The Bachelor: A shitty reality show that actually portrays a shitty reality



Bachelor Sean, Will you accept this compromise?
  • ABC, The Bachelor
  • Bachelor Sean, Will you accept this compromise?
It would be easy to dismiss ABC's The Bachelor as reality schlock. The premise is absurd, and as one of the longest-running reality series on network, its patterns have become so predictable that the show seems to fall willingly into self-parody. I admire anyone who's never watched it, and don't believe anyone who claims to know nothing about it—but just to be safe, the show works like this: A twentysomething, single man is presented with 25 potential female mates. Through a series of alcohol-fueled parties and highly staged dates, the women are eliminated, one by tear-streaked one, until the bachelor is left with a single potential mate. Because she is the last woman, Bachelor logic dictates that she must be the right woman, and so each season generally concludes (there have been exceptions) with a marriage proposal. But if last week's proposal from Season 17 bachelor Sean Lowe to "winner" Catherine Giudici sticks, they will be the first couple in Bachelor history to make it down the aisle (excluding two couples from series spinoff, The Bachelorette).

So why are we still watching this show?

The Bachelor is operating at a success rate of zero. How many seasons of The Biggest Loser would we tolerate if the contestants never lost weight? I suspect the longevity of the show can largely be attributed to schadenfreude. One of the great pleasures of reality TV is watching people make complete asses of themselves, thereby validating our own superior morals and faculty of judgment. There is no shortage of opportunities for this on The Bachelor, as women compete like drunken circus monkeys for a few minutes of the man's attention. Throughout each season we're treated to the sight of women tearfully hurling themselves at a man who effectively has about 12 other girlfriends. We watch in horrified delight as, like dogs peeing all over the same hydrant, they attempt to stake their claim.

But there's something deeper going on here. The Bachelor is more than voyeuristic popcorn fare; it's a microcosm of modern anxiety. Granted, the show itself is highly contrived. You don't have to be a dyed-in-the-wool cynic to recognize that many of its participants are seeking fame rather than love. But for those who are, the journey—a word the show loves to use—is motivated by the same fear that people tend to experience in more conventional, less televised circumstances. Namely, the fear of being alone.

When a woman is kicked off the show, she's immediately whisked to a limo where she must record her exit interview as the Bachelor fades into a speck on the horizon. The women who are merely mourning the loss of camera time will say things like "He's making a big mistake" or "He's being fooled by the other girls." But the women who are truly wounded generally say something along the lines of "I'm just so ready to find a husband and he had everything I'm looking for." Rarely, if ever, do they express sadness over the loss of the Bachelor as an individual. It's the loss of what he represents that they seem to lament.

And it's not only the women. Bachelor logic can be expressed in a simple syllogism:

I want someone in possession of X qualities.
Y is in possession of X qualities.
Therefore, I want Y.

Throughout the season, the highest compliment Sean the Bachelor could pay to a woman was to say "she has everything I'm looking for in a wife." When he finally proposed to Catherine, it was presumably because she had everything he was looking for in a wife. When Sean was asked in a live segment that aired after the finale why he loved her, the best he could muster was because "she just has everything I'm looking for in a wife." One can imagine—and statistically, it's not much of a leap—that there's a good chance they won't make it, that eventually, the reality of Sean and Catherine as individuals will overtake their fixation on abstract, universal qualities.

None of this would matter if the phenomenon were only confined to a cheesy TV show. But isn't it the entire premise of modern dating? How many people, once they decide they don't want to be alone, allow themselves to be carried by the forces of fate? That sounds hysterical and overly romantic, I know, but how else to explain the exploding popularity of Internet dating sites like and its seemingly infinite iterations? (The most irony-laden of which, by the way, is Christian Mingle, with its promise to "find God's match for you." I didn't realize God's will could be accessed online.) Internet dating has a lot in common with something like The Bachelor—plug in your preferences and let an algorithm spit out a match.

I know the argument here will be that The Bachelor is trashy entertainment, while Internet dating is merely an outgrowth of our increasingly busy modern lives. But something still feels like it's being lost. When Catherine breathlessly accepted Sean's proposal, she patted his chest in disbelief and said, "Oh my gosh, I get this?"

She didn't say, "Oh my gosh, I get you."

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