Season 16 of The Bachelorette is *officially* the most shocking season yet—and no, we’re not being hyperbolic like Chris Harrison. The reality TV show, which is currently following 39-year-old hairdresser Clare Crawley as she looks for love in a hopeless place (a.k.a. the La Quinta Resort in Palm Desert), has been a rollercoaster from the moment that contestant Dale Moss stepped out of the limo on night one. ICYMI, Dale and Clare had what scientists would call *chemistry* from the literal first millisecond they met, with Clare visibly shaken up after their encounter, telling host Chris: “I think I just met my husband.”
To which Chris was pretty much like:
…while internally screaming.
And for anyone who’s familiar with Bachelor Nation spoilers, these fireworks came as no surprise, considering that Bach know-it-all Reality Steve has reported that Clare leaves the show early to be with Dale only to be immediately replaced with a *new* Bachelorette, Tayshia Adams. But the road to this storyline has been pretty bumpy. During the October 27 episode of The Bachelorette, it became *very* clear to the rest of the men on Clare’s season just how ~connected~ Dale and Clare already are, after the couple snuck off for large chunks of time to make out like bandits, leaving Dale probably very horny and the rest of the men as mad as a nest of hornets. Clare’s actions left many in Bachelor Nation similarly buzzing, with some on Twitter dubbing the lead as the worst Bachelorette in the franchise’s history. And TBQH, we have to disagree. Sure, she may be kind of rude and inconsiderate to the men on her season who aren’t named Dale, but Clare Crawley isn’t the worst lead in the franchise’s history—she just didn’t do what we want.
This season has been a rollercoaster—to say the least
First things first, we have to acknowledge that this season has actually delivered on being quite dramatic (we see you, Chris Harrison). With the season initially being postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, several of the contestants being re-cast during the hiatus and all of the precautionary hoops that everyone had to jump through to start production, this season of the franchise was unprecedented from the get-go. Then add the fact that, only 12 days into filming, Clare reportedly decides to exit the show, having allegedly found her person in Dale? That’s *a lot* to take in.
And while we haven’t yet been formally introduced to Tayshia as our next Bachelorette (we still have to endure Chris’s infamous and much-teased line to Clare of “blowing up” the franchise), we know that the next few episodes—and the lead switch—are going to be bonkers, especially for the remaining contestants who came into this experience thinking they were getting one Bachelorette, only to undergo a switcheroo as they were just starting to form relationships with Clare. Can you even imagine?!
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And the most recent episode of The Bachelorette had fans dubbing Clare “the worst Bachelorette” in history
Which is perhaps why fans are so upset by Clare’s actions. Despite many people already going into the season knowing that there was going to be a big switch-up, the October 27 episode marked a turning point for the once-fan favourite Bach alum. During the episode, Clare repeatedly made it *extremely* clear that she was there for one man and one man only, asking production to speed up her time with the other men at the cocktail party so she could get back to spending time with Dale (her specific words were: “Let’s just hurry this along kinda quickly,” which is, quite frankly, very rude), cancelled a group date, and then disappeared with Dale *twice* during the cocktail party to make out with him in her room while the rest of the men were forced to sit around, twiddling their thumbs and wondering where she was. (Just kidding: they knew exactly where she was.)
And on top of all this, Clare was for some reason given a pair of Dale’s pants and SMELLED THEM. This is some Call Me By Your Name shit and let me just say that it was *much* better in the film. Oh, and she also straight up referred to Dale as her fiancé. We are in week three, people.
— jess ツ (@BenckertJessica) October 28, 2020
And people online were *not* having it. Shortly into the airing of the episode, fans were livid with the lead for her treatment of the men, specifically calling her the worst lead in the history of Bach nation (somewhere, Peter Weber is breathing a sigh of relief).
Forget the oldest bachelorette, can we talk about how she is the WORST bachelorette in history #TheBachelorette
— kristen sale (@kristensale8) October 28, 2020
But that’s not really the case
Of course, it *is* important to acknowledge that Clare’s actions are unfair to the other men involved. As former Bachelor contestant and FLARE columnist Sharleen Joynt asked in her recap of the show: “At what point does an ’empowered’ decision simply resemble a selfish one?” Because there’s no denying that Clare has not gone about this the right way. Cancelling group dates with little to no explanation and forcing the men to stand by while Dale monopolizes her time not only decreases Clare’s chances to actually, you know, get to know the other guys, but it’s inconsiderate as heck.
But we have to disagree with the argument that Clare is the worst franchise lead (I mean, have we forgotten Juan Pablo?) because she isn’t—she just isn’t doing what the audience wants, or expects, from their leads and their love story. This response is something we’ve seen time and time again when a lead doesn’t fulfill the cookie cutter arc set out by OGs like Trista and Ryan Sutter: meet, date around, choose your one true love and get married. All within the two-month timespan that the show airs.
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And this expectation of a traditional Bachelor Nation love story arc—and the resulting backlash when it’s unfulfilled—goes both ways. While Clare may have accelerated her relationship timeline by basically choosing her man from day one, leads have also faced criticism for coming to the end of their time on the show and choosing no one. Just look at the intense backlash Bachelor lead Brad Womack faced in season 11 when he ended his time on the show by deciding to choose neither of his final two women, feeling that he wasn’t in a place with either of them where he was ready to propose. At the time, Womack faced intense and (what he calls) scary backlash. Or look at the responses to former leads Ari Luyendyk Jr. and Jason Mesnick who both proposed on the show, only to break it off and propose to their runners-up during the After the Final Rose episodes. (Sure, contestants like Ari didn’t go about said break-up in the best way, but ultimately, they chose where their heart led them—and isn’t that what we ultimately want?)
Because we’ve set these Bachelor leads up for failure
The truth is that, in many ways, fans of this franchise have kind of done ourselves dirty by asking for—and in some ways expecting—too much. We tweet and blog about wanting the franchise to be as authentic as it once was (and has notably gotten quite far away from), with the goal of the show to be about people finding actual love and not just a Revolve sponsorship, but have become so used to the manufactured and cookie cutter outline of the show that we get upset when a lead’s love story doesn’t follow all of the one’s before them. And this is even if said storyline—like falling in love super quickly or not falling in love at all—is authentic to them, and to IRL relationships, for that matter.
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While Clare perhaps hasn’t gone about her feelings for Dale in a way that’s respectful to the rest of the men, in many ways she has had one of the more authentic love stories that we’ve seen in recent seasons. She has fallen head over heels for someone and decided that she wants to pursue that relationship and that relationship alone. If she was outside the confines of the franchise, people wouldn’t bat an eye at the decision to stop dating other people. And, considering that leads in the past have opened up after the fact about knowing who their final pick would be *weeks* ahead of the finale, but going along with dating other people until the end of the show, shouldn’t authenticity be what we want? Because isn’t that what the show was initially supposed to be about? Treating people dismissively or disrespectfully isn’t cool but leading them on when you know what your heart wants isn’t either.
Perhaps, despite how much we push against the scripted, manufactured nature of reality TV, we’re just so used to getting a fairytale ending that we no longer even know what we want.