I Watched “The Bachelor” for the First Time (Unfortunately)

After years of avoiding the Monday night viewing ritual that ties together many Americans, I finally lost my “Bachelor” virginity. My hometown began to buzz with rumors that Ryan Claytor, a graduate from my high school, would be competing for Matt James’s heart. This information (coupled with my COVID-related boredom) convinced me to invest the time and brain cells in ABC’s guilty pleasure. While Ryan didn’t make it very far after her late introduction, I was committed to watching the season through. 

There was plenty to unpack. Matt James became the first Black Bachelor after 24 straight seasons of cookie-cutter white dudes. A racist scandal involving an antebellum-themed party unfolded in the last few weeks, causing the host to step back from the show. While those issues received extensive media coverage, I had my own points of criticism.

  1. 1. Not All is Fair in Love and War

    Kit and Matt on The Bachelor

    I haven’t avoided “The Bachelor” due to a hatred for reality television. I have dedicated many hours to "Survivor," in which contestants try to “outwit, outplay and outlast” each other on a simulated desert island. The castaways compete in challenges to gain “immunity” from being voted out. While "Survivor" has evolved with new twists over the years, I still appreciate the simplicity!

    Success isn’t as straightforward on “The Bachelor.” This show toes a weird line between women trying to “win” and looking to find legitimate romance. Why were five women allowed to enter this “Bachelor” season a few episodes in? On “Survivor,” new castaways could never make a belated introduction without having an unfair advantage. The original contestants would be competing in physical challenges on a small scoop of rice and a few hours of sleep, while the newbies would be fed and fresh. 

    I guess “The Bachelor” doesn’t require an equal playing field. Romance can happen at any time, even if you show up to the party late. Matt clearly felt a spark with Michelle when she made her tardy entrance, while Heather couldn’t light that same flame. Things would be settled on “Survivor” through an actual fire-making challenge rather than a petty screaming match between women in prom dresses. 

  2. 2. Diversity Still Has Boundaries

    The women vying for Matt’s heart came from a variety of racial backgrounds, and Abigail made history as the first hearing-impaired cast member. She was immediately my favorite, but I must admit that I’m biased towards my fellow Abigails. 

    While there was some representation of marginalized groups, the cast’s diversity had clear limits. Apparently, Matt couldn’t date anyone who actually looked like the average American woman. CNBC reports that 70% of American women are a size 14 or larger, yet none of these contestants fit into the “plus-sized” category. While the homogeneity of the “Bachelor” cast has decreased since its inception in 2002, where is the size inclusivity? 

    We have to remember that it took 25 seasons for a Black Bachelor to stand in the spotlight. ABC is only taking the smallest of baby steps towards better representation. Hopefully, the antebellum-themed party scandal will force more uncomfortable conversations in the ABC production office. 

  3. 3. Does Everyone Have Mouth Herpes?

    silhouette of man and woman kissing at sunset

    My final issue with “The Bachelor” is mostly a “me” problem. I’ll admit I couldn’t handle the passionate kissing scenes. In fact, I pondered the likelihood that Matt and all of the women had oral herpes as I averted my eyes.

    While the cast quarantined for COVID-19 beforehand, the same is not possible for this oral virus with no cure. Johns Hopkins Medicine estimates that 50% to 80% of U.S. adults have oral herpes, and according to the National Institutes of Health, about 90% of adults have been exposed to the virus by age 50.

    If one woman brought her mouth herpes and had a steamy moment with Matt, there’s a chance that all of his lovers could soon experience flu-like symptoms, swelling and blisters. That’s not very romantic. While this is no different than a group of people swapping spit at a club or bar, it was strange to watch up close on television. 

I’m not mourning the loss of my “Bachelor” virginity, but I also can’t say I’m hooked. It was fun to be included in conversations with friends about the show, and the memes occasionally made me laugh. However, I don’t plan on binge-watching the past 24 seasons. 

I'm still on the hunt for a reality show that is fair, diverse and lacks the potential for herpes transmission. Any suggestions?