I’m just going to say it: The Bachelor has jumped the shark. But I don’t think it’s too late for it become one of the most compelling reality shows on television — if the producers make some changes. I think The Bachelor needs to be more like Teen Mom.
Don't write me off just yet. The Bachelor and The Bachelorette have aired 33 seasons, combined. That’s 33 cutthroat competitions, all of which we're supposed to believe will end in a fairytale. (For the record, of the couples from The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, nine are still together today — and that's including the Jason Mesnick situation.) Whether or not the couple stays together, we hear the music, we see the gown, we can almost smell the roses through our televisions. And when it's ended in heartbreak, we feel that, too, hoping that one day, everyone will get their happily ever after.
When The Bachelor first premiered 15 years ago, the whole approach was novel. If the Greeks are responsible for modern democracy, The Bachelor sowed the way for modern reality TV. But The Bachelor’s current struggle is that what once seemed fresh now seems stale. Initially, audiences weren't used to reality TV. We didn’t know how to decipher what was real versus what was produced. But in the last 15 years, we’ve gotten better at sussing out the artifice in the “reality” we watch on screen.
On the other hand, Teen Mom, a show that first premiered eight years ago, made the revolutionary choice to bring the producers in front of the camera in Season 5. The move resulted in some jaw dropping moments. We got to see the way that the show affected parenting decisions and how the Moms reacted to filming with each other. It led to one of the series' most explosive moments when, in the finale of Season 6, Farrah Abraham battled a producer on camera when the crew showed up to her house, but she wasn't willing to film. This oh-so-worth-it choice is something The Bachelor producers should seriously consider.
After all, Bachelor viewers are at the point where they've started to see where producers were likely involved. Some credit goes to the fact that producers often tweet live from the show's set, giving fans a behind-the-scenes look that they can then reference when the show actually airs:
Which leads us right into the UnREAL effect. These days, it's hard not to compare The Bachelor to UnREAL, the scripted Lifetime drama it inspired. The Bachelor itself is overproduced, which is why UnREAL focuses its attention on the most compelling part of the show: the producers. What exactly was said to get the contestants to behave in such a fashion? What makes someone come clean and confess their biggest secret? When I tune into The Bachelor now, all I hear is Quinn’s voice in my head, declaring that she wants the audience dropping their panties. (The Bachelor producers and Chris Harrison have, of course, denied that UnREAL bears any resemblance to the production of the ABC reality series.)
It doesn’t help that the most recent season of The Bachelor featured a storyline that felt like it had been ripped directly from the first season of the scripted series. Bachelor contestant Raven Gates, who Quinn would have classified as “wifey” material, confided in titular Bach Nick Viall that she’d only ever been intimate with one person before and that she’d never had an orgasm. The scene felt like a close cousin to the plot on UnREAL in which Rachel tried to convince one contestant to tell the suitor that she was a virgin and to lose her virginity to him on camera.
When Raven made her confession on The Bachelor, it felt played out. We’d seen it before. We were supposed to see it as an expression of vulnerability, but the producers steered the attention in the wrong direction by asking us to focus on Raven's lack of orgasms. It’s not just that Raven hadn’t ever had an orgasm, she had also chosen to make herself vulnerable by revealing that on national television. That choice is what is more compelling. It was a choice that wouldn't have been made lightly, and it would have been amazing to be privy to that process.
After all, now that we've seen Rachel, a fictional producer, convince Faith, a fictional contestant, to lose her virginity on screen on UnReal (or at least fudge it for the cameras), we've gotten a glimpse into what it could take to make such a public, vulnerable declaration in real life. The process is even more riveting than the revelation itself.
So, what does The Bachelor do now that UnREAL has used the same source material in a more dramatically compelling way and created characters that have us wondering what The Bachelor producers are like in real life? The show should take at a page from the Teen Mom playbook and invite the producers on screen. The MTV series' choice resulted in some of the most honest, albeit meta, reality TV I’ve ever seen.
The women on Teen Mom chose to allow their lives to be filmed, so we don't just see them struggle with being teen moms, we see them struggle with being teen moms on TV. The on-screen producers become proxies for the audience, asking the questions we wish we could ask. When Amber freaked out after seeing Gary’s girlfriend at school drop-off, a producer followed her to the car to ask her what was wrong, to ask her to stay. Filming a reality show is a process of asking people to stay open and vulnerable when it would be human nature to withdraw and seeing that process heightens the experience of watching the drama go down. When Farrah faced off with one of the show’s producers, she exploded in a way that was raw and mind-boggling, and that wasn't overproduced, partially because it was all about production itself.
Over in Bachelor Nation, Corinne Olympios was the highlight of Nick's Bachelor season for almost everyone, and I would have loved to see her talking to a interested, eager producer as they assured her that it was “totally cool and normal” to have an adult nanny, or reassured her that her naps were part of “self care.” More than that, I’d have loved to know if Corinne came back to the producer in a fit of fury as things unfolded differently than she thought they would. While Corinne happily played the villain against the other women, I can’t help but feel that she must have really shined when interacting with the producers, and it’s a shame we couldn’t see it.
It wouldn't be entirely new territory for The Bachelor to bring producers on screen, as Bachelor in Paradise has flirted with this idea in the past. BiP often shows contestants talking to producers and will humorously camouflage those convos by splicing in wild animals as if the contestants are talking to them instead. And who can forget that there was a whole Bachelor in Paradise storyline about a contestant hooking up with the boom mic guy.
The Bachelor producers could, and probably will, stick with the same formula they have for all these years, because the formula works well enough to attract its loyal viewers. However, if the producers chose to be on screen, the series would have a chance to be an evocative, addictive show that would go beyond the typical "journey" fans have watched for the past 15 years.
Reality television, including The Bachelor, has always been made with the assumption that nobody needs to see how the sausage is made. But Teen Mom and UnReal have proven that it may be a lot more interesting to see exactly how the finished product is made after all. At least then, we know what reality we are actually consuming.