Monday January 7, ABC will premiere the seventeenth season of its popular reality show The Bachelor. Undoubtedly many will tune in to watch latest contestant Sean Lowe's search for a wife, after he was rejected on the last season of the Bachelorette by Emily Maynard. Last year 7.7 million people watched the premiere of Ben Flajnik's season. But with only three couples still together after eleven years and sixteen seasons, why do we still care about relationships that are destined to end in failure and humiliation?
Sean Lowe is officially 'The Bachelor'
To call the interactions on The Bachelor "relationships" is pushing it, though, and to say that we "care" about them isn't quite the right description. In watching The Bachelor, we are willing participants in the total mockery of the search for true love. Just listening to the language used on the show is enough to make your skin crawl. The Bachelors really want the women to "open up" to them on the "journey," and later exclaim to the camera "my wife is in that room!" The women, drunk on white wine, are convinced that they "have a connection" with a man they just met. We know the only thing the majority of the contestants on The Bachelor are searching for is their fifteen minutes of fame.
And yet, The Bachelor has spawned a sister show, The Bachelorette, which has become a rival in ratings, and the disturbingly entertaining Bachelor Pad, in which former contestants from different seasons are all placed in a house together to compete for a $250,000 prize. Inevitably, the contestants pair off into couples, so you can see your favorite jerk from The Bachelorette break the heart of your favorite lady from season The Bachelor.
The audience for this madness is women, aged 18 to 34. It's not too much of a stretch to assume that many are college educated, professional and intelligent (we know plenty such ladies who watch The Bachelor). Most would probably not go on a reality television show in hopes of finding the perfect man. So why are they here?
"As ridiculous as the premise is, at times it's probably no more ridiculous than the ins and outs of being single, minus rappelling down buildings and being in hot tubs on your first date." Zack Jerome, author of the Lost Angeles Blog, a source for snarky Bachelor recaps, told Yahoo! Shine. "Deep down, people relate to their own 'journey to find love'." Also, for the single girl, the awkwardness of the forced interactions and rejections on The Bachelor, Jerome says, "remind them that failed date could have been worse-it could have been on television in front of every woman on earth."
Full disclosure-I'm a member of a Facebook Group called "Lady Girls" that watches The Bachelor together in real time and posts comments. I love The Bachelor/ette for the wild card contestants. For instance, the winner of the last season of The Bachelorette was a loveable Bieber-esque constant named Jef. Yes, one F. Jef had his own bottled water company and was a lapsed Mormon. You can't make this stuff up.
"I love the Bachelor because it's fun to watch how people act in the beginning stages of infatuation," one fellow member of the Lady Girls, Emily Loeb, 27 says. "It's funny watching people trying desperately to fall in love on camera." The presence of alcohol during the cocktail parties that precede every rose ceremony undoubtedly exacerbates an already awkward situation as each woman vies for the Bachelor's attention. On Ben's season, viewers will remember the cringe-worthy episode when Jamie, fueled by alcohol, tried to force a physical connection with Ben and failed miserably.
"I think it has the same allure as watching sports. We always figure out pretty early on which contestant we like best - typically the person who seems the least terrible, which can be tricky on this show - and then we'll root for him or her throughout the competition," says another member of the group.
Some, however, claim that the experience is more Hunger Games than light-hearted fun. "It is a good idea to take your guard down when looking for love in the real world, but it is almost certainly a recipe for embarrassment and heartbreak on The Bachelor, where there is such a small chance of finding lasting romance, and such a large chance of looking really stupid," writes Alice Bolin in an article for the pop culture website This Recording.
And there's even a theory that the show is tapping into our fear of death.
Two married writers for literary website The Millions, Edan Lepucki and Patrick Brown, discussed The Bachelor's appeal in a published conversation back in 2010. "Mainly, I think people crave repetition, and The Bachelor is highly repetitive…. The sensationally stagey rose ceremonies, the way they all keep saying the same key phrases ("I felt a connection," "I'm not sure she's here for the right reasons," etc.), the way even the characters know the sequence of the show ("Next week is hometowns, and I don't take that lightly") - it's all there to reassure us that we're still alive and everything is moving along as it should. I think this is especially powerful in that it deals with marriage, so not only is it 'We won't die,' but rather 'We won't die alone.'"
Whatever the reason, we can't stop watching. Though this season's choice for Bachelor has been criticized as boring-Sean is a nice guy and deeply religious-we will tune in anyway to watch him try to sift through a group of 24 women looking for true love. Are they after Sean's love or the love of the camera? Well, that's all part of the fun.