I don’t know about you, but I’m still squirming over the Bachelor season 22 finale. Last night, Arie Luyendyk Jr.’s fairy tale ended with a proposal, then a breakup, then a second proposal to the show’s runner-up. “This might not be what people feel like is the perfect love story, but it’s our love story,” Arie said on After the Final Rose, speaking about his new fiancé Lauren Burnham.
Bachelor Nation has been built on love stories. Sometimes they don’t exactly go as expected and sometimes—in fact quite often—they don’t end happily. We’ve literally watched Arie break it off with women all season, but tuning in to see him end things with Becca Kufrin was a new level of uncomfortable. It felt straight-up wrong.
What made this moment different from the dozens of splits during previous seasons that audiences have relished in? The producers’ decision to air the 30-minute footage of Arie’s breakup with Becca, completely uncut and unedited.
— The Bachelor (@BachelorABC) March 2, 2018
From the moment the finale started, the decision to air the raw footage was a talking point. Host Chris Harrison legit would not stop mentioning it, as though he was bestowing Bachelor superfans with the best possible gift.
There’s a reason why unedited footage hasn’t been used before
However, after watching the painfully long and tearful ending of Arie’s brief engagement to Becca, this decision felt more like a curse. We saw Becca’s raw reaction to being blindsided by Arie, without cutting to an ITM interview that would have allowed her to tell us exactly what was going through her head. We saw camera crews in the background, jockeying to get the right shot while two people went through a raw, intensely personal moment. We saw—and felt—each awkward pause (so characteristic of a couple calling it quits).
As all The Bachelor finale promos kept reminding us: showing this unedited footage was a first in reality television show history. But there’s a reason this hasn’t been done before.
The first completely unedited scene in reality television history is up next. #TheBachelorFinale
— The Bachelor (@BachelorABC) March 6, 2018
Yes, The Bachelor is a reality show, but this was too real.
In theatre, film and television there is this idea of the imaginary “fourth wall,” an invisible barrier that separates the audience from what they are watching. Even though Bachelor Nation contestants speak straight to camera in their interview segments, we still feel removed from what we’re watching. Airing the unedited footage of Becca and Arie broke that fourth wall. There was no clear arc to what we were watching, no storyline crafted from the footage collected or context given via ITMs interspersed throughout. Instead of feeling like an audience watching a mindless reality show, seeing this footage made me feel like a peeping Tom, bearing witness to something that I had no business watching. It brought me out of the story, and it could have easily been treated like any other heartbreak in the show’s history: condensed and edited to serve the overall narrative. The fact that the raw footage was shown—and the hype machine built around it—was a new low.
If we’re no longer respecting any semblance of the cast’s privacy, what’s next?
“The wrenching ‘unedited’ split-screen footage had no purpose except to give the Bachelor audience the maximum number of voyeuristic vantage points for someone’s private agony,” wrote Kathryn VanArendonk in her on-point takedown of the finale for Vulture. As Slate put it, airing the footage brought the Bachelor Nation to “new heights in the art of commodifying suffering.” It’s also telling that the first time Bachelor producers decided to air raw footage was to showcase a moment of pain, rather than one of celebration. If we’re no longer respecting any semblance of the cast’s privacy, what’s next? Will the cameras keep rolling in the Fantasy Suites? A 24-7 YouTube live stream of the Bachelor Mansion, similar to what Katy Perry did last year to celebrate the release of Witness? TBH, as much as I hated it, I foresee this style of insanely personal raw footage becoming a regular occurrence on The Bachelor. How could it not when part one of the finale was rewarded with a 22-percent spike in ratings—an all-season high.
Chris Harrison was clearly stoked, as he continuously mentioned during After the Final Rose just how many people were talking about the footage online, drawing out the discussion over something that the franchise had completely puppeteered for ratings. But it wasn’t until After the Final Rose that the true weight of what producers had done sunk in. By broadcasting Becca’s suffering—and then continuing to show her weep post-breakup—they made this 30-minute scene a cornerstone to the next part of her story. When Becca was announced as next season’s Bachelorette, nearly every potential suitor who met Becca brought up the fact that they had watched what she had went through. Translation: that footage will taint Becca’s entire Bachelorette run—and let’s be real, we know we’ll be forced to watch the whole dang thing over again in May when her season premieres.
During the After the Final Rose special, Bachelor creator Mike Fleiss tweeted that his mantra has always been “Love first. Love without mercy” in reference to Arie’s split with Becca and engagement to Lauren.
— Mike Fleiss (@fleissmeister) March 7, 2018
However, replace “love” with “ratings” and you’ll get a true synopsis of this season.