My dad likes to tell this old joke:
A small-town farmer is visiting the Harvard campus. He asks a professor walking by, “Where the library at?”
Aghast, the man sniffs indignantly, “At Hahhhvahd, we don’t end our sentences with a preposition.”
The farmer pauses and reframes the question: “Where the library at — asshole?”
I share this because, although I am a former copy editor and certified word nerd, and once enthusiastically attended an editing conference at which our rock star keynote speaker was from The Dictionary Society of North America … we all make mistakes. It’s fun to point out “unnecessary quotation marks” and errors in signs, or giggle over the way a single comma can totally change the meaning of a sentence — “Let’s eat, Grandma” vs. “Let’s eat Grandma” — but there’s a fine line between grammar enthusiast and elitist. I try, not always successfully, to check myself before being like that asshole in my dad’s joke.
Still, for me, for nearly 20 years, there has existed an alternate bubble of reality where it has somehow felt OK to poke fun at people’s grammatical errors, misused terms, and fabricated words: ABC’s Bachelor franchise.
New to Bachelor Nation? Put on something shimmery and hop in the limo for the SparkNotes version of WHAT this even is and WHY so many people are invested in it — including viewers like me who have a love–hate relationship with the show.
I tend to watch portions cringingly, through my fingers, and later dissect each episode of what I know to be a highly entertaining yet deeply flawed franchise that could be so much better if it just took notes, paid attention in anti-racist training, learned to apply itself. Devoted Bachelor Nation participants chase each two-hour episode with recap podcasts like 2 Black Girls, 1 Rose, Baby Got Bach, Rose Cast, and Bachelor Party. We follow Bachelor stars on TikTok and join spirited conversations on Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, and Clubhouse — a new-ish audio-only platform with themed chat rooms popular among fans and contestants from the show. After each episode’s closing rose-granting ceremony, we race to our friends and connections to debate the merits and drawbacks of those selected to stay another week and the unlucky saps who were sent packing, bud-less.
While we could just as easily focus here on the show’s lack of body diversity, heteronormative gender ideals, and antiquated courtship rituals, in this column, I’ll touch on the language of Bachelor Nation, examine some of the reasons for its broad appeal, and dive into some of the real-world issues knocking on the Bachelor franchise’s front door (spoiler: the call is coming from inside the house). I’ll also take you with me on the journey of how, the more I researched what was meant to be a lighthearted piece on the silly lingo used on the show, the more real-time events piled up that caused me and thousands of other fans to weigh the ethics of supporting a show that may now be too problematic to remain our fun guilty pleasure on Monday nights.
2021: Finally, a Black Bachelor
The Bachelor originally premiered March 25, 2002, an era of overplucked eyebrows, brown Ann Taylor sweater sets, suede barn jackets, and ill-fitting Structure suits with massive shoulder pads.
What started as one reality dating program has since morphed into a behemoth with multiple, year-round spinoffs (among them Listen to Your Heart, The Bachelorette, and Bachelor in Paradise) and international versions in Japan, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia. The Bachelor is one of the longest-running, most-popular American reality TV franchises, outranking Survivor in 2018-19 among the coveted “adults 18 to 49” demographic, and consistently beating out all other reality dating shows.
With nearly two decades to perfect its format, you’d think the show would better represent the population. But not until Bachelor season 25, which aired from January 4 to March 15, 2021, did we have Matt James, the show’s first-ever Black male lead.
The casting was long overdue, but it felt something like corporate virtue-signaling from a convenient distance during the racial reckoning that followed George Floyd’s murder. For years, fans had petitioned the show for greater diversity generally and a Black bachelor specifically; many had hoped to see popular contestant Mike Johnson in the role after his charming 2019 appearance on The Bachelorette as a suitor of former beauty queen Hannah Brown. Instead, the title went to the telegenic Matt James, whose affiliation to the Bachelor world was through his best friend, Tyler Cameron, who’d been a contestant on The Bachelorette alongside Johnson.
We learned few details about James on his press run before the show, and very little else would be revealed over the course of the season: 1. He is white-Tyler’s best friend and sometime roommate in New York City; 2. He has a single white mom who was forever wrecked by her relationship with his absentee Black dad; 3. He works for a real estate company and founded ABC Food Tours, a New York-based nonprofit that educates kids about food and exercise. (Honorary No. 4: He is the embodiment of physical perfection.) Oh, and the show very much wants us to know he’s a devout Christian. He launched the opening night cocktail party with a prayer.
Get in loser, we’re going to Nemacolin
Bachelor season 25 was shot in a pandemic bubble at Nemacolin Resort in Pennsylvania, and perhaps this single-location setup doomed the season’s narrative from the start. Plotlines usually center around travel to lovely and exotic locations, or curiously chosen locations, like Cleveland (international and U.S. visiting boards petition the show to be featured), and the movement and new setting typically help propel the story. With nowhere to go, the season’s overriding theme was drama and toxicity between the women.
A group of late arrivals was pitted against the “OGs” who were there first. Cutting insults were hurled and nasty rumors spread. One woman was accused of “being a sex worker” by a rival; this introduced both the shaming of sex workers and an untruth about the woman, whose top Google results are now associated with the claim. A crown-wearing Florida woman who goes by “Queen Victoria” called other women “disgusting,” “hos,” and “bitches,” and even snatched a crown off a newcomer’s head even before it happened at the Mrs. World Pageant April 10. (In a move reminiscent of the “Dress Bitch” T-shirts on The Good Place, this contestant even created “Royalty” merch featuring her mugshot from a shoplifting incident years before.) We’ll get to more about Matt James’s season, but first, allow me to provide some context for this strange alternate reality.
Six degrees of Bachelor Nation
You know that thing where you’re thinking about buying a certain car, and you suddenly start seeing that car model everywhere?
Bachelor Nation is the opposite of that.
You may imagine yourself to be worlds apart from this dumb show, but it lurks in the zeitgeist, six degrees away, like a less charming Kevin Bacon. Whether or not they admit it, someone in your life has come upon at least one version of The Bachelor while channel surfing and been sucked in for the whole episode. It has long served as a cultural staple and a legitimately fun and frothy highlight at the start of the workweek on Monday nights. It’s amusing to watch in real time and read Twitter responses to some of the ridiculousness that transpires on screen, from contestants’ outrageous entrances to moments you have to see to believe.
There are watch parties and fantasy leagues, romantic pairings with famous people, and SNL parodies. (Need a laugh? Check out the two seasons of Ben Stiller’s Bachelor satire, Burning Love on YouTube. No context is needed, and its cameos feature Kristin Bell, Jennifer Aniston, Adam Scott, Kumail Nanjiani, and Paul Rudd.)
Bachelor Nation contestants have gone on to win Dancing With the Stars; launch popular products, merch, and podcasts; host TV and interview shows; become paid influencers; guide fans to donation sites (Dr. Joe is an angel and we don’t deserve him); and even make careers of … being part of Bachelor Nation itself, returning for reunion shows, hosting a touring stage version of the show (see IU alum Ben Higgins), and writing self-help or tell-all books after their nondisclosure agreements have expired.
Here is an ecosystem where excessively attractive contestants with Instagram-perfect eyebrows (the women) and hairless six packs (the men) all compete “for love” (social media sponsors & followers) while maintaining zero BMIs and exchanging vague platitudes about the importance of living, loving, and laughing over untouched plates of food.
To breathe this rarified and yet strangely banal air — and to achieve the future influencer clout it may bestow — contestants sign away their right to privacy and put their trust in producers whose mission is to create drama for promos that boost ratings. Some contestants intentionally create tension or play into a persona to get more screen time. After all, the longer they stay on camera, the more lucrative their opportunities are likely to be after the show.
‘It revealed something about our fans’
Earlier in the franchise, the show’s laughable lack of diversity made it easier to mock. It was a glittery blonde snow globe plumped with Botox and filled with hair extensions, protein powder, and veneers. Until a few years ago, Bachelor Nation continued to cast and market almost exclusively to its original core audience, which was mostly white, conservative, and Christian. The show’s lone Jewish leads — Bachelor 13, Jason Mesnick, and Bachelorette 10, Andi Dorfman — were never shown talking about their religion on the show or in surrounding press.
When attorney and breakout personality Rachel Lindsay was cast in 2017 as the first Black Bachelorette, she brought with her a new fan base — and, with it, increased scrutiny of the franchise from people who found the show entertaining enough to want it to do better. The podcast 2 Black Girls, 1 Rose was born. But Lindsay’s season was problematic from the start. A more diverse group than usual, including more Black men, was cast alongside a contestant known to have posted racist content on social media. Fans believe the casting was purposeful, to spark the drama that indeed was created and in turn boost ratings. Chaos ensued.
Despite these antics, the show’s producer, Mike Fleiss, said Lindsay’s season saw a dip in viewership. In a 2018 New York Times interview, Fleiss told reporter Megan Angelo that Lindsay’s season attracted 14 percent fewer viewers than the previous year’s Bachelorette. “I found it incredibly disturbing in a Trumpish kind of way. How else are you going to explain the fact that she’s down in the ratings, when — black or white — she was an unbelievable bachelorette? It revealed something about our fans.”
Whatever the reason, ratings for Matt James’s season were down compared with the usual Bachelor numbers. James’s finale brought in 5.8 million viewers to Vanilla Puddin’ Pop Peter Weber’s 2020 season finale, which drew 7.7 million. James’s “Women Tell All” episode garnered 4.6 million views, while Weber’s special last year received 6.3 million.
A few years earlier, in a 2015 interview with NPR, longtime Bachelor host/executive producer/overlord Chris Harrison said that while he wanted to see more diversity on the show, he thought casting a nonwhite lead would drag down the show’s popularity, resulting in lower ratings and trickling down to lost jobs: “We have hundreds and thousands of people trying to work. So what justice are we doing to anybody by taking a great social stand, and then five months later, going, ‘OK, that was great, nobody watched the show.’”
Screen time report
What the show can control is what — and who — it chooses to highlight. Although 65.8 percent of the women cast for Matt James’s season are people from non-white racial and ethnic backgrounds, screen time disproportionally went to white contestants.
Through the Bachelor Data Instagram account, Suzana Somers tracks the amount of time contestants get on camera and the corresponding growth of their social accounts, which translates directly to sponsorships and other opportunities. Between January 3 and February 12, for example, the majority of screen time was devoted to two white contestants whose social accounts spiked accordingly; neither made it to the final four (one, Sarah Trott, self-eliminated and was rumored to be dating rapper G Eazy) and one, anti-bullying, sex-positive crusader Katie Thurson, who brought a vibrator the first night, has been selected as the next Bachelorette. (Perhaps to get ahead of criticism about the selection of another white lead, a second upcoming Bachelorette was also announced along with Thurston: fan favorite Michelle Young, a teacher from Minnesota.)
Former Bachelor casting producer Jazzy Collins wrote an open letter in June 2020, sharing that after the greater diversity of contestants cast in Lindsay’s season, the show returned to casting predominantly white contestants, or Black women who didn’t upset a racial “look” in the U.S. After speaking up at work, Collins wrote, she was targeted with microaggressions until she left the job. She’s still advocating for change:
Not only is it important to have a diverse cast reflect what the rest of America looks like, it’s important for the production and casting teams to be able to share the same experiences as the cast members. You’re expecting a white team to be able to intimately produce people of color on an emotional level that they’re truly unable to relate to. A Black, Asian, Latinx, Indigenous man or woman should not have to walk on a set for up to eight weeks and stare at a crowd of white faces while they pour their heart out on national TV without also having a diverse, understanding team to guide them through the process.
Woke Police, your table is now available
Bachelor Nation came under fire again in early February, when a clip went viral of host Harrison being interviewed for the entertainment news show Extra by Lindsay, the franchise’s aforementioned first-ever Black lead. Lindsay asked about contestant Rachael Kirkconnell, who would go on to “win” season 25 — the historic season starring our first Black Bachelor. A slew of Kirkconnell’s unsettling social media posts and likes had come to light, including photos of her attending an Antebellum-themed party on a former slave plantation when she was in college.
With the energy of a Tom Cruise on Oprah’s couch, or a Chet Hanks-style “White Boy Summer” missive, Harrison interrupted and talked over Lindsay, passionately arguing that Old South parties were fine in 2018, just not now. “Is it a good look in 2018? Or is it not a good look in 2021? Because there’s a big difference,” Harrison said. “The ‘woke police’ is out there, and this poor girl Rachael has just been thrown to the lions.”
During the exchange, while Harrison got increasingly high key (at one point, he demanded “Who the hell are you?”), Lindsay remained remarkably restrained. Later, in her Higher Learning podcast with Van Jones, Lindsay said she knows that she has to walk through the world a certain way — she had held back, lest she be perceived as an “angry Black woman.”
After the incident, season 25 Bachelor contestants took to their individual Instagram pages in solidarity to share a statement in defense and appreciation of Lindsay, while a group of men from the most recent season of The Bachelorette, season 17 (filmed from October to mid-December 2020), followed up with their own statement denouncing racist behavior and in support of Lindsay.
Several popular contestants of color have made clear they would not feel comfortable joining Bachelor in Paradise this summer if Harrison were the host, and alternate hosts have already been announced for the next Bachelorette, which premieres June 7: former leads Tayshia Adams (Bachelorette 17), who is Black and Latina, and Kaitlyn Bristowe (Bachelorette 11), both of whom are in happy, Bachelor World relationships.
The swift backlash from the viral Extra interview was enough to prompt a posted apology from Harrison, who temporarily stepped aside from the franchise, and from Kirkconnell, whose statement felt far more specific and sincere. Harrison also apologized on Good Morning America in an interview with Michael Strahan. It was a dead-eyed, hostage-situation delivery quite distinct from the fervor we saw in that passionate Extra interview — almost as if Harrison was afraid that, left to his own devices, he would once again invoke the “woke police.” Following the pretaped segment, Strahan said, “It felt like I got nothing more than a surface response on any of this. Obviously, he’s a man who wants to clearly stay on this show, but only time will tell if there’s any meaning behind his words.”
The hate directed at Lindsay, in defense of Harrison and Kirkconnell, became so threatening and unsettling that she had to temporarily deactivate her Instagram account, which has since been reactivated. (Not a big deal to you and me, but for a paid influencer, leaving the platform translates to lost income.)
Harrison rallied in March and made it known that he had hired a lawyer. Interestingly, it’s the same attorney Gabrielle Union hired when she filed a lawsuit against America’s Got Talent over racist incidents on set.
In this March 28 Atlantic article, “I Didn’t Realize How Much of a Machine It Is,” journalist Shirley Li writes:
Harrison stepping down is unprecedented. He’s been the face of the show, and of the larger franchise it spawned, since the beginning, introducing viewers to the cast and often acting as the Bachelor’s or Bachelorette’s onscreen confidant. But the host’s statements to Lindsay are only the most visible expression of the show’s deeper problems, which have been years in the making. In 2017, my colleague Megan Garber wrote of spin-off The Bachelorette, “Watching it has become harder and harder to enjoy — and, like that other blood sport, harder and harder to defend.” Today, The Bachelor no longer seems interested in even pretending that it’s about love and is alienating many of its most loyal fans. Ardent viewers that I spoke with are frustrated by how recent seasons have exploited contestants to new extremes and cynically mined racial conflicts for drama. “It’s very polarizing,” Alecka Edwards, a longtime fan and co-host of the podcast The Blachelorettes, told me over Zoom of this moment in Bachelor history. “I don’t think I’ve seen this before.”
Kirkconnell and James were obligated to take part in the traditional “After the Final Rose” episode March 15. The season wrap up usually highlights a glowing happy couple, setting an optimistic stage for the announcement of the next Bachelorette; in this case, the couple had already broken up.
The episode was hosted by Emmanuel Acho, author of Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man. And Kirkconnell and James did both look incredibly uncomfortable. Kirkconnell broke out into a light rash on her chest. James, who mostly stayed silent, had grown a massive, protective James Harden beard and said as little as possible.
Acho asked whether James could forgive the ignorance that led to Kirkconnell’s attendance at the Antebellum party (her other social media posts were not addressed). James said sadly but firmly that Kirkconnell needed time to educate herself, and that he could not do it for her; a reconciliation was clearly not on the table. Acho continued to press James on what a different person Kirkconnell must have been in 2018 vs. 2021. Call me Encyclopedia Brown, but the wording was so similar to Harrison’s “woke police” statements about what was acceptable in 2018 vs. 2021, it made me wonder if the question was somehow planted by a secret Harrison operative on the inside to aid in his legal defense. (Do I need a new hobby? Yes, yes I do.)
I almost forgot to mention that this season also brought us a face to face between James and his father, beaming the harmful stereotype of deadbeat Black dads into living rooms across America. The tense meeting did not include rapper John the Scorpio, Matt’s lookalike but cooler brother, who appeared on a different episode and who I imagine also had some things to say to their dad.
Between the awkward televised ambush of Matt’s father, who seemed to think he was there to celebrate James’s success, a narrative surrounding the cruelty and vitriol between women, and yet another contestant casting gone wrong for a Black lead, by the end of the season, we were all just exhausted.
The March 17 episode of 2 Black Girls, One Rose was titled “White Supremacy Forces Us To Have These Conversations.” Hosts Natasha and Justine summarized the episode as follows:
We’re finally done. This “historic” season that The Bachelor producers, writers, editors, and executives were so incredibly careless, lazy, and insensitive about. So much so that we ended up with the worst possible scenario. At least Chris Harrison sat this one out for AFR [After the Final Rose], otherwise, we’d all be in shambles.
An April 1 NBC News piece, “Black women on ‘The Bachelor’ racial reckoning — and how it was a long time coming,” described a disappointing season that Black female fans had hoped would help move the show forward. The Blckchelorettes podcast co-host Mikayla Bartholomew said she and her co-host, Victoria Price, launched the podcast in January as a way to process the show’s handling of Blackness and activism.
“For some reason, ‘The Bachelor’ and its whiteness seems like a very good mirror for how we engage with one another in society and how white people in power, or those who have access to platforms and privilege, engage with disenfranchised folks,” Bartholomew told NBC. She added that James choosing Kirkconnell showed how Black women “fall to the bottom of the social hierarchy. We just have found we’re not the ones that are desired, so engaging in relationships is often about finding someone that you’re compatible with. Whereas, for Black men, there’s an assimilation to power that they’re seeking.”
Bachelor bubble bursts
So the Bachelor rose has wilted and the bubble has burst, leaving a drained hot tub full of broken stilettos, empty champagne bottles, and Revolve accessories. The show and the real world have come face to face. It’s hard to see a way forward that strikes the right balance and respects all corners of a disparate fan base, one half of which is haranguing James for not sticking with Kirkconnell and demanding Chris Harrison’s return, and one half of which has grown tired of problematic casting — pointing out that, despite the apparent lengthy background checks on the show’s participants, Reddit sleuths have a better track record of investigating contestants than the show itself.
And while The Bachelor has recently tried to cast its way into greater diversity, that alone won’t work. People of color need to be in all of the rooms where decisions are made, among the casting directors, producers, editors, writers, stylists, therapists, assistants, special guests, and camera operators.
Actor Matt Damon unwittingly illustrated this, as well as one of the ways systemic racism plays out, even among those who probably consider themselves the “good guys.”
In a 2015 episode of HBO’s Project Greenlight, Damon tells producer Effie Brown, a Black woman, who is advocating for a diverse directorial team, that behind-the-scenes diversity isn’t the issue. “You do it in the casting of the film,” Damon said.
The approach hasn’t worked so far.
How do you like them apples?
At this point, we’ve reviewed a lot of negative things about the ol’ Bach, but there is a love side to the love–hate equation, or why would we bother? An interrogation of why I and so many others are freakishly invested in this show brings me to a few solid conclusions.
1. It’s funny.
The show itself is outlandish and often wildly entertaining. For all their manipulative ways, the producers have a sense of humor that often comes across in the end-of-episode outtakes and funny editing decisions — in one season, a hotel fruit bowl was arranged with a banana and two oranges just so, if you were really looking. Sure, sometimes that humor also comes with an edge. Are you an insecure late-twenty-something who’s been saving a bottle of champagne for a very special occasion? A rival producer will certainly pop open that bottle for another woman’s romantic setup. (Will you then open a different bottle of champagne to try again for that moment and it LITERALLY blows up in your face? Maybe.)
2. It’s a family.
Once part of Bachelor Nation, always part of Bachelor Nation. The affiliation is referenced in many an Instagram bio — even or especially by people who were sent home in the early episodes. Some too-cool-for-Bachelor Nation alums remove any mention of the show from their bios — they’ve moved past the reality show that launched their careers and are famous on their own now, thank you very much — but loyal fans will never forget where they started (and the fashion decisions they made at the time).
It’s uplifting to watch friendships develop on the show, and these connections typically endure longer than the romantic pairings. Just as Friends fans admire Courtney Cox and Jennifer Aniston’s real-life friendship, we Bachelorheads love to see the genuine bonds that form in Bachelor world, reunions between cast members, and crossover meetings of cool people from different seasons.
3. It’s therapeutic.
There are good, interesting, intelligent people on or associated with the show who go on to put good into the world through their platforms. Dr. Joe urges people to get vaccinated. Abigail advocates for the deaf community. Noah and his mustache served as a travel nurse during the COVID pandemic.
We get to know the majority of contestants as underdogs, when they are rejected by the lead — or, more empoweringly — leave the show because they don’t feel a connection. We see them struggle to heal old wounds enough to open up and then watch their hearts break, one by one, until the final rose is bestowed. We root for our favorites and hope to see them redeemed on the beaches of Mexico during Bachelor in Paradise, where the odds of finding a match are far greater, and where many a still-happy Bachelor couple has connected.
The Bachelor’s massive audience also makes it a valuable space for people to share their challenging personal stories in a way that opens up genuine discussion among fans. In January 2019, on season 23 of The Bachelor, beauty queen Caelynn Miller-Keyes shared the story of her sexual assault; the show followed the episode with contact information on resources for survivors of sexual assault.
More recently, Bachelor stars have used their platforms to support the Black Lives Matter movement and protest anti-Asian hate after the Atlanta spa shootings by a domestic terrorist.
4. It’s trying. (In both ways.)
Pre-social media Bachelor didn’t acknowledge race or the outside world.
Today, messy hookups and offscreen DMs are incorporated into the show. Take this tale of two Blakes, for example: Blake Horstemann’s 2019 Stagecoach music festival shenanigans took him from loveably heartbroken Bachelorette season 14 runner-up to Grade A Fuckboi on Bachelor in Paradise, while 2020 Bachelorette season 16 contestant Blake Moynes slid into Clare Crawley’s DMs before her season — in his case, to comfort her about her ailing mother — which was addressed on the show.
Race conversations are now happening on camera in the show, but seemingly only between contestants of color. The scenes are very carefully edited. In Tayshia Adams’s season of The Bachelorette, which aired in late 2020, she and contestant Ivan Hall talked about the Black Lives Matter movement, and about Hall’s brother, who had been to prison. It was the kind of moment we’d been waiting for; it gave us hope that the show had entered a new level of awareness.
A few months later, in James’s season, runway model Chelsea Vaughn talked to James about the complicated relationship some Black women have with their hair; she told him how shaving her head during the pandemic was emotionally freeing after a lifetime of chemical processing to change her hair’s natural texture. James’s televised response: “I can’t imagine. Thank you for sharing with me.” Vaughn later said that, in the same conversation, James spoke about how he used to have an afro, and how people said he was more approachable after he shaved it off. That part of the conversation didn’t air.
I’m a panda. Look it up.
In Roxane Gay’s February 12 newsletter, The Audacity, the author and cultural luminary wrote about her own relationship to reality TV:
One of the reasons reality television has thrived for so long is because the worst (best) of it features people living fairly disastrous lives. We watch them be messy and melodramatic and petty and mean. We judge them for behaving badly or we envy them for living without a filter, for saying and doing whatever they want, with little regard for the consequences. My wife, Debbie, does not enjoy most reality television. She has no tolerance for the cruelty and vapidity. Witnessing her discomfort while she is gamely watching The Real Housewives of Wherever or “Selling Sunset” or whatever trash I’m obsessed with on any given day, has forced me to reconsider why I enjoy these shows. Why do I revel in seeing two women with bad hair extensions throwing expensive champagne at each other? What is my damage? … I have not yet come to any grand conclusions, but I do know I am yearning for something different from my entertainment.
Maybe seeing people act dumb on TV makes us feel better about ourselves. “If I were in their shoes,” we think, “I would make better choices, be more authentic, get less drunk during the 10-hour rose ceremony.”
So now Bachelor and Bachelor-adjacent programming has been on the air for 19 years and counting. For many of those years, we have laughed along as contestants talked about their Bachelor “journey” and tried to express depth by revealing a challenge from their life, which for some was a struggle. In Ben Higgins’s Bachelor season 20, editors gave Olivia Caridi the villain edit; part of that included a scene where Caridi explains her biggest insecurity: “cankles” (fat ankles). The conversation took place directly after Higgins told the women the tragic news that he’d just discovered two close family friends had died in a plane crash.
But by now we’re past picking apart obvious producer manipulation and at what perhaps Chris Harrison would call the most dramatic moment in Bachelor history.
We’re at a crossroads here. Will the Bachelor franchise continue to produce toxic narratives that play into racist, sexist, gendered stereotypes? Will it continue to do the bare minimum to hold on to the largest possible audience share? Or will it legitimately engage in deeper issues and make a genuine commitment to greater diversity and inclusion, both on camera and behind the scenes? Will it stop exploiting contestants and start treating them like the “real,” non-scripted individuals they supposedly are? Is this just a Christian dating show now, or is there room for other expressions of faith? And can the show turn more respectful representation into compelling narratives?
For now, 2 Black Girls, One Rose has expanded its focus and is currently analyzing Married at First Sight with no promises yet about whether they’ll return to Bachelor breakdowns. On the March 18 episode of the Bachelor Party podcast, “A ‘Bachelor’ Televised Reconciliation,” New York Times culture critic Wesley Morris talks to host Juliet Litman about the “After the Final Rose” with Emmanuel Acho. “I feel like the show has no imagination for drama involving Black people that doesn’t also involve racism,” Morris said.
Some of my favorite members of Bachelor Nation have successfully exited the bubble and no longer watch the show. Opera singer Sharleen Joynt left her season (Bachelor 18) when she felt no connection to the guy (the misogynistic Juan Pablo). In addition to traveling for her opera career, Joynt co-hosts the relationship advice podcast Dear Shandy with her non-Bachelor Nation husband and blogs at All the Pretty Pandas. No Bach, no problem. I respect that.
Speaking of pandas, I’ll leave you where we started, with a grammar story.
In her 2004 book, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, journalist Lynne Truss takes a lighthearted look at the crucial connection between meaning and punctuation. Here’s a variation on the joke that inspired her book title:
A panda walks into a bar. He orders a sandwich, eats it, drops some bills on the table, and then pulls out a gun and fires two shots into the air. Customers dive for cover under their tables as the panda calmly heads toward the exit.
Confused, the waiter peeks out from behind the counter and calls out, “Wait, wh- … why did you DO that?” The panda tosses the waiter a wildlife manual and says, “I’m a panda. Look it up.”
The waiter turns to the relevant entry: “Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”
I’ll be watching to see how the series handles things going forward, but I have to admit that it may just be time to exit Bachelor Mansion for good.
The 17th season of The Bachelorette, with Katie Thurston, premieres June 7. Once that wraps, the franchise will head back to Paradise for season seven on August 16. The second 2021 cycle of The Bachelorette, which will star Michelle Young, is set to air in the fall (a premiere date has yet to be announced).
Whether it comes from producer-led questions or there’s something in the air, contestants speak a common Bachelor code while they’re on the show. For the uninitiated, here’s a starter glossary of some of the most frequently used terms in the Bachelorverse:
‘Him & I’ are ‘LITERALLY’ meant to be … influencers
- The right reasons. Everyone on the show — including the 30 people the Bachelor or Bachelorette has to cut to one for a dramatic “engagement” just weeks after filming starts — has to say they are there to find love. They are NOT there to promote their personal brands, which would be bad (side note: they are there to promote their personal brands). Ex: Jed Wyatt, the eventual winner of Bachelorette 15, Hannah Brown’s season, allegedly had a secret girlfriend back home. He also seemed to hope the exposure would take him from dog food jingle writer, his proudest accomplishment at the time, to country music star.
- Vulnerable. Something you have to be to keep getting a rose each week. Expressing vulnerability usually entails mining the details of a personal trauma and/or “opening up” by expressing deep feelings for the lead after very little time together (see No. 3 below). This can sometimes lead to touching, important moments, and sometimes is used against the contestant for comic effect (Annaliese Puccini talked about her childhood trauma with dogs and bumper cars during dog- and bumper-car themed dates. The show cast a lookalike child in comical, slow-mo reenactments).
- I’ve never felt this way before. Maybe it’s because of the on-show therapists. It could be the long, frequent, recorded one-on-one conversations with producers. Perhaps it’s because they’re isolated from the outside world, with no phones, internet, magazines, newspapers, or even books (other than host Chris Harrison’s romance novel and the Bible, apparently). Successful contestants fast track expression of their feelings enough to visualize an engagement with the lead.
- Him and I. A twist on “he and I,” and used by the majority of contestants. (Quick trick to figuring out which one to use — continue the sentence with an action word. He and I will (he will/I will) vs. him and I (him will/I will). (How asshole-ish was that?)
- Journey. Aka the approximately 42 days of filming each season. In the past, The Bachelor didn’t acknowledge the artifice of the whole setup on camera. Season 25 included Jessenia Cruz’s “The truth will come out when this all airs,” and a pointed, Jim Halpert-style look to camera. She also called MJ, a woman attempting to gaslight her, by her old-fashioned full name: “You know what, Meredith?” It was resplendent, as was Jessenia’s blue pantsuit. Meredith is the new Karen.
- Can I steal him for a sec? The go-to phrase when interrupting another woman’s one-on-one time with the lead. This season’s interruption by Heather Martin, who entered near the end of filming, did not end well for her. The other women verbally tore her to shreds and Matt sent her home. She does seem to have rebounded, though — after the episode aired, she announced the launch of a new clothing brand.
- Falling for you. The first stage of trying to grasp front-runner status, to be followed later by “falling in love” and then “in love.”
- Not here to make friends. Usually spoken by the season’s villain about why they don’t get along with their housemates. Many make waves intentionally for the camera time. Here to Make Friends with Emma and Claire was also a feminist podcast about The Bachelor and Bachelor-adjacent programming. It was one of my favorite podcasts of all time; its hosts love–hate-watched in the same way I do, ending each episode with a segment called “Feminism Fails.” The hosts now share content through their Substack newsletter, Rich Text.
- LITTrally. Literally, but not really (“If I don’t get a rose tonight, I’m LITTrally going to DIE.”).
- Finally, here are some of the words that people have said on past Bachelor shows:
One time, a contestant said, “What’s your favorite food? Mine’s a charcuterie board.” Another time, a contestant said, “What’s your favorite restaurant? Mine’s Olive Garden.”
And here’s what I’m consuming this month
The One on Netflix, a creepy dystopian limited series on what would happen if a single DNA sample could match you to your one true love. And murder.
The Circle season 2 on Netflix: Social media as a competitive sport from a set of isolated single apartments in one building where no one can meet in person until they get voted out.
Curb Your Enthusiasm, season 5 on DVD. Rewatching in order. This season includes “The Larry David Sandwich” and “The Seder.”
Married at First Sight, season 12, on Lifetime.
Reading (see photo for more recommendations):
“The Velvet Hammer” by Yohana Desta in Vanity Fair profiles writer-performer Ziwe of the YouTube series Baited on her forthcoming Showtime/A24 late-night show, Ziwe.
“‘Bachelor’ Colton Underwood’s gay reveal complicates his past — but doesn’t erase it,” MSNBC Opinion by Emma Gray: “Rather than just parsing whether Colton Underwood is good or bad, let’s look at the reality franchise that made him a figure of interest in the first place.”
Permanent Record, Mary H.K. Choi
A socialite and slacker meet cute; creative snacking and flirtation ensues.
Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng
A family grieves the mysterious death of their sister and daughter while working through their personal relationships to Asian American identity and cultural assimilation.
“American Like Me: Reflections Between Cultures,” America Ferrera
A book of 32 wonderful essays assembled by America Ferrera, who invites her friends, peers, and heroes to share their stories about life between cultures. Highly recommend this for kids, and submissions come from cultural luminaries including Lin Manuel Miranda, Padma Laxmi, Jeremy Lin, Issa Rae, Michelle Kwan, Roxane Gay, and Kal Pen.
Song: “Misfits” by Lyrics Born & Utkarsh Ambudkar
Album: Ill Communication reissue by Beastie Boys from Landlocked Music
“Satan Boy Summer” (with Naomi Ekperigin and Megan Gailey) on Keep It! from Crooked Media
“Now That’s What I Call A Bridge!” on Still Processing from The New York Times
“‘Bachelor’ By The Numbers, with @BachelorData” on Rich Text (available by subscription through Substack)
Doing: Yoga with Adriene’s April 2021 curated playlist of free, at-home yoga videos