With production of The Bachelorette on hold amid the coronavirus pandemic, the popular ABC franchise has offered fans a trip down memory lane with their new series: The Bachelor: The Greatest Seasons Ever. Each 3-hour episode aims to condense a previous season into a “highlight reel,” transporting viewers to the best rose ceremonies, dates, and breakups of all time. The Bachelor: GOAT, as it’s been nicknamed, kicked off on June 8, with a look back at Sean Lowe’s 2013 season, and future episodes will feature Ben Higgins, Kaitlyn Bristowe, Juan Pablo Galavis, Nick Viall, and others. But looking back isn’t solely a nostalgia-filled journey; in fact, revisiting the previous seasons has shed light on the ways in which the franchise has gone off the rails in recent years — simply by trying to be the “most dramatic ever.”
Recent seasons of The Bachelor and Bachelorette have drawn criticism from viewers for what has seemed like producer-inflicted drama — a problem that came to a tipping point during Peter Weber’s season earlier this year when the final three contestants were sharing a hotel during the Fantasy Suite episode. Historically, the contestants are usually split up at this point in filming, not seeing one another until the last group rose ceremony. Putting all three women together in one room certainly felt like a contrived move to create the most amount of tension possible.
— The Bachelor (@BachelorABC) February 24, 2020
Fans especially took issue with this tactic because Madison Prewett, one of the final three contestants, had previously shared her desire to abstain from sex until marriage — and expressed extreme discomfort at the thought of Peter sleeping with anyone else. “This staying in the same place bull—t is 100% a way to break Madison, screw with women, cause drama and set Peter up for absolute failure. We see you, producers,” one fan tweeted back in March. Another wrote: “The Bachelor producers are pushing limits this season. How long until they live stream the fantasy suite dates to the remaining contestants?” Unsurprisingly, the remaining episodes depicted Madison experiencing emotional distress before voluntarily eliminating herself from the show.
This staying in the same place bullshit is 100% a way to break Madison, screw with women, cause drama and set Peter up for absolute failure. We see you, producers. #TheBachelor
— Daniela (@DanielaEspo) February 25, 2020
The Bachelor producers are pushing limits this season. How long until they livestream the fantasy suite dates to the remaining contestants?#TheBachelor
— Drunk Dolphin (@DrunkDolphinGal) February 25, 2020
The hunger for “drama” in The Bachelor franchise wasn’t always there — at one point, it definitely seemed like the show was truly about finding love. Sean’s season for example, which fans relived on Monday, focused more on his connections and developing feelings for various contestants, catapulting towards a truly romantic ending with Catherine (the two are still together today). Any drama was truly secondary and more lighthearted than we’ve seen in recent seasons: awkward first kisses, an almost comedic “villain” with notorious eyebrows, and the expected fights within the Bachelor mansion.
But with the rise of social media and live-tweeting, it seems as though the primary ingredient for a successful Bachelor season has become drama, drama, drama. After all, when host Chris Harrison describes each installment as “the most dramatic ever,” the show has to deliver — even if that means putting contestants in situations guaranteed to mess with their mental health and emotional well-being.
The most glaring example of this might be the conclusion of Arie Luyendyk Jr.’s season, which marked a notable shift for the series towards drama and “plot twists.” Upon giving his final rose (and engagement ring) to Becca Kufrin, Arie later broke up with her on camera, revealing that he intended to pursue runner-up Lauren Burnham. The audience watched as Becca was “tricked” into thinking she was filming a couples’ weekend, and their entire breakup was streamed — unedited — live to viewers.
Arie is not only boring and basic and sallow which we all already knew, but he is legitimately cruel. Can’t even let Becca process it in peace. ABC is horrible. Chris Harrison is HORRIBLE. #TheBachelorFinale
— Cady Lang (@cadylang) March 6, 2018
Arie and Becca’s breakup drew criticism at the time (fans were horrified that Becca was lied to and embarrassed on live television), but the unexpected ending set a precedent: every season thereafter would somehow have to one-up the previous chapter. From there, we saw Bachelorette Hannah Brown go through an emotional breakup when it turned out that winner Jed Wyatt had a girlfriend at the time of filming — something that the producers, ideally, should have vetted ahead of time.
The popular spinoff series, Bachelor in Paradise, is just as guilty of depending on drama, weaving in outside, real-world interactions (hello, Stagecoach) to the point where contestants were taking to Instagram mid-season to defend themselves against snap-judgments from fans. Thanks to editing, each season of The Bachelor, Bachelorette, or Paradise has at least one “villain,” who is always subjected to endless social media harassment and bullying from fans who fail to realize that the person on their screen isn’t just a character in a TV show, but also a human being.
And therein lies the crux of the issue: The only reason that the show seemingly thrives on drama is because the audience responds to it by engaging online. When fans tweet under #TheBachelor hashtag every Monday night — for better or worse — it only reinforces these tactics. Like it or not, the very same fans that are criticizing The Bachelor for producer-inflicted drama are essentially the ones rewarding it, because we keep coming back to find out what’s going to happen next.
All of this begs the question: What do we want out of a series like The Bachelor anyway? The very idea of thirty women competing for the affection of one man is outdated, heteronormative, and sexist on a million levels. The franchise is also incredibly lacking in inclusivity; out of 40 seasons in nearly two decades, there’s only been one Black lead and contestants of color are severely underrepresented. And then there’s the question: can anyone really find love on reality television? Most of us would probably argue no, and yet, millions of people have continued to watch The Bachelor on that premise alone, suspending belief the way you might while watching a fantasy film.
Maybe, then, The Bachelor actually can go back to being just about love — with a more inclusive cast and different representations of what love looks like. After all, some of the greatest takeaways from recent seasons have been the lasting friendships that have emerged — from the contestants and fans alike. Maybe the franchise doesn’t need contrived Fantasy Suites, ambush breakups, or petty music festival gossip. Maybe, in going back to its roots while investing in the representation we sorely need today, The Bachelor can become something else entirely: a show that isn’t necessarily “the most dramatic ever,” but one that is simply, once again, about love.
Before you go, click here for other reality shows you won’t be able to stop watching.