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Struggling With 'The Bachelor': 5 Fans Talk Through Matt's Season

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Struggling With 'The Bachelor': 5 Fans Talk Through Matt's Season

Watching Tayshia Adams’ season of The Bachelorette felt like a breath of fresh air — so why does watching Matt James’ season of The Bachelor feel like such a slog? In my Instagram Story recaps for The Dipp, I’ve been open about the fact that tuning in to the reality TV show hasn’t been that much fun lately. While Matt may have started off as a charismatic lead, gently coaxing the contestants into being comfortable enough with him to talk about their lives and what they’re looking for in a future husband, the situation seems to have taken a turn lately. But why am I feeling this way?

The goal of this piece is to consider whether the bad behavior we’ve seen this season on the ABC franchise is anything new and why I’m struggling. After some careful conversation, I decided it was time to take an informal temperature check on this season. In a roundtable of sorts, I reached out to some of my coworkers, an Instagram fan account, a member of /r/TheBachelor, and one of the moderators who helps keep the subreddit running smoothly. I wanted to get a few different perspectives, and it turns out there's more than a little consensus that something's gotta give.

The Bullying Issue

The first subject that I wanted to touch on was all of the bullying we’ve seen lately. While it began all the way back in Episode 1, it really got started in earnest when Sarah interrupted a group date to steal a few minutes after already having a one-on-one with Matt. That move would’ve traditionally positioned her as the “villain” on a season, but all the pushback she got from other girls like Victoria had her coming across more like the “victim” instead. The issue only escalated when Anna accused Brittany of being an escort. Now, with Victoria and Anna gone, MJ’s Varsity vs. JV has taken center stage. Bullying has long been an issue on this show, so why did these moments seem to stand out?

“It feels more heightened this season compared to other seasons. Before, you’d have contestants who wouldn’t get along and would tell the lead the other woman wasn't there for the right reasons. But this season feels much more focused on personal attacks on individual people,” said Allison Piwowarski, Executive Editor at The Dipp.

Catherine, one of the moderators for /r/TheBachelor on reddit, also thought this season has been particularly “difficult to watch.” While past seasons have also featured contestant clashes, they thought this one seemed to be on a new level. “If it had been this awful when I first started watching the show, I probably wouldn't have continued watching.”

Instagram fan account @bachelorteaspill called the mean girl behavior this season “the most severe” they’ve seen from recent installments in the franchise. “From Anna making up a rumor about Brittany, to Victoria calling people disgusting and other slurs, it’s definitely escalated since previous seasons.”

Sophie, a member of the /r/TheBachelor subreddit, had a slightly different perspective. They considered that it’s possible that the bullying isn’t actually worse in the house but that, instead, the show is focusing on it more than ever without other distractions like the ability to travel to new cities. Either way, they’re not thrilled with the direction this season has taken.

“The bullying and cattiness is super played up this season and not in a good way. It’s hard to watch Victoria just be so over the top awful and have no redeeming qualities. Villains are fun when they’re like Corinne [Olympios from Nick Viall’s season of The Bachelor] who was ridiculous but in a fun way where she seemed to poke fun at herself too.”

While individual instances of bullying are troubling, The Dipp contributor Caitlin Gallagher also suggested that the fact that it’s so pervasive among this group of women is an issue, too. “The ‘group think’ really does seem to have gotten the best of them,” she said. “It's not like Tayshia's guys opened the newcomers with open arms, but the hostility in the house didn't seem to linger on as much.” While she acknowledges that the contestants can’t directly acknowledge the role the producers play in manufacturing those problems, she’s frustrated with the way it’s played out on screen. “It's unfortunately reinforced negative stereotypes about how women treat one another.”

Here For the Drama

Each season, host Chris Harrison draws viewers in by promising them the “most dramatic season ever.” So what is it about this particular brand of drama that has turned off so many die-hard fans this season, or do we all just have some kind of collective amnesia about reliving this emotional journey every year only to tune back in as soon as a new lead is announced?

Catherine thought the difference this year is that the drama “feels meaner” rather than simply ridiculous. “Corinne taking her top off in the pool was dramatic and ridiculous, but not actively mean to other women. Tierra faking hypothermia and falling down the stairs was dramatic and ridiculous, but again not actively mean to other women. By contrast, Victoria came out hot in Episode 1 attacking all of the other women for no reason,” she said.

She pointed out that none of the drama this season has been fun — and Allison shared a similar theory. “I would argue that there isn’t really drama this season, there’s just cruelness,” she said. “If Victoria had been broadly addressing the group about how they all suck and will never win Matt’s heart, that’d be one thing. But for her to go in on one single person, it’s just beating up,” Allison explained.

@Bachelorteaspill agreed, pointing out how the “personal attacks on the women in the house” cross the line, and Sophie speculated that part of the reason the turmoil rubs us the wrong way is because it’s so clearly coming from the top. “Overly manufactured, edited drama seems clunky and out of place now that we can so easily know what the cast is like off screen,” she said. “The drama needs to be offset with comedy.”

I would argue that producer-driven drama has its time and place, but it’s used best sparingly and when the powers that be simply set the pieces up and then let things play out on their own, like they did with the famous Champagne-gate moment on Peter Weber’s season. You’ll have trouble convincing me that the bottled beverage mixup was completely organic, but it was also relatively harmless, and the confrontation we saw between Kelsey Weier and Hannah Ann Sluss was very much one of their own making.

Bringing in new women several weeks into the season, on the other hand, is kind of a dirty trick. It cheats both the “OGs” and the new girls out of already sparse time with the lead. More women — and more drama between the women — also means there’s less of a focus on romantic relationships, which further calls into question our motivations for watching this show. Who are we watching for?

The Real Star of the Show

I posited that, thanks to the largely female fan base, most viewers are more likely to identify with the women trying to date the lead on The Bachelor and with the female lead on The Bachelorette. We get invested in the contestants and their relationships, making any cruelty between them feel all the more personal. It’s not that men don’t fight and can’t be just as petty on The Bachelorette, but, historically speaking, men have been given more space on screen to exist as fully formed humans, whether that’s as fictional characters or as themselves. They haven’t been pigeon-holed as simply the “love interest” half as often as women have, which is why it’s so hard to see women getting into “cat fights” over a man but less frustrating to see men calling each other out for dubbing a woman a “smokeshow.”

However, that didn’t hold strictly true. Allison revealed that she doesn’t become invested in the Bachelor’s love life until things start to get real around the final four, but she’s rooting for the Bachelorette from night one. Bachelorteaspill said they’re investment in both shows is the same, but that they’re always more interested in the contestants than the lead — which is why their favorite entry into the franchise is Bachelor in Paradise.

Another point to consider was the archetype of people that are usually cast for this show. It’s not simply about seeing yourself represented but about what kind of person is drawn to reality TV. “I usually find the contestants more interesting [than the lead on The Bachelor]. I love their fashion, hair/makeup, and (this season aside) their interpersonal relationships,” Catherine said. “The men [on The Bachelorette] tend to either bore me or reek of toxic masculinity/the dbags I used to go after in college.” Allison agreed that the women’s personalities tend to be more engaging. “The male contestants are also just not as fun,” she said. “Men need to learn how to gossip on camera.”

But there might be something to my theory, at least when it comes to the leads. A few of the respondents pointed out that Bachelorettes seem to be given more space to exist as their own person, where as the Bachelors are often painted as hunky blank slates. “I feel like the producers don’t let the guys’ personalities show through enough,” Sophie said. “Matt is funny, let him be funny! The way he’s just shown as hot and muscular is 1) boring and 2) borders on the over-sexualization of Black men (this is another issue entirely but has seemed especially there this season).”

Sophie also felt that the women are allowed to show their personalities more as leads, which makes their seasons more enjoyable, and Caitlin agreed that a more dynamic lead creates a great emotional investment in their story.

The Love Factor

Statistically speaking, The Bachelorette has also been a more successful franchise when it comes to helping its leads find love. Out of 24 completed seasons, only one star of The Bachelor is still with the woman he picked at the end of it all. Two more are with women they met through the show, but both situations involved doing an elaborate swapsies after handing out that final rose. The Bachelorette has run for 16 seasons, and five of the leads are still with their final picks. Three others shared long-term relationships (including engagements and marriages) with their final rose recipients before their romances ran their course.

So is it worth emotionally investing in any of the couples on a show like The Bachelor when there’s such a small chance that it’ll ever work out? And are any of us actually rooting for a particular contestant at this point, or has the season squandered all of that emotional energy on all the bickering and back-and-forth?

When I asked Catherine if she’s invested in any of Matt’s relationships, she put her answer simply: “No.” Bachelorteaspill had a similar take. “I honestly feel like we haven’t seen much of Matt’s relationships, so it’s hard for me to root for him and anyone,” they said. For the most part, Caitlin agreed. “It seems the women have not been able to move past their issues with one another, so that's been the focus of the season rather than Matt finding his ‘person.’”

However, she did find at least one person she’s hoping to continue watching as the season continues. “It says something that I'm invested in what will happen [with] Michelle even with her joining the cast in Week 3.” Michelle is one of Sophie’s picks, too. “I’m invested in his relationship with Michelle and Abigail,” she answered. “I know Kit won’t win, but they seemed really cute together on their date. I hope they stay friends.”

Allison is rooting for her favorite contestants — but she says it has nothing to do with their chemistry with the Bachelor. “I like some of the girls and am rooting for them to be happy, and if that involves Matt, great. If it involves a $100 Uber Eats dinner and a bottle of wine, great,” she shared. “Matt is about as exciting as a nice Uber Eats dinner.”

A Fresh Start

Admittedly, Matt’s position as the lead is a strange one. After being cast for Clare Crawley’s season, which was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Matt was given the opportunity to jump the line and become the Bachelor once the franchise decided it was past-time that a Black man be given the opportunity that so many boring white dudes have had over the years.

Matt’s casting as a relative outsider was an opportunity to refresh the franchise. But did he really shake things up?

While Sophie had been (and is still) rooting for Mike Johnson to become a lead, she and Bachelorteaspill both found the choice refreshing. “I like seeing new people on the show and mixing it up from what is traditionally done where the lead is chosen from the previous season,” the Bachelorteaspill shared. That was a popular perspective, but many felt that Matt wasn’t as much of an outsider as they would’ve liked.

“At first, I was totally into having a fresh lead, someone without the baggage of the seasons before,” Allison said. But Matt isn’t exactly free of baggage. “He is Tyler C.’s best friend and every single one of these girls spent the summer fawning over him on TikTok. And if they say they didn’t, they’re liars.”

Catherine also doesn’t exactly count Matt as a “newcomer” to the franchise. “[In my opinion] the appeal of getting someone unrelated to the franchise is they would potentially be less fame hungry, but based on Matt's [social media] presence we all clearly know he's just as fame hungry as other contestants. It is interesting to see him seem so out of his element at times though; that's a refreshing change.”

Caitlin is concerned that, Quarantine Crew member or not, Matt might be making some “rookie mistakes” because of his lack of experience as a contestant. “I did notice that, in the latest episode, he seemed to be assuring a bunch of women about his feelings for them,” she explained. “He can only choose one in the end, so while I don't think he's intentionally leading anyone on, he's probably setting himself up for disaster for when he does have to make tough cuts.”

Then again, he also wouldn’t be the first lead to make that misstep. We all remember when Ben Higgins told two women he was in love with them and can share our theories about the effects that had on his relationship in the end. Clare Crawley also fell into a similar trap when she alienated the rest of her contestants by being so clear about her feelings for Dale Moss. Rookie mistake or not, I tend to think it’s one of the most charming things about Matt’s season. He may not be sitting up his future relationship for success, but he seems genuinely trying to invest in each relationship as they progress. That said, I’ve also found myself uninterested in the romance compared to the drama — and that has me comparing this season to seasons past.

How It Stacks Up

Frankly, I’ve been struggling this year. Maybe it’s because The Bachelor isn’t as much of an escapist fantasy as it usually is, especially at a time when we’re all trapped inside and need escapist fantasies more than ever, but I tend to think the issue is that I’m just not finding a lot of joy in watching a group of women tear each other down. I’m hesitant to get too invested in any one contestant lest she be next on the chopping block, either when it comes to getting cut by Matt or getting cut down by other women. I was glad to see Katie stand up to her fellow contestants and speak up against the toxic bullying, but I also didn’t love how she first approached Sarah in their private conversation and am wary of stanning anyone when the show can turn them from victor to villain in one episode flat.

For me, that’s meant that I’m simply not enjoying this season the way that I lived for Tayshia’s season. Even when bullying was an issue there (and trust when I say that I unpacked the Bennett-Noah drama ad nauseum, too), it seemed like a side note in the larger story, and the relationships were earnest enough to carry me through. I thought Nick Viall’s season was a blast and loved some of the girls from Colton Underwood’s season, but was equally exhausted by Peter’s turn as the Bachelor as I am by Matt’s. And I’m not the only one drawing that comparison.

“When I saw the previews for Matt's season, I feared it would be like Pilot Pete's all over again, and the promos didn't lie,” Caitlin said. “There was a lot of drama between the women in Season 24 and Peter lacked the self-assuredness or perception to handle it well. He'd often cater to whichever woman he was talking to, rather than get all the information he could and analyze the situation.” Sophie agreed that Peter “encouraged and rewarded” the mean girl behavior, but she thinks this season has one marked difference.

“Matt seems to shut it down more,” Sophie argued. Caitlin agrees… to a point. “Matt has been trying to do everything right, but he seems to need someone else to tell him what to do (like Katie asking him to address the bullying at the rose ceremony). He's not proactive and it doesn't give me confidence that he'll actually find his ‘person’ at the end of this.”

Allison pledged that she’ll “watch this show into her grave,” but called all of the bad behavior “played out” at this point. “We have spent, approximately, 74 hours in the Nemacolin lobby parsing out who is and who isn’t a bully. It’s stale and we need to either move on to something new OR become invested in Matt’s relationships with some of the women.”

Bachelorteaspill seemed to be having the best time out of everyone — but even they’re on that same page. “It’s definitely different than past seasons because there’s no traveling, but it’s been a fun season,” they said. “I wish the episodes would show more of the dates and his conversations with the girls and less of the petty drama.”

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Images: ABC

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