On Monday evenings, 24-year old Boston College doctorate student Ashley Mitchell tunes in to ABC to watch Juan Pablo Galavis vacillate between a bevy of polished girls competing for his attention in The Bachelor. Four hundred and fifty miles away, Zach Sheldon, a college friend of Mitchell’s who lives in Buffalo, NY, does the same.
The two friends—and many others like them—have a more vested interest than most of the show’s 8 million weekly fans, because there is cold, hard cash at stake for each rose handed out by the Venezuelan soccer player.
For they are a part of a group of the reality show’s devotees who are taking season predictions and impassioned online forums to the next level, with the three B’s of the Bachelor betting game: brackets, bookies, and buy-ins.
Mitchell (not her real name) is not your typical bookmaker, reigning over a group of 30 participants in her Bachelor betting pool.
The 24-year old Boston College doctorate student hadn’t actually watched the love-finding show since she was a teenager, but after catching this season’s opener with her roommate she realized it would make for a great game.
Word quickly spread after she shot off a brief email, and now the roster of participants spans from New Jersey to Chicago, from sorority sisters to her physical therapist. “I think everyone’s incentivized by winning a pot,” she says. The points for each correct pick rise weekly, and at the end the top scorer will take home 80 percent of the $150 pool. The runner-up will get 20 percent.
Across the country, in Seattle, Live Nation coordinator Shoshana Godwin and 13 of her friends get together to watch the show and compare bets, too. High off success with their Fantasy Football league, the group was craving even more competition. “We all decided we judge the girls so much anyways,” she says. “Why not put money on it?” Everybody took a $5 buy-in, pulling their brackets forms from TheBachelorBracket.com, an official organizer that boasts hundreds of leagues and thousands of participants. Godwin was never a devoted fan of the show, but has found herself suddenly invested in the outcome.
Betting on The Bachelor via offshore online sites has previously caused problems—due to the show’s air delay, spoilers, and sudden, suspicious spikes in bets from the contestants’s hometowns has forced some bookies to suspect bets. But in bracketing, bets are sealed early on. It’s a practice otherwise widespread during big sports tournaments like March Madness and the NFL Playoffs.
But Mitchell, from Boston, liked that this was something a more diverse demographic could get behind. “I think girls like that they can do this kind of thing and be betting on something where they know what they’re talking about,” she says. “I think it’s cool we have our own thing.”
That doesn’t mean the pool is male-free.
Sheldon, the college friend of Mitchell’s who lives in Buffalo, NY, is a reality TV fan and self-described “gambler at heart” who partakes in a range of sports brackets and betting pools. He says he didn’t really watch The Bachelor before.
“It’s a little too much for me, but now I’ve got rooting interest,” Sheldon says. “I’ve got a horse to back.” It’s a way to keep up with what his female friends are watching (though, he laments, nobody wanted to watch the last episode with him).
Sheldon got two out of three eliminations right last week, and the group has been staying in touch via email, Facebook, and texting. The more forums for trash-talking the better, he says.
And he’s got the fodder for it: Sheldon thinks he has a big advantage over the ladies in the bracket because of his gender. “To think like a man, you’ve gotta be a man,” he says.
“All the other girls are at a handicap by default.”
Mitchell disagrees. “Girls know girls,” she says. “They can analyze them and predict their next move. We also know it’s a little contrived, but girls want to believe they know these people.”
She spent an hour and a half on her bracket strategy, trying to pin down what kind of girl Galavis would be interested in. She read all the contestants’ bios and watched the previews to see who was heavily featured. She re-watched the first episode, measuring his on-camera reaction to each girl. A lot of people picked Andy, a prosecutor, to win the season, but Mitchell disagrees, thinking Galavis wouldn’t want someone smarter than him.
So she picked Clare, a hairstylist from California.
Sheldon chose Kelly, who he thought did a good job of putting herself out there—though he says it’s less about strategy and more about fun. “It really is a crapshoot. There’s no way to know at this point to have good advantage,” he admits. And if Kelly does steal Galavis’s heart, he already has a celebration planned.
“I’ll probably have some special rose ceremony for myself,” Sheldon jokes. “As the last one standing.”
Unlike Mitchell’s group, Godwin and her friends mapped their brackets before the first episode, by reading bios and doing some light Google stalking. But it doesn’t compare to seeing them in action. Godwin had mapped Victoria to the victory round, but she’s already been kicked off. “I picked her because she was gorgeous, from Brazil, spoke spanish,” she writes. “But after the first episode, I immediately knew I made a HUGE mistake. Girl is CRAZY.”
Next year she might do more research, but part of the game is how arbitrary it all is. “I sort of like knowing nothing and having to make my picks off of totally superficial and physical criteria,” she says. “There aren’t many times in life it’s this acceptable to be this shallow.”
When it comes to reality TV’s version of true love, all bets are on.