While intelligent and imaginative shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men represent the apotheosis of great television in the last decade, reality shows like The Bachelor and The Bachelorette represent its nadir. Ironically, the show that is supposed to be all about love, is the show that people love to hate. Let’s not sugarcoat it, the show is a veritable car wreck — each week it screeches across the pavement, hops over fences, rips up lawns and flower beds, and crashes into the living room of more than 7.5 million Americans, delivering its payload of histrionics and collective mischief. Although love should be central to the show, it is overshadowed by the bad behavior that you would find at a riotous college spring break vacation — crying, screaming, tantrums, backstabbing, lying, cheating, 911 calls, catfighting, inebriation, nudity, skinny dipping, serial hook ups, and so forth. (Truly, the show is a guilty pleasure; most viewers will not admit that they watch the show.) Despite the best efforts and intentions of the producers, the show has a terrible track record of getting couples to the wedding altar. Over the course of 14 years, thirty seasons, dozens of eligible bachelors and bachelorettes, and hundreds of contestants — only six couples are still together. Even the show’s affable host divorced his wife of 18 years back in 2012. All of this begs the question, why do people watch The Bachelor and The Bachelorette?
Schadenfreude word borrowed from German, meaning deriving pleasure for the misfortune of others. Few shows can make people — especially long-term couples — feel so much better about themselves than The Bachelor. In the real world, love happens serendipitously and naturally, it grows over time, and takes place in rather conventional locations. In the wacky world of The Bachelor all of those ingredients are tossed out the window. Throw in week after week of silly divisive competitions, contrived and cringeworthy group dates, and gossip-filled downtime; then add a camera crew that follows everybody’s moves in a creepy, stalker kind of way — and you have a guaranteed recipe for disaster. (After witnessing all the nuttiness surrounding all the globe-hopping and orchestrated phony dating situations, most viewers begin to really appreciate their rather normal, unflashy courtship that led to an actual marriage.) In short, The Bachelor is a primer for how to behave really badly in front of 7.5 million people — alienating other contestants, not to mention embarrassing the parents who raised you, leaving them wondering, “where did we go wrong with our son/daughter?” To make sure you see plenty of outlandish, zany behavior each season the producers carefully select a few contestants that are outliers on the sanity spectrum: the wackier, the more toxic the person, the higher the entertainment value — leading to a higher ratings, at the expense of the entire group of contestants.
THE PROMISE OF THE FAIRY TALE OF LOVE
Part of the lure of The Bachelor is based on the great mythology of love, perpetuated by generations of fairy tales, Disney films, and romantic movies. Just like in a classic fairy tale, The Bachelor promises viewers that two strangers will meet, fall in love, and live happily ever after. Even though the show rarely delivers on the promise of that fairy tale, people tune in each week, ever optimistic, that one of cupid’s arrows will find its mark. When romance does not flourish on the show, certain contestants are invited to participate in The Bachelor’s tow spin-off shows, Bachelor in Paradise and Bachelor Pad, which are essentially islands for misfit toys. Even in that wackier environment, some couples do find love.
A SHARED EXPERIENCE
As the show reveals near the end of each season, the real entertainment and enjoyment comes from watching The Bachelor with a group of people. Like a bad B-movie or mawkish Hallmark movie, the melodramatic show inspires lively viewer participation: snarky comments, ridicule, outright insults, as well as prompting laughter, pity, and tears (crocodile and genuine). Like armchair quarterbacks, Bachelor viewers feel comfortable rating the men and women, assessing the dates and events, and discussing the episodes play by play, as it were. The Bachelor franchise has given rise to Bachelor viewing parties, Bachelor bingo, and Bachelor fantasy games across the country in the attempt to justify watching this weekly car wreck.
PART OF POP-CULTURE
Reality shows, whether we love or hate them, influence popular culture by introducing words and phrases that become part of the English language. Thanks to social media the show’s many phrases have spread quickly like a nefarious, stubborn STD. The Bachelor franchise has added these colorful phrases: “the final rose””the first impression rose” “will you accept this rose?” “the fantasy suite” “the most dramatic season ever” “Bachelor Nation” “hometown dates” “are you here for the right reasons?”
The Bachelor franchise has spawned hundreds of websites and blogs that provide snarky commentary, criticism, and recaps of every single episode, warts and all. The franchise has also provided enough fodder for two wickedly funny spoofs: Burning Love, produced by Ben Stiller and Ken Marino, that premiered on Yahoo! Screen’s Comedy Channel. The other parody is UnREAL, produced by Marti Noxon and Sarah Shapiro (a former Bachelor producer) on the Lifetime network.
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