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A crash course in the retrograde romantic reality series.
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The rules of engagement
The premise is simple: A straight man finds the future spouse of his dreams, out of about 30 potential contestants he dates simultaneously over the course of two months. Eventually, he narrows it down to two women. He proposes to one of them. Fireworks ensue.
ABC’s The Bachelor is one of the longest-running reality television franchises. Ad revenues go up to $86 million per season. It has spawned spinoff shows, including The Bachelorette, Bachelor in Paradise, and Bachelor Winter Games.
Why do the show’s many loyal fans keep tuning in to watch the same old story? For viewers it’s a way to grapple with the demands of modern romance, but it’s also about the shared experience of watching the show.
Before we dive in, would you accept this rose? 🌹
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By the digits
31: Average age of the Bachelor
27: Average age of the Bachelorette
26: Average age of Bachelor contestants
29: Average age of Bachelorette contestants
80%: Share of The Bachelorette viewers who are white
$153,096: Price of a 30-second TV ad on The Bachelorette in 2018
8 million: Average viewers per episode of The Bachelor between 2012 and 2015
>20: International versions
$1 million: Annual income top Bachelor contestants can make from posting Instagram ads after leaving the show
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Dept. of jargon
Bachelor Nation: The proud superfans of the ABC franchise.
The lead: Another name for the Bachelor or Bachelorette.
Final rose: The lead typically gives this rose to someone in order to send a message—maybe they’ve done something wrong, or their connection with the lead isn’t strong.
Group date: These dates typically involve the lead watching 10-12 contestants embarrass themselves on national TV to prove their love—think mud wrestling or swimming with pigs. (Watch this. No, really.)
Two-on-one: A date reserved for two contestants who are causing drama in the house. At the end, one of them is eliminated.
Fantasy Suite: When the season is down to its final three contestants, the lead can spend one night alone—without cameras—with each of them to “get to know them better.”
“Here for the right/wrong reasons”: A favorite veiled insult among contestants, the Bachelor equivalent of challenging someone to a duel.
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Million-dollar question: Why do we love “The Bachelor”?
Bachelor Nation includes viewers who watch it to make fun of it over wine with friends, as well as viewers who believe in the earnestness of its premise, but both groups find the show deeply compelling in a way that’s hard to understand if you’re not a fan yourself.
“The real power of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette is that the shows tap into the fantasy of living in a world where dating could actually be our top priority,” Katherine Foley wrote for Quartz in 2016. “[I]n the Bachelor franchise, contestants have no other responsibilities or distractions… The Bachelor franchise makes finding a lasting relationship look basically effortless.” In real life, who has the time to see their friends and family, kill it at work, have a hobby, let alone plan a surprise helicopter tour of a new city with a date on a weekend?
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In order to keep their engagement rings, Bachelor couples have to stay together for two years after their season ends.
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The ninth season of The Bachelorette aired in 2013, and featured a group date with the rapper Soulja Boy. Together, they created a rap about Desiree, the bachelorette, and her experience on the show. It is awful, but like a car crash, you can’t look away.
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“I have had sex, and Jesus still loves me.” —Season 15 Bachelorette Hannah Brown to contestant Luke P
“ABC could have saved a ton on limousine fees if it had shrink-wrapped 25 women and placed them in the meat case at Safeway.” —Seattle Post-Intelligencer critic John Levesque reviews the first season of The Bachelor in 2002
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The rise of Twitter and Instagram turned The Bachelor into a communal social experience, and its contestants into mini-celebrities. As a result, the show now attracts contestants with job titles like social media influencer, model, or “content creator,” who openly admit to being there to raise their profile and increase their follower count.
But not everyone thinks this shift is all that surprising, or even all that bad.
As Arielle Duhaime-Ross, host of Vox’s tech podcast Reset, told Emma Gray, the host of the Bachelor podcast Here to Make Friends, there have always been incentives for contestants to go on the show “for the wrong reasons.” The franchise has “thrived off of this kind of illusion, that the only reason you would ever go on The Bachelor is because you just want to find love and you believe in the process,” she explains. “And you know what? That hasn’t existed, ever.”
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