Views from 'Bachelor Nation': Portraying love on reality TV
Recently, I’ve become a part of a reality television social media fandom known as “Bachelor Nation.” I got hooked on to the series of shows — “The Bachelor,” “The Bachelorette” and “Bachelor in Paradise” — last year, when I felt like my brain cells deserved a break and I had exhausted all the content that I consumed on the regular.
Since “The Bachelor” first premiered in 2002, its dramatic seasons and subsequent spin-offs have captured the attention of viewers across America and the world. The premise of these interconnected network game shows is simple for the eponymous Bachelors and Bachelorettes: Find love on national television.
The predominantly white leads, frontrunners and villains on the ABC franchise’s shows cater to an opinionated and wine-guzzling audience on mundane Monday nights. Instagram meme pages, YouTube recaps and analytical podcasts keep Bachelor Nation constantly connected to erratic episode commentary and spoilers. Over the years, the entertaining show has become somewhat more diverse and explored what love is in a more modern sense.
The 15th season of “The Bachelorette” was led by Hannah Brown, a Miss USA contestant and interior designer from Alabama. Brown didn’t end up finding love, but instead found herself and started interesting and important conversations about independence, sex and religion.
The current season of “Bachelor in Paradise” — a sort of American “Love Island” — is showcasing the first queer relationship, featuring fan-favorite contestant Demi Burnett, in franchise history. Rachel Lindsay, the first Black Bachelorette, recently got married to the winner of her season, and Brown’s handsome suitor Mike Johnson has the potential and fan support to be the first Black Bachelor on the show’s upcoming season.
Despite the show being a brilliant source of entertainment and a unique platform to bring certain social issues to light, one cannot help but feel that reality television does not present love accurately. While romance is realistically meant to be full of ups and downs, the relationships that develop on reality television are controversial, turbulent and dramatic to the point of insanity.
The concept of love, the way these competitive shows see and present it, becomes less of a serendipitous journey and more of a forced and frantic exercise. The least realistic and most “produced” aspects of such shows are not the ridiculous hot tub dates atop secluded mountains, but the unhealthy expectation that love is a messy, cartoon-like chase.
While one can argue that reality television really isn’t meant to emulate the deeper nuances of love in day-to-day life and is purely for amusement, as a form of media, it still has some influence over what viewers — especially younger viewers — perceive to be right and wrong when it comes to romance.
Reality television shows can set extreme standards, as love is often plotted and idealized by third parties behind the scenes. Love, at its very root, is chaotic and complex, but not to the caricatured extent that reality television portrays it to be. Other reality shows like “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” and “Jersey Shore” also have relationship-based subplots, which still aren’t fully relatable for the everyday romantic due to their loud, ostentatious nature.
When watching dating shows like “The Bachelor,” it’s important to take each seemingly perfect relationship with a grain of salt, as many contestants aren’t there for “the right reasons,” a motif that is reiterated each season. Love isn’t as rosy as Chris Harrison, the Bachelor franchise’s mascot and host of 17 years, claims it is.
Lately, many contestants seem to be signing up for the show with the intention of achieving some form of fame, whether as an Instagram influencer, fashion model or country music singer. The lack of sincerity in the intentions of people coming on the show only makes it stray further away from how real love works.
Twenty-first century love can now happen on platforms like Tinder and Bumble. But reality television isn't always the best outlet for people with quotidian lives to find authentic and natural insight on romance.