The Bachelorette returns to ABC Monday night for its 15th season, an event that struck two Slate writers and longtime viewers with equal pangs of excitement and dread—a feeling familiar to many fans. Below, they explain this franchise’s particular malaise.
Heather Schwedel: Did you see that someone just posted “tonight tonight tonight” in our Bachelor and Bachelorette Slack channel?
Shannon Palus: Yes, I felt a jolt of excitement. Like a lab rat hearing a bell that signals a treat is coming.
Heather: I felt deadline pressure to decide whether I’m watching this season. It’s go time!
Shannon: Me too. What’s your current relationship with Bach-world? Mine is: I spoil every season for myself reading Reality Steve, then I watch every episode (sometimes fast forwarding a lot), and then listen to at least half of two recap podcasts. I also look at the Instagrams of past cast members a lot.
Heather: I watched the show when it was first on, when I was in high school, and I want to emphasize it was not cool then. Then I dipped from like 2004 to 2011 (though I noticed it started to be featured on more and more magazine covers during that time), when a roommate of mine was watching and I thought it would be fun to watch together. So I was in for Ben Flajnik and Ashley Hebert. Then I quit again, but I remember feeling pretty strong FOMO while everyone was talking about Juan Pablo and Andi and such, so I came back for Ben Higgins, then I quit again, then I came back again …
Shannon: I feel like the pull is getting stronger and stronger: I started in earnest with JoJo’s season, and it felt like being sucked into a vortex. By that point, we’d moved past the idea that it was strange for a smart person to watch reality TV, specifically The Bachelor franchise. There are so many people writing and discussing the minutiae of this world in interesting ways—like the Here to Make Friends podcast, or the book Bachelor Nation.
Heather: Maybe constant Bach talk felt particularly inescapable for us as young women?
Shannon: Once a critical mass of friends is talking about it, it feels soothing and good to have this common gossip.
Heather: Post-college, it can be hard to keep up with friends, and having a show in common to talk about is weirdly helpful. (I also feel this way about the Real Housewives.)
It might also be harder to ignore for us working in media, where The Bachelor is always all over Twitter and the websites we read and begins to feel like an important part of “the discourse.”
Shannon: Sometimes I can almost (almost!) rationalize that it’s important for my career to be engaged in this thing. See our designated Slate Slack channel and this very chat, even. My roommate who was also in media would have her boss over for watch parties. At one point, a famous-ish feminist writer was maybe going to show up.
Heather: Plus, if you watch a season, it’s really hard not to watch the next one because the shows developed this self-perpetuating formula of choosing the next season’s lead from the pool of past contestants. The new Bachelorette is Hannah B., who went home before the hometown dates in Colton’s season—Colton himself being a castoff from Becca’s season, and Becca having competed in Arie’s, and so on—so I already know her, I can’t just quit her story.
Shannon: They are just constantly leaving you on a cliffhanger, whether it’s before jumping to commercial or a months-long hiatus.
Heather: And the thing I think has really ramped up in the last couple of years is that now there’s this whole Bachelor Extended Universe, where the castmates date each other and try to stay in the spotlight and the storylines sort of continue to unfold not only on Bachelor in Paradise but in real life and online via Instagram (it’s the golden age of the former contestant influencer, I swear), and if you don’t watch, you’re left out.
Shannon: There’s almost the slot-machine feeling where you think, “very occasionally when I tune in something unmissable WILL happen!” and you hope that will make up for how boring the show is the rest of the time. What else has us questioning our Bach habits?
Heather: Well, for one thing, the time factor. This show is on for two hours a week at a minimum! Four for Paradise (the show’s summer spinoff).
Shannon: God, I am jealous of anyone who doesn’t instantly know what “Paradise” means in this context. I’m thinking about all the things that I could be doing that are more productive. Like learning to knit! Meditating! Working on my dream of owning a second dog! Watching any scripted show! Do you fantasize about what life would look like sans Bachelor?
Heather: Yes! I think about all the books I haven’t read and will never read and how limited anyone’s amount of time on Earth is and really question my choice to spend my “one wild and precious life” on a show I do not even really like.
Shannon: That resonates and makes me feel sad for myself. It’s not even just that I don’t love this show as much as the vast amount of time I spend on it would suggest—it’s actively harming how I think about myself, appearance and relationship-wise. In fact, it’s pretty clear that The Bachelor is rotten. How have we just kinda accepted that?
Heather: Right, it’s indisputably retrograde and conservative, in addition to being racist. (There’s been one black lead throughout the history of both shows, and that ended heartbreakingly.) I often think it’s actively bad for our culture. And yet here I am. One of the things that really struck me when I came back to the show as an adult after not watching for years was how false the narratives it presented about dating and sex were, in a way I didn’t understand as a teenager. Needless to say, that’s just not how it works!
Shannon: Even though I’m conscious of those narratives, if I watch tonight, I know I am, on some basic level, going to be bummed I’m not nine weeks away from parading around with hair extensions and a Neil Lane rock. Even in 2019, our culture—and especially The Bachelorette—still teaches us that having long shiny hair and being chosen for heterosexual marriage is the height of happiness for women. To choose, with slight irony, to watch anyway is to feel like I’m outsmarting all that stuff, but I fear that from spending so much time in its presence, I’m also making myself feel like crap way more than I should.
Heather: Yes! Another thing I hate is that now I’m older than most of the contestants—I hate that they’re so eager to get married at 22 and 23, and I also hate that I’ve in any way bought into this system where I’m letting this show make me feel old. Hannah is 24, by the way :(
Shannon: I do that too. I think it’s unfair to assign blame to yourself for this. We have to remember that what we can do tonight is … literally anything else.
Heather: So do you think you’re going to watch anyway? Do you accept this rose? Aren’t you curious what the deal is with the contestant who supposedly fathered 114 children via sperm donation?
Shannon: I just booked a yoga class during airtime. I am gathering the courage to be the brave contestant that eliminates herself. Cue the tears.