We're in the first quarter of the year, which means that a new season of ABC's The Bachelor is underway. The lead of Season 27 is Zach Shallcross, a 26-year-old who appeared as a contestant on the last season of The Bachelorette.
Shallcross is a fine Bachelor; just that — fine. But the franchise as a whole, created by Mike Fleiss and encompassing Bachelor and Bachelorette as well as Bachelor in Paradise, a more Love Island-ish show, is tired. Amid a deluge of scandals and a flux of (better) reality dating competition shows, The Bachelor has lost its way. After over two decades, it's time to leave the show in 2023.
Scandal after scandal
The Bachelor's race problem is well-documented, in terms of both casting and contestant behavior.
Most contestants of the show have been white. It took the show, which is produced by Warner Bros. and aired on ABC, 14 years for a Black Bachelorette, Rachel Lindsay, and 19 years to cast a Black Bachelor, Matt James, since the respective series premieres (Bachelor began airing in 2002, and Bachelorette in 2003); the latter occurred after the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests.
'The Bachelor's race problem is well-documented, in terms of both casting and contestant behavior.
Two subsequent Bachelorettes have been Black, Michelle Young and Tayshia Adams, the latter Black-Latino biracial. Matt James has been the only Black lead as of publication. Juan Pablo Galavis was the first Latino Bachelor years earlier, in 2014, but some critics balked at calling him the first Bachelor of color at the time because they said he looked white. There has never been a lead of Asian descent on the show.
Beyond casting, there have been numerous controversies over past racist conduct by contestants. During Lindsay's season (Season 13 in 2017), for example, racist tweets from contestant Lee Garrett surfaced. A yearbook photo of one of the 2022 Bachelorette winners, Erich Schwer, in blackface circulated online during the season. Garrett apologized at the "Men Tell All" special towards the end of the show, but there was speculation about his genuineness. Schwer apologized following online backlash.
A similar controversy led to the exit of the previous host of the show, Chris Harrison, in 2021. Photos of Rachael Kirkconnell, the winner of Matt James's season that same year, at an antebellum plantation-themed frat party surfaced on Reddit after her win. Harrison defended her in an interview with Lindsay, which spun into a separate scandal that led to Harrison leaving The Bachelor. Kirkconnell issued an apology about her involvement at the party, and Harrison apologized for defending her.
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After a single episode of the current season, another controversy boiled up: Contestant Greer Blitzer defended a schoolmate's use of blackface years before being cast. She issued an apology in an Instagram Story less than a day after the season premiere.
Despite repeating controversies, The Bachelor hasn't seemed to learn from them. Harrison's replacement is another white man, Jesse Palmer, who was the lead in 2004. The two subsequent Bachelors since James' season in 2021 have both been white, with the 2022 lead, Clayton Echard, looking eerily similar to Palmer.
The concept of The Bachelor hasn't changed since the show started. Despite failing to produce lasting couples — only four from Bachelor and four from Bachelorette are still together as of publication — the goal of the show remains the same: propose and get married.
Watching The Bachelor in 2023, following years of a pandemic shining a light on the ills of domesticity — uneven distribution of labor and lack of support for parents, to name two — is like watching The Twilight Zone. We're supposed to root for a polyamorous dating competition where the prize is monogamous matrimony. When a contestant claims not to be ready to marry someone they've only known for a few weeks and on-camera, they're treated as if that's absurd.
We're supposed to root for a polyamorous dating competition where the prize is monogamous matrimony.
Compare this to HBO's FBoy Island, which was created by former Bachelor producer Elan Gayle. Multiple women leads sniff out the "nice guys" from the "fboys" with the goal of getting a boyfriend at the end of the show. That's it! A partner! Not some weird legal commitment to someone you met two months ago. Some fans speculate that The Bachelor's quality has gone downhill since Gayle departed the show.
What's more, the show's lack of diversity compounds; The Bachelor fails when it comes to showing sexual minorities and body diversity. A handful of bisexual women have appeared, and Season 23's lead Colton Underwood later came out as gay, but by and large this is the most heterosexual show on TV. In terms of the latter, only two contestants in the show's two-decade history were plus-sized as of 2022 (and, if Shallcross' season is an indication, it'll stay two).
There have been a couple contestants on The Bachelor that have discussed their disabilities: Sarah Herron on the 2013 season, who was born with one arm, and Abigail Heringer on James's season, who is deaf.
Beyond the sameness of the show's format and its contestants, there's also repetition in its predictable date ideas and manipulated drama. One contestant is inevitably subject to a "villain" edit every season, where hours of footage gets chopped and screwed to portray them in a negative light, for example. Whenever there's a one-on-one date, you can be sure there'll be a discussion about relational traumas followed by fireworks. Group dates, meanwhile, are quasi-polyamorous where jealousy abounds. Examples include: "wedding" photoshoots; shopping sprees; football or wrestling competitions; thrill-seeking adventures like bungee jumping or sky diving (especially if the contestants are scared!); and open-mic dates where the contestants are required to bare their soul in front of everyone.
Side bar: Some producer of this show has to have a food kink. Not content with romantic picnics or intimate restaurant meals, Bachelor in Paradise particularly loves to make contestants pour food on themselves and eat it off each other. It's to the point where Redditors wonder if someone involved has a food fetish, and I'm inclined to agree. No one wants to see a sexy ground meat date! Remember the chocolate bath in the Australian edition!?
Sticking to formula is The Bachelor way— when the show has ventured from its usual format, the results are subpar. Take the last season of The Bachelorette, which featured two leads: Rachel Recchia and Gabby Windey. Since the contestants had the choice of Bachelorette, Recchia and Windey faced hardship instead of that signature solo pedestal reverence. Usually, the leads are treated with the highest of esteem, but with that season, fans accused the show of humiliating them.
Savvier audiences and shows
Beyond the aforementioned "villain" edits, The Bachelor is consistently called out for suspicious cuts and "frankenbiting," or splicing audio and video to alter how events actually happened. In the era of social media, audiences are savvier than ever when it comes to recognizing manipulative editing — especially in its later seasons. The Bachelor is far from the only reality show that does this, but it's reached a point where even a contestant on the current season, Christina Mandrell, pointed out editing flubs.
The reality show landscape is considerably more vast now than two decades ago, which means audiences are becoming fluent in these tricks. In 2002, when The Bachelor first aired, the genre was just finding its footing. Now, there's an abundance of choices in programming, like FBoy Island, Too Hot to Handle, Are You the One?, Love Island, Love is Blind, Married at First Sight, Temptation Island, The Ultimatum, Dated and Related, and Single's Inferno. Audiences don't have to settle for the same Bachelor format and drama.
I recently watched the 2019 season of Are You the One?, a reality dating competition on MTV, which featured an all-bisexual cast. It was messy and riveting, just what reality TV should be. Watching the eighth season of the show, I couldn't help but think about The Bachelor and how I haven't felt the same excitement in years. With its retrograde prize and lack of growth, it's time for The Bachelor to forego the final rose and step aside.
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