Is it Finally Time For Us to Stop Watching The Bachelor?
"This show is like a cockroach—it’s un-killable."
History has been made! After 42 seasons of false promises, ABC has finally delivered the most dramatic season finale of a Bachelor franchise yet. This past week, millions of viewers tuned in to watch a women’s entire emotional life be completely destroyed — and despite our collective concern for her feelings, we couldn’t look away. Bachelor Arie Luyendyk Jr. brought his impressively uninteresting season of The Bachelor to a train wreck of an ending on Monday, when he told Becca K. — the woman he proposed to in the final episode — that he was breaking off their engagement to be with the runner-up, Lauren B. Bachelor Nation took a vote, and we decided: Arie is the worst. (A Minnesota politician has introduced a bill in attempts to ban Arie from Becca’s home state.)
But wait! The drama is just getting started. In a twist of
highly-produced entertainment fate, everything turned out alright. Becca was named the next Bachelorette — hence raising her odds of finding true love — and Arie found himself a new fiancé after proposing to Lauren. (On air. Obviously.)
The five-hour reality TV saga has been an emotional journey for everyone involved. To help process our complicated feelings, I employed the professional help of Suzannah Showler, Canadian writer and author of “Most Dramatic Ever.” As someone who wrote a whole book on why we love this televised romance-factory, she’s earned herself the title “Bachelor scholar.”
What are your thoughts on Monday night’s finale? Was this truly the most dramatic episode ever?
I’m kind of shook, to be honest. So, listen, I’m a pretty hardened Bachelor viewer. I have a taste for the strong stuff: the more heightened and human the emotions, the better. I’m here for the brutal, blindsiding breakups not in spite of the fact that they’re painful to watch but because they are. I like to feel all the feels. Plus, I always love the moments when we get to see producers and cameras, when things get so heightened that we run right up to the edge of the show’s reality and into ours. I’m all about that. So in theory, this week’s finale should have been ticking all my boxes. But it didn’t. I felt really uncomfortable and disgusted. And trust me when I say it takes a lot to make me have that reaction to The Bachelor at this point.
Jason Mesnick was, at one point, the most hated man in the world — but everything worked out great with his fiance swap. What makes Arie different than Jason?
It’s true that, like Arie, Jason allowed the show to film and produce his engagement-ending breakup with Melissa. But that took place alone as an alternative to After the Final Rose, alone on a soundstage with Chris Harrison, and Melissa appeared to have been at least partially prepared for what was coming. It wasn’t working out, and Jason ended things where they began: under controlled, paternalistic filming conditions. Fair enough. It was all part and parcel of the show’s usual framework. What makes the situation with Arie different is that he’s bringing cameras with him into a space they don’t normally go, allowing the viewer into a part of the couple’s post-show intimacy we don’t normally get access to. We’re off the grid. And we’ve gone there specifically to shake things up and get dramatic, entirely at Becca’s expense.
Could he have done the break-up off camera? Do you think that the producers would have even let that happen?
Of course he could have! But I’m sure he was highly incentivized not to. I don’t just mean financially (though maybe that too, I don’t know). He knows he’s about to do something that has the potential to be really damaging to his reputation, right? I’d be willing to bet that producers are offering to help soften that, are assuring him that if he leaves it in their hands, they’ll make sure his story gets told right. They may also be telling him that they’ll make it easier on Becca. But probably there’s a strong appeal to self-interest.
So about last night’s After the Final Rose episode… did that change your mind on things at all?
What was interesting about last night’s After the Final Rose to me was how much time was spent using the show’s players to assure viewers that the airing of the Becca-Arie breakup footage was necessary to the process, reimagining not only the breakup but the public nature of it as a part of Becca’s journey now that she’s the Bachelorette. This is totally in keeping with the franchise logic: the move back and forth from Bachelor to Bachelorette where the heartbroken are elevated to love object assures us that the collateral pain is all in the service of something greater. That it’s all in the service of true love.
And your thoughts on proposal number two?
Arie’s obviously a moron, but true love comes to morons, too. He and Lauren seem happy together, and I sincerely hope they are. In a universe of fair consequences, I would say the trade-off for the manner in which he pulled this fiancee switcheroo shouldn’t be that he has to be alone forever: it’s that he and Lauren should forfeit their Bachelor celebrity. You get the happily ever after, but you don’t get to make wads of cash endorsing sugarbear hair gummy vitamins or whatever on Instagram. That seems like a fair exchange to me. I wish them well, and I wish them invisibility.
Could be the thing that ruins the franchise? Between the alleged Bachelor in Paradise misconduct, failing Bachelorette ratings and now this, are we finally seeing the end of The Bachelor?
I don’t think so. This show is like a cockroach—it’s un-killable. You know that scene in end-of-the-world movies when the trusty news anchor sends out one last broadcast before the grid goes out and the world descends into chaos? What do you want to bet that in our world, the last thing we’ll ever see on a screen is Chris Harrison staring down the camera and promising us all that this will time will really be “the most dramatic apocalypse ever…”
So will we ever stop watching The Bachelor then? What exactly is it that has us tuning in season after season?
This show is an amazing, improbable cocktail of sameness and difference. The rhythms and even the language is always familiar, and comforting, but with each new crop of players we get to grow attached to new human beings. It’s a constant re-dramatizing of the human condition: the desire to be loved. The spectacle is crass, but there’s something at the heart of it that’s very pure. The combination is hard to look away from.