'The Bachelor' Format Is Broken. Here's How to Fix It.
If you soldiered through all three hours of Monday night's Bachelorette finale, you might have noticed something unusual about host Chris Harrison on After the Final Rose: He seemed to be scrambling. It wasn't because the newly engaged JoJo Fletcher and Jordan Rodgers whipped out some unexpected twist — say, a spectacular breakup that needed mediation. Instead, Harrison was scrambling for the opposite reason: Monday's finale was basically drama-free.
Despite a few hiccups involving her family, JoJo ended up engaged to the dude Mic picked to win before the show even started. On After the Final Rose, runner-up Robby Hayes talked robotically about "emotions," and a perfectly content JoJo and Jordan revealed plans to move to Dallas. Everybody had nice skin and hair.
Harrison tried desperately to drum up the drama. "Hopefully, Aaron can make it to the wedding," he prodded, referring to Jordan's strained relationship with brother and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The jab went nowhere — soon enough, JoJo and Jordan were giggling over their favorite Snapchat filters. Ultimately, Harrison was left promising viewers the third season of Bachelor in Paradise, which premieres Tuesday, would be chock-full of drama.
Here's the problem: Even though JoJo found a fiancé on the Bachelorette, it was a boring end to a boring season of wholesome, straight, predominantly white people looking for love. The same can be said about last season, when noted Jesus enthusiast and would-be politician Ben Higgins became engaged to inoffensive blonde person Lauren B. In recent seasons, it's become standard for both Bachelor and Bachelorette seasons to produce successful heterosexual relationships. Yes, it means the show is achieving its goal — but it's also boring me to tears.
The Bachelor franchise wasn't always an assembly line of happy couples. In fact, its success rate used to be a disaster — a trend perhaps epitomized by Bachelor Brad Womack. On season 11, Womack became the first Bachelor to choose no one. Back again four seasons later, Womack proposed to Emily Maynard — but they later called off their engagement.
Other failed unions abound. Maynard, who went on to become The Bachelorette, ended her engagement to Jef with one F. Bachelorette DeAnna Pappas broke up with snowboarder Jesse Csincsak. Bachelor Jake Pavelka and Vienna Girardi's relationship erupted like a volcano. Bachelorette Jillian Harris and Ed Swiderski broke up, as did Bachelorette Ali Fedotwosky and Roberto Martinez — to name but a fraction of the shows' failed couples.
Something needed to change. The storied franchise that once produced Happy Couple Trista and Ryan™ was fast becoming a laughingstock. Non-dating reality shows like Survivor, the Biggest Loser and Big Brother were said to have "better romance track records" than The Bachelor.
Enter Bachelorette Ashley Hebert and her winner, J.P. Rosenbaum. The pair got engaged at the end of season seven — and, shockingly, actually seemed interested in marrying each other. ABC seized its chance to rectify The Bachelor franchise's floundering image. On Dec. 16, 2012, the network aired Ashley and J.P.'s wedding.
"Ashley Hebert and J.P. Rosenbaum are only one of a few Bachelorette couples in history to have made it down the aisle," Hollywood Life gushed at the time.
The show's "success" rate was on the up. No longer were viewers investing in relationships that fizzled after filming wrapped; no longer did we need bear witness to the horrors of Brad and Jake. Finally, we had couples we could depend on, like born-again virgin Sean Lowe and his winner, Catherine Giudici; their wedding aired live on ABC. In both Ashley and J.P. and Sean and Catherine, ABC figured out how to make the Bachelor and Bachelorette work for them.
Now, ABC is too good at it — and it's a problem. In recent seasons, it's seems as though the network is making too many safe, boring choices to ensure the show produces a marriage. Ben Higgins was cute and nice, but I'm also interested in love stories that don't involve straight white dudes with strong family values.
I miss watching diverse personalities and differing values clash on the Bachelor and Bachelorette. I miss when Ed left the show, came back, and then failed to get it up in the Fantasy Suite. I miss when Jason Mesnick dumped his chosen fiancé Melissa Rycroft and professed his love for runner-up Molly Malaney live on After the Final Rose. I miss when recent Bachelorette Kaitlyn Bristowe — who brought back some of the spark of seasons past — slept with contestant Nick Viall before Fantasy Suite week, breaking a sacred rule. We need more of that. We also need more queer people and people of color, as my fellow Bachelor fan and Mic's Anna Swartz noted.
The perfect season of The Bachelor or Bachelorette would strike the perfect balance between Juan Pablo Galavis and Ben; it would bring in diverse people with different values and worldviews, without sacrificing the true love stories fans tune in for. How can The Bachelor get there? Steering the focus away from marriage as the absolute goal, for one. A search for love doesn't have to be a search for marriage. A less tradition-bound cast will certainly make for better viewing.
And hey, let's make things a little less serious. Four of the seven group dates on JoJo's season were sports-related — not even silly sports, either. What ever happened to good ol' fashioned skiing in bikinis or rolling down a hill inside of a giant inflatable ball? Somehow, Bachelor in Paradise has absorbed all of the franchise's goofiness. The Bachelor and Bachelorette need to untuck their shirts and have a little fun again.
These changes would amount to a dramatic twist from the shows' current formula. But hey — drama is what The Bachelor used to do best. It can get back there again.