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Is West Lee The New Emily Maynard? And Is “The Bachelor” Cashing In On Personal Tragedies?

The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” have long been known for casting types—the workaholic, the basketcase, the party heartier. But it looks like after last season, when Emily Maynard became a fan favorite because of the resilience she showed in talking about her fiance who died in a plane crash years before the show, it appears the franchise has a new type—the tragedian. For the second season in a row, the producers have cast a contestant with something deeper than a traumatizing breakup in their past—they’ve lost spouses in tragic accidents.

This season, that contestant is West Lee, who is currently vying for the love of Ashley Hebert. As West explained in the premiere episode, his wife of seven years died in 2007. More specifically, Sarah Lee drowned in their bathtub. He said on the show, “She had this history of seizures. One day she went and got in the bathtub. I checked on her and I found her face down in the tub. [I] pulled her out and I called 911 … It hurt more than anything I’ve ever felt in my life. That part of my heart, that trusting part and the loving part, it just vanished. It died.”

According to the coroner’s report, West’s wife had suffered from depression and, after she got in several minor car accidents in a short time span, her family (including West) expressed concern. Apparently, she had both alcohol and marijuana in her system when she went to take a bath one night while West was taking one in another bathroom. When he got out of the tub and noticed Sarah still had the door locked, he knocked and got no response. At that point, he broke into the bathroom with a pair of scissors and found his wife unconscious.

Having a “Bachelor” or “Bachelorette” contestant with this kind of history makes me feel icky. Of course, anyone who has been through a tragedy of this magnitude deserves another chance at love. But it’s debatable whether finding it on national television, in a show known for stressing contestants to their breaking point, is a good idea. Not to mention that these contestants are put in a position to tell their story over and over to a degree they might not understand when they sign on for the series. Yes, these personal tragedies make for compelling television. I won’t lie—I cried at least once hearing Emily talk about her fiance and felt a catharsis when in the end, her and Brad Womack seemed so happy together. But isn’t this also kind of exploitative?

Not to mention that last season, the show put Emily in an itty bitty private plane—the same kind her fiance was killed in—more than once. Plus the producers planned a group date where the women learned to race NASCAR cars. The date felt pointed at Emily, whose fiance Ricky Hendrick was a NASCAR driver and raced at that very track, as if it was meant to get a reaction from her. The skeptical side of me would not be surprised to see a date this season that seemed to exist for the sole purpose of reminding West of his late wife.

Another thing that makes me hugely uncomfortable … when Emily appeared on “The Bachelor,” reports questioning her story—whether she and Ricky were really engaged and to what extent they were childhood sweethearts—started popping up all over the internet. The same thing is happening even moreso with West. Websites are not only rehashing the details of his wife’s death but making huge leaps and questioning whether West himself was involved. (According to police reports, an extensive investigation turned up no evidence of foul play.) Producers clearly have a better sense of the fallout appearing on the show can have. Is it okay for them to put contestants with tragedies in their past up for this kind of open speculation?

What do you think—should the show cast people who’ve been through tragedies in hopes that they find love, or is this pure and simple ratings baiting?

[People]
[Radar Online]
[Twirlit]

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