The Bachelor is one of the longest-running reality TV franchises in America. It debuted in much its original format 15 years ago on ABC. Even if you’re not a fan, surely you know how the story goes: Man meets group of eligible women, has connections with some, not so much with others. The women who are given a rose at the end of the night stay, the others are shipped home immediately. There are one-on-one dates where no one eats, two-on-one dates where contestants go head-to-head (oftentimes very awkwardly), group dates that typically involve some sort of comical physical challenge and “hometown” dates wherein the bachelor meets the families of the women he’s courting. Host Chris Harrison swans in to narrate the proceedings, then swans back out again.
An insult that’s bandied about quite frequently on the show is that a contestant is “not there for the right reasons,” the “right reason” being true love, which is the show’s purported focus and goal. But why ARE contestants on the show, and do they actually fall in love? I spoke with one former male contestant to get the real dirt.
“95% of the people that go on it are hoping that they win that lottery and that they’re the next Bachelor or Bachelorette and won’t have to work. You get to be a social media celebrity,” he says. “It’s like they specifically choose people from like the Midwest who — and not to sound like a dick — don’t have a ton of other stuff going on. You’re from a small town in the middle of nowhere and overnight you turn into the local celebrity. But it’s fleeting. For a lot of people that excitement is so unlike anything they’ve ever experienced in their lives. They latch on and try to keep it going for as long as possible.” Hence Bachelor spin-off shows like Bachelor in Paradise.
According to Bachelor power-watcher and perennial spoiler-publisher Reality Steve, the show’s “casting year-round. They’re always looking for people. They have talent scouts out at bars in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles. Then you have the people [who get cast through] connections to former contestants. One of Nick’s contestants was Jade’s maid of honor at her wedding, so Nick has already met her. The cast is always set before they know who the lead is. They’re not casting the 30 most perfect girls for Nick because then you wouldn’t have a show. They are casting for personalities, not a love story. Let’s find the really drunk girl, the emotional girl, our villain.” This goes against the narrative that every single contestant is there for the Bachelor or Bachelorette, of course.
“They have their initial application, which is photos and such,” says the former contestant, “and then they meet with you in person and they bring you down to L.A. Then they have two final rounds where they bring like a hundred people [in] over two weekends.” Wannabe contestants must also submit to a drug test, an STD test and a background check. “I think that at the end of the day, it’s mainly to cover their ass,” he says.
Though Nick Viall, this season’s Bachelor, is 36, the 30 women he’s been matched with are mostly in their 20s. Says Reality Steve, “They’ll never cast 18 to 20 of the girls to be 30 or older. It’s just never going to happen. Outside of Ben last year who was 26, the bachelors have always been older and women have been younger.”
Contestants must commit two months to the show, even though the majority won’t last more than a week or two. “There was a guy on my season who had quit his job to be on the show and then got sent home the first night,” says the former contestant. “You need to be in a position where you basically need to have no job or a job that allows you to potentially be gone two months. The chances of you being gone for more than a month are pretty slim. But yet, if you make it into the final four and especially the final two, you’re gone for the full two months.”
Even if the setting is totally contrived, all the tears and emotionally charged moments — those are real, right? “There is a copious amount of alcohol,” says the former contestant. “When you get there, they take away your phone and your computer and you’re basically locked away and only talking to producers. You have zero connection with the outside world and your support system [is gone]. It’s a complete mind game. The producers basically live with you for the entire eight-week time period. They’re kind of like your shrink. Which is super weird! They were some of my closest friends on the show.”
When it comes to the person you are supposed to be “dating,” “People always ask, ‘Oh, did you actually love her?’ And you’re like listen, your entire day is spent thinking about this girl and your time when you’re not with her is kind of shitty because you’re either lodged in a hotel room or stuck in this house. So you build an emotional response to that time. The term ‘love’ gets thrown around rather aggressively. But at the same time, these scenarios that you’re put into create a very strong emotional attachment.”
“I think that Nick will be a little more outspoken,” says Reality Steve. “He is a guy who kinda tells it like it is. This is his fourth go-round; he’s not going to hold anything back. On the flip side, he’s almost too familiar with the process and he knows exactly what he needs to do and say to produce good television. He is taking acting/hosting classes in L.A. and wants to increase his brand marketability by doing this.”
The Bachelor is less about love, then, and more about fame (a point echoed in our interview with former Bachelorette and BIP cast member Chad Johnson). Says the former contestant, “You start thinking about how many followers you have on Instagram and Twitter. And they sell that to you. It’s like, ‘Oh you want to build your Instagram following by another X-thousand people? Come on Bachelor in Paradise!’ People are always looking for that easy lifestyle and money. You have your name online and you’re like, ‘Wow, I’m a really big fucking deal!’ but no, you’re not. At some point you finally realize, ‘Oh fuck, I’m spending all of my time thinking of my next stupid Instagram post that is geared to this following of random people that I have zero connection with.’”
“It’s just impossible to take these people seriously,” says Reality Steve. “Now every contestant on the show knows what you can make on social media. Teachers quit their teaching job because they want to promote stuff on Instagram and make appearance fees. I think it’s very short-sighted of them.”
Lead photo courtesy ABC; Bachelor Mansion image via Architectural Digest.