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The Bachelor, The Contestants, and The Viewer at Home

By: Hayley Morris

Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m kind of hooked on The Bachelor. This current season (Season 24) is the first time I’ve tried to watch every episode rather than just a few here and there if I’m free. I’ve become obsessed, clearing my schedule every Monday night to make sure I can sit down and watch Peter bounce back and forth between a house full of girls all vying to have a spare thirty seconds alone with him. 

One trend that has particularly caught my eye is the concept of breaking down and crying on national television for hundreds of thousands to watch. If a minor inconvenience occurs and a girl breaks down in tears, suddenly Peter is there to comfort them, and they’re presented with a rose the same episode almost every time without fail. It seems some of these contestants are quite literally crying their way to the finish line, as Peter has a fondness for the girls who begin to get watery-eyed around him. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with crying about something and seeking comfort in someone you trust. The issue comes when you juxtapose this knowledge with the fact that many of the girls who get eliminated early on are the ones who hold it together when an issue comes up and don’t cower into Peter’s side.

Consider the actions of the women throughout this season who made it to the quarter-finals: 

Hannah-Ann broke down crying on a one-on-one date when Peter left because he was unsatisfied with her answers to his questions. In response to this emotional burst, Peter rewarded her with a rose and claimed this was the type of emotional display he wanted to see from her.

Kelsey cried on the first evening when Hannah-Ann and Peter mistakenly popped the bottle of champagne intended for herself and Peter. She then continued to revisit this incident and cry to Peter when the other women accused her of being over-dramatic, and every week she received a rose (on one occasion when she sought out Peter to complain about the other women he gave her rose early, before the ceremony began).

Victoria F. has also been a crier, walking away from the cameras the moment there is a slight mishap and constantly threatening to leave the show only to remain when Peter presents her with a rose every week without fail.

The only contestant in the quarter-finals who didn’t seem to be as involved in the drama of the show was Madison, who Peter appears to have a soft spot for. But in the semi-final episode, she walks out when she discovers Peter has had sexual relations with the other contestants after she warned him she would not be able to continue if he did so. 

Compare these incidents to another contestant on the show who didn’t rely on drama to ensure they secured a rose. Kelley and Peter had multiple one-on-one moments and Peter would repeatedly express he was doubtful of their relationship because Kelley didn’t seem as invested in it as he did. He waited to see her become emotional, to beg for a rose and prove her love to him in a dramatic showing of passion. This became particularly evident in his three-on-one date with Kelley, Hannah-Ann, and Victoria F. Both Hannah-Ann and Victoria employed emotional tactics, with Hannah-Ann providing a long list of reasons why she loved him while Victoria became emotional after a tense conversation with Peter (ultimately leading her to receive the first rose). 

Kelley, however, simply had a private conversation with him and remained refined and confident without feeling the need to remind Peter every few minutes how she was deeply in love with him. By the end of this episode, Kelley is the one sent packing, with Peter giving the remaining rose to Hannah-Ann instead. Peter justifies his decision by claiming he and Kelley worked better as friends than as a couple but this left many viewers wondering if he assumed emotional women were women in love.

This trend is not contained to only Peter’s season on the show. Multiple bachelors have been accused of rewarding drama on the show and enjoying petty fights. This may in part explain why in the last 23 seasons of The Bachelor, only two of the couples are still together (as of 2020). However, I’m not here to discuss how the show has a 9% success rate in achieving what it advertises (to find the bachelor or bachelorette a fiance to spend the rest of their lives with). The more pressing concern is the potentially negative impact this representation of “love” could have upon younger viewers of the show.

Namely, The Bachelor seems to do an incredibly good job at degrading women to nothing more than desperate girls who fall in love too fast and employ shady tactics to secure a rose and a man. As such, when the bachelor rewards the women who cries and stirs up drama and sends home those who remain unproblematic, he portrays the women who succeed in finding true love are those who are theatrical and feisty, fighting for attention in order to be noticed (as noted by how much screen time everyone receives; those who stir up more drama are on camera for longer lengths of time, whereas in the first few weeks of the show Peter sent home girls who I hadn’t seen on camera since they first introduced themselves to him.) By rewarding attention and drama, young viewers may be influenced to believe that in order to catch someone’s romantic attention, they too must be over-the-top and treat love as a chess game in which every other player around them is out to sabotage them. This undermines both the concept of love and the women themselves, disregarding individual female personalities and what they desire in a relationship with someone. When everything becomes about the man, the women in the show simply become an accessory to his personality. 

Love requires give and take from both parties. When one person simply waits for the right reaction from someone else and accuses them of not being invested in the relationship when they don’t receive the reaction they want, the relationship becomes dependent upon one person pandering to the desires of another, which is both unhealthy and unequal. I’m not saying The Bachelor intentionally tries to teach young people the wrong ideals about love, but it’s sheer popularity due to viewers (my own, admittedly, included) interest in the drama normalizes this sense of a one-sided relationship and reinforces ideals of a woman being inferior and submissive to a man.

So what can be done about it? Honestly, no matter how much backlash the show receives, I doubt it will be taken off of air anytime soon. With so many spinoffs of the original show (ex. The Bachelorette, Bachelor in Paradise, and the upcoming Golden Years for single seniors and the music-based Listen to Your Heart) the concept is evidently popular and successful. The most important thing to do is remind younger, more easily influenced viewers that the representation of love presented on these shows is not reality, despite it being labeled as “reality TV.” There’s nothing wrong with indulging in a bit of trash TV, as long as at the end of the day we don’t normalize what we see on these shows in real life.