For the last decade or so, it has become increasingly common for contestants of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette to publish a book about their time spent looking for love on the show. These books often become best-sellers. They are both short and, at the same time, far too long, revealing little about the reality TV celeb who supposedly wrote it. The readership, I imagine, is built out of people who want to feel close to their favorite on-screen personalities, and occasionally the book pulls back the curtain on some of the inner-workings of the beloved franchise. Most of the time, however, these memoirs merely confirm what the fan already knows. In the case of Colton Underwood’s The First Time: Finding Myself and Looking for Love on Reality TV, I learned little and it was insufferably boring.
In the days leading to its release, gossip sites have mined through Underwood’s filler text in order to locate the headline-grabbing details. But for the most part, the book fails to deliver, mostly because it lacks any narrative tension. This is not a complex man who struggled for many years to find love. (Remember, he was just 26 when he started dating his now girlfriend, Cassie Randolph, the defacto winner of his Bachelor season.) This is a well-to-do man who led a well-to-do life. In childhood, he benefited from his father’s job as a football coach. Eventually, he played football professionally. Sections that intended to evoke sympathy come across like bragging. (In one chapter, Underwood stops just short of making the argument that people disliked him in school because he was a sensitive, successful athlete.) Other adversities include his parents’ divorce, which deeply affected him while he was away at college, a locker room scene where he mentions feeling uncomfortable when fellow jocks pressured him to announce how many women he’d slept with (the answer was zero) and other various mundanities that affect everyone, like relationships that didn’t work out.
Even Underwood’s main shtick is stale. When he was was named the next Bachelor after Becca Kufrin’s season, many people pointed out that his branding as “the virgin Bachelor” had been done before—specifically, in 2013, when Sean Lowe became The Bachelor. Lowe, too, wrote a book—the similarly titled For the Right Reasons: America’s Favorite Bachelor on Faith, Love, Marriage, and Why Nice Guys Finish First—and is white, blonde, blue-eyed and fit, just like Underwood. The only difference appears to be that Lowe was a born again virgin and Underwood had never had sex. In my view, that’s not enough to intrigue.
And there are few tribulations that haven’t already been excavated by Entertainment Tonight: rumors surrounding his sexuality have existed since high school, when he didn’t sleep with his girlfriend, causing Underwood to question whether or not he was gay—eventually leading to the revelation that he was straight. In interviews, he’s portrayed himself as some kind of voice for those questioning, and he’s been celebrated for it. Like much of The Bachelor’s pseudo-progressivism, Underwood’s growing pains are part of a hero’s journey. Strip away the cheerleading and what’s left is the truth: he is just a regular guy without a particularly inspirational story.
Not that memoirs should only be written by those who’ve struggled. The hope is that sans struggle, a book would impart some sort of wisdom on the reader or some surprising admission. But there are none in Underwood’s book. Like all other Bachelor and Bachelorette contests, Underwood maintains that his connections were real, but intimacy is challenging when you’re perpetually mic’ed up. Any fact that could be considered “juicy” about The Bachelor franchise itself has already been well-documented: fans know that boners happen all the time, but are carefully edited out or worked around. These are not secrets, and therefore, there’s very little that could be considered a revelation.
As an adult, I’ve learned to be stubborn with books. Even if I don’t love what I’m reading, I power through it as if there’s some confessional on the last page that will turn the entire torturous experience of reading something lackluster around. But I gave up on Underwood’s The First Time. Reading it felt like deja vu for a story I didn’t want to hear the first time. I understand, now, that reading a Bachelor book is very different from watching the show. For me, this was just a boring memoir about a boring man.
In fact, I can’t seem to figure out why Underwood wrote a book in the first place. I’d much prefer one from Rachel Lindsay, the show’s first black Bachelor lead (not just Bachelorette!), or someone whose story truly feels unique and impactful. Like The Bachelor franchise, its books are selling a fantasy, the fallacy that there’s anything interesting to glean from them.