Here's How 'The Bachelor' Changed Reality TV Dating Over The Last 15 Years

Terhi Tuovinen/ABC

What did true love look like before 2002? Dating shows have been around since the advent of television; there's been no better draw for viewers than watching love (or something like it) bloom on TV. But 15 years ago The Bachelor changed reality dating on TV forever. Before The Bachelor, we were subjected to the more crass side of reality TV dating shows with Who Wants To Marry A Multi-Millionaire and Temptation Island. Both arrived at the genesis of the reality TV boom circa 2000. The genre would explode between 2000 and 2002, with additional reality TV shows like American Idol and Survivor changing the face of network TV forever. Effectively reshaping the TV dating landscape, The Bachelor — and soon thereafter, The Bachelorette — has proven to be both an iconic and pivotal TV show.

It has changed the way we consider romantic love and its construction. Can true love blossom in a few weeks? Can that love be sustainable or even believable? What does it say about the audience that we now consider The Bachelor to be a reliable source when it comes to defining romantic standards? The Bachelor has changed everything, alright, and it's changed reality TV dating in more than a few ways.

After 15 years, 20 seasons, as many great marriages as there were messy break-ups, and more than a few deliciously campy villains minted on The Bachelor, this show has spawned a veritable fandom from its many-layered greatness. Whether you love to love it or love to hate it, there's no denying that The Bachelor now stands as the gold standard of reality TV dating shows (and that's saying something).

The Bachelor Showed Us The Messy Stages Of Dating

Back when our parents were kids, there were dating shows and shows about married life that gave audiences two different peeks into romantic lives of that time. Shows like The Newlywed Game and The Dating Game were two of the most well known in what we could loosely call the "pre-reality" TV dating era. While these shows were essentially game shows, they combined competition with romance in ways that made peeking into what made others desirable a fun past time; these qualities — voyeurism, romance, competition, and entertainment — would become foundational to The Bachelor.

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The Bachelor took those qualities and amplified them. Sure, the first season of The Bachelor (which was only seven episodes!) was a snooze-fest but, without a doubt, the subsequent seasons of The Bachelor have given us plenty of drama, competition, sexiness, and true love to last a lifetime. Crucially, The Bachelor did what previous reality TV dating shows and competitions shows haven't done before: it show us the messiness of getting together with someone.

Rather than just showing us the first date or what happens after they say "I Do," The Bachelor cracked open the romance machine and showed us what the process of falling in love actually looked like. In this way, The Bachelor has become a constantly-evolving example of dating and romance rituals, continually staying on the pulse of modern love.

The Bachelor Proved That Romantic Archetypes Draw Viewers In


Reality TV loves a good narrative. Even if the genre purports to capture real life in a candid (to a degree) fashion, there's no denying that from Day 1 on a new Bachelor season, audiences are looking for easily identifiable "characters" for whom they can cheer and jeer as the season goes on. Be in the knight-in-shining-armor, the player, the ditz, the girl-next-door, the "woman who clearly didn't earn her law degree for this ish," or the contestant who is "not here to make friends, just find love," The Bachelor has given in spades.

As with other reality TV shows, The Bachelor has whittled down contestants to these refined archetypes so that it can build up the brand of Bachelor Nation by giving us a Pokémon-like array of characters, all configured in complex relationships and interactions that spin the romantic and tragic Bachelor web into a thing of true beauty. A good character sells and The Bachelor knows how to sell it.

The Bachelor Fulfills The Fantasies We Want From Reality TV


It has often been remarked that The Bachelor exists in some kind of fantastic realm. Due to the intense shooting schedule, the closed quarters, being cut off from social media or the outside world, and just the general premise of the show, it's reportedly very easy to get swept up in the romance of it all. Well, that's what former contestants and Bachelors have told us about the experience of filming the show. Watching the show is another matter entirely; that fantasy of intense romance somehow feels amplified as it comes through the television screen. The production and editing probably have something to do with that, too, but there's no denying that The Bachelor knows how to milk the romance out of every situation.

The Bachelor Has Become The Apex Of Reality TV Dating Shows


Many have tried, but few reality TV dating shows have risen to the level of greatness and infamy that The Bachelor has achieved over the last 15 years. Many shows have tried over the years to capture the right balance between pulpy guilty pleasure with emotionally honest and raw with pure competitive antics, but have frequently fallen short of the mark. There's a reason Flavor of Love, Rock of Love, Next, Average Joe, Finding Prince Charming, Are You The One?, and I Wanna Marry "Harry," ElimiDate, For The Love of Ray J (to name a few) have only last a handful of seasons, if that. They are, simply put, not The Bachelor. It's tough to crack this formula but somehow those crazy kids over at ABC have done it. For 20 ridiculously amazing seasons.

Let's pour out a glass of champagne for The Bachelor. Fifteen years later, we're still having fun, and you're still the one.