‘The Bachelor’: Is the Show About True Love or Ratings?

The Bachelor franchise was introduced in 2002. Since then, audiences have fallen in love with the dating show. For almost two decades, Chris Harrison and his team have found multiple ways to appeal to a mass audience with spinoff series like The Bachelorette, Bachelor in Paradise, and now The Bachelor: Listen to Your Heart.

The Bachelor franchise is meant to entertain fans. Since the show’s inception, The Bachelor has evolved, with Harrison promising “the most dramatic season yet” every year. Now, audiences are starting to wonder whether the show is really about helping people find love or manufacturing situations to achieve ratings.

'The Bachelor' Chris Harrison
Chris Harrison | John Fleenor via Getty Images

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‘The Bachelor’ made adjustments based on inclusion and diversity, but only slightly

The Bachelor and Bachelorette series have long been criticized for its perpetuation of outdated gender norms and beauty standards, but also for its overall lack of diversity and inclusion. Rachel Lindsay was the first and only Bachelorette of color. Mike Fleiss, the show’s executive producer, was disappointed to learn about the dip in ratings during her season, calling it “incredibly disturbing” in an interview with the New York Times. Despite Fleiss’ disgust, there has yet to be a person of color as the Bachelor in the show’s 17 years on television.

In the past, producers have included a more diverse group of contestants to combat the outrage fans expressed about the show’s lack of inclusion, but that only assuaged frustrations briefly. When it came time to choose the next Bachelor after Hannah Brown’s season, fans were upset when Mike Johnson was snubbed over Peter Weber.

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“The backlash is always hard,” ABC’s reality chief Rob Mills told Variety. “We really, really care about the audience, and you don’t want to disappoint anyone. It’s hard to not take it personally when people say, ‘You don’t listen to us or why did you choose this person over that?’ But you just have to have faith in the choice you made. We think Peter was the strongest option. We felt he was the guy who would give us the best 22 hours of television.”

Mills also touched on conversations he had with Johnson about becoming the next Bachelor, clarifying that they wouldn’t have done so simply because of his identity. ABC was in talks with Johnson after Brown’s season of The Bachelorette wrapped, but Brown admitted that he didn’t want to participate “simply because he was going to be the first African American ‘Bachelor,'” according to Mills.

Despite the limited adjustments showrunners have made to include a more diverse cast, viewership for The Bachelor has remained strong.

Without the drama, what would ‘The Bachelor’ be?

Each season, Harrison explains to viewers how they’re going to embark on “the most dramatic season ever.” He’s usually not wrong, but over the years, fans have started to wonder about the toxicity of the situations these contestants get themselves into. Whether it’s a contestant being mentally tormented by the idea of competing with other people to win the affections of someone or a manufactured argument manipulated by producers (hello, Champagne Gate), fans can’t help but watch — it’s part of the appeal, but the drama has also become the point of the show.

According to BuzzFeed News, the “‘organic’ drama” on the show was enough to draw audiences in at first, but now, the show’s strategy has shifted to bringing in women with “histories outside of the show.” 

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She got the final rose, I got the third wheel ‍♀️

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For example, in Colton Underwood’s season, history came in the form of Brown and Caelynn Miller-Keyes, who knew each other from the Miss USA 2018 competition. Weber’s season was full of people who had interacted with each other before being on The Bachelor. From Weber’s prior relationship with Kelley Flanagan to Alayah Benavidez and Victoria Paul’s past in the beauty pageant circuit and the acquaintance of Victoria Fuller’s who approached Weber to air her dirty laundry, Weber’s season was riddled with opportunities for the contestant’s pasts to create drama.

Did producers use this information to carefully construct the narratives in Weber’s season? Probably. Have they done the same things in seasons past? Most likely. But isn’t the drama what makes the show so entertaining? 

Does ‘The Bachelor’ care about true love or ratings?

Determining whether or not The Bachelor is about true love or ratings is an extremely loaded question. On the one hand, Bachelor Nation lives for the drama surrounding the show — even the over-orchestrated kind — but overall, most viewers want to see the Bachelor or Bachelorette end up with someone they love.

In the end, The Bachelor is about true love and ratings. Producers set out to create an opportunity for an individual to find love in the most public of settings while at the same time capturing footage and manipulating it in a way that is entertaining for the masses.