I can only imagine how revolutionary the first season of The Bachelor must have been. Back then the premise was: regular guy with a normal job looks for love with a regular girl with a normal job, and the entire nation gets to watch the romance unfold. It was a simpler time (2002), and not every date needed to start with a helicopter ride and end with a private concert. Even the finale was pretty calm: Alex Michel gave his final rose to Amanda Marsh and asked her to be his girlfriend. But now, 19 seasons and 14 years later, things have gotten way out of hand.
Last Sunday night ABC aired a special, The Bachelor at 20: A Celebration of Love, to remind its audience just how extravagant its matchmaking reality-television show has become. There was a look back at the hundreds of bachelors and bachelorettes housed in the Bachelor mansion and in the domiciles featured in the spin-offs Bachelor Pad and Bachelor in Paradise. And the special ended with a wedding between two Bachelor alumni, a distraction from all the series’ failed relationships and crushed dreams. But if the current season reveals anything, it’s how dated and ridiculous the concept has become, despite a few matrimonial successes.
Expectations have changed on The Bachelor. Whether it’s because of my own age or that of the show’s contestants, it’s become obvious that it’s completely insane to fall in love and marry someone on TV after knowing him or her for eight weeks. Current bachelor Ben Higgins, a software salesperson with the personality of a wet mop, is a 27-year-old guy from Indiana who’s signed on to choose a wife from a pool of 25 strangers. The poor women, all in their early 20s, are trapped in a mansion with nothing to do and no one to talk to except the other girls vying for this one man’s affection. No wonder they act crazy—the producers are essentially brainwashing them into thinking they have a lasting connection with a man with whom they’ve spent a total of less than 24 hours. When one of these attractive, successful twentysomethings gets eliminated, well, that must mean that she’s unlovable and will be alone forever.
It became clear just how much the series’ tone has changed during a group date last week in which everyone went swimming with wild pigs (the most romantic of all activities). In past seasons contestants turned a blind eye to these completely unnatural situations—they continued to flirt and pretended to get along with all the other girls. This time around, Higgins seemed shocked that no one was having a good time watching him hold hands in the ocean with another woman. He spent the rest of the day surrounded by crying women who just don’t think they can do this anymore. And who could blame them? In scenes from future episodes Higgins is shown in tears as he struggles to decide who will spend the rest of her life in trashy tabloids with him. It’s a far cry from the days of Michel asking Marsh to go steady.
The Bachelor and all of its spin-offs continue to be popular, and they’ll likely be taken off the air only when they’re yanked out of host Chris Harrison’s cold dead hands. But maybe the show can go back to a time before professional soccer players and wedding-dress designers tried to find spouses amid wine-throwing fights and scandalous midnight hook-ups. A time when everyday people could go on some dates and have a good time. Hey, a girl can dream.
The Bachelor Mondays at 7 PM on ABC