The first season I watched of The Bachelor was Brad Womack’s second season, which, given that that was the 15th iteration of the show, made me a relatively late adopter. On Monday night, the 21st season wrapped up, with Nick Viall revealing to the world whether he had picked a woman to marry (which we know is not likely to ever happen), or gotten jilted again (what those editing the promos of the show wanted you to think would happen).
Prior to 2011, I didn’t “get” The Bachelor. I had previously lightly scoffed at those who thought it was entertaining—how could it be? It was so cheesy and so obviously fake. But something got me hooked during Brad’s season. For awhile, I couldn’t figure out what it was. It’s taken me six years of watching The Bachelor, The Bachelorette and the occasional episode of their spin-offs Bachelor Pad and Bachelor in Paradise, but it was Nick Viall that it truly solidified it: this was a universe to figure out, a puzzle. And I think I have, for the most part, solved it.
One could argue that I started watching this franchise during its golden age, and by that, I mean its golden age for viewers. There has never been a better time to be a reality television watcher, both for the quantity of programming but, more importantly, for the ease with which you can peek behind the narrative they’re forcing down your throat. Watching Brad Womack get engaged to Emily Maynard, I had no idea how obvious it had been the whole season that he was going to pick her; now, in hindsight, I see all the tricks they used to make it appear as though he was truly interested in anyone else. It has been said on Jezebel and elsewhere, but social media, Reality Steve, and bloggers have pushed the makers of the show to evolve their tricks. The contracts the contestants sign are as strict as ever, but the audience that’s watching knows about them—and many of the contestants have been watching themselves, so they know as well. The once-uncompromising rules have been relaxed so much that it’s no longer just former contestants leaking secrets—an ABC SVP and producer of the franchise will go on a popular podcast and casually confirm things like, oh, yeah, the aurora borealis was photoshopped into Nick’s fantasy suite dates in Finland.
On Monday night’s finale, Nick picked Vanessa over Raven. I knew he would all along (because Reality Steve said so). Some might consider that a self-fulfilling prophecy, but it also made trying to figure out how that was going to play out and how the producers were going to attempt to manipulate the audience the only truly interesting part of watching this season. Now that I know how this all works, Vanessa seeming like she was in trouble because she was asking tough questions about where she and Nick would live, and Raven appearing to be in the clear because she and Nick just had a grand old time together was actually the reverse of reality—the trouble with Vanessa was the sign that she was the one.
Nick has done this show four times; whatever you might think of him, it’s difficult to believe that the dominant reason he became the Bachelor was for love. (As most contestants, and even he himself has admitted, you do it for the chance at love and for the experience, a.k.a. the free travel.) And that’s fine! But knowing what we know about him and his season now—the strange edits certain episodes got; how late he was cast in the process, making women like Raven a better pick for former Bachelorette contestant Luke, who was also in the running; that Rachel and Vanessa didn’t get along during filming—set up the very awkward “After the Final Rose” last night, in which he and Vanessa seemed highly tense and not particularly happy.
How could they be, really—“After the Final Rose” seems like a stressful environment, in which the couple is essentially trying to demonstrate that they’re content together even though you just saw one of them spend several weeks dating a bunch of other people. But there’s base level discomfort, what we saw last night, which was Vanessa’s candidness about how hard the experience has been. It probably didn’t help that Chris Harrison repeatedly nudged her and Nick to answer whether or not they’re worried their relationship won’t work out.
Some might find the depressing tint to their conversation refreshing; others see a sign of gloom and doom on the horizon. Me? I saw the show ushering Nick and Vanessa off the stage at 10:45 p.m. in order to immediately move onto their next season of the show, featuring Rachel, the first black Bachelorette HISTORICALLY getting to meet a few of her men a few days before filming. (And before that, Raven doing a thinly veiled impression of someone who still cares about a break up with a guy she barely knew four months ago, but it’s all good because soon it’ll be Paradise baby!)
Yes, I saw things I never would have six years ago, and even if it was a less base-level entertaining watch because of it, I am better for it. I still found myself getting upset during the only moment in the season I ever do get worked up, when Nick sent Raven home, because is there anything more tragic than watching someone get rejected on national television? And I will still watch Rachel’s season of The Bachelorette, if only because they did what they do best and pulled yet another twist, making it so that I just have to see how they inevitably will fuck up her journey to find love. Sure, The Bachelor was boring this season, but I can blame some of that on me.