Bachelor Nation

Sharleen Joynt on Episode 1 of The Bachelor: The Greatest Seasons—Ever!

The Bach alum shares her POV on episode 1 of the nostalgic new Bachelor series. First up: a look back at Sean Lowe and Catherine Giudici's love story

When I first heard this Bachelorette season would be replaced by this The Bachelor: The Greatest Seasons—Ever! round-up, truthfully, my first feeling was sheer terror. I’m sure I’m not the only Bachelor alum to feel this way. I could hardly stand watching myself on television at the time—there were so many little things I wish I’d said or done differently. Now, several years later and in a world of far more cruel online trolls, that thing I did once on a lark might be rehashed for the world to re-see? Are we allowed to pass? At least I didn’t have a villain edit to live down; my heart goes out to every villain whose season will be featured in the coming weeks. I’ve met enough Bachelor Nation villains to have a vague idea of how difficult it is. Whether they were misrepresented or misunderstood, or just not at their finest at the time of filming, not a single villain looks back at their time on this show and feels good about it.

If there were any doubt about this, it speaks volumes that, even seven years after the fact, Tierra LiCausi refused even a five-minute chat with Chris Harrison on camera. Seven years is enough time to let even the roughest waters under the bridge—certainly, it was plenty of time for many of these women to meet their husbands and make babies. Yet it wasn’t enough time for this woman to get over how she was portrayed on television. For anyone who shrugs that off with a “well, she signed up for this,” also ask yourself if she signed up to be ridiculed all over again seven years later.

Do I think some kudos are in order for The Powers That Be for making an effort to bring us something—anything!—new to entertain us in our homes? Absolutely. After all, they easily could have re-aired an older season and called it a day. The result of those efforts, this season-in-a-nutshell meets Chris-Harrison’s-living-room-talk-show meets where-are-they-now, is certainly a way to make lemonade out of the lemons this pandemic has meant for television programming.

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That said, part of me does think this “season” is still a bit of a missed opportunity. It’s no secret that there’s a fascination with the behind-the-scenes factor of this show, hence why we love bloopers as much as we do, why Reality Steve is so successful, why Lifetime’s Unreal was a sleeper hit, and why Amy Kaufman’s Bachelor Nation was a New York Times bestseller. I’m not suggesting the show rip back the curtain and show us how the sausage is made (though, frankly, I doubt they’d lose a single viewer by doing that). Rather, when a show’s been around for nearly TWO DECADES, surely there’s more interesting (or at least newer) intel to share than recaps of recent-ish seasons. For example, the evolution of the show is fascinating for long-term viewers like myself. I’d have loved to have heard from creator Mike Fleiss himself on what his original vision was for this show, and who his favourite leads have been and why. Perhaps producers could have chimed in on their favourite behind-the-scenes moments over the years. Perhaps we could have heard how the idea of a Rose Ceremony first originated and how that evolved over the years. Whatever happened to the framed photos of contestants—back when the lead had a deliberation room—and what made them decide to axe details like that? The show always maintains its same glossy veneer, down to the dozen roses artfully strewn on Chris Harrison’s desk, but it would serve The Powers That Be to recognize and reward their loyal fanbase with what they really want to see.

If anything, I’d go so far as to say the show did just the opposite: Last night, it bordered on insulting to have Peter “reveal” he’d been dating Kelley. You’d have to live under a rock to not know about these two—they’ve been openly posting on Instagram about it, and the story has been picked up by every outlet. Chris Harrison joked about their relationship being “a win for us,” but even saying it in jest couldn’t cover up the fact that the show is laying claim to another success story. As much as we may be reminded of Sean Lowe and Catherine Giudici’s (admittedly beautiful) relationship, Peter and Kelley are irrefutable proof that this show actively doesn’t work most of the time. Here are two people who ALREADY KNEW EACH OTHER and still couldn’t find their way to the end together.

I did watch Sean’s season in its entirety in 2013 and it holds a sort of nostalgia for me. Beyond the chunky platform heels and the side swept bangs, I remember where I was in the world when I watched this season (Heidelberg, Germany). I remember who I was dating at the time. (Not only did I watch this season with that ex, I got him hooked with Sean’s preceding Bachelorette season featuring Emily Maynard.) Not unlike listening to an album on repeat, Sean Lowe on my television screen represents a sort of soundtrack to a chapter of my life.

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The nostalgia is two-fold. In 2013, Instagram wouldn’t become mainstream for another couple of years. The Influencer Era was blissfully far from view, meaning there was little to be gained from the Bachelor contestant experience other than the experience itself and, yes, love. Sure, it changed a couple of lives: Love stories aside, Season 4 Bachelor Jesse Palmer would go on to become a legitimate TV host and sports commentator. Season 6 Bachelorette Ali Fedotowsky would become an E! News correspondent and, in easily the biggest leap of Bachelor Nation history, made a small cameo in a Woody Allen film. But these stories were few and far between—no one really expected appearing on this show to alter the course of their lives. Perhaps a contestant or two thought exposure wouldn’t hurt, but few people expected much “fame” to follow. Your 15 minutes really were limited to however long anyone remembered you.

Maybe I’ll sound old-fashioned in admitting this, but I long for those days. I’d be lying if I said I thought the show is better today. In fact, in just about every possible aspect, it’s worse. Reality TV is about real people, and watching Sean’s season highlights last night, I missed the days where the women on this show seemed to represent the everywoman. These women were normal ladies with normal lives and jobs; not an aspiring “content creator” or pageant queen in sight. Without Instagram followers beckoning, we knew these women were at least somewhat sincere. They went on the show because they were single—they didn’t become single to go on the show. When Catherine told Sean, “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t you,” I actually believed her. Today, that line is an eye roll-inducing Bachelor trope.

Notably, the villain was a much more complicated creature back then. Today, we equate villainy with airtime, and airtime with Instagram fame. We are pulling further and further away from “reality” as we watch contestants angle for airtime rather than the lead’s affections. I’m utterly fascinated by Tierra. Last night, we were shown in vivid detail her most iconic moments: her pout turning into a slow grin as Sean leaves to fetch her the Group Date rose, her falling down the stairs, the legendary polar bear plunge “hypothermia.”  This was BEFORE social media made this kind of behaviour useful. It made villains so much juicier, to know the gain for them wasn’t nearly what it is today. Was it really just for his attention, not the airtime? That alone feels so pure and sincere by comparison with today. I’ve long felt Instagram has been irreversibly destroying The Bachelor, and last night convinced me all the more.

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When you consider a season itself is a collection of its own “greatest hits” moments from filming, last night’s recap was essentially a double-distilled version of the original. While we can’t complain about the fast pace, there was little nuance to be observed. We could only sit back and take Chris Harrison’s ever-hyperbolic word for it as he described each woman and her relationship with the lead. It got me wondering: Who is going to watch this? I mean that sincerely. Do first kisses and professions of love and proposals translate without feeling like you know these people, without the build-up of their interactions? Will we sink our teeth into villains without the context of having our nerves grated? In my case, it was mildly pleasing to have my memory jogged. I enjoyed being taken back to a time in my life intrinsically linked to Sean’s season, to reminisce about a pre-social media cast. But would this be entertaining—or even interesting—for someone who hadn’t actually seen it?

Looking forward, it’ll be interesting to see what other seasons are considered the “best ever”. We already know who the franchise favourites are based on guest appearances: Sean Lowe and Ben Higgins are frequent guests on newer seasons, surprising the latest leading man with advice on how to shop for a wife on TV. Kaitlyn Bristowe and Jojo Fletcher make regular appearances and were recently featured as judges on Listen To Your Heart. These were all good seasons, but this walk down memory lane will be a waste if we’re shown mostly recent-ish seasons. My hope is that Sean’s journey—only seven years back in an 18-year stint—isn’t considered vintage.

Finally, in light of the powerful Black Lives Matter movement: Looking back over the many options—40 seasons across 18 years—really puts into perspective just how undeniably and offensively WHITE this show is. It’s not a pleasant observation, but nor is it some revelation. Sure, it might be easy (or at least more convenient) to scoff at the role this franchise plays: Should a largely fluffy reality show about finding love really be responsible for representing diversity? Frankly, yes, it should. I understand TV is a numbers game and all decisions are made with ratings in mind. However, with those ratings comes responsibility. When so many millions of eyeballs are watching, there comes a point where you are either working to fix the problem, or you’re a part of the problem. 18 years in, we’re well past that point. The Powers That Be need to stop covering their eyes, ears and mouths, especially since a cast of more diverse leads and contestants is ultimately a win-win: Either they realize ratings will be unaffected, or those ratings will be affected and a portion of The Bachelor‘s viewership can be outed as being prejudiced. In the unfortunate latter scenario, are these really the people we want to entertain and pander to? There are a lot of uncomfortable truths coming to light at this time, but it’s time to face that discomfort rather than keeping our heads in the sand any longer. Casting Rachel Lindsay as the first ever Black lead (15 years in!) was a step in the right direction, but the franchise must realize that wasn’t an end goal they should be patting themselves on the back over. It was only the beginning.

Join the cause: A Campaign for Anti-Racism in The Bachelor Franchise