July 24, 2009
I admit it. I watch The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. I’ve seen nearly every episode from every season since the romance reality series debuted on ABC in 2002. I have host Chris Harrison’s Entertainment Weekly Blog on my favorites list plus I’ve become a regular on the FORT – Fansofrealitytv.com – a website devoted to all things Reality TV.
The show, created by Hollywood reality TV honcho Mike Fleiss – second cousin to convicted Hollywood Madam Heidi Fleiss – revolves around a bachelor or bachelorette searching for love. Each night The B goes on dates with one or more contestants. At the end of every episode, red rose buds on stick pins for men and long-stemmed roses for the ladies, are given out to the favored few; the ones who do not receive a rose must say their goodbyes and step into a waiting limo with a producer on board waiting to capture a shocking confession from the dumped and usually drunk contestant that will then be played and re-played for the rest of the season.
The goal of the show is for The Bachelor or Bachelorette to move closer every week to finding the woman or man who will sweep them off their feet and into reality TV fame for as long as it takes the couple to realize they hardly know each other and aren’t in the least bit compatible.
The Bachelor/ette has an even worse track record of happily-ever-after endings then do modern-day American marriages where the success rate is currently 50%. Out of 13 seasons of The Bachelor and four seasons of The Bachelorette (we are currently nearing the end of season five with spunky Canadian Bachelorette Jillian Harris), 14 “commitments” were made, nine of which resulted in fancy dress proposals at places with palm trees and one that actually ended in a pink-themed wedding on national TV.Two contestants refused to commit to anyone, one couple remain “life partners” despite an assault and arrest by said “partner” Mary Delgado on life partner Byron Velvick. A final couple – Charlie O’Connell (brother of Rebecca Romijn spouse/actor Jerry O’Connell) and Sarah Brice – are rumored to be planning a wedding following a break-up and reconciliation. According to the happily reunited couple during an interview on national TV, things have been great since Charlie got a little help for his drinking problem.
So why does a woman with a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, ten years as an international public broadcasting executive and nine more as the owner of a successful real estate company continue to feed her addiction to a reality television program about failed relationships?
Do I watch for love or do I tune in to see the smiles crack and the engagement rings go on eBay, the bachelors move on to new blonder and bigger boobed bachelorettes and the bachelorettes write books about how great it is to be single?*
Am I a true believer or a die-hard cynic? Do I enjoy the spectacle of a tuxedoed train wrecked against the highlighted tracks of a bejeweled bleached blond? Or do I wonder if finding true romantic love complete with pumping heart, raised blood pressure and that long-lost feeling that it is possible to find your soul mate – on TV or off – is still possible?
I watch the show obsessed as 25 women or men pop out of a stretched limousine and into the arms of the main attraction who stands in front of his or her grey stone castle of a bachelor/ette pad that puts Barbie’s Dream House to shame.
On the opening night of each season I wait for the “first impression” rose to be handed out to the person with that special spark; that rose has become the kiss of romantic death as everyone who has ever received it is dismissed far before the season finale airs. First impressions don’t seem to have anything to do with long-term compatibility but then again neither do proposals popped within a seven week production schedule.
I TIVO the show opener so at the end of the season when the final bachelor/bachelorette has been chosen, I can go back and recapture the instant they first met; all the time knowing that within a week, a month or a year that couple will appear on the cover of US Weekly with the word “SPLIT” etched across their Crest-whitened smiles and unlined air-brushed faces.
I click through the FORT several times a day to read the Spoilers & Speculation strands where hundreds (thousands? millions?) of women and a few men sleuth their way into figuring out who will receive the final, coveted rose. Last season Bachelor Jason Mesnick, single dad from Seattle with camera-friendly four-year old named Ty, returned to the series to search for love after being rejected by the previous season’s Bachelorette. Within an hour after the first episode aired the sleuthers had figured out who received the bent knee and diamond-encrusted multi-carat engagement ring on the final night.
Most FORTERS, myself included, lost interest in Jason’s season and barely tuned in to watch the love story grow. However, Jason and producer Fleiss pulled a final twist when the couple returned to the stage for the After The Final Rose episode (known to FORT followers as the ATFR) only to have Jason announce that he’d made a mistake and chosen the wrong girl. Was it a set-up? Had they planned it from the start, or did he truly change his mind and realize that it was Molly not Melissa who had captured his televised heart?
At 50 years old, with too many relationship notches on my belt, one failed marriage, one successful marriage and many a man in-between, there is still something that pulls me back to the TV, to the websites and the tabloids. I am forever trying to figure out what combination of ingredients makes two people fall truly, madly and deeply in love, if only for the time it takes to shoot, edit and air a reality TV series.
Perhaps I’ve given up on it myself and realized that real, long-term committed love does not a blood pressure raise. Maybe I’m trying to recapture being 17 and falling for a boy named Andy who taught me how to drive a stick shift and told me I was beautiful even though I wasn’t.
Does the camaraderie on the FORT remind me of the girlfriends I had before marriage and commitment and the endless hours we sat sipping white-foamed cappuchinos and deconstructing each and every cute guy that entered our line of sight? Or is it my love of a really good mystery – for clearly love falls in that literary genre – that keeps me sleuthing through the sound bytes and screencaps until I’ve followed all the clues and solved the case of a romantic “whodunnit?”
My real fixation with the series started when Trista Rehn became our first Bachelorette in 2003. A silky-stranded blond Miami Heat Cheerleader, Trista bounced on the scene during the first installment of The Bachelor and got all the way to the final 2 (or F2 as we say on the FORT, also known as the second to last woman standing) only to be rejected at the Final Rose Ceremony by Bachelor Alex Michel. She returned the following year with a show of her own and a bevy of dark-suited bachelors with well-shined shoes and carefully-coiffed hair all waiting to be her one and only.What a surprise for all of us when Trista tossed over the well-tailored, high-lighted, L.A.-based financial analyst Charlie for the poetically-challenged Colorado fireman named Ryan. Sure he was tall, dark and handsome but was he the sexy celebrity-friendly California “catch” that we thought Trista had been looking for? Trista, it seems, was a lot smarter then her high-pitched baby talk and squeals had led us to believe.
Within a year she had dyed her hair back to brown, given up her career options in Hollywood, moved to Colorado and married her fireman. Five years later they are the “gold standard” of the Bachelor franchise with two kids, normal jobs and what appears to be a strong marriage. Granted the squeaky voice has mellowed and they are often interviewed talking about how hard it is to make a relationship work, but they still stand tall in the Reality TV Hall of Romance Fame.So here we are nearing the end of the fifth season of The Bachelorette as the maple-leaf loving Jillian from Vancouver, BC has whittled her selection down from 30 (the first Bachelor or Bachelorette in the franchise history to have been given 30 – not 25 – eligible fiances to choose from) to two. . .or so we thought until we saw next week’s previews.
Word on the boards is that the F3 (yes, the third to last man standing) named Reid, a Matthew Perry look-alike from Philly who sells high-end condos for a living, may be coming back to propose. Or at least make a commitment. Or to simply create more drama and bring in more viewers for ABC and its advertisers. For, as any good FORTer knows, the love story will always take a back seat to ratings.
Besides Reid coming back into the picture, Jill has two more guys on her plate including Ed who she calls “a gentle giant” and Kiptyn who she recently dubbed “seriously sexy” and “better looking in person then on TV.”A lot of controversy has surrounded Ed who first left the show several episodes in to return to his high-stress job at Microsoft in Chicago when his boss called and gave him an ultimatum. This was the explanation given to the general public, however the sleuthers uncovered “Girlfriend-Gate” which indicates that Ed is a player who is balancing two girlfriends back at home. Ed also appears to be a drinker – ABC has peppered the show with drunken Ed moments – plus we just got word that he was recently kicked out of a karaoke bar in Chicago for disorderly, drunken conduct. How much of this is true is up for grabs, but FORTers are concerned that Jilly is about to pick the wrong guy.
And then there is Kiptyn who is rather small but towers over the tiny size 0 Jill. He must spend a lot of time at the gym given the shape and size of his well-muscled body; his resume tells us he is a business developer, owns his own company in Encinito, California plus runs a charity for at-risk kids. Kip’s problem – according to Jillian – is that he is too perfect and it seems the viewing public shares her concern as Kip is the dark horse and not favored to win.
With five days left until the season finale the obsession grows and I still can’t figure out why I spend more time contemplating Jillian’s future then thinking about my own. I guess a future for a 30-year old seems ripe and ready to blossom while I feel stuck in an empty lot overtaken by old weeds with deep roots and no time or energy to pull them out and plant something new.
Through Jillian I cling to my dating days, my waiting-for-my-life-to-begin days, my sense that the world might have an oyster complete with a key carved from mother-of-pearl that would unlock the future I wanted but didn’t know how to find.
Now that the future has passed my dreams are too tired to stay awake, my thyroid levels are high, my vitamin D levels low and my goal is to reach the end of the day without a tension headache.
And every Monday night, I slip exhausted onto the couch to watch the next installment of The Bachelorette. I’m a voyeur and enjoy the experience of viewing vicariously without the anxiety of introductions, conversations and feelings that can’t be controlled. I float on the comforting tide of someone else’s story and secretly hope that someday I may find the energy to step back into my own.
In the meantime, I will continue to follow each Bachelor and Bachelorette as they mingle, snort champagne and smother each other in uncomfortable TV kisses in the hope that sometime, someday, one more televised couple might just get it right.
*”Better Single Then Sorry” by Jen Schefft; author Schefft received and accepted a proposal from Bachelor Andrew Firestone on season three, broke off the engagement and returned as ABC’s third Bachelorette only to reject all 25 suitors.
Postscript: Jillian chose Ed and received a $60,000 Neil Lane diamond engagement ring (see inset). They promise a wedding in 2010 yet Girlfriend-Gate rumors continue to pop up like gophers before an earthquake. A level orange heartbreak alert is in effect until further notice.