Confession: I am an celebrity news and entertainment editor, and I have never watched an episode of The Bachelor. Until sometime during the week of January 2. That’s right: I basically rang in the new year by watching The Bachelor. And I don’t regret it.
Yes, watching the show is akin to diving headfirst into a slimy pile of trash, but it’s weirdly engaging. Apparently there’ve been 20 seasons of The Bachelor before this one—which doesn’t include all the spin-offs, like The Bachelorette and Bachelor in Paradise—so it’s clearly wildly popular. Actually, the show wasn’t even a blip on my radar—it never even crossed my mind to watch it, though I definitely binged on my share of Keeping Up with the Kardashians in my day—until I read Heidi Julavits’ book The Folded Clock.
If it hadn’t been for this book, I guarantee you that I never would have tuned in to that first episode of season 21. I had no idea who Nick Viall was (I already know way more than I ever dreamed I would or, for that matter, cared to), and I only had a shaky idea of the premise behind the show. But Julavits wrote about it with an almost obsessive fervor. A great writer and scholar, she watched it religiously every week with her equally brainy husband, and the pair seemed downright delighted with the whole thing.
Devouring that book last winter on the subway, I slowly became aware of The Bachelor. And Julavits made some good points: Though she was seemingly just waxing poetic about the “reality” of the reality show, she was very convincing in her underlying argument, which was basically—these women are serious about finding love. Every last one of them is there for marriage.
So I decided to see if Julavits was right.
First of all, let it be said: Nick Viall would not be out of place on the streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in a particular neighborhood my boyfriend likes to call “douchebag barbecue,” which, trust me, is fitting. He is greasy, faux-humble, and apparently extremely charming to certain women—the women of the Bachelor house eat him up like catnip. (In verified villain Corinne Olympios’ case, she really does … eat him up.)
The 30 women who move into the Bachelor house (which is actually home to a family of six when the show isn’t filming, I recently found out) are of many backgrounds and walks of life, perhaps—but almost all of them are white and thin. A study in diversity, this is not—and to be honest, this is what I take most umbrage at, of all the offensive things about this show.
One thing they all have in common: They all really, really, seriously seem to want Viall to fall in love with them.
Julavits’ argument—the one that got me to tune in to the show in the first place—is compelling. She really seems to feel convinced that all of the contestants on The Bachelor actually fall in love. “I honestly believe that people fall in love on these shows,” she wrote. “Here is why: Crushes thrive in small spaces.
“Humans must be programmed to respond positively when faced with a small sampling of other humans in, say, caves,” she wrote. “You’re stuck in a cave with three other people … and so, in order for the species to thrive, you must biologically be compelled to fuck at least one person in your cave, despite the fact that, when surrounded by a plentitude of Neanderthals at the Neanderthal summer barbecue, none of them struck your fancy. Without the element of choice, and in conjunction with captivity, you find love, or at least you find lust.”
When I read this, I underlined the part about the Neanderthal summer barbecue about 20 times—and then I started, for the first time in my life, considering watching The Bachelor. I didn’t actually take the plunge into some 12 months later, but still. The seed was planted.
Julavits went on to namecheck Brad, season 15’s bachelor, and discuss his final choice. “Of course Brad chose the obvious, beautiful girl,” she wrote. “Does that mean Brad didn’t love her, because she was obvious? I think he did love her, and I think she loved him. Sometimes we love obvious people. I also think that all of the rejected women who claimed to love Brad really did love him.
“Is this normal?” she continued. “No. But that doesn’t mean it’s dismissible as acting.” Though The Bachelor definitely has a shitty track record when it comes to longterm marriage, the love is real on the show, she argued. “Fakeness gives rise to realness that, granted, given The Franchise’s [Julavits’ name for what is dismayingly referred to as “Bachelor Nation”] dismal marriage record (many of the engaged couples experience ugly breakups within a year), may not survive when the fakeness ends. But the contestants do, or did, experience real feelings as a result of fiction.”
Who knows. I will say that I plan to continue watching The Bachelor, if for no other reason than to watch Corinne continue to be a conniving and manipulative scoundrel. (And because I can no longer stomach Keeping Up with the Kardashians.) As to whether or not I believe they actually fall in love with Nick, one by one—that remains to be seen.