‘The Bachelor’ Is At Its Best When It Breaks the Fourth Wall

'The Bachelor' 2020: Peter & Hannah
Photo: ABC. Design: Cierra Miller/STYLECASTER.

“Like, you know how you asked Tyler out on the last episode?” Peter Weber asks Hannah Brown on the season 24 premiere of The Bachelor. “Did it ever cross your mind to, like, maybe ask me instead for that?” Hannah, whose cheeks are stained with mascara-covered tears, is curled under Peter’s arm on a couch in her dressing room. She tells him there was “still something” when she saw him at “AFR” (After the Final Rose, the last-episode special of each Bachelor and Bachelorette season), but she didn’t know where his heart was at since she hadn’t heard from him, unlike Tyler Cameron. 

The scene, which continues for five more minutes before ending on a cliffhanger, is one of the most compelling conversations in recent Bachelor history. And it’s not because Peter invited Hannah back to the mansion as a contestant or told a producer that he was considering canceling the whole season to be with her (both of which are ridiculous, even for the most gullible Bachelor fans.) What made the conversation so dramatic was that Hannah and Peter were talking about The Bachelor—not as an “experience” on which they met but as a reality TV series whose format drastically affected their relationship. 

Google “Bachelor rules” and there are more than 200 million results on the “dos” and “don’ts” that contestants must follow. One of the most common is that The Bachelor should never be referred to as a “show” or a “process.” Season 7 Bachelor Sean Lowe told Glamour in 2015, “Any time you call it a ‘process,’ they will make you retape it and say ‘journey.’”

Bachelor 2020: Hannah & Peter

Image: ABC/Eric McCandless.

Another “don’t” is that contestants are supposed to have zero contact with their lead between their breakup and their “After the Final Rose” interview. The “rule,” which is assumed to prevent emotional conversations from occurring off-camera, was referenced by Peter in an interview with seasons 13 and 14 Bachelorettes Rachel Lindsay and Becca Kufrin on their “Bachelor Happy Hour” podcast after his season’s premiere. “I didn’t know that she still felt that way for me. I wasn’t DMing her like Tyler had been DMing her.” Peter said. “They had been talking a little bit. I had never reached out to her. I was waiting to talk to her at ‘AFR.’”

Though Peter doesn’t specify in the first episode why he didn’t contact Hannah, his face when she tells him that Tyler did explains everything. Peter and Hannah aren’t an ordinary couple. Put aside the 30 other suitors and their less-than-two-month-long relationship, the two also have to deal with reality TV politics. Along with their conversation on how their relationship may have been different if they talked before “AFR,” Hannah also told Peter she had “no doubts” that her final two would be him and Jed Wyatt. (Hannah called off her engagement to Jed after news broke that he wasn’t honest about a girlfriend he had before her season.) The confession confused viewers and even Peter, given that Hannah’s actual final two was Jed and Tyler. Others speculated that Peter was always Hannah’s second choice but she sent him home in the final three, so he could be the Bachelor. (Of the 10 Bachelors who were Bachelorette contestants, four came in third place.) Hannah also told Peter that she didn’t pursue a relationship with him after “AFR” because she thought he wanted to be the Bachelor. 

There was a lot to interpret in their conversation and not everything was spelled out for viewers, but it was one of the few times a couple acknowledged  The Bachelor on camera for what it is: a TV show. Peter and Hannah didn’t refer to their time in Bachelor Nation as an “experience” or a “journey.” They cited specific episodes and production points that influenced their relationship. This isn’t the only time The Bachelor broke the fourth wall in the first episode of Peter’s season either. The first half of the premiere revolved around Peter’s relationship with contestant Kelley Flanagan, whom he met months earlier at a Los Angeles hotel before his season of The Bachelor started filming. He was at the hotel for his 10-year high school reunion, while she was there for a wedding. The episode continues with Peter and Kelley returning to the same hotel they met at. Kelley doesn’t go into detail about what she told Peter when she saw him for the first time, but from the way they reenacted their first meeting, it’s assumed that she told him she was a contestant on his season of The Bachelor

The Bachelor is often criticized for its overproduced scenarios, but it’s moments like these that refresh the series. That isn’t to say that Peter’s off-chance encounter with Kelley couldn’t have been produced (anything is possible in reality TV), but by acknowledging that Bachelor romances don’t begin and end when the cameras start and stop rolling, the franchise expands its universe beyond its usual bubble bound by rules and viewer gullibility. 

Bachelor 2020: Hannah & Peter

Image: ABC/John Fleenor.

The Bachelor is a show, and audiences understand that. It’s OK to take down the fourth wall, and as Peter’s season shows, it actually makes for more entertaining television. What takes the viewer out of the moment are clickbait cliffhangers like The Bachelor trying to convince viewers that Hannah was actually going to be a contestant. (Not only was she on season 28 of Dancing With the Stars at the time, but there’s no way she would have ever done it.) There’s an authenticity to when couples weigh the reality show as a factor in their relationship, so let’s do away with fake, overproduced storylines and allow contestants to experience it all—without the fourth wall. Because, let’s be honest, no one is buying that Hannah Brown would turn down the Mirrorball Trophy to be a contestant on The Bachelor for the second time.