Between the end of The Bachelorette and the start of Bachelor in Paradise, a new theme has begun to emerge. As ABC leans into the (novel) idea that men should be held publicly accountable, it’s impossible not to think about how the #MeToo era is shaping the Bachelor franchise in 2019. The most gripping moments of the show are no longer based on female heartbreak (à la Becca Kufrin’s Bachelor finale, or Kristina Schulman’s season of Paradise). Instead, they’re based on exposing and confronting the man responsible for that harm. In their treatment so far of Jed Wyatt and Blake Horstmann, ABC seems to be signaling a new era of reality TV entertainment: one that feeds off the collective rage of women.
While Bachelor shows of the past have always been replete with men willing to lie and abuse their partner’s trust, ABC is shifting how it creates entertainment from it. From night one of Hannah Brown’s Bachelorette season, the tone was set. She immediately confronts a contestant revealed to have a girlfriend back home, losing her temper not only with him but with all the men there. If anyone else has something to declare, she urges them to do it now. The message is clear: If you’re lying to the Bachelorette, the truth will come out — and all of America will be watching when it does.
Fast forward to the Bachelorette finale and that promise is fulfilled: Jed’s lies about his past relationship have been exposed in People magazine, and Hannah confronts him directly on the show, both in a pre-taped segment and on live TV. She asks him all the questions that have been floating around Twitter since the article came out, and explains to him — point by point — exactly why what he did was so messed up, and how it hurt her. The live audience (almost entirely women) is losing its mind, cheering every time Hannah pauses to take a breath.
At a particularly magical moment of the finale, Hannah tells Jed that there’s no hope for their future: “My feelings have changed,” she says. “When that trust was broken, my feelings […] were broke with that, and I don’t love you like that anymore.” On the verge of tears, she pauses — and several audience members start clapping. “It’s not something to clap about,” Hannah says. “It’s sad.” In this moment, it’s very clear why Jed is on that stage, and it’s not for Hannah’s sake. If she had her say, she’d probably never have seen him again. But ABC knew its viewers wanted to see him punished, and to do the punishing themselves by withholding their support or forgiveness, as seen in the deafening silence following each of Jed’s apology speeches.
— Brett S. Vergara (@BrettSVergara) July 31, 2019
Looking back to Arie Luyendyk Jr.’s season of The Bachelor in 2018, that finale concluded with a dramatic post-show development too. Arie decides he’s picked the wrong girl and wants to be with his runner-up Lauren Burnham instead. He breaks up with Becca on camera, who breaks down sobbing — and then is followed around her home by cameras while she tries to hide, or leave — her sobs echoing into the mic throughout. When they’re reunited on live TV, Arie isn’t treated coldly by the audience. He apologizes, and she both accepts and says she forgives him (two things Hannah is fairly careful not to commit to).
The difference between these 2018 and 2019 seasons isn’t so much the man’s behavior: In both cases, women enter an engagement under false pretenses about their fiancé’s other relationships, and both get their hearts broken. But where Arie’s season turned the cameras on Becca’s humiliation, Hannah’s season turned them on Jed’s. And that pattern only strengthens in this season of Bachelor in Paradise.
When Blake comes on the scene in Paradise, he’s sold as the “it” boy of the island: He’s been DMing other contestants for weeks, and half the girls there show up with a burgeoning crush. But within the first episode, Blake’s cool, collected persona is stripped away: It turns out he slept with two contestants, Caelynn and Kristina, in the same weekend. They’re both on the island, and neither is happy — especially when he takes a third girl on a date. Quickly, the women spread the news, and Blake’s prospects drop like flies. He’s essentially a pariah by the time he returns from his date, and the drama doesn’t stop there.
On night two, both Kristina and Caelynn confront Blake directly about his behavior: why it was hurtful, how they’re feeling now, and what they’d like from him going forward. If Blake takes the first conversation lightly, a lightbulb seems to have switched on by the second, where he realizes what’s happening. He watched Hannah’s Bachelorette finale, and he knows exactly how bad this looks. In an instant, Blake veers into unmitigated panic, sputtering apologies and even appearing to suffer a full-blown panic attack during a conversation with a producer, clutching his chest and gasping for breath. “I’m so sorry, I feel so bad,” he says over and over. The cocky, frat-boy swagger is gone, replaced with a man terrified for his reputation.
To be fair, the season of Paradise is just beginning, and ABC may yet have a redemption arc in mind for Blake. But for now, they’re doing everything in their power to make this show (or at least the first couple episodes) a crucifixion of Blake for his misdeeds. “Will he get away with his philandering ways, or will the women of Paradise be his downfall?” the voiceover muses at the episode’s start. It’s clear how Paradise viewers would prefer things play out — and that’s exactly what ABC intends to give them.
Watching Blake’s face fall, the parallel seems clear: ABC’s treatment of men in 2019 is an echo of what’s happening on the national stage with #MeToo. The charges, of course, are less severe, but the message is the same: Women deserve better from men, and men who don’t meet that standard should expect to be held accountable. Blake’s panic over his reputation is exactly the same as every anti-#MeToo rallying cry that claims these poor men’s lives are being ruined for nothing. As bartender Wells Adams says so succinctly: “The best way to protect your image is to not be a douchebag.”
In 2019, women are done letting men’s crappy behavior slide. We want accountability and consequences. The Bachelor franchise, in response, is doing what it does best: giving the people what they want, in lurid detail. Once, that meant watching hopeful women get crushed or fall in love. But in an age where we’re sick and tired of seeing women get hurt, we’re getting speeches about self-worth and crash courses in emotional intelligence instead. If you want to treat dating as a reality show game in this day and age, be warned: Men are no longer making all the rules.