Why The Bachelor and The Bachelorette have lost touch with romance

This year, Australia’s iterations of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette have resulted in serious controversy . This is not because the franchise has finally been called out for producing a show premised around Stockholm Syndrome. Nor is it because the popular TV drama, UnREAL, which is about the production of a Bachelor/ette-esq show, “Everlasting” has allowed us to peek behind the curtain, dispelling any romantic notions we had about the show’s production.

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You mean Richie doesn’t light all those candles himself?!

And it’s not even because the franchise has such deeply troubling life messages, especially for women: this year’s Bachelorette, Georgia Love, quit her journalism job to find love on the show. Honey, if you work in an industry that is shedding workers like my spring-moulting dog is shedding fur, quitting your job for the possibility of love is not a financially sensible move.

No, what has collectively PISSED OFF Australia’s Bachelor/ette-watching audience has been the fact that the wrong person won. By deliberately orchestrating this shock and rage, the shows’  producers have lost touch with the premise of The Bachelor/ette which is a dangerous thing.

Allow me to elaborate.

When Bachelor Richie had to decide between Nikki and Alex, the audience was sure that Nikki was The One. That Nikki and Richie were both from WA was regularly emphasised in their individual piece-to-cameras. The “connection” that they shared was played up too. Not to mention that they spent a heck of a lot of time pashing.

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To be fair, Richie was serial pasher

Compare that to Alex and Richie. That Alex was from Melbourne, a heck of a long way from Perth, was emphasised in her interviews. (Geographic distance makes the heart grow not fonder?) Moreover, that Alex had a son was also frequently discussed (so much so that Alex being a mum became a meme). This discussion was foregrounded in order to position her son as a probable barrier to her and Richie being together.

Finally, clever editing (also known as cut-aways to disapproving looks from Richie’s mum anytime Alex was mentioned, coupled with contrasting cut-aways to Richie’s mum beaming and fawning over Nikki) set up for the expectation that Nikki was, in Richie’s family’s eyes, the right woman for him.

A similar expectation had been cultivated  in the hive-mind of the audience.

Hence, when Richie chose Alex, a collective feeling of “we were robbed”exploded on Twitter. Buzzfeed did what they are best at and compiled a list of reactions. This tweet pretty much sums it all up:

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But, not content with pulling this ending once, a few weeks later at The Bachelorette finale, Georgia chose Lee over fan-favourite Matty.

Cue Twitter outrage. Again.

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Twitter was exploding while you took this photo, Georgia. Source: Network Ten

Australia’s vitriol occurred because the producers of both shows have fundamentally misread how the shows’ narrative arcs should conclude. That is, they’ve lost touch with the formula that makes romantic stories feel satisfying and rather than giving us the pay-off we expect (and want), they punk us with an unexpected reversal.

The Bachelor/ette as a show draws on the romantic comedy genre. That is, we expect to see two people fall in love, over come some obstacles and live happily ever after. Of course, the franchise is on reality-TV ‘roids, meaning that the dialogue is a lot less snappy than it would have been if a scriptwriter had written it, and rather than the characters being played by actors, they’re being played by everyday people but the point still holds.

One of the main things that makes romantic comedies is enjoyable is the familiarity of the story, and knowing how it plays out. I mean, in a film like When Harry Met Sally, we can be pretty damn sure that Harry is going to end up with Sally. That’s the point. Of course, they have to overcome some struggles, particularly the issue that either one of them could end up with the wrong person first. But the fact that they don’t end up with the “wrong” person makes the audience’s investment in their eventual (inevitable) union all the more rewarding.

When Harry Met Sally
It’s not called “When Harry met Sally and ended up with Alex.”

A similar rom-com logic has previously played out in The Bachelor/ette franchise.

We all waited with baited breath last year, wondering whether Bachelor Sam would be overcome by intruder Lana’s personality (and penchant for making out in pools) and choose her over our heroine, OG Single Mum, Snez.

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Get out of here with your pretty hair and your range of skimpy bikinis, intruder!

When he didn’t (#Snezforthewin!) we rejoiced because Snez had been constructed to be our heroine and rightful owner of Sam’s heart, and we wanted to see her succeed.

But the producers haven’t sticking to the romantic comedy script in 2016. They seem to have forgotten that the audience, raised on a diet of predictable rom-coms want to see the two who are “meant” to be together be together. We want to see Richie overcome the temptations of Olena’s “quiet confidence” and end up with the woman who has been set up by the producers to be his bogany-WA soulmate. The producers could have avoided the shock and vitriol that occurred had they set Alex up from the beginning to be viewed by the audience as Richie’s soulmate, but they didn’t. They wanted to surprise us, to shock us.

Not valuing generic convention means that the endings of both shows were incredibly disappointing. It’s as if at the last minute Mr Darcy decided that Caroline Bingely was the right woman for him, leaving Elizabeth to the side. The Bachelor/ette has broken the genre, and it’s not a good thing.

Next year, the producers of The Bachelor/ette need to think very carefully about how they construct the narratives of their shows. I would argue that rewarding the investment is a good thing; the cheap shocks are just that – cheap. Stick with the tried and true format of:

  1. Person A meets Person B
  2. Person A makes out with a lot of people, including Person B
  3. Person A battles villains (we love you Kiera!) and their own desire to keep harem
  4. Person A chooses Person B (and not left-of-field choice Person C

Basically, adhering to formula and editing the show in such a way that The Bachelor/ette ends up with the person that we’ve been rooting for all along is the main point of the show. Giving us the “love story” that we have invested in makes us believe in “love”. Alternative endings based upon shock and surprise make us believe that love is dead.

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