In late May, MTV’s long-running reality dating show Are You the One? announced that its upcoming season would be coming back with an importance difference: all of this season’s contestants are sexually fluid, meaning that there are no gender limitations on who “the one” could be.
In the trailer for the show’s eighth season of Are You the One?—which is now airing every Wednesday on MTV—one of the contestants giddily says, “I love love. I love it, I love it, I love it.” It’s a refrain we often hear on The Bachelor, The Bachelorette and any of Bach Nation’s spinoffs—except when it’s said on Are You the One?, this line feels more meaningful because it speaks to love in all its forms, not just between a cis-heterosexual man and woman.
MTV’s decision to make the reality show, which first aired in 2014, more sexually inclusive only further highlights that a) audiences want to see their IRL experience reflected on shows that are *supposed* to be based in reality and b) that The Bachelor, Bachelorette and its spinoff franchises are waaay behind the times, and super heteronormative. And this is a long-standing problem.
People have long been calling out The Bachelor franchise for being closed-minded
It feels like for as long as The Bachelor has been on TV (i.e. 37 seasons and counting), it’s been problematic and outdated AF. The whole concept of the show—that 25 women would compete over one mediocre (white) man, giving up their lives and careers for two months to pretty much take part in a prolonged fashion show and soap opera, all for the prize of an engagement with a man they barely know—seems pretty archaic.
Aside from rumours and comments around the sexuality of Season 23’s Bachelor, Colton Underwood (comedian Billy Eichener event went so far as to tell the Bachelor, to his face: “Maybe you’re the first gay bachelor, and we don’t even know!”), the couplings in the Bach franchise have stayed strictly heterosexual.
I actually do think it would be cool to do a gay season of The Bachelor … and hey @BachelorABC I’m single…..
— billy eichner (@billyeichner) January 15, 2019
And in 2014, then-Bachelor and garbage human Juan Pablo Galavis denounced the possibility of a “gay” Bachelor, telling The TV Page: “No…I respect [gay people] but, honestly, I don’t think it’s a good example for kids.” Despite swift backlash to Jaun Pablo’s homophobic comment, the show has continued to set the same tired example, continually pairing and promoting solely cisgender, heterosexual couples. And, aside from having one bisexual contestant in 2017, gender identity has largely gone unaddressed on the show.
All of which is to say that the lack of gender fluidity is pretty on brand, considering the franchise has a serious MO of perpetuating only one type of love (re: hetero), and one type of person (re: cis straight) who can seemingly attain that love. With this *all* in mind, when it comes to the show’s closed-mindedness around sexuality we shouldn’t be surprised—but that doesn’t mean we’re not disappointed.
Because it’s not representative at all
With its hetero history, Bach Nation only represents a portion of single people searching for love. According to a 2018 study by global analytics firm Gallup, 4.5 percent of adult Americans identified as LGBT, signalling a steady increase since 2012. And according to a 2016 study, 56 percent of American Gen Z-ers (13 to 20-year-olds) knew someone who used gender-neutral pronouns, with more than a third of respondents saying they don’t believe that gender defines a person as much as it has in the past. In Canada, a 2017 study found that 13 percent of the population belongs to the LGBT community. Those are a lot of stats, but what they add up to is the fact that the world is finally recognizing and embracing love and gender expression of all forms, so why aren’t we seeing that reflected on reality TV’s most popular romantic show?
In 2016 former, Bachelor Australia contestants Megan Marx and Tiffany Scanlon revealed that they were in a relationship, after meeting on the show and falling in love—not with the Bachelor, but with each other.
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I met Tiffany in a very strange situation. Well… we were kind of dating the same guy. And it was filmed and put on TV 😂. From that first cocktail party, it was like this instant calibration between souls, as if we had known each other once before. Friendship ripened into something bolder, trust in a very strange situation was formed, and now every adventure we have rivals the other- and continues to make plans for itself. Yesterday I flew this beautiful woman to The Abrolhos islands for her 30th birthday! I have to admit that I felt so so proud to be with her, my favourite person, celebrating such a momentous occasion on the water- a mutual love of ours. She is so confident in the ocean and in every adventure, as if every new experience is a winning of the lottery somehow; a chance to grow and learn and develop. To Tiffany, experience wins over the worldly acquisition of 'things' every time- and I think this is why she is so open-minded, so accepting of others, so fun and so at ease with letting winds blow her towards a variety of opportunities. She's helped me to disintegrate many of the ideals I've had that were harmful (about relationships, about career and 'stability') and for that I feel set free. Thank you for always asking questions (detective Tiff), for being curious about people, ideologies and the universe; for loving people with such a wholesome love that I don't know if I would ever be able to emulate. It inspires me. Happy Birthday Tiffany. I love you.
And in September 2018, Asian news site NextShark reported that The Bachelor: Vietnam contestant Minh Thu confessed her love for fellow contestant Truc Nhu on camera. While Nhu decided to stay on the show, she eventually left and the couple dated IRL. In response to these couplings, fans were overjoyed: “This is one of the best lover stories I’ve ever seen!” one fan commented on Marx’s post announcing their relationship. “I love your approach to your connection. What you have is magical and everyone else can f-ck right off. You go girls!” commented another.
The audience is clearly ready for it—and tbh dating shows should be too. In the Season 8 trailer for MTV’s Are You the One?, contestant Danny made a case for an inclusive dating show, saying: “If you have a reality TV show that includes the entire spectrum of racial, sexual and gender identity, you’re going to have a really interesting show.” And he’s not wrong. Having more inclusive narratives on-screen—and a myriad of narratives interacting with each other—is bound to create dynamic (if not sometimes tenuous) situations and interactions, which makes for interesting TV. We’ve seen what can happen when the powers-that-be continuously subscribe to the same types of people, tropes and stories. You end up with bland, repetitive content (re: how heavily manufactured the “drama” has become on recent seasons of The Bachelor and Bachelorette).
Not only would hearing diverse perspectives and interests punch up the entertainment value (as well as draw in viewers from more communities), but it would make the show more meaningful, both to LGBT individuals who can now see themselves represented on screen *and* to individuals from outside the community learning to be allies. Even if people are tuning in for the voyeurism and to watch people make out (a staple of reality TV), at least they’re expanding their minds while doing so.
But most importantly, making reality shows more representative chips away at the preconceived idea of just who a fairytale romance is meant for: a.k.a. cis-heterosexual men and women.
Are You the One? isn’t the first to expand reality dating shows
To be fair, reality TV dating shows haven’t *all* be heteronormative. There was Bravo’s gay dating show Boy Meets Boy in 2003 followed by Fox’s Playing It Straight in 2004, where a woman was given the task of determining which of her male housemates was straight and which were gay. Apparently the concept was appealing at the time, because Lifetime’s 2007 show Gay, Straight or Taken? had essentially the same premise, with the added incentive of travel prizes if the contestants guessed people’s orientation correctly. Appealing to viewers or not, the concept was and remains hella problematic; not only did it encourage the leads to refer to super problematic stereotypes about sexuality when making their guesses, but also inadvertently shames contestants for their sexuality if they don’t present the “correct” way.
In 2007, A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila debuted on MTV. The reality dating show featured the MTV-version of a Bachelorette, 25-year-old celebrity Tequila, with 16 men and 16 women vying for her affection. Even though it was far from perfect, playing on stereotypes about bisexuality and leaning hard into hyper-sexualization, the show was heralded as the first reality show to openly use the term bisexual and show real sexual representation. (Not to mention the fact that Tequila, as a Vietnamese-American, was a welcome addition to the very white landscape of dating shows.)
In 2016, former ‘NSYNC member Lance Bass hosted Finding Prince Charming, a dating show with an LGBT bachelor and contestants. The show ran for one season, and despite being renewed for a Season 2, has yet to air. More recently, Netfix’s Dating Around features a host of single people—of varying genders, ages, ethnicities and sexual orientations—trying to find love on a series of blind dates. While the show was applauded for including a number of same-sex couples, its depiction of LGBT dating was also called “messy” and unrealistic. Which tbh, if you’ve put up with The Bachelor for this long, shouldn’t be a problem.
The difference lies with The Bachelor‘s intention—and reach
Listen, we’re not here to put *the whole* the blame on the Bachelor franchise. It’s dating shows in general. We’ve seen countless iterations of these shows: from dating naked or finding love in the dark to literally being chained to all of your potential suitors. If there’s a crazy idea, chances are that producers and showrunners have thought of it as a viable way to up the already crazy world of dating. But, even with so many different iterations of dating shows, one thing remains the same: Who is allowed to look for love or be loved.
And that’s just wrong. Because Bachelor Nation’s lead doesn’t always have to be a cis-gender straight person, nor should they be—because those are not the only only people worthy of finding love. And seeing LGBTQ representation in the Bach mansion, specifically, is important because of the show’s intention.
Essentially, it’s optimistic, and we need that. Regardless of whether or not people *actually* do find love in a six-week timespan, under hyper-unrealistic circumstances and expectations (spoiler alert: more often than not, they don’t), there’s the belief that they will. That no matter what, two people can come together under super wild circumstances and find true love. As writer Amy Kaufman, the author of Bachelor Nation: Inside the World of America’s Favorite Guilty Pleasure, told Time in a March 2018 interview, “[the reason] we’re so obsessed with the show has something to do with our desire to have fantasy and romance in our life.”
And, as crazy as the concept might seem, people *do* believe in it. The Bachelor is practically an institution; what happens on-screen can impact and set precedent for what is accepted as the “norm.” And while shows like Bass’s Finding Prince Charming are amazing, there’s something to be said for seeing yourself, and your ability to find love, as something mainstream. The Bachelor franchise has a real opportunity to not just continue re-inventing the same tired old wheel, but actually shake it up; actually get their “most dramatic season yet.”
“Some of us are not what you would want to maybe represent you—and that’s fine,” Are You the One? Season eight contestant Remy says early in the trailer. “But we’re real people and we exist and we deserve to be seen and we deserve to express how we feel.”
And, if you’re following a story where love can’t be celebrated in all its forms—maybe, it’s time for a new fairytale.