Stunts, Sex, and Faux-Scandal: Has ‘The Bachelor’ Lost It?
The 24th season of ABC’s reality-show behemoth, featuring Peter Weber, looks to be more of the same—that is, diminishing returns.
It is less than one hour into an excruciating three-hour season premiere of The Bachelor, and a beautiful 23-year-old girl with blonde highlights is climbing out of a suitcase to meet the potential love of her life. The stunt is not even part of some sexy magician’s assistant challenge. No, this is the climax of a truly bizarre mating ritual in which ABC’s savviest producers think up the most humiliating ways to introduce 30 wannabe Instagram influencers on national television. Apparently, walking out of a limousine with perfect barrel curls, shimmering bronzer, and a rhinestone-encrusted gown just doesn’t cut it these days.
Instead, the women competing for Peter Weber’s heart in Season 24 of the beloved (and/or widely derided) franchise must flex their propensity for cheesy puns, physical comedy, and sexual innuendo, all while teetering on stiletto heels. The first girl out of the limo, 24-year-old Miss Texas Alayah Benavidez, presents Weber with a letter handwritten to him (a complete stranger—this cannot be stressed enough) by her Grandma Rose. With sickening-sweet earnestness, they bond over both having grandmothers named Rose, as if it is the most shocking coincidence in the world, and I can already hear the chime of wedding bells.
Meanwhile, another woman’s attempt at flirty humor falls flat when she can barely chokes out the line, “I have a dry sense of humor, but that’s the only thing that’s dry.” Other bits involve a giant paper airplane, a tricycle, a nonconsensual blindfolded kiss, and an “emotional support cow.”
This will surely sound insane to the few people left in the world who are unfamiliar with the premise of The Bachelor. The reality dating show consists of a group of female contestants fighting for the affection of the bachelor, in this case Peter Weber, who is meant to propose to one woman at the end of the season. It operates on the typical moderately-self-aware sexist conventions of reality TV, with young, gorgeous women pitted against each other in physical and emotional challenges. The expectation is that they will be ravenously competitive, while still adhering to oppressively conventional standards of beauty and likability.
Because Weber is famously a commercial pilot for Delta, nicknamed “Pilot Pete” by fans who watched him compete on Hannah Brown’s season of The Bachelorette, the flight jokes were exhausted within the first two minutes of the premiere when host Chris Harrison announced, “The dramatic three-hour premiere of The Bachelor takes off right now.” Every subsequent airline-themed introduction was groan-inducing; that is, until Kiarra Norman—whose bio on the ABC website say she is a nanny, but who I can only assume is also a part-time contortionist—emerged from an impossibly small, zipped suitcase rolled up to the Bachelor mansion on a luggage cart.
Other than Kiarra’s insane entrance (she has, at least, secured herself a standing invitation to Paradise this summer), it is too early in the season to gauge the standouts. The editors deserve nothing short of Emmy recognition for a sequence that dramatizes one contestant’s “traumatic” childhood motion sickness on the teacup ride at Disneyland. Brown, fresh off of a Dancing With the Stars victory, showed up to intimidate the other women and confuse Peter by crying gloopy mascara tears over how much she regrets dumping him for both Jed Wyatt and Tyler Cameron. All in all, three hours was about two hours too many for this show.
Note that I said early that the bachelor is “meant” to propose to the winner of the season. This is crucial to the decreasing emotional legitimacy of the show, and increasing entertainment value. It is becoming more and more common for contestants to eschew the lifelong commitment of marriage.
Sometimes, it is the result of unforeseeable drama that makes for better TV than happily-ever-after anyway, as in the most recent season of The Bachelorette when Brown chose Jed Wyatt, only to learn that he had a girlfriend at home the whole time the show was filming. But my sneaking, cynical suspicion for this shift has more to do with the fact that the contestants keep getting younger and hotter, too young and hot to reasonably want to marry someone within months of meeting them on TV.
Such was the case with the last season of The Bachelor, when Colton Underwood, himself only 26 years old while on the show, chose 23-year-old Cassie Randolph as his winner despite her admission that she was not ready for marriage. The two are still a couple nearly a year later but are not engaged. Unsurprisingly, with 28-year-old bachelor Peter, 13 of the 30 contestants this season are 24 years old or younger.
After episode one, the two frontrunners are both, predictably, 23-year-old brunettes with Southern twangs—Hannah Ann, a model from Tennessee with two-faced mean-girl tendencies to rival Regina George, and Madison, who informed Peter on their first date, “I’ve always said that I want to marry someone like my dad.”
Sure, it is undeniably hilarious to watch a 22-year-old Canadian fashion blogger named Mykenna repeatedly insist, glass of white wine in hand, that Peter is “the guy I’ve dreamt of marrying my whole life.” But it also makes it even harder than usual to suspend disbelief, which is saying a lot for a show that promises every episode will be the most dramatic two hours to ever air on television.