I started watching The Bachelor a million years ago in Bachelor-time, but only like 2 years ago in real time (Jake Pavelka's season, Season 14, in January 2010). I don't know what started it. Probably peer pressure. My friend Marisa had started a few seasons earlier, when someone she knew from high school was a contestant, and it sort of spiraled out of control from there. It used to be just a social thing but now I watch every week, mostly on my computer since I am too busy to meet up with my Bachelor watching friends. Marisa lives in New York now and so we email each other our commentary, looping in our other friends, Kevin and Amick, who sometimes let me come over to their house and watch the show.
I'm not proud of how deeply I've gotten involved with the contrived set-ups and death defying "dates" that these highly manicured "Account Managers" and "Sales Reps" share in front of the cameras. But there is just something about watching people who seem suspiciously like robots try to "find love" for the "right reasons" in a leased mansion in LA, in helicopters and on exotic islands. Every season is the most dramatic, and of course "the most controversial."
It's always been easy to forget the show is "reality" because it barely is. The men and women fall so easily into characters, whether through editing or their own obsessive watching of previous seasons. There is the sweet one and the evil one and the ridiculous one. And they are all suffering from either amnesia or magical thinking because the romantic success rate of this show is barely 5%. (Even though I just made that statistic up, I stand by it since I doubt anyone related to the show knows how to do anything other than magical math.) Only about 3 of the couples created in 16 seasons of The Bachelor and 5 seasons of The Bachelorette are still together and yet one of the most repeated phrases you hear from contestants, besides, "I didn't come here to make friends," is "I believe in this process."
Get ready for the process!
Cut to the beginning of January. I had learned to live with my addiction. My dad, who compares watching The Bachelor to doing heroin, seemed to have toned down his rhetoric. And then the current season of The Bachelor, Season 16, started, starring a local, Ben Flajnik, who is ostensibly from Sonoma but actually lives here in San Francisco. Ben started his reality career on the last season of The Bachelorette, where he proposed to a girl named Ashley on some island (because the boys always have to propose to the girls, even when the girl is doing the choosing, which adds an extra splash of patriarchy and cruelty to the show). "All of America" (another oft-repeated, totally false phrase) watched as he was rejected by the tiny blond, hoping he would not quit while the quitting was good and would instead go on to be The Bachelor. On that season, Ben seemed like the most normal of all the dudes to ever be on one of these shows. He had a sort of weird haircut; he didn't look like he worked out 4 hours a day. He seemed like a guy I would hang out with. When I found out that a friend of mine from Sonoma actually knew him from childhood, he became even more normal. If he was her boy next door, he could be mine too.
Which is why I decided it was time to stop riding The Bachelor dragon. I knew it would go badly, because it always does. The entire premise of the show -- that after a few weeks of jumping out of helicopters and getting personal concerts from third rate bands while in full make-up you will find true love -- is completely ludicrous. To see someone I had developed even the slightest bit of empathy for go through "the process," FOR A SECOND TIME, was just too much. And so I stayed away. For 2 whole episodes. And then they showed up in San Francisco.
Okay, so I know they didn't just "show up." They were here long ago, on some magical sunny day, pimping cars and snow skiing down a street. But a guy I know was in a background shot, doing the only thing a reasonable San Franciscan would be doing in this situation which is: drinking beer on the roof and watching the mayhem. So using that as an excuse to watch, I back-slid and was snagged in, once again, this time by the "reality" mixing with actual reality.
And it was so much worse than I expected it to be.
At first, I compared Ben to the boys I actually know in real life. He is exactly my age, and I don't know if you know any 29-year-old, upper-middle-class, straight, left-leaning-men with shaggy hair, but here's a little glimpse behind the curtain: the majority are not interested in getting married. They are however, NO MATTER HOW NICE THEY ARE, interested in sleeping with a model. Though I am no model, I have never been mortally offended by this reality. Most boys I know don't actually get the chance to make this happen, or, once they do, they realize it's pretty similar to sleeping with a non-model. But this desire creates a problem for the show, whose main message is very conservative: men and women belong in life-long monogamous relationships with each other, these relationships must be chaste enough to be cemented in front of a chaperone, and anything other than that constitutes failure. And it also creates a problem for me, because apparently, after season upon season of watching, I have bought into this subliminal message. By the time the girls and Ben left the tropics, I hated him.
And I was not alone.
Here are some excerpts from emails between Marisa, Amick and me:
Me: Subject: I am beginning to despise Ben
Body: That is all.
Amick: Beginning?! I'm telling you, he's the new Jake.
Marisa: He is the worst. Worst Bachelor yet.
Here's a list of the things that Ben did that made us feel this way:
1) He "broke-up" with Kaci B., a delightful airhead from somewhere South, after meeting her conservative parents and realizing he really didn't want to date someone he couldn't sleep with before marriage.
2) He continued to be enamored with the "mean" model, mainly because she took her clothes off and went skinny dipping with him in Puerto Rico.
Now, none of us are conservative Christians and some of us are even living in sin ourselves. We generally say that above all we value honesty, which is basically what Ben was acting out when he let the girl who he did want to sleep with but didn't want to marry to do it, go. Also, we aren't girls who would generally turn our noses up at skinny dipping with anyone in Puerto Rico, let alone with a reasonably attractive dude. So what has happened to us?!
For me, it is time to face up to some nasty truths about this show that I have thought for so long was just a harmless fun.
First, Chris Harrison, the host, is a vampire. He never ages and he has no compassion for human beings. Case closed.
Second, the message of these shows creeps into us, no matter how "media savvy" (shout-out to high school!) we think we are. I guess that's what my dad was saying, with the heroin thing, though in his metaphor, the message is more forcefully injected. It's impossible to watch two hours a week of these beautiful people, going on bizarre dates, getting loosened up by liquor until they are totally vibe-ing and making out (which must be strategically edited because they never seem sloppy) (maybe it isn't just alcohol the producers give them) and not, at least in the most deep, secret part of your brain, think, "I wish I could be on a mega yacht in Fiji with the man of my dreams."
Who will it be? Also, does it matter?
So tonight is the season finale of Ben's Bachelor. While it's possible that he will pick the cute, made-for-TV Lindzi to propose to after an hour-long infomercial on diamonds, it'll probably be the model, Courtney, who spells her name like a human, comes off as a pretty terrible person on TV, and looks great in short shorts. They'll probably date for a few weeks and then be contractually obligated to submit to an interview by the vampire when the "relationship," without cameras, dramatic dates and hot tubs at every turn, inevitably falls apart. They will apologize on national television for their failure, by which they will mean their inability to stay together in a monogamous relationship forever, a failure pretty much every single adult person has had multiple times, not their mistake to think it would be in any way a good idea to go on TV in the first place.
Tonight, I'll be watching, for old time's sake, one last hit of the reality juice. Tomorrow however, I think I'm getting back on the wagon.
Watch The Bachelor on ABC tonight at 8pm. Or better yet, just say no.