I love reality dating shows. Before watching
for the first time, I felt prepared with the hundreds of hours I have spent watching shows like The Bachelorette , Love Island Millionaire Matchmaker and , to name a few. When Too Hot To Handle Katie Thurston’s season began, I expected the show to be like Love Island’s conservative Christian grandmother: more structured, heavier on commitment, but still full of the dramatic moments I crave in a reality show.
That ended up being mostly true, but my experience watching
The Bachelorette for the first time hasn’t been without its surprises. There have been moments of joy (kicking oversized balloons with Andrew S. on their one-on one) and moments of despair ( Michael A. leaving before hometowns to be with his son), but through it all, Katie has been laser focused on one thing: leaving the show engaged. Sure, her faith that her husband is absolutely among this crowd of reasonably symmetrical marketing specialists and salesmen is awe-inspiring, but what has really struck me are all the strange and confusing traditions this show has deemed normal. Here are just a few things I, a novice to Bachelor Nation, noticed watching The Bachelorette for the very first time. 1 The silly costumes aren’t a rarity — they’re a night-one staple I’m... horrified. ABC/Craig Sjodin
Before embarking on my watch, I had of course seen a photo or two of a grown man dressed as a giant cupcake or penguin for the
limo entrances. I assumed this was a rarity planted by producers to add some spice to the first episode of the season. I did not realize that the costumes are intentional, widely used, and somewhat brilliant in terms of making sure that the Bachelorette remembers you in a sea of tanned faces with bleached smiles. Connor Brennan, for instance, showed Katie that he was interested in her by dressing up as a cat, an animal she loves. When I saw his poorly drawn whiskers and matted cat costume, I thought for sure he was going to be laughed out the door, but to my shock and horror, Katie was delighted, exclaiming: “I think I’m in love!” Huh. 2 Everyone’s job seems fake
On the ABC website, every contestant has a neat bio with their name, age, and job title listed. I am not accusing the contestants of lying (except for maybe
Greg Grippo, who allegedly hid his acting aspirations from Katie) but the job titles just don’t add up for me. I have never in my life encountered a Surgical Skin Salesman, or a Technical Product Specialist or a Zipper Sales Manager (all the “jobs” of actual contestants on this season). I don't know how all these men are able to secure the time off to be on The Bachelorette. I also don’t know why what they do never comes up at any point in the show. 3 I expected a lot of kissing — but not this much kissing
Of course Katie was going to kiss a lot of guys. After all, the show is marketing her as a “sex positive” Bachelorette. But it never occurred to me how many people she would be kissing in one night; how many tongues her tongue would dance with in the span of a few hours. There were times when guys would pull her aside one after the other and all kiss her like they were about to go to war and needed to give her something to remember them by. It is a feat her makeup stayed on.
4 Engagement is not super optional
The Bachelorette and The Bachelor from other dating shows is its fervent dedication to the institution of marriage. The end goal of every season is to get engaged. It still seems ludicrous to me that after a few short weeks of dating around Katie could choose who she wants to spend the rest of her life with, but as she has said time and time again, she really “trusts this process.” For reasons I can’t grasp, any man who showed up to Season 17 to date casually and see where it could lead had to go, and that was a major storyline! Which brings me to... 5 I never need to hear the phrase “the right reasons” ever again
The Bachelorette, it does not matter how well you and the lead are getting along — if the other men decide you are “not here for the right reasons,” your journey is all but over. At various points this season, men (mostly Aaron and Tre) took it upon themselves to alert Katie of any shady behavior from fellow contestants immediately, nobly sacrificing their time on dates to throw other men (in this case Karl, then Thomas, and finally Hunter) under the bus. Every single time Katie wept, and not a single suspected faker was successfully able to make it to the next episode after the initial seed of doubt was planted. I am not 100% sure if this was a tactic to slim down the competition or an actual attempt at looking out for Katie, but not being here for “the right reasons” is the show’s dramatic engine, despite making very little sense. Still, I’ll be thinking about Aaron calling Thomas “a cancer” for a very long time. 6 The lead is in control of absolutely everything
From banning masturbation to asking everyone to reveal their innermost traumas on national television in a circle moderated by former
Bachelor Nick Viall in lieu of a trained psychologist, it seems that the Bachelorette can make these men do literally anything. While other reality shows involve audience votes or participation from other contestants, the Bachelorette holds 100% of the power in her well-manicured hands. Seems a little sus, when most IRL relationships should be equally balanced? Just saying. 7 The group dates aren’t exactly dates as much as tests
The entire ritual of the group date is very confusing as a first-time viewer. It starts with a cryptic clue delivered as a handwritten note to the men, to get them excited. When they arrive, the group of 5-10 guys all race up to the Bachelorette in order to be the first one to lift her up and kiss her on the cheek in front of the other men. Then the group embarks on an activity that makes talking or hanging out in a casual way virtually impossible. From mud wrestling to handball to a full-on talent show, none of the group dates allow the Bachelorette to see what life would actually be like with any of her contestants. Instead, it seems the goal of the group dates is to push the men out of their comfort zones and see their willingness to sacrifice all for the Bachelorette, whether that involves sustaining a serious injury or just taking your shirt off.
8 The cocktail parties are not fun
When I hear the word cocktail party, I think of laughter and jazz quartets and goat cheese canapés. On
The Bachelorette, cocktail parties are filled with stress and anger anytime a contestant does not abide by the strict unwritten rules of sharing Bachelorette with the other men. They must all vie for time with her, so when someone has the gall to speak to her twice in one night or cut an encounter short, fury follows. 9 No one just “hangs out” on this show
It has continually shocked me just how structured
The Bachelorette is. At no point do viewers ever see Katie and the guys hanging out on a couch or making jokes over breakfast. They are kept completely separate, and the one-on-one dates are truly the only way to spend any quality time with the lead before picking out an engagement ring. 10 Prior knowledge of Bachelor Nation is strongly encouraged
I quickly learned from the internet that there’s basically a Bachelor extended universe of past contestants, many of whom appear on the
Bachelor in Paradise spinoff or even another season of the show (see: Blake Moynes). Contestants and leads from past seasons will just show up to talk to the Bachelorette or to host a date. You’re supposed to know who they are and still be invested in their love stories, too. (But if you don’t immediately remember everything about them, there’s still a chance they might bring their Bachelor Nation fiancé out at the Men Tell All to replay their own proposal video to catch you up.)
The fandom has started to bleed into the show, too. While watching this season, I found it nearly impossible to avoid spoilers from accounts like
RealitySteve and other Bachelor Nation superfans online. Many of the contestants are clearly big fans, too, though that often doesn’t work in their favor. Hunter, for example, had an encyclopedic knowledge of past seasons, and got into trouble for claiming he could tell who Katie’s “Top Four” were. The moral seems to be: be a fan of this show and know everything about it — but don’t weaponize your fandom while competing on the show itself. 11 There is constant crying
For a show about falling in love and finding happiness, there are so many tears. Sad tears, stress tears, rage tears, emotional tears, joyful tears. Katie has cried at least once in every episode of the show. The men have also shed their fair share of tears, opening up about losing beloved family members or past heartbreaks. It’s clear the emotions run high on
The Bachelorette, but watching Katie cry and nearly puke after a suspected betrayal did make me wonder if the rigamarole is worth it. Still, if there’s anything I learned while watching my first Bachelorette season, it’s that for viewers, it certainly is.