Welcome To Hell: Dispatches From A Bachelor Virgin

I have gone my entire life without ever watching The Bachelor. On the occasion of its 20th season, I have decided to watch the entire show for the full season. Wish me luck.

The Bachelor confounds me. I’ve never understood the appeal of watching hordes of women dressed in going-out tops and bandage dresses vying for the attention of a dim-witted white man with very good teeth. Manipulation, lying, trickery and stupidity on display depress me when they’re on television; we see enough of all of that in real life, so there’s no need to fill my leisure hours with the same dreck.

But, The Bachelor is a cultural institution. Though I’ve never seen the show, I understand what ”the rose ceremony” is. I’ve seen one and a half episodes of UnReal, but it didn’t register, maybe because I lack` the visual and cultural vocabulary necessary to fully understand why I was watching what felt like a showbiz version of The West Wing. There’s something deeply American about The Bachelor, the combination of the marriage fantasy mixed with instant, fleeting infamy that I understand is deeply satisfying to watch. Everyone loves a train wreck.

“The first episode is the best, usually,” a friend told me. “There’s a million girls and usually at least one of them gets trashed and falls in the pool.”

That seems like a good enough hook for me. Here goes nothing.

Let’s talk about the Bachelor. Ben. He’s from Indiana. He’s 26, but looks at least 35. His teeth are unnervingly white. Like piano keys, or Chiclets, with no variation in color or shade, just solid, white, semi-matte. The entire point of this television show seems to be finding the man that’s the most inoffensively, blandly handsome and then throwing him in front of classic, muscular Americana: the red barn with a rusty basketball hoop nailed to its side; the squeaky floors of a high school gym at the homecoming rally; a high school football game under the Friday night lights of rural Indiana.

“My heart is wide open,” he says, brown eyes blinking. “I’m ready to meet my wife.”

Lucky for him, the producers have found 25 women ranging in insanity and thirst for him to choose from.

“I’m really nervous to date 25 people,” he tells his parents. You really should be, Ben. You really should be.

“I want to find someone out there who is excited about just being alive and being loved,” says Ben to a weird roundtable of previous contestants. This show, and its aphorisms are basically a walking self-help book, wrapped in some pomade and broad shoulders. Is that not what every person wants? Someone who wants to be alive?

I’m supposed to root for girls, right? Jubilee was a Marine and later compares trying to talk to Ben to dodging bullets in Afghanistan. Mandi is a bug-eyed dentist who is just unhinged enough for me to not trust her hands in my mouth. Ben, it seems, trust the producers enough to let her give him a dental exam on national television.

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An unemployed 23-year old from Arkansas rolls up on a hoverboard. There are very young twins from Las Vegas, Emily and Haley, who look like Taylor Swift, if you squint. A beautiful girl named Caila broke up with her REAL LIFE BOYFRIEND to pursue Ben, after seeing him lose on The Bachelorette.

She broke up with her real life boyfriend. To be. On. The Bachelor. She fell in love with him. From television.

And finally, Tiara the “chicken enthusiast” stands in front of a staged altar lined with framed pictures of her chickens, plus a studio shot of Ben, in the middle. “I’ve never been apart from my chickens for more than 10 days,” she says.

I want these women to win.

Limos pull up to the curb of what looks like a the set of a high school production of “Kiss Me Kate,” disgorging women in high heels and prom dresses. Caila, the one who left her boyfriend, jumps into his arms. “You promise we’ll talk inside,” says Jennifer, a slow brunette in a black dress.
“I look forward to seeing you inside,” says Jubilee. Ahhh, what happens inside? Everything — the lighting, the desperation — feels ominous, dangerous. Don’t go in the house, Ben.

“Maegan” and her mini-horse Bubba show up. Someone else is in a unicorn mask. Shushanna speaks only Russian and Ben is too polite to ask her if she speaks English. Breanne, a crazed nutritional therapist from Seattle asks Ben to literally break bread with her. “Gluten’s Satan, let’s be frank here,” she says, brandishing a basket full of baguettes. This girl, also from Indiana, does this.

 

And, a gerontologist from I-Can’t-Remember has a save the date for their wedding. #hangingwiththehiggins. #tohiggandtohold.

When Ben enters, all the women stand up, like you do when a judge enters her chambers. “It’s unbelievable to think that my wife could be in this room,” he says. Yes, sir, because I bet you $5 and a pack of Trident that your wife is not in this room!!!

So much white wine, being poured off-screen. Women, crouching in corners, cradling goblets, sipping, staring, gossiping. Lace, an IRL version of that Cecily Strong character from SNL, is getting the villain edit, but rightfully so. When she speaks to Ben, “alone,” she tilts her head like she’s trying to see straight again. You can almost see the wine, sloshing slowly, like little waves lapping at the shore. She will be trouble.

There’s a pre-rose — a first impressions rose. It goes to Olivia, a 23 year old newscaster from Texas who looks, for some reason, ten years older. Lace seethes, but in the end, she gets a rose. The dentist gets a rose. The twins get a rose. Caila and Jubilee are rose’d. The chicken enthusiast is not.

The sizzle reel at the end promises teary declarations of love and international travel. I’m not sure what I just watched. I will watch it again.