“What more could two best friends ever want than to travel the world, fall in love and experience the best moments of our lives together?” an ad for the newest season of “The Bachelorette” says. These inconspicuous words perfectly capture season 19’s unique concoction of manipulation and rivalry, especially when the jumbled audio reveals that the line isn’t said in sequence but constructed through stitched-together clips.
For the first time, “The Bachelor” spinoff starred two women: former contestants Gabby Windey and Rachel Recchia. Advertised as double the drama and double the romance, the latest season has only provided more stress and cringe-worthy dates than ever. With scripted drama and a new format that reeks of produced competition between the women, the new season has turned the show into an alien version of its former self. “The Bachelor” franchise has always profited from making women cry, but now it’s becoming harder to deny that this is all the show is doing.
While almost every reality television show hinges on the lie that everything happening on screen is its own heightened reality, none may believe this lie as much as Bachelor Nation. Frequently, contestants refer to the show as “the process,” citing how they believe in its ability to guide them to love and self-realization. This is the critical myth that drives “The Bachelorette.” Audiences are expected to believe that the concept of 32 men vying for one — or, in this case, two — hearts is a beautiful process, not one that is overly produced for mass consumption. This season stressed that there would be no rivalry between the two women, only a bonding experience fit for cinematic romance. However, every date worked to ensure competition between Windey and Recchia, resulting in one of the most disturbing seasons of the series.
In one instance in France, both women shared a kiss with their dates — their individual scenes intercut with one another. An image of Recchia swept up in the moment was immediately paired with Windey held in an embrace, an exact play-by-play of how one’s chemistry held up against the other. The editing forced the audience to choose a preference, and it ensured that the two women’s romances couldn’t be perceived apart from one another.
In approaching how to court two women at once, there was no specific plan; instead, the producers let the beginning episodes become a confusing free-for-all. As the men got to know the women better, they were forced to choose who they’d like to continue their journey with. This format flipped the established power dynamics of “The Bachelorette” upside down — giving men the power of choice over the two female leads. Thus, shudder-worthy rejections easily spawned throughout the show: Windey was rejected several times in a row by the men during a cocktail party, and Recchial’s roses were refused in favor of Windey during a horrifying rose ceremony.
It used to be that the bachelor or bachelorette was treated as royalty, but in recent years, it has increasingly felt as though the lead’s suffering is encouraged. Hatred is a key part of the Bachelor Nation experience, with a good villain always making the season more invigorating. Many notable antagonists go on to achieve social media fame; for example Corrine Olympios from “The Bachelor” season 21 now stands at 1.1 million Instagram followers and has launched several ventures despite being a fan-favorite to hate. However, rather than developing note-worthy villains, “The Bachelorette” season 19 fell flat, with most rivalries and confrontations quickly resolving within one episode. Instead, the producers turned to using past leads as a source of inspiration, especially former bachelor Clayton Echard. Windey and Rechia both suffered on-screen humiliation as unpicked semi-finalists on his season, so employing a choir of children to sing, “Clayton sucks” during their contestant limo intros was highly unusual for a show that typically works toward the future success of its leads with podcast spots and key collaborations.
It’s unfortunate that out of all the problematic aspects of “The Bachelorette,” the show decided the number of leads was what needed to be changed. Exclusionary casting, repetitive bachelors and bachelorettes and a dated format ripped straight from 2002 could all have been updated to match the current era’s new demands for reality television, but they weren’t.
Thankfully, with the announcement of a new bachelor, Zach Shallcross from “The Bachelorette” season 19, it seems that the franchise is taking a step back from the dual lead formula. While this can be taken as a sign that the producers have learned from this failed experiment, the choice of yet another white, middle-class bachelor doesn’t inspire much hope for notable change in the near future.