Bachelor Nation was rocked on Tuesday—but not by this season’s milquetoast bachelor narrowing his pool of potential wives down to the final three. Instead, fans and gleeful hate-watchers of one of television’s most secretive shows were titillated by details in an excerpt from Amy Kaufman’s forthcoming book, Bachelor Nation: Inside the World of America’s Favorite Guilty Pleasure, published by the New York Post.
The excerpt dives into the particularities of getting onto the reality dating show, revealing little nuggets such as the fact that “after filling out an extensive application and submitting five to 15 pictures of themselves” and producing a “well-lit” video of themselves, contestants have to take a 150-question personality test that include queries like, “Do you have out-of-body experiences? Do you think you can control things with your mind? Have you ever wanted to kill someone?” Romantic! Kaufman also delves into one of the most scrutinized elements of the program, especially after the premiere of the Lifetime parody show UnREAL: The supposedly rigorous psychological testing contestants must endure. But the specific detail that took the internet by the storm was the one that made its way into the excerpt’s headline: “The STD that keeps most contestants from competing on ‘The Bachelor’.”
Now, I’m not going to lie and say that headline didn’t catch my eye—and the same appears true for most every other blogger out there, because all the write-ups of the Kaufman excerpt led with that detail. Newsweek went with “The No. 1 Reason Bachelor Contestants Get Turned Away is STDS.” HuffPost’s original spin: “This STD Is Reportedly the Top Reason People Can’t Get On ‘The Bachelor’.” In case you were wondering, the STD is herpes, which should surprise no one—not because this stat reveals anything about the promiscuity of people who apply to be on the Bachelor, but because basically everyone has herpes.
There are two kinds of herpes virus types—HSV-1 and HSV-2. Genital herpes is typically caused by HSV-2 and according to the CDC, more than one in six Americans have an HSV-2 infection. But an increasing number of genital herpes infections are caused by HSV-1, also known as oral herpes or cold sores, which affects between 50 to 80 percent of U.S. adults. It’s one of the most common STDs in the world, so the fact that it’s the one that keeps the most contestants from competing on the Bachelor isn’t newsworthy.
The subtle wink-nudge look-at-this that these headlines play into is gross, not just because herpes is ridiculously common, but because STD-shaming is crass in general. It also ignores the other, objectively more interesting 1600-plus words in the excerpt that don’t concern herpes, including juicy tidbits like the fact that despite Bachelor creator Mike Fleiss saying that the show has some of the “most thorough background checks in the business,” producers intentionally let through contestants who are “kind of unhinged.” According to Kaufman, these folks are then forced to sign contacts that allow the franchise to own anything embarrassing they do on the show—“whether you were ‘clothed, partially clothed, or naked’ or ‘aware or unaware’ of being filmed.” Or this fact, which quelled any desire I had to go on and game the system: The contestants don’t own—and can’t sell—the iconic Neil Lane ring for two whole years.