The only thing cornier than the dates on The Bachelor and Bachelorette franchise—and that’s saying something, considering they regularly feature things like talent shows, thinly veiled excuses for the cast to disrobe, and visits to various castles and villas—may be the date cards that precede each rendezvous. You know, the little notecards presented to contestants before dates, to give them a hint at what they’ll be doing and, maybe more importantly, whether they’ll be alone or stuck with a group? Each is addressed to one or more contestants, signed by the bachelor or bachelorette, and contains some vague invitation in between. A sampling: “Let’s make sweet music together.” (That one was for a group date to meet country duo Big & Rich.) “Do you feel the electricity?” (For a nighttime blacklight 5K run.) “The sky’s the limit.” (A ride for two in a stunt plane.) “You make me feel like I’m floating.” (A zero-gravity flight.) Occasionally, some location-based wordplay sneaks in: “Do you Belize in love?” “Let’s Czech out Prague together.”
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These date cards, which have inspired at least one parody video, invite an obvious question: Who comes up with this crap?
It’s just one more thing you can credit to show’s evil-genius producers, according to Jason Carbone, a former Bachelor director and co-executive producer who was around for the franchise’s first few seasons. “I was part of the group that invented the date card,” Carbone said. “They have always been part of the show, and I used to write ’em.”
The Bachelor franchise is nothing if not devoted to the traditional trappings of romance: red roses, softly lit candlelit dinners, sunsets over bodies of water. And cheesy date cards are just one more crucial part of creating the show’s starry-eyed vibe. The level of excitement that contestants display when the notes arrive at the house proves the effort is well worth it: You can practically see the anticipation buzzing through the contestants as they repeat, like an oath, “Date card! Date card!”
The cards have been a feature of The Bachelor since its first episode, but they weren’t part of the initial pitch, Carbone revealed. The show creator Mike Fleiss originally envisioned was your basic cost-minded producer’s nightmare—think private planes, world travel. “ABC bought the show, but they also gave us a budget, and that budget didn’t allow us to make the show that Mike sold. So we had to come up with some alternatives,” Carbone went on. “We were like, ‘OK, how do we let these girls know when dates are happening?’ And because we wanted to control the timing of these events and when they occurred and whatnot, we realized that we couldn’t have Chris Harrison do it. So we came up with the idea of these notes that would come from the bachelor.”
“We wanted something that would be good television. If you send a note that somebody has to read, it gives you all kinds of options,” Carbone said. For example, “there’s something magical about that moment where, let’s say, the nemesis of the girl going on the date reads the date card.” (I told you, evil geniuses.) “These date cards provide more than just information on what the date is going to be, they provide opportunities to create more content.”
The format of the date card has been streamlined over the years—back in Season 1, there was a “date box” full of clues in addition to the card, and when The Bachelorette premiered, the producers experimented with video messages. “The guys went crazy for it,” Carbone said—picture Trista Rehn in nothing but a football jersey—but ultimately producers decided the videos weren’t worth the extra time and money they cost to produce. So they pared it down: white card, white envelope. The stationery, at least in Carbone’s day, was Crane.
There’s an art to crafting the perfect date card, Carbone argued. “You have to understand that Mike [Fleiss], he is a writer by nature.” With a background in newspapers and lots of friends in the writing world, “Mike loves the written word, and he wanted it to be cute but not cutesy. And he wanted it to be smart. And he wanted it to be a tease without giving it away.” As one of the people tasked with pitching Fleiss date card lines, Carbone said, “We loved nothing more than writing something and watching the cast react to what was being said or not said and trying to guess what they were going to do, because a really well-written date card is one that leaves you with all sorts of possibilities and not knowing exactly what it is you’re going to do.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean the process is without its challenges. “You gotta figure at this point in the show’s history, how many hundreds of hundreds of date cards have been written,” Carbone said. “There are only so many ways to say, ‘Let’s go hot-air ballooning.’ There are only so many words that rhyme with air and hot and balloon.” (“Let’s put all our eggs in one basket” is the phrasing the producers went with during one recent season, when Ben Higgins took to the skies with Amanda. It is unclear what the “eggs” were.)
Nailing the voice of the date card may be easier for some bachelors and bachelorettes than others, Carbone said, “because most of these date cards come from men—let’s be honest, most men are men of few words. And so that was also part of our strategy: Let’s make sure that it doesn’t feel like Cyrano de Bergerac was writing these things.” Though Carbone said he doesn’t think the producers tailor the date cards to individual bachelors or bachelorettes—the tone of the show itself must remain paramount—this may explain why the notes have sometimes seemed particularly … concise. “Let’s kick it,” read one of Nick Viall’s in a recent season, for a soccer date. There was also just “Everybody,” period, with some rare audio accompaniment, when a group date got to perform as backup dancers at a Backstreet Boys concert. This season on The Bachelorette, Rachel Lindsay’s date cards have offered at least a small hint of her personality: Remember “I’ve taken a viking to you,” before the Viking date? Or “I’m ‘copen’ to love,” in Copenhagen? Nick did get to give Rachel a “Where have you beignet all my life?” date card for a visit to New Orleans back in his season: What is it about Rachel that makes date card writers want to pun?
Nick’s season might also might earn the distinction for worst date card ever, with “We need to talk. …” This was for a date at the Museum of Broken Relationships. Really puts you in the mood for love. But it might not top “Let’s come together …” the date card that preceded Chris Soules and Carly’s surely romantic visit to a love and intimacy guru named Tziporah Kingsbury. It was their first one-on-one.
The ultimate date card, of course, comes at the end of the season when the keys to the fantasy suite—an overnight, camera-free date—are dangled in front of the bachelor or bachelorette. The original producers are also responsible for this language, which Carbone is proud to say hasn’t changed since Season 1: “Should you choose to forgo your individual rooms, please use this key to stay as a couple in the fantasy suite.” “The idea of a fantasy suite—we introduced that term to the vernacular,” he said. “That’s the stuff that I find the coolest, the stuff that has stuck and is now part of the zeitgeist that we find ourselves in in 2017.”
“Date card,” too, has wended its way into the Bachelor lexicon, along with “two-on-one,” the “first impression rose,” “hometown dates,” and more. No one would argue that it’s not mushy, dorky, old-fashioned, clichéd, sometimes even sinister … but season after season, the show asks, “Will you accept this rose?” and season after season, the audience says yes. The date card is one date that won’t be broken anytime soon.