Last night’s episode gave me all the nostalgic feels. Jason Mesnick’s was the first Bachelor season I really watched from beginning to end. It was the first time I invested enough time and energy to learn the contestants by name and personality, and to really have my socks knocked off by that shocking ending (along with the rest of America). I had seen just the final few episodes of DeAnna’s season and thought Jason seemed smart, cute and like he had a decent sense of humour; to this day he’s one of a handful of Bachelors I have found to be TV crush-worthy.
Therefore, it comes as no surprise that I seriously enjoyed this look back at his season. Jason’s recap zeroed in on the inception of my fandom and landed squarely on a time of my life—my early 20s, still in school, living on my own in NYC—that I remember fondly, but that was also a huge time for self discovery. There were a lot of my own love stories I’d yet to experience, and I had a lot of growing up to do. In that way, it was neat to watch this season back and to remember these women who really spoke to me, with whom I identified.
I remember watching Jillian and thinking she was so fun, yet also (as we would especially learn on her season) sensitive, creative and entrepreneurial. I loved the Sex and the City vibes of her infamous hotdog condiment theory and wanted to be her friend. I thought Melissa was pretty much the most perfect specimen to ever walk the earth—she was so effortlessly gorgeous, the ultimate Girl Next Door. I always had a keen eye on the way she chose to express herself, on her fashion choices, even her hairstyles.
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And, of course, there’s Molly, who I came to idolize. I loved how Molly was nobody’s fool; she saw the humour in things that weren’t meant to be funny, saw the irony in the experience she was living. (To this day, in terms of a contestant admitting to falling in love with the lead, I’m not sure I’ve ever believed someone more than Molly. Her eyes were glossy with emotion and fear, yet she fully recognized the hilarity of her admission, and ultimately, her sincerity caused her to do it. It was a very cool “real” reality TV moment.) She reacted to the show’s unexpected twists and turns the way my then-self liked to imagine I would; with appropriate consideration for the cameras around, but with a level head planted firmly in reality. When Jason broke up with Molly on that final day, her reaction wasn’t immediate tears or even anger, but rather incredulity. I always imagined that, if I felt such a level of simpatico with the lead that I truly, 100% expected I would wind up engaged to him, my reaction at turning out to be wrong would look much the same. Tears later, sure. Anger at feeling duped, most definitely. But the immediate reaction would look a lot like Molly’s: an expression that says, “Wait, are you serious?”
In a way, reliving how these women resonated with me 11 years ago shed new light on what it’s like to apparently resonate with other women around the country (and the world) now. I know this may sound strange, but as flattering as it is, I’ve never gotten used to receiving emails and messages from viewers, both younger and older than myself, both men and women. (I’m not pretending I’m alone in this, by the way—I know all Bach alums get this!) They might know me from my season, or perhaps they got to know me afterwards from reading recaps such as this one. (Based on the messages I’ve read, it seems to be a combination of both.) But seeing as how going on The Bachelor is a relatively selfish pursuit (meaning, you don’t go on this show to become some role model or to do good for the world, at least not in the short term), it never ceases to amaze me how, by simply being ME, I could have a positive impact on strangers. I’ll admit I never quite got it, couldn’t see why a young woman would take her time to DM me over some other, more role model-y person. But re-watching Season 13 last night, I realized maybe it isn’t so unbelievable after all. If I think back to my early 20-something self, seeing how these women carried themselves, it’s very possible I might have unconsciously sought to emulate them, to incorporate the traits I admired. If Instagram existed back then, perhaps I might have felt inclined to DM one of them, too.
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That’s not to say every woman got such a relatable edit. Beyond the obvious differences in the show then versus now, 2009 marks a difference in terms of how they painted contestants. I’ve mentioned over the last few years how it feels like The Bachelor has gradually pulled away from overtly painting their female contestants as desperate and crazy. In recent seasons, I’ve found they’ve been better about showing context for extreme “crazy” behaviour, as well as showing friendships between the women (as opposed to acting like the women solely felt competition with one another). Conversely, with last night’s episode, observe Lauren and Shannon. Lauren, in her demands (and the awkward execution of those demands), came off as The Needy One. Dental hygienist Shannon read up on her Bachelor’s Myspace page (!!!) a bit more than she should have (or rather, more than she should have admitted) and even vomited during a Rose Ceremony, solidifying herself as The Crazy One.
I remember watching and thinking these women seemed so desperate and nuts. The editing, the clown-ish music, and the lack of context fed me that narrative, and I bought it hook, line, and sinker. Today, I see nerves and self-consciousness, and probably a lot of alcohol to attempt to ease said nerves and self-consciousness. With Lauren, particularly in that jittery “you want to kiss me” scene, I saw a woman who was extremely uncomfortable with cameras on her, trying to patch together some semblance of a normal dating scenario. With Shannon, I saw a woman who had succumbed to a producer’s insistence that Jason was her future husband, causing her to put even more pressure on her already panicked 10 minutes of one-on-one time here and there. She wanted to make sure he remembered her (hence confirming he remembered her name), that he took notice of her.
Today, after having been there myself, and after analyzing and recapping this show for six years since, I see how wrong I was about these women. I look back on these scenes I’ve seen before and don’t see “crazy” anymore; I see women straining to take a modicum of control over a situation not remotely in their control (by design), but one that spirals further and further out of their control the harder they try. The very circumstances that make them feel awkward and panicked will only be made more awkward and more uncomfortable, all to elicit more unravelling. It would seem going on this show changed not only how I’d see things in the years to follow, but also how I’d see things retroactively. Last night taught me this.
But perhaps my biggest takeaway of Jason Mesnick’s Greatest Ever episode was the fact that this show is truly terrible at its supposed intended goal. I couldn’t help myself and looked up The Bachelor’s Wikipedia page to see how many Bachelors have actually ended up with their final choice, the woman they proposed to on national television. Laid out in graph form, it’s plain to see how flawed this “journey” really is: Only three Bachelors have wound up with women from their season. (The Bachelorette has a far superior track record.) Incredibly, a whopping two out of three of those successful relationships are with runners-up WHO WEREN’T PROPOSED TO. (Jason and Molly; Arie and Lauren.)
I know I probably shouldn’t find this statistic hilarious but I really do. It’s just incredible when you think about the premise of any other reality show: Lose weight! Win money (by winning a race or outlasting others)! Learn whether or not your relationship is completely broken! (That last one is for my fellow Temptation Island lovers.) Those all have regular, reliable successes aligned with each show’s “hook.” Meanwhile, The Bachelor is all about optics; demand an on-camera proposal, and who cares if they’ve broken up by the time that episode airs. It’s smoke and mirrors, all frosting but no cake. You could blame this on men (the players) for not knowing what they want, but the culprit is the show (the game), which history has shown us is evidently designed for failure, not success.