Pop Culture

‘Bachelor’ shows love their lack of romance

“The Bachelor” and its spin-off, “The Bachelorette,” have notoriously bad reputations for creating lasting relationships, even though that's why the ABC reality series supposedly exist.

The shows have always found drama from a single man or woman navigating a group of suitors who vie for their attention. But at the core, these shows are supposed to be love stories, romantic fantasies come true. A stunning mansion, candles, roses, exotic dates, a smarmy host. Well, almost a fantasy.

Just like the last season of “The Bachelor,” though, this season of “The Bachelorette” has been more about the drama than the full-throttle romance. The July 6 episode concluded with bachelorette Jillian’s dismissal of Wes, who’d grown to become a monstrous villain for apparently being on the show just to promote his music career (he boasted that he had a “No.1 hit in Chihuahua, Mexico,”). A rejected suitor, Jake, even returned to tell Jillian that Wes had admitted to secretly dating a woman named Laurel back in Texas.

When Jillian brought that up with him, Wes stumbled into an accidental admission: “My girlfriend — I mean, ex-girlfriend,” he told her, and then tried to insist he wasn't dating anyone. Later, however, on his car ride home, he bragged, “First guy ever on ‘The Bachelorette’ to make it to the top four with a girlfriend,” and then launched into self-promotion apparently designed to help boost his band.

Wes, however, says he did not actually admit that he had a girlfriend, and blames the producers for constructing an image and even editing his sentences to make him seem evil.  For example, he told a Texas radio show that what he really said was, “I'm the only guy in ‘Bachelorette’ history that made it to the final four without a girlfriend, [and then] I said, get real, dude. If I had a girlfriend, I would be home with her right now, and I wouldn't be putting up with this.” Wes claims they cut out everything after “girlfriend.”

In other words, either Wes is a self-promoting jerk, or the show's producer's unethically manipulated footage to make him appear that way.

Either way, that proves why “The Bachelor” has become a much better show in recent years. As their show has been parodied and ultimately weakened by the proliferation of even more nonsensical dating reality series, the producers of “The Bachelor” did something unexpected: they embraced their show's own failure.

Sure, “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” still have the ridiculously cheesy rose ceremonies and focus on finding love, all of which is augmented by soft, filtered light to go with the epic mansions and locations that are supposed to inspire romance rather than give VH1's producers ideas for locations for the next “Flavor of Love” spin-off.

Two years ago, Texas bar owner Brad Womack rejected both women that were left at the end of the 11th season of “The Bachelor.” The reunion audience was apoplectic; apparently, it's fine to break up and dump someone shortly after a season ends, but not while viewers desperate for romance are watching the fantasy fall apart.

Since then, the show has managed to strike a balance between their overly idealized mission to tell a fairy tale love story and VH1’s over-the-top mockery of the nonsense.

‘Bachelor’ shows found a new ‘Flavor’Those VH1 dating series are the key to understanding what's happened to “The Bachelor.” The cable network's copycat shows began with Flavor Flav's quest for a partner in “Flavor of Love” and have spun off an unbelievable number of related series, where the crazy people who get rejected get their chance to reject even crazier people.

The real goal, it seems, is to ensure that “The Soup” notices you spitting at someone, or starting a fight, or screaming incomprehensible things while flailing around, dressed like you're auditioning for “America's Next Top Prostitute.”

While ABC's series has always had its share of nutty cast members, they cannot compare to those people on VH1, so it needed new controversy, and found one in the way the participants on “Bachelor” shows reject the idea of the show they are on.

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That was illustrated perfect by Wes, who seemed completely uninterested in dating and wanting only fame and exposure. Between Brad rejecting both women and Jason changing his mind, there was another example, as the 10th “Bachelor” did not have a surprise ending. Tessa, who was ultimately chosen by Andy Baldwin, reportedly told a gossip column about that outcome weeks before it aired, never mind that ABC later showed a clip to the media of the two kissing, thus spoiling the outcome and eliminating the romantic tension suspense the show frequently relies upon.

Of course, viewers still have a desire for the fairy tale romance, and that fuels their responses to these sorts of things, whether it was Wes talking about his girlfriend or previous "Bachelor" Jason dumping Melissa for Molly, which caused viewers to freak out. The anger directed at Wes is inflamed because he stuck around and filled a spot that should have been occupied by someone who might actually have been good for Jillian.

Without giving up the central conceit, the show's producers have subtly embraced that the whirlwind romance is little more than an excuse for an often entertaining reality series, and the series has thrived as a result, getting more attention and higher ratings.

Whether just by good fortune or, as Wes and others claim, by fakery and manipulation, the producers have embraced its failure to successfully pair single people. The show now acknowledges what a joke it is — and the irony is that the show is less of a joke now that its biggest weakness has been given a rose and asked to stick around.

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