I recently went on a “Bachelor”-watching binge. Although I don’t like to think of myself as someone who would enjoy the show, I also don’t like to think of myself as someone who would eat chocolate cake out of the garbage or sleep with a stranger while in an alcohol-induced blackout, so clearly what I think isn’t nearly as important as what I do. I may have stopped drinking and binge eating some twenty years ago, but I happily hunkered down with my remote control to indulge in some real escapism.
The first thing I love to hate about this show is the premise—essentially, that it’s possible to find true love on reality television. I mean, doesn’t the idea of one man test-driving twenty-five beautiful women at once sound more like a polyamorous play date than an honest attempt at finding one’s soul mate? But hey, I guess that’s hardly the point. We all know that reality shows are to real life what Pringles are to the potato, and “The Bachelor” is not exactly what I would call soul food. I guess I’m just a hapless—er, hopeless—romantic at heart, who resents myself for still wanting to buy into “The Bachelor”’s premise and believe in the possibility of a happy ending.
I grew up watching shows like “The Dating Game,” where a bachelor would coyly ask three bachelorettes who were hidden from his view naughty questions like, “If you were a shellfish, what kind would you be?” At the end of the show, he would choose one woman, sight unseen, and they’d be whisked off to someplace fabulous like San Diego for a romantic dinner at the Red Lobster. Kind of sweet, right? “The Bachelor,” on the other hand, climaxes with what is essentially a booty call when the women who survived earlier cuts are each invited to go on a sleepover “date” with the bachelor. Each time the lucky couple entered the overnight fantasy suite, oohing and ahhing at the soft-porn-inspired candlelit room strewn with rose petals, all I could think about was how hard it would be to get those crushed rose petal stains out of the carpet the morning after.
The fantasy comes to an abrupt halt when all the final women save one get ceremoniously rejected on national television before being led by the recalcitrant bachelor to a waiting limo, where they’re whisked away, shell-shocked and wondering where they went wrong. The camera closes in on their mascara-streaked faces as they berate themselves. “Was I a bad kisser?” “I knew I should have waxed my upper lip!” “If only I were a blonde, he would have loved me.” One woman was so distraught about being rejected that she left the show in an ambulance after suffering a televised anxiety attack.
This show is so demented, it’s awesome. Who dreamed this stuff up? Mike Fleiss, the second cousin of infamous ex-Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss, that’s who. At least Heidi didn’t dress up pimping as love. When asked what the screening process for the woman was like, Mike explained, “The women really have to want this. They are given blood tests, psych tests, and most importantly, [they] need to look good in a hot tub.”
I understand why the producers might not want women with high moral fiber—after all, what fun would a slew of puritans be? And what STD-free emotionally stable hottie would want to live on camera, day in and day out, with twenty-four other beautiful babes all sharing the same bathroom—and the same man? So who does want to sign up for this type of public humiliation? I think the producers do a great job of casting (or at least editing them into) needy caricatures of women: I particularly liked the sequence in Season One where a busty babe finally got the elusive bachelor to herself—and spent the whole time talking as fast as she could about how she’d read every self-help book in the world but still couldn’t figure out why she couldn’t make a relationship work. Just in case he was “the one,” however, she had already purchased the eight yards of silk necessary to make her wedding gown. Way to reel him in!
And where do they find the guys? Supposedly, they search the country for the most eligible bachelors—successful and good-looking, but most important, ready to settle down. This got me thinking: Isn’t a bachelor by definition a man committed to being single? According to Wikipedia, the term is often “restricted to men who do not have and are not actively seeking a spouse or other personal partner.” Unless, of course, he is a “confirmed bachelor,” and then he is simply gay.
The men aren’t looking for fame or fortune; they’re looking for true love. Well, except for Season One’s Alex, who auditioned for “The Bachelor” only after he failed to make it onto “Survivor.” And then there was Season Five’s Jesse, the New York Giants quarterback who was paid six figures to appear on the show and left the playing field (after playing the field) for a career in media shortly thereafter. And let’s not forget bachelor Bob from Season Four, who ended up getting sued by the show for using his “Bachelor” status to promote his “music.” When his singing career didn’t quite pan out, he kept the dating theme alive by hosting “Cooking to Get Lucky” (mDialog) and “Date My House” (TLC).
After thirteen seasons, none of the bachelors has married his reality TV sweetheart, but some appear to have found love as a result of their newfound fame. Andy (Season Ten) hooked up with the former Mrs. Trump, Marla Maples (reality TV is such a small world!), Matt (“The Bachelor: London Calling”) became engaged to his publicist Sarah; and good old bachelor Bob ended up marrying a soap opera actress who hosted some kind of “After-the-Bachelor” special.
As I fast-forwarded through season after season, I noticed that I really only needed to watch the very beginning of each show—where the previous week’s dramatic highlights were recapped—and the rose ceremonies. The giving of one red rose, in flower language, is supposed to mean “I love you,” and rose ceremonies have traditionally symbolized the exchanging of love between a bride and groom. On “The Bachelor,” the rose ceremony is where reality sets in: This is when the bachelor weeds out the Mrs. Wannabes. The women (or girls, as they are always called) get all dolled up, Miss America style, in their prettiest ball gowns and Barbie heels. The bachelor picks up one red rose at a time, calls out the lucky woman’s name, and asks her if she’ll keep it. By which he means, of course, will she stick around while he continues to date a bunch of other women? We watch at the edge of our seats as hope fades in the eyes of each roseless woman throughout what is always described by host Chris Harrison as “the most dramatic rose ceremony ever.”
As I watched, I couldn’t believe that none of the women opted out of this humiliation-fest early on. Just once, I wanted to see a bachelor offer the rose, and the woman politely but firmly decline. I suddenly hated the idea that little girls who watch this show might believe that being picked or not picked by a man would be their only options in love.
Finally, in Season Five, two of the women raised their hands during the rose ceremony and asked to be eliminated. Bachelor Jesse looked pissed, but I was thrilled. Their explanation for wanting to leave was that there were other woman there who were clearly in love with him and they deserved a chance. This sounded to me like the Miss Manners version of “Get me the f**k out of this house of crazy-ass bitches and away from this creepy guy.” And it gave me hope for womankind.
There is one thing to be said for the ceremony: When a bachelor “breaks up” with a woman, he has to do it to her face. There’s no hiding behind email, cell phone, or the cone of silence. There’s no way to not-text a rose. And, as if that’s not enough, the producers eventually bring the bachelor back to face all the rejected women in the “Women Tell All” special that inevitably follows.
After a while, I realized that every season was pretty much the same. The producers would change locations or add a twist every now and then to set the stage for additional drama, but mostly everyone drinks (including, I’m willing to bet, the crew); the women continue to humiliate themselves; and the bachelor makes out with each girl and grows increasingly uncomfortable as his contractual “commitment” closes in.
What always happens in the end is this: A bunch of women get rejected, no doubt entering treatment for PTRD (post-traumatic rose disorder); one woman wins “the prize” (except in Season 11, when Brad rejected both); and the happy couple breaks up shortly after the media hubbub dies down.
After watching five seasons in one week, I found myself on a first date saying things like, “Oh my gosh you are sooo good-looking!” while clapping my hands and wiggling in my chair. I smiled much more than I normally would, batted my eyelashes throughout the evening, and conducted an interview with myself in the mirror after he left. (Question: “How did the date go Wendy?” Answer: “I think we had a super special connection—he might be the one!”) This was not good.
It should come with a black box warning. “DANGER: Watching more than ten episodes in a 24-hour period may cause severe side effects including memory loss, drowsiness, compulsive shopping for bridal lingerie, and an uncontrollable desire to pole dance.”
I knew I was in big trouble. I needed to be deprogrammed, pronto, or I’d end up on a Dr. Drew special. I glanced nervously around my living room for the “Intervention” cameras. What was the antidote for overindulgence in romantic fantasy? One bolus of truth serum, stat!
That night during my post-date interview in the mirror, I got all Barbara Walters on my ass and decided to ask the really tough question: Why did I love to hate this show so much? Was it the way women were pitted against each other, or the sleazy players they picked for the bachelors, or the ridiculous premise? But I already knew the answer: What I hated the most was the fact that the women’s happiness appears to be wholly dependent on whether or not they’re chosen by a man. And this got me thinking: How much of my life had been spent trying to appear as desirable as possible so that I would finally be claimed by that special someone?
The answer was a tough one. I loved to hate this show, because these women were me.
The next day, I threw “The Bachelor” DVDs in the trash. This reminded me of how I used to throw out binge food only to retrieve it later—but hey, it’s about progress, not perfection. I bought myself a mixed bouquet of flowers, and arranged them, one by one, in a beautiful blue vase. After the last flower was in place, I pulled out the single red rose, walked over to the mirror, and popped the all-important question.
“Wendy, will you accept this rose?”
After considering my reflection, I tossed the rose on top of the rejected DVDs, smiled, leaned forward, and answered:
“Make that a forget-me-not, and you’ve got yourself a deal.”
“How to Survive a Bachelor Party” in an essay featured in the book Reality Matters: 19 Writers Come Clean About the Shows We Can’t Stop Watching, edited by Anna David. The book is available for purchase today!