Saturday, July 13, 2024

The Bachelorette and the blurring of reality and fiction

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It wasn’t long ago that I recommended Burning Love, the parody series based on the popular ABC shows The Bachelor/Bachelorette. I talked about how it took common elements of the shows and exaggerated them ever so slightly into the ridiculous:

Now, obviously for me to be able to say this, it means that I have a baseline familiarity with The Bachelor franchise, and I do. I’ll unabashedly call it my “guilty pleasure,” though I am truly at a loss to figure out what I find so pleasurable about it. I had taken the past few seasons off, but I recently updated my internet/cable package, meaning the currently-airing Bachelorette Season 12 became quite accessible to me. Needless to say I fell back into it, but boy was I in for a surprise: this season is completely indistinguishable from Burning Love. And the fact that it’s supposedly earnest only serves to make it funnier in a way.

I mean, the bachelorette of the season is JoJo Fletcher, who first introduced herself to the former bachelor like this:

Which was only slightly outdone by the other woman who brought a miniature horse along with her:

The men on Jojo’s season make this:

Seem incredibly toned down compared to:

And yes. Santa got a rose. I can’t make this up.

Also…I don’t feel comfortable speculating on a stranger’s sexuality, but… there could well be a Carly in the house too. Idk, watch it and let me know if I’m way off-base.

“If Chad and Daniel don’t find love with Jojo at the end of this, I feel like they might ride off into the sunset together.”

My point is, it is exceedingly easy to watch this show as a comedy, and in some ways I’d almost recommend doing so.

Except that there’s a darker side to this. Because Burning Love isn’t the only show with which The Bachelorette is blurring.

The Lifetime channel has an excellent summer TV show that just began its second season. No seriously. I know it’s Lifetime, but trust me when I say that Unreal is worth the watch. It’s probably the only TV-show I’ve ever seen featuring not one, but two female anti-heroes, and just as complex as Breaking Bad offered.

One of them, Quinn, is played by the wickedly talented Constance Zimmer, who would probably get me to tune in even if it was a show about folding laundry. The lead role of Rachel is played by Shiri Appleby, who has a wonderful range to her. The premise is simple: Rachel works for Quinn as a producer on a reality TV show called “Everlasting,” which is not at all subtly The Bachelor.

There’s a show within a show, but the focus is on these two unscrupulous women doing everything they can to produce “quality” TV. At times, it can be something more innocent, like prodding the bachelor towards a marriage with one of the women for a chance at a spin-off show regardless of his desires. Other times, it’s far worse, including situations where contestants are put in harm or individuals are outed on television. As Rachel puts it in the Season 2 opener, “We don’t solve problems, we make them.”

And indeed, this season is shaping up to be another troubling and engaging exploration into the sordid side of reality television production. This time, it looks like Rachel is hoping to drive up ratings by exploiting racial tensions with the first black star of “Everlasting” (played by B.J. Britt). Or as she puts it in her pitch meeting, “He’s not black, he’s like, football black.”

I should note, like any show with anti-hero leads, it’s always challenging material, and sometimes that depiction/endorsement line feels violated. But I will say, Unreal so far has not portrayed the actions of Quinn or Rachel in a positive manner, and it would be an odd tonal shift (in my opinion) for that to change.

So I don’t think we’re meant to cheer when Rachel tells an underling that she’s not to change the fact that a horrible racist and a black contestant are roommates, despite extra rooms being completely available. These are not good women, in the strictest sense of the word, and their concern for ratings over the safety (and certainly over the happiness) of their contestants (and even the bachelor) is the point.

Now, Unreal is most definitely heightened drama. Though you can kind of tell that The Bachelor/Bachelorette plays up certain angles, or even possibly encourages their leads to give a roses to certain contestants in the early weeks, you really just can’t see the producers behind it pulling the same kind of shit. The Bachelor host Chris Harrison actually had very sharp words about Unreal for that reason:

“It’s complete fiction. As much as they would love to jump on our coattails — they were begging for us to talk about it and for people to write about it — at the end of the day, no one is watching. I mean, absolutely nobody is watching that show. Why? It is terrible. It is really terrible.”

Take it down a notch, Chris. I don’t want to say “the lady doth protest too much,” because on the whole, I tend to believe that Unreal provides an utterly fictitious account of the production of such a TV show. And yet. This current season of The Bachelorette sure gives me pause.

Look, jerks in the house is nothing new, and they always try to have some kind of antagonistic contestant foregrounded in the first few weeks. Honestly, the show revolves around choosing 15 men to date based on one cocktail party; of course personalities will clash.

However, this year, the contestant “Chad” is something entirely new.

Yes, he’s eating a barely nuked sweet potato like an apple.

In truth, there’s nothing remarkable about Chad. He’s almost the perfect dictionary definition of a “meathead”; he is always lifting weights, stuffing his face, and talking about how manly he is in comparison to everyone else. However, since the first episode, he’s had this very poorly hidden rage that accompanies his emasculating comments. This may or may not be a result of the steroids he may or may not be (but almost definitely is) ingesting. He also seems to be laboring under the delusion that he knows exactly what “Jojo wants in a man” and will talk about it almost nonstop.

Like, he’s a scary dude, sure. But he’s really just some asshole. He refuses to play along on Jojo’s stupid date ideas, even calling her “naggy,” he threatens to beat people up whenever they say anything against him, and he punched a door so hard his knuckles split. And this was all within one week of being there, I think. In fact, the other guys were so concerned about his behavior, that they asked to have a security guard come into the house and patrol, because he seems like a ticking time-bomb. And these aren’t exactly light-weight men; the war veteran was terrified of him!

For whatever reason, Jojo gave Chad a couple of roses, even though all the guys of the house had pretty much told her that he’s bad news bears. I have a hunch the rose ceremony following the pool party was one where they outright told her to keep him. However, as of the most recent episode, she sent him home on a “two-on-one” date, where the “winner” gets a rose and the “loser” goes home. Both of them have to pack their bags in advance. To quote a previous bachelorette Ali Fedotowsky:

“Let’s face it, you either know who you are sending home before the date or you bring two people you’re not into at all so you don’t care who goes home. Think about it: Why would you ever bring two people that you really like, knowing you have to send one of them home? Makes no sense. My guess is that the producers asked Sean to bring both girls on this date. I’m not so sure he cared who went home. At least that’s how it worked on the two-on-one date on my season.”

So…I think it’s pretty obvious that Jojo knew Chad wasn’t staying. However, it should be noted that the other dude she brought with her was a marine who had been basically leading the charge of the “let’s stand up to Chad” brigade in the house. There’s no part of me that thinks this was an accident. Quality television indeed.

And like, yeah, okay, the producers playing up these tensions is questionable, but nothing Unreal-level. Except.

Chad had a physical altercation with one of the contestants, Evan, where he tore his shirt off of him, in addition to continually threatening to beat him up both before and after the incident. He also threatened to punch a bunch of the other guys, and even told Jordan Rodgers (Aaron Rodgers’s brother, who is so clearly there to promote a commentating career) that after the show was over, he was going to find out where he lived and go hunt him down there. I guess for more beatings. I also did mention the security guard, right?

So when Chris Harrison visited the house, one of the contestants Evan saw an opportunity, followed him outside, and told him how frightening and violent Chad’s behavior was. Harrison said something along the lines of “your safety is something we take very seriously.” Then he proceeded to call Chad out of the house, tell him exactly what Evan said (and that it was Evan who told him), and then insisted that he clear the air, somehow.

Apparently, all that this required was for Chad to march back inside and tell everyone “stay away from me and we won’t have an issue.” Yup, painting a bulls-eye on Evan and offering no solution at all is totally taking safety seriously.

However, the only thing more ridiculous is the cliffhanger that concluded last Tuesday’s episode. I told you that Chad didn’t get picked on the two-on-one date. Normally, that date is followed by some other one-on-one date, or maybe the next rose ceremony to close out the episode. Instead, The Bachelorette decided to give us a cliffhanger where Chad returns to where all the other contestants are staying and knocks on the door, because he wants to go kick some asses.

Pause. If you haven’t watched any seasons before, let me just say, the loser of a two-on-one date has never, ever, gone back to where the others are. In fact, someone on The Bachelor staff goes and picks up their luggage for them, and they are sent home immediately. There is no reason in the slightest that Chad would even know how to get back to where they were (seriously, his date was in the Pennsylvania wilderness), and there’s also the fact that the producers could have, quite easily I might point out, stopped him from getting there if they had wanted to.

But they didn’t want to, because this is the cliffhanger of their lifetime.

Heck, they might have given the guy a map.

They so baldly did not give any shits about the wellbeing of the people on the show, as all of Chad’s interviews were to the effect of “well now I have to go beat everyone up.” That should signal some kind of action! Frankly, the fact that Chad even got through whatever screening they do is questionable in and of itself. His rage was obvious after the first minute of being in the house.

But no, it’s all worth it for the drama, and probably for the higher ratings. I mean, look at ABC’s website the day after this most recent episode aired:


Not to mention we have been treated to not one, but two episodes that ended on a Chad-related cliffhanger rather than a rose ceremony, just so he can be on our screens for an extra couple of weeks. Like seriously, Chad is just some asshole who went home fairly early in the process, by all accounts. But nah, it’s his show now. Sorry, Jojo.

“How does Jojo feel?” said no one ever.

And even better, we’re now hearing that Chad will be joining the cast of Bachelor in Paradise, because why *wouldn’t* you put a volatile and violent jerk on your roster?

I know this seems like a lot of thought to be putting into a show that is, by all accounts, pure fodder. But given its disturbing parallels to two fictitious takes on dating shows, there is an odd amount of merit, at least from a meta-critique level. It’s not exactly shocking to me that there may be forces manipulating reality shows but this…this is something else. Something we need to think about, because the line between fiction and nonfiction has never been blurrier. I can only imagine what it will mean by Season 20.

Images courtesy of ABC

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