The Bachelor: The Greatest Seasons—Ever! is the best way to fill airtime the franchise’s producers could come up with on short notice when the coronavirus crisis threw a wrench into the production schedule, and Bachelor Nation is feeling the pain. Fans expected to spend spring watching Bachelorette Clare Crawley winnow a houseful of hunks down to her one true love and then summer enjoying the spectacle of Crawley’s castoffs and other previous contestants making fools of themselves on Bachelor in Paradise. Instead, they got a glorified clip show. When they’ve already seen all the footage, and they know how the seasons end, is there any point in even watching?
Bachelor Nation, I am here to tell you the answer is yes. And the point is: Joshua.
Who is Joshua? Not Joshua Albers, from Kaitlyn’s season, to be clear. This Joshua is a new addition to the Bachelor-verse, and he’s arguably more important than any old contestant. Joshua is host Chris Harrison’s 18-year-old son.
Why is Chris’ son suddenly joining the action 40-odd seasons in? As with the whole reason for the existence of #BachelorGOAT (as fans have taken to calling it on Twitter) in the first place, it’s because of COVID-19. Well, sort of. Because of the pandemic, Harrison is hosting the series from home. He is shown at the beginning of each show sitting at what looks like a very imposing desk, strewn with the franchise’s signature red roses, his book displayed behind him in the series’ also-signature “Is it tacky or is it ironically tacky?” style. And in each episode, sometimes several times, Chris acknowledges his “one-man crew,” aka his son. When this happens, the view usually switches to a wider camera angle, and then a shadowy figure standing several feet in front of Chris, sometimes in a backward baseball cap and hoodie, gives the audience a quick wave.
Joshua only gets a few seconds of screen time every week. But among fans, Joshua-spotting has become a way to liven up otherwise boring rehashes of old storylines. Sometimes we’ll get a little moment of him and his father interacting, like the point in the first episode when the show was coming back from a commercial and Chris was shown saying, “All right Josh, count us in, let’s do this.” Joshua obliged with a subdued “3, 2, 1 …” A similar exchange followed in another episode: “Are you ready for another epic night?” Chris asked, to which Joshua replied—did I detect the slightest hint of gritted teeth?—with a not-so-epic “I’m ready. Let’s do it.” The sappiest example of this father-son banter probably occurred in the fifth episode. That show recapped The Bachelor’s very first season, which took place in 2002, a time Chris contextualized by sharing that he could still hold Joshua, who was less than a year old, then.
Despite these consistent mentions, not much is revealed. Still, once you start thinking about Joshua’s presence, it’s hard to stop. Partly this is because, well, he looks like a hostage. Is he playing up the over-it-teenager-who’s-embarrassed by-his-parents angle for the audience, or is that really the best enthusiasm he can muster? (And if it is, who could blame him?) Maybe it’s sweet in a Chris Harrison-is-all-of-us sort of way? It seems like the producers’ intentions may have been along those lines, to add a bit of homespun charm to Chris’ otherwise very professional setup, but Joshua’s being there is not really doing that. It’s hard to look aw-shucks when surrounded by no doubt extremely expensive lights and cameras and tripods. If anything, the wide shots where we see Chris grinning in the background and Joshua’s dark silhouette in the foreground are eerie: Just a son reluctantly filming his reality-TV-host father in a basement-like interior, nothing to see here.
But another reason why Joshua’s lurking is fascinating is that, in Chris’ long tenure as host of The Bachelor, he’s basically never revealed anything about himself. It’s debatable whether he’s so much as stated an opinion; he’s that good at spouting platitudes and teasing the umpteenth “most dramatic rose ceremony—ever.” If you follow Bachelor-world news, you might know that a few years ago, Chris got a divorce, and now he’s dating Lauren Zima, an Entertainment Tonight reporter. As for Joshua, Instagram research reveals that he’ll be a freshman this fall at Texas Christian University, where he’ll be on the lacrosse team, in theory. But the show doesn’t focus on any of that, and passing mentions of Chris’ personal life are so rare that they feel forbidden. Inside the Bachelor universe, Chris remains the ultimate impartial omniscient narrator. So it’s jarring when all of the sudden, this man who we’ve come to regard as the All-Seeing, All-Knowing Bachelor Daddy reveals that he, too, is trapped at home, and what’s more he is in fact someone’s real daddy. Two someones! (Harrison has a daughter, too.) Joshua’s existence is giving us a tiny peek into an alternate dimension where Chris Harrison is a civilian, and it’s kind of breaking our brains.
So we watch for Joshua every week, picking up on tiny details. Ooh, did you see that he’s in a T-shirt for Week 2, and the hat’s gone? Then in Week 3, the hat was back, and when he turned around to wave, you got a good look at his whole face when other shots had been more side views! Thrilling. It seems like he’s not really loving this foray into the franchise, but things do have a way of coming back around in the Bachelor universe. What I’m saying is that this show is totally shameless enough that the producers will try to make him a contestant one day. Hopefully he’ll be smart enough to say no. But we can say we knew him when.