One can’t so much recommend watching ABC’s The Bachelorette as try to explain why so many people do so. The top-rated show in its timeslot among adults aged eighteen to forty-nine, millions of us watch weekly as a group of men “try for a chance at love” with a beautiful and spunky single woman in her late twenties to early thirties (usually a runner-up from the last season of The Bachelor, ABC’s identical show in which the gender dynamics are reversed).
The show’s premise is simple: every week our eligible single woman eliminates prospective life partners from a pool of about thirty men with trendy haircuts and indecipherable jobs. This season’s bachelorette is Rachel Lindsay, a beautiful lawyer from Dallas in possession of an unholy amount of charisma. Though the show has been on the air for fifteen years, she’s the Bachelor franchise’s first African-American lead or runner-up. If you met her in person you would assume she is too impressive to seek love on reality television and you would be right. Yet here we are. We’re in Bachelor World now, and it has its own rules.
The show thrives on the uncanny relationship between Bachelor World and the real world. It makes you feel both superior and bewitched. Take, for example, the dates Rachel goes on with the men she’s actually considering marrying when the show stops filming. Our bachelorette—both fully approachable and fully aspirational—woos and is wooed exclusively in exotic locations. Not satisfied to stay on mere land, the lovers take to the sea—in a yacht, naturally—or soar in helicopters and hot air-balloons. We are to understand that these crafts are metaphors for the journey toward love. The roses she hands out to the suitors she likes are also love-metaphors—same as the surprise fireworks displays that appear during at least one date per season. Bachelor World paints romance from the rich palette of ‘90s R&B music videos where life is mansions, convertibles, champagne, and hot tubs. The contestants ooh and ahh over these surroundings, and we laugh and roll our eyes. It’s so obviously artificial that you don’t feel manipulated as much as admiration at the work it took to produce the pageant.