The Bachelor is no longer a hot new TV show. In some ways, it feels like the oldest TV show in existence. But for the wayward fan of this inescapable franchise, there is now more Bachelor for the feast than ever before—it just comes after most contestants are booted off. Podcasts. YouTube channels. Instagrams. Books. There is now a full Bachelor extended universe, a dark and wondrous world filled with tell-alls, clandestine screenshots, and drama-filled behind-the-scenes videos. Join me, it’s nice in here.
I understand that this will sound like a nightmare to many of you. For me, it’s a dream. If I were the agent of a cast member, past or present, I would no doubt be saying to her, “Lauren, your time is now.” I want it all. The spinoff show, Bachelor in Paradise, has given renewed relevance to the island of misfit toys that is the show’s former contestants, inviting them back to find love in Mexico. At the same time, the opportunity to build a brand outside the show has never been riper.
As others have written, the Instagram influencer model seems designed for people with a drop of fame, camera-ready good looks, and the willingness to hawk sketchy hair-growth vitamins. Podcasts have become a low-cost way to broadcast opinions on current Bachelor Nation drama in return for lots of small-scale ad deals, without much effort expended on production.
Many people find reality TV stars parlaying their fame into small media businesses annoying and tacky. I get it: It is a crass means for people who haven’t done anything useful to profit off their 15 minutes. The days are gone when Bachelors were doctors or finance moguls, or members of the Borghese family. This content is, admittedly, the single-use plastic overflowing the giant dumpster of the internet. But I also see their work as crucial, singular, world-building—a far more inviting world than the TV show itself.
Though I’m a casual fan of The Bachelor franchise in television form, I’m a rabid consumer of all the associated media. To date, former contestants have generated about 20 books, 17 podcasts, and more Instagram and Twitter schemes than it feels rational to try to quantify. When I first wake up, while waiting for the train, or at the end of a long workday, I can take a quick dip into the crystal blue waters of Bachelor Land, full of sparkly dresses, meaningless drama, and expected outcomes, without all the pretentious, overinflated trappings of the actual TV show.
Since the characters are largely two-dimensional, Instagram makes more sense for them than television. I admit I don’t actually follow any of the cast on Instagram—my feed and subconscious would instantly be overrun with products that will never be FDA-approved. But I regularly and deliberately check up on them. Their accounts mimic what makes the show successful in that the most popular photos are the ones that arrange various Bachelor people together, like a gathering of the Avengers. If it’s not a photo with other cast members, they still insert themselves in one another’s comments, and in this way, one person’s profile can lead you to another and another in a delicious and treacherous descent. It’s my favorite corner of social media: Here I can survey endless photos of people I “know” well enough to be engaging, combined with the complete relaxation of not caring a whit about them. I can be rewarded with the vague erotic electricity of looking at attractive people with zero chance of any unpleasant substantive encounter with the world.
Bachelor Instagram is a good way to mindlessly waste time, but you can be in a practically catatonic state and miss nothing listening to Bachelor podcasts. The best way to listen is actually to not listen at all. I simply allow the hosts to whisper mildly salacious stories in my ear as I do my dishes—a constant hum of, “Hannah B … hot tub … rose … Hannah G … the right reasons.” I’ve dipped in and out of many feeds, but my personal favorites are a show hosted by Wells Adams, the lanky, jovial radio DJ from Nashville, Tennessee, and another one from Derek Peth, the aspiring enlightened bae of Bachelor Nation. At some point this winter, I went into hibernation and listened to the entire archive of The Betchelor. I listened to recaps of seasons I had never even watched, until the characters I’d previously known dwindled steadily down to none. I lost days listening to the podcast while playing Tetris—I look back on it as a kind of opium dream.
A side business that’s developed out of Instagram is contestant-branded fashion and wellness products. The logic here is very clear: If you’re (somewhat) famous, and thin, and good-looking, it’s simple to use your image to sell products related to your looks. Thus we have essential oils from Nick Viall and headbands from Kaitlyn Bristowe, and a nutrition and lifestyle course from Krystal Nielson. And that’s not all: What’s more lucrative than selling stupid slogan T-shirts made by another company? Selling stupid slogan T-shirts you made yourself! It’s the vertical integration of the influencer world.
And given that the talents of Bachelor contestants are largely visual, it’s amazing how large the book market is. I’m just beginning to dive in, and even to me—a woman who has confessed to abandoning all morals and good sense—the landscape is bleak. I’m easing in with a book by a real writer, Los Angeles Times reporter Amy Kaufman, who wrote the very well-liked Bachelor Nation: Inside the World of America’s Favorite Guilty Pleasure. Obviously, this is not an insider tell-all, but it does promise juicy details without (what I assume will be) the truly painful writing of the contestants.
No doubt this book will lead me down the rabbit hole, but before I go, I will say that the books by contestants look truly horrifying. Like the dregs of what you’d find at the bottom of a mildewed box at a yard sale, underneath the pile of Tom Clancy books. The vast majority are “memoirs,” including the inane (Melissa Rycroft on being dumped on national television) and the extremely worrisome (David Good’s advice to women on “cracking the tough guy”). The titles are all riffs on Bachelor lingo—For the Right Reasons, I Didn’t Come Here to Make Friends—and the covers feature softly lit headshots with a scattering of hearts, stars, and rose petals. Some contestants have used the platform to venture into more creative forms, including cookbooks, romance novels, and a poetic baseball memoir. Honestly, the only one that looks halfway readable is Holly Durst’s children’s book, Chocolate Socks. “What two things do you like best in the whole world?” the Amazon blurb reads. I’m sold.
How do I square my love for this stuff with my very clear sense that it’s evil? I know that what I’m doing is essentially huffing noxious fumes. I acknowledge the shallowness, the commerciality, not to mention the countless ways the show fails in whom it casts and how it handles their identities. And yet, this winter, I find myself eagerly awaiting every Monday night—not for the airing (I am still watching sporadically and only when I can fast forward), but because it generates a new wave of the associated content. I immediately turn to my phone to listen to two-plus hours of mindless drivel, check my office Slack to see what my colleagues are saying, and glue my eyes to as many #ads as I can.
In the same way that some people have, in 2020, resigned themselves to their love of the NFL or vaping, all I can do is lift my chin and say with pride: Give me a strapping man and a cast of babes. Give me a series of meaningless, childish fights. And why not? Give me a damn rose.