The Bachelor has been the king of reality dating television for 20 years now. Ever since Chris Harrison first graced our screens in 2002 for the premiere of the first season of The Bachelor, it has been the gold standard for reality dating shows. Fast forward to 2021 where we now have a number of franchises (The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, Bachelor in Paradise, and multiple other spin-offs), but also a growing negative sentiment around the franchise for multiple reasons.
Going into Season 25 of The Bachelor, the franchise had been on a brutal run of leads from Pete the Pilot, to Colton, to Arie, to Hannah Brown, and most recently Clare Crawley. The show had started to skew towards much younger leads. This meant much younger contestants, and seasons full of fabricated drama from aspiring Instagram influencers rather than people truly seeking love.
The most recent season of The Bachelorette starred longtime Bachelor franchise veteran Clare Crawley in an attempt to seemingly get back to their roots and bring someone in who was truly ready to get married (and we all know how that turned out). It ended up being The Bachelor’s worst season ever, in my opinion. Crawley never came across as someone the audience wanted to root for and she quit the show after three weeks to get engaged to a guy named Dale in the most forced TV proposal of all-time. I tried to excuse the show slightly because no one could have predicted Clare quitting the show so soon, and the season was totally thrown off by COVID.
So, going into Season 25, The Bachelor decided it was time to have their first-ever Black Bachelor with Matt James. Matt himself seemed like a really good, albeit not that interesting, guy. He seemed to be the perfect reset button for the franchise because they were finally getting diverse, Matt had never appeared on a Bachelor property before, and he seemed to genuinely want to find a wife. However, we quickly learned night one that the season would not be about Matt, and rather focus on petty drama between a few women that were clearly not there “for the right reasons.” From MJ and Anna basically bullying girls off the show to ‘Queen’ Victoria — who was the most forced producer plant in the show’s history — this season just rubbed me the wrong way.
Last night was the ‘Women Tell All’ episode where all the ladies who have been sent home come back to discuss all of the drama from the season and confront Matt for the first time since leaving the show. During the episode, several things happened that made me simply just say “why?” out loud. First of all, Heather, who had been on a previous season of the show and came back for approximately 15 minutes this season just to be turned away by Matt, was at the Tell All but was never featured on camera or mentioned on the episode.
She was clearly seen during a cut-away scene but was either just ignored the whole show, or more likely, cut out after the fact by producers and editors. Heather was one person people were probably interested to hear from due to her controversial entrance and exit, plus the fact many people believed the show screwed her over by tricking her into coming just to get rejected.
The show also showed several clips from group dates that had not made air during the season. Why were these dates not a part of the season? They were all seemingly very fun dates that included a beer-chugging/pancake eating contest between the women. The fact that the Bachelor team decided to air 45 minutes of a 2-on-1 date between Jessenia and MJ instead of that group date is insane to me. Instead of highlighting the likable women and funny moments from filming, they force fabricated, dramatic storylines down our throats and reward the nastiest, meanest girls with the most screen time.
Until The Bachelor realizes that funny moments and inter-contestant drama will just happen naturally if you observe a group for long enough and that the public is now smart enough when it comes to TV to see through the bullshit, that they will continue to stay in the rut they have been in for five or six seasons now.
In my opinion, the new king of reality dating television is Love Island. The show premiered in the UK in 2015 and has since expanded to Australia, the US, and now South Africa. The show is massive in the UK and the UK and Australian versions are both streaming on Hulu, which has made it grow more and more popular in the US. The basic premise of the show is similar to that of Bachelor in Paradise: it’s a group of singles living in a house together for a few weeks looking for love. However, the way they get from start to finish is vastly different.
What makes Love Island such a phenomenal show is that there is little to no producer/editor manipulation. I’m sure there is some and that’s inevitable with reality TV, but seasons of Love Island are approximately 50 episodes long and air multiple nights a week. There is not a single day that passes in the Love Island villa that viewers do not see.
From how they just go about making their coffee in the morning, working out and tanning during the day, and partying at night, you don’t miss a minute of these peoples’ time in the villa. In the modern-day social media culture we live in today, where people tweet and post Instagram stories every 5 minutes, Love Island is what young people need to still be captivated by reality TV. Of course, there are cooking shows and other things that are just kind of fun to watch, but from a dramatic, dating-focused show, the Love Island format is the only way.
I could go on for days about Casa Amor, re-couplings, and all the ways Love Island perfectly executes reality dating TV, but the point of this is really how the show gives you the 100% real thing when it comes to each contestant. You see almost every conversation that takes place while these people are in the villa so it makes it nearly impossible for viewers to be tricked and made to think a certain way about a person. You may think that makes the contestants more unlikable, but on the contrary, it makes them so much more real and authentic. As a viewer, you feel like you are really watching regular, everyday people interact.
To me, the gold standard of reality TV is Jersey Shore, for a lot of the reasons I think Love Island is excelling. What made Jersey Shore great is that they were just regular people who were at the same time completely absurd. We didn’t watch them go on extravagant trips or forced dates, we just watched the group interact on a daily basis, doing gym, tan, and laundry during the day and partying at night. The drama was naturally occurring and despite the people in the Jersey Shore house being objectively obnoxious and trashy, they were simultaneously relatable and as a viewer, you wanted to be friends with them.
I realize The Bachelor holds themselves to a “higher standard” but they are currently living in a middle ground that I think will leave them in the dust. They either have to go back to the old ways, with more mature, likable leads and contestants, or just fully embrace being trashy and overproduced. They are currently living in a space where they are still forcing engagements at the end of every season and insisting everyone is there for true love, but not bringing on the right people to reflect those goals.
All of that being said, I am a sucker so of course I will watch the rest of this season and probably every season after this for the rest of time. I mean I’m a grown man who just wrote FAR TOO MANY words on reality dating shows.
However, my overarching point is, if it came down to eliminating one of the two shows forever, I would blast The Bachelor franchise off the face of the Earth before touching Love Island. Reality TV is inherently a very difficult line to toe and The Bachelor did it better than almost anybody for many years. But, times are changing, and they’ll need to adapt before it’s too late.