“This seems staged,” said Sarah Trumbley, the voice behind FLARE’s Bachelorette live tweets, as we watched Luke P.’s unwanted return to The Bachelorette.
In theory, Luke P., season 15’s villain, was kicked off the show last week after slut-shaming Hannah for going on Fantasy Suite dates with other contestants. We thought we were finally done with this dude. Turns out we were wrong. This week, the Men Tell All—which is typically a recently recorded live-to-tape interview show with Hannah and the men she eliminated prior to the finale—started with a scene from The Bachelorette‘s filming. Back in Greece, we watched Luke P. once again prove his inability to understand that “no means no” by returning to The Bachelorette set after being eliminated to try to “get closure” and “clarity.” It was infuriating to watch, and during the Men Tell All interview that followed it was clear that Luke P. needs to do some serious reflection on his attitude towards women. That said, he isn’t the only one we should be raging at.
“I think any contestant who watches this show knows what Luke went through, but for the average fan, 100% the blame goes on Luke,” says Bachelor Nation blogger and expert Reality Steve. And that’s not to say Luke P. doesn’t deserve the blame. He said a whole lot of garbage in that clip and on the Men Tell All last night. But if that stint in Greece revealed anything, it’s that the show’s producers facilitated and fuelled his misogyny for their own gains—because, let’s not forget, this is not real life. This is a reality show and therefore a very tightly controlled environment.
“As a contestant on the show, you don’t get in a car by yourself and say ‘take me to where they’re filming,'” says Reality Steve. “It was all done with the help of production.” (We reached out to Warner Brothers and ABC, but did not receive an official response.)
Reality Steve explains that Bachelorette staff would’ve organized transport back to set, provided the camera that Luke P. used to shoot his own selfie-style ITM in the car and allowed him to literally walk into the Rose Ceremony unobstructed. According to the contentious contestant, even the ring was planted. “I was not ready to propose the producers gave me that ring to show Hannah how serious I was, I had zero intention of proposing,” wrote Luke P. in a now-deleted “truth bomb” posted to his IG story on Monday.
So, really, Luke P. wasn’t the only one ignoring Hannah’s wishes. The production crew did that too. “It happened because they allowed it,” says Reality Steve. And this speaks to a much larger issue with the show.
What the. What the
want. wants. pic.twitter.com/ocnRYcTLxt
— Jake Wilkins (@JakeWilkns) July 23, 2019
The idea of showing up as some kind of grand gesture in an attempt to save the relationship is one we’ve seen before on The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. (See: Demi sneaking into Colton’s bedroom and Jed showing up outside Hannah’s window.) “I had to go back and fight for her, I believed in my heart she was making the biggest mistake of her life based on what she was telling me, I wanted her to know that we could get through this and I was here for her,” Luke P. wrote in a lengthy Instagram post detailing why he showed up at that Rose Ceremony. These “surprise” appearances are a staple on the show.
However, women’s rights activist Julie Lalonde points out that this story device is problematic and one that’s seen beyond the confines of the Bachelor mansion. She says that within pop culture and our mainstream understanding of romance, persistence—say, someone being determined to win your heart, often with a grand gesture, despite a lack of reciprocation—is typically framed as romantic. That’s a narrative that shows like The Bachelorette perpetuates, but it needs to stop.
“It’s really dangerous for us to keep repeating these tropes, even in circumstances like this, where the Bachelorette has put her foot down and is being assertive and she’s being applauded for it online—she shouldn’t have to do that,” says Lalonde. “And I don’t think that her affirming her right to a boundary negates the danger of him being on the show and getting this much of a spotlight.”
And yet, as Bachelor alum and FLARE columnist Sharleen Joynt points out, not only was The Return of Luke P. facilitated by producers, his actions were also likely encouraged by them. “Hell, he was likely instructed to stand in the Rose Ceremony line-up, to insist that all he needed was five minutes of Hannah’s time to redeem himself and possibly their relationship,” she wrote in her most recent Bachelorette recap.
That’s why when Chris Harrison looked at the camera at the outset of the Men Tell All and set up the clip of Luke P.’s return by saying “It’s something we’ve never seen on the show,” it felt more like a clue than an earnest intro. The show is always looking for scenes or incidents that they can sell in promos as “the most dramatic ever” or something completely novel. “These people have a job to do, and they do it well. It’s why the show has been on for 17 years and 38 seasons,” says Reality Steve. “But these people are morally corrupt and I don’t think they care. They care about putting on good television and getting paid.”
And constructing a narrative around a villain is a longstanding staple of The Bachelorette franchise. I mean, remember super-aggressive Chad Johnson on JoJo Fletcher’s Bachelorette season or Lee Garrett, with his history of racist tweets, on Rachel Lindsay’s season? Those contestants were not there by mistake. The Bachelorette has time and time again overlooked contestants’ history of violence and carefully selected toxic men to help their show compete for ratings under the guise of competing for love. “They have to have a villain. They’re not going to go a whole season with a whole cast living together and everyone getting along. That would be way too boring,” says Reality Steve.
Yet the people who literally create that narrative are often shielded from the backlash. For instance, last night we saw Luke P.’s views and attempts to justify his unjustifiable actions repeatedly shut down by Hannah, Chris Harrison, the other contestants and nearly everyone in the Men Tell All audience. The show’s Twitter account was filled with memes of Hannah’s mic-drop moments and RTs of fans reiterating that “no means no.” But, again, The Bachelorette team somehow doesn’t seem to get the irony that they too ignored Hannah’s wishes.
“A villain very often gets put in their place. That doesn’t ameliorate the fact that the show created that villain and gave that villain way too much space to begin with,” explains Jennifer Pozner, who researched The Bachelor and The Bachelorette for her book Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV. With that in mind, she says it’s predictable that the show is all hands-up-in-praise emoji for Hannah’s actions “without any acknowledgement that they created this mess—specifically, intentionally, gleefully put this women in that scenario.” According to Pozner, the show has a history of deeply entrenched misogyny, which stems from creator Mike Fleiss, who started his career in reality TV with the deeply misogynistic show Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire? He was also recently accused of violently attacking his pregnant wife. “Everything in that franchise is aimed at reinforcing extremely regressive, gendered tropes,” she says, attributing this ideology to Fleiss.
To be clear, I’m not trying to lift any blame from Luke P. That guy needs to check himself. Rather, this is just an effort to ensure that the producers, who could’ve easily filmed a standoff between Luke P. and security rather than allowing him to face Hannah, aren’t able to escape the same public scrutiny that Luke P. is now facing.
“I absolutely think that the production company needs to be held accountable for this,” says Lalonde. Unfortunately, given the show’s history, it seems the best we can hope for is that Luke P. doesn’t show up on the beaches of Bachelor in Paradise.
Luke is actually too dangerous to be on Bachelor in Paradise. Please don't willingly allow him to terrorize any other humans.#TheBachelorette
— Patti Murin (@PattiMurin) July 23, 2019