By Jacinta Mazzarolo
Every episode ends the same way. With a sheepish grin, an exaggeratedly deep breath and a shaky extended hand. ‘Will you accept this rose?’
I roll my eyes at the screen. By the end of the 11-week extravaganza the phrase has been uttered nearly 100 times and it makes my skin crawl. I promise to never tune in again. Yet here I am, like clockwork, five months later, in front of my computer and halfway through a packet of chocolate covered strawberries. I don’t know how I got here and more importantly, I don’t know how to get berry stains out of my t-shirt.
I should probably just get this out of the way now… Hi, I’m Jacinta and I’m a reality television addict. I have a particular problem with a certain dating show that’s trashy, fake and mind-numbingly stupid in all the right ways. It’s a shameful secret I’m not proud of, but one I’ve admittedly indulged for years. All I can say is that it’s engrossing watching people think they are falling in love—it plays into the natural curiosity we have as humans.
The Bachelor and Bachelorette franchises have had their fair share of criticism, but no one can deny it’s an absolute phenomena. Twelve years later, hundreds of contestants, 30+ couples and thousands of hours of clichés, people are still watching. While the show has produced some successful relationships and genuine families, the hit rate is disparagingly low for even the most hopeless of romantics. Yet twice a year, millions still tune in to see couple after couple— more often than not—confuse lust with love.
Despite becoming increasingly cynical about the series over the past couple of seasons, it took not being able to sit through an entire episode of the Australian series to really look into what makes the American version so addictive. It turns out the mechanics of the show are equally fascinating and horrifying.
Much of the criticism that came out of the Australian series stemmed from feminist issues of the process and a banal lead. However, the same can’t be said about America as it churns out both the Bachelor and Bachelorette each year and still delivers ratings. The hook lies in the editing and manipulating of the show. Thirteen countries have adapted the show, but no one even comes close to the 28-season run success of the US. The Americans have a winning formula and they know it. It’s not exactly ethical though.
At the helm of the franchise is Mike Fleiss, who has admitted he is most interested in making good television. This is often at the cost of participants’ wellbeing and reputation. Fleiss has also confessed that the purpose of the show is to tell a story and ‘develop characters that the audience is going to root for and root against’, not so much love. This is where questionable editing and manipulating comes into play. ‘That was the initial thought, that we had to have real love and a marriage, but now we know that’s not necessarily true, it’s really based on whether [audiences] like the guy and hate the girls,’ he explained.
One of the many times the show’s authenticity has come under fire was when an incriminating tape of a Bachelor producer and season 16 winner, Courtney Robinson backstage at a live episode emerged. A camera and microphone that were left on stage during an ad break detailed a conversation between the two that involved her true feelings about the other women and the need to fake sincerity and certain emotions for the cameras. The Bachelor and Bachelorette producers have a long history of coercing contestants into certain emotions and acts, but none were as damaging as they were to Jason Mesnick.
I know, I know, the audacity Chris Harrison has to proclaim every time something mildly amusing happens that ‘this is the most controversial episode/bachelor we’ve ever seen!’ is ridiculous and quite frankly, a little patronising. But, in my opinion, these statements truly belong to Jason and the After The Final Rose episode of his season. While he sat on the couch across from Harrison, it quickly became clear the joy and happiness Jason and his bride-to-be Melissa conveyed in the finale had fizzled in the real world. Jason then proceeded to tell Melissa that it was because he had feelings for runner-up Molly Malaney and later asked her for a second chance.
Jason and Molly are now a happily married family and can laugh about the situation. But it’s clear from their open and honest podcasts it was not an easy ride. Jason even admitted that he did not want to propose to Melissa, but producers convinced him he was in love with her and it was the right decision. He now greatly regrets giving in to the pressure and how it all panned out on live TV.
Melissa shared the same sentiments as Jason. ‘It was just a case of getting completely wrapped up in a situation that was kind of humiliating when you look back,’ she said. ‘This is going to sound terrible but I wasn’t attracted to Jason. But put in the circumstances that we were, I thought he was the greatest thing to drop from heaven.’
These feelings are very common among former participants. This is because contestants are cooped up in a house or hotel for the duration of filming. They are only let out individually with handlers and for dates with the lead (which in reality do not even add up to many hours together). No contact with friends, family, phones or media. The situation is ridiculous and emotionally manipulative enough to make anyone think they are falling in love. When the show finishes and the bubble pops, many contestants have commented, that is when the real relationship starts. Melissa even said on life straight after the show, ‘If you were to ask me a handful of questions about him, I couldn’t answer them, I know very little about [Jason], and you’re sitting there evaluating your emotions and you’re going “Something’s wrong here”.’
Now all of this manipulating, falsifying of emotions and editing would not be as bad if the show didn’t claim to be the hallmark of true and pure romance. Millions of people watch week after week believing in the fairy tale. However, as we know, behind the scenes it is far from that. At the end of the day, it’s a television show, but not one the word ‘reality’ should ever be associated with.
There is no way I can ever watch the show in the same way again, but the curiosity and compulsion still exists. It’s entertainment and each contestant signs up willingly. So, is it hopelessly romantic, naivety or just plain stupidity people still watch in droves? I mean, yes, the ratio is not a great one but there are still five couples together. Ashley and J.P. from Season Seven of the Bachelorette just announced they are expecting. So, is this multi- million dollar franchise worth it? I don’t know, but either way, I know where I’m going to be in five months.