It was fitting that the only mildly interesting moment of Monday's finale of The Bachelor didn't actually happen during the two hour finale. It didn't happen for the first 45 minutes of the After the Final Rose special either. The excitement of The Bachelor finale actually had nothing to do with Chris and his chosen woman. It was all about the possibility of the next relationships ABC will televise, on next season of The Bachelorette.
Promos for finale made it look as though Chris had a really good chance of picking Becca the Virgin. But though ABC aired almost two hours of Chris being highly emotional about the prospect of sending Becca home, when he finally did, what occurred instead was a cordial, respectful conversation between two nice people who both agreed that they barely knew each other. Chris told Becca he didn't think she was ready for this relationship. Becca agreed. They hugged. He sent her home away from his barn–which had been decorated as if a Pier 1 had been turned into a brothel–in the traditional stretch limo for one. Becca didn't cry. She actually barely talked to the camera, which might have been an actual Bachelor first. Her only expressed regret was to lament that maybe she had been in love this whole time and she just didn't know it.
Which leaves Chris and Whitney. Whitney was so confident about her relationship with Chris she told him she loved him before all the other women. When she walked into the "barn," she didn't even let him speak, but launched into her own soliloquy about how right they were for each other. He agreed. And then it was done.
Nothing much more happened in the After the Final Rose special, which is usually the time in which at least some awkward conversations between the Bachelor and the girl he sent home take place. Not this time. Chris and Becca had another cordial conversation about how it just wasn't right. You could see Chris Harrison trying to dig for dirt where he could, without seeming rude; he needled Whitney on why she hadn't watched any of the show but her scenes with Chris, asking her if she'd "heard" what a tough choice it had been for Chris to send Becca home. Whitney, as she's been this whole season, remained supernaturally confident, spinning Chris's commitment to Becca has a positive character trait that they both share: they go all in when they're doing something, and that's what she loves about him.
This season was a huge success for ABC, because it managed to put the ghost of Juan Pablo to bed, restoring the idea that this franchise can actually result in a healthy relationship, while maintaining all the drama of previous seasons. (Chris Harrison even referenced this in the finale, getting in a farming reference by noting that Chris was taking "Juan Pablo out to pasture.") How? By focusing on drama that actually had nothing to do with Chris. During Juan Pablo's season, most of the controversy was about him and the choices he was making. But this season, the women have been the cause of all the issues, as their in-fighting over Chris made for the majority of the good TV. When they were all gone, there was nothing much to watch.
If you're not in it, a good relationship is pretty dull. Real dependable love is sort of boring. Sitcoms struggle with this all the time; couples can be uninteresting to watch once the will-they-won't-they fire is gone.
In this way, if you consider the viewership of The Bachelor in a relationship with the franchise itself, as a whole it's a couple that has gotten kind of boring. We're stuck in a rut with this show (it's been on for over 10 years), and the creators know it. That's why, in a piece for E! dramatically entitled "How The Bachelor Did the Impossible: Got Better Than Ever in Season 19," Harrison talked about how the format this season was "looser" than before (he also admitted that the women this season "definitely have carried a large portion of the storyline"):
"There was a concerted effort that really started at the top," Harrison explains, "During Andi Dorfman's Bachelorette season, which we thought was a great season, but the ratings just didn't support it, Mike Fleiss sort of rallied everybody together, including myself, and reminded us that if we want to keep doing this, we've got to be better. We have to produce better, we have to host better, and we have to create better. He really kind of refocused everybody like, 'Hey, we can't take this stuff for granted!' And I think everybody did. I think everybody kind of tightened it up a little bit, and gave a little better effort in finding the stories and trying things we haven't tried before."
"I think the show had become really formulaic," Harrison admits of prior seasons. "This season, we still follow the general recipe that's been so good and made the good secret sauce for 13 years, but we have been able to loosen the reins on everything. Not only me, but what Chris [Soules] does. He says, 'Hey, can I do this?' And before we might have said, 'You know, maybe not, let's wait til the rose ceremony and let's follow the formula.' But now we say, 'Let's do this! Just make sure that this is what's best for you and we will do it.' It has been freeing."
This is why, as E! teased before the finale, the show is doing something UNPRECEDENTED. They're going to have two Bachelorettes next season, Kaitlyn and Britt. ("See sometimes I'm actually being honest when I say it's a shocking moment," Harrison said last night.) Does anyone know exactly how this is going to work? No, not even the producers. The closest they've gotten to doing something like this was back in season 6 of The Bachelor, when, at the start of the season, the contestants chose between Byron and Jay, with Byron ultimately getting chosen as the Bachelor. And the producers don't want to know entirely: they want to be able to go with the flow, adapting the formula slightly where they can in order to maximize excitement and ratings.
What do the Britt and Kaitlyn think of this? "I think what went through my mind was...that's not ideal," said Kaitlyn last night after she and Britt had been introduced. "But I mean if that's what it takes to find somebody..."
Well, it's not what it takes to find somebody...but it's cool that she's being positive. Still, we know this is a bummer for Britt and Kaitlyn, both of whom definitely wanted to be the center of attention and did not want to sign up for another opportunity to be humiliated on national television. It's like "we won the lottery, together," said Britt on Jimmy Kimmel Live! "You have to share it, but it's still good."
Ultimately, who really cares about Britt and Kaitlyn's chance at happiness? Not the show: Harrison made that clear when he said the producers made this call because "Bachelor nation was divided over them" and "This is what Bachelor nation wants." Ratings are up. Whenever they are needed, Chris and Whitney will be trotted out as a beaming example that The Bachelor isn't a cesspool of despair, for as long as they stay together. And a new set of relationships will begin.
It's always so exciting at the start, isn't it?
Images via ABC
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