In the 16th season premiere of The Bachelorette, which aired Tuesday night, host Chris Harrison promised viewers we were about to watch a season that would be “totally different” than any before it.
Harrison was referencing the fact that the show, starring 39-year-old franchise veteran Clare Crawley, had been delayed due to COVID-19 and then filmed in isolation in Palm Springs under a strict testing regimen. However, there was an elephant in the Bachelor mansion.
For months, everyone who watches the show has known that Crawley quit filming after a few weeks after falling in love with contestant Dale Moss and was replaced by Tayshia Adams, now the second Black lead in the franchise’s history. Despite this fact having been widely reported, the show is desperately trying to pretend like it’s some big secret. The premiere featured the same old tired tropes (someone is not here for the rIgHt rEaSoNs), while teasing some unspecified “big drama” ahead. Some fans were over it.
The Bachelor franchise has always had an absurd premise: that a person can find their future spouse by dating more than two dozen people at the same time on TV. For nearly 20 years, fans of the show, known as “Bachelor Nation,” have been able to suspend logic for a few hours every week to enjoy a harmless and frothy reality soap, despite allegations of racism and sexism that have dogged the franchise for years.
However, with the Crawley situation, the show is asking viewers to play dumb to such an extent that it is growing ridiculous. And it’s not the only thing the Bachelor franchise is sweeping under the rug.
Last month, former Bachelor Colton Underwood got hit with a restraining order from the woman he chose on the show, Cassie Randolph, who accused him of stalking and harassing her after their breakup. Underwood has not addressed the accusations publicly, but “sources” have told various media outlets that he was “blindsided” by the filing and is “gutted that all of this is happening in front of the whole world.” “He hates that it has gotten to a place where she has filed a restraining order against him as he would love to just have a conversation with her to figure out their differences,” one told Hollywood Life.
The shocking allegations led many fans to reexamine how the couple’s relationship was portrayed during filming and to accuse the show of playing a part in creating a toxic dynamic. But instead of addressing these allegations seriously and assuring its mostly women fanbase that the show has zero tolerance for abuse, Harrison spoke to an incredibly sympathetic journalist, his girlfriend, Entertainment Tonight reporter Lauren Zima. In it, he wished them both well, calling it a “very unfortunate situation for sure, and I think a surprising one.”And the show has completely ignored the allegations. It has no plans to address what is going on with Underwood and Randolph during the course of the current season.
Here lies the show’s main problem, which is becoming harder to ignore: The producers of The Bachelor seem to think they can gloss over anything that happens offscreen, and Bachelor Nation will continue to lap up the same show they have always loved. But while fans may love the show for its silly drama, travel porn, and escapist nature, they aren’t stupid. If The Bachelor continues to treat them as such and refuses to acknowledge very real issues with the franchise or suspend belief to an absurd degree, it may lose them for good. After all, it’s not fun to watch a reality show where no one is being even the tiniest bit real.
The past six months have been a whirlwind of drama about the messy nature of the current season of The Bachelorette and bad press for the franchise. The most serious bad press, obviously, is the allegations against Underwood, which broke less than a month before the premiere.
In May, Underwood, the 28-year-old star of the 23rd season of The Bachelor, and Randolph announced that they had broken up after about a year and a half of dating. In September, Randolph filed for a restraining order against Underwood, claiming he had been stalking and harassing her since their breakup. Randolph, now 25, claims in court filings that Underwood sent unsettling text messages to her, her friends, and her family, repeatedly called her, and placed a tracking device on her vehicle to track her whereabouts.
According to Randolph, Underwood had begun stalking her apartment and her parents’ home in Huntington Beach after they split, harassing her about male friends visiting her, and sending her text messages like, “I am going to keep you accountable.” She claims he also sent her close friend and her brother harassing text messages. Then, Randolph claims, she began getting creepy messages from an unknown number. Underwood, according to Randolph, began to tell her friends he was receiving harassing texts and calls, too.
In August, Randolph began to fear she had a stalker and so checked her car for a tracking device. When she found one attached to her bumper, she said she was terrified and told Underwood.
“Mr. Underwood admitted that he was the one who put the tracker on her car and had been the one sending text messages to her, her friends and himself, under the alias phone numbers described above,” the court documents state. (Randolph has been granted a temporary restraining order until a hearing on Nov. 6. She also filed a police report, according to TMZ.)
The allegations against Underwood are disturbing and serious, and have cast the entirety of his season in a new light.
The story the show told during Underwood’s season was that he loved Randolph so much, he was willing to risk it all for her. Crucial to this narrative was a moment that the show continually hyped throughout the entire season: Underwood, in a fit of emotion, ran away from production and jumped a fence. The “fence jump” became a meme before it even aired.
In the finale, viewers learned the impetus for the jump was that Underwood had been dumped by Randolph, who had told him she wasn’t ready for a serious commitment.
“I don’t care if you’re about to leave. I’m not gonna stop fighting for you,” he said in response.
Underwood was undeterred, telling Harrison he wanted to ask Randolph for another chance. “I hope she's not at peace with her decision, because I'm not,” he told the cameras.
After Underwood made a final appeal to Randolph, she agreed to casually date him. The show treated the ending as the love story it has always promised viewers. The couple appeared on the finale in March 2019, declaring they were in love and teasing a possible proposal on the horizon.
The producers of The Bachelor seem to think they can gloss over anything that happens offscreen, and Bachelor Nation will continue to lap up the same show they have always loved.
In the Bachelor world, everything had gone great. The eager fence jump, clearly, was just the desperate act of a man in love who wanted to risk it all for his beloved. In hindsight, wasn’t it hilarious and romantic? Randolph’s hesitation initially, which came after production flew her skeptical dad out to Portugal to talk with her, was clearly the result of a confused, silly woman just not knowing what she wanted. The fact that Underwood and Randolph dated for more than a year after the finale, posting frequent updates on their love story to their combined more than 3.5 million Instagram followers, seemed to confirm the narrative.
Yet, when it all fell apart, the show refused to acknowledge it. In the month since Randolph filed, the producers of The Bachelor, ABC, and/or Harrison could have taken the opportunity to seriously address the allegations against Underwood and do some reflection on where the show went wrong. They did none of that.
For fans, the show’s reaction to the news is just another way that it refuses to get real. Many expressed dismay that the show allowed and even celebrated Underwood’s behavior, seemed to manipulate Randolph into giving him another chance, and then swept it under the rug.
Some may say I am being too hard on the franchise, that the producers aren’t responsible for the actions of former stars and have no requirement to address them, especially as they are all allegations at this point. But I think the show’s avoidance of the Underwood issue is indicative of a larger problem. The show refuses to deviate from its tired formula and address what happens offscreen, instead treating the audience like they are oblivious to what happens outside the Bachelor mansion’s walls.
Take Crawley’s season for example. The show has arguably had more press this summer than it ever has. Tabloids have been gossiping for months about the breakdown of Crawley’s carefully planned COVID-19-safe season, feeding an eager Bachelor Nation speculating wildly about what was going on. The anticipation surrounding the season is high, given the level of promised drama and the fact that Adams is a fan favorite (also, there’s not a lot of new TV on). What more could they want?
Instead of adjusting the show to fit this new narrative, and allowing Adams to get the press and acknowledgment that she is the Bachelorette before the season aired, the show has chosen to pretend like none of us know what is happening. Sure, it’s teasing “big drama,” but how exciting can it possibly be when we all know what it is?
What’s the point of investing in Crawley’s “journey” when we all know it’s about to end?
In light of what we know, the season premiere fell flat. Viewers were treated to the same generic Bachelorette premiere with some COVID-19 drama sprinkled in. What’s the point of investing in Crawley’s “journey” when we all know it’s about to end? WHYY do we need to watch another round of contestants fighting over who is there for the right reasons or who was DM’ing girls on Instagram during quarantine (seriously?). And why aren’t the producers giving Adams the promo she deserves as only the second Black franchise lead instead of hiding her existence?
Producers could have leaned into the crazy drama, producing an off-the-wall, exciting, and fresh show. Instead, they are selling a farce.
A lot has changed since The Bachelor first premiered more than 20 years ago. Social media is as big of a part of the show as the contestants, and trying to pretend like fans don’t know when huge things happen during the show is silly. Television in general is more sophisticated, and ignoring things like racial diversity and sexism renders your show irrelevant. And when serious allegations are leveled against a TV star, people expect the show’s team to acknowledge it.
Fans of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette are willing to suspend disbelief on a lot of things, but treating them like they don’t pay attention to anything is ridiculous at best and insulting at worst. The franchise needs to get real, take accountability for its actions, and adapt its format when it needs to.
Otherwise, it will become completely irrelevant. ●