. However, it’s time for the show’s media collaborators to call a fake a fake. You can write all the hot takes you want, just don’t start with the premise that the show is an honest depiction of anything.