I haven’t written about The Bachelorette this year because, to be honest, it hasn’t been good. I’ve never gone into the final five so apathetic about a Bachelor or Bachelorette’s choices. Will JoJo accept the proposal of the Ken doll with facial hair, or without? Will they break up a month after the finale, or two months after? What will she title the tell-all memoir about the failure of their relationship? In a moment of resigned crankiness I sought out Reality Steve’s spoilers, hoping there would be some shocking plot twist to motivate me to care. Meh. Let’s be real: this season sucks.
There have been less than compelling seasons of this franchise before. In its twenty-year legacy, there had to be some duds. I didn’t watch Desiree’s season of The Bachelorette, and from what people tell me, I didn’t miss much. Chris Soules was dumb as a post who was lucky to date hilarious women: Kaitlyn, Ashley I., Jade, and Carly, to name a few. While Ben H. was an adorable, all-American cereal box, he did us the courtesy of being an emotional hot mess and telling two women that he loved them. I was annoyed by Chris and Ben, but I was never bored.
But JoJo. Girl. Stop thinking with your dick.
Allow me to list the great guys JoJo has sent home: Christian, the biracial man raising his two little brothers who talked about dealing with the racism of his white father in his intro video. Derek—who looked like Jim from The Office complete with “can you fucking believe this shit” looks at the camera—is using his fifteen minutes of fame to help survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. And then, my favorite, Wells. Wells was a perfect composite of my favorite boyfriends from college: a lanky hipster radio DJ who got heat stroke during a firefighter-themed obstacle course. Sweet, sweet Wells didn’t kiss JoJo for weeks because he wanted it to be special. This world is too pure for you and your adorable bloodhound named Carl, my dear Wells. I love your Snapchat presence.
Who has JoJo kept around? Luke, the sixth member of One Direction with a limited vocabulary but so much “passion.” Jordan Rogers, the brother of Aaron Rogers who Google informs me is a famous football player. Alex, the tiniest Marine in all the land with a Napoleon complex to match. James Taylor, who is kind and sweet and so out of his depth, the last dead man walking good man standing. Then, and this is what really confuses me, we have Chase and Robby, neither of whom have any discernible traits. Who are they? Why does JoJo like them? Why are they still here? The world may never know.
The biggest problem with this season of The Bachelorette is Chad. Let’s talk about Chad. Chad Johnson (real name: Brian) works in “luxury real estate” and set Twitter on fire with his, uh, unmitigated douchiness. He paced the mansion eating deli meat and threatened other contestants with the confidence of a man in it to win it, if by “it” you mean notoriety. He chained his suitcase to his waist and did pull-ups on the terrace. He punched doors and grabbed another contestant by the neck. His roommate (notably Derek, the guy who does domestic violence work) was too terrified to sleep next to him. The producers even hired a mall cop security guard to patrol the mansion. At one point Chad called JoJo “naggy,” and she still kept him around for several more weeks because his mom had recently died and he loves puppies, or something. To her credit, when Alex ratted on Chad for threatening to track down Jordan once the show ended and beat his smarmy face in, JoJo sent Chad home immediately. Good job, JoJo.
When the most compelling character on a Bachelor season is the villain, the show is good television at its worst: Twitter fodder with no emotional resonance. Unless, of course, to trigger survivors of domestic violence in the audience who recognize Chad’s Jekyll and Hyde explosive anger and desire to control JoJo as the gigantic red flags they are. The fact that Chad has been invited back for Bachelor In Paradise, the summer spin-off, is infuriating. Rumor has it that Josh Murray, the winner of Andi Dorfman’s season whose abuse she wrote about in her new memoir, will also be returning for BIP. The Bachelor franchise has an abuse problem: charming, violent men make great TV, and the producers value ratings over the safety of their contestants and the messages these men send to millions of viewers.
People ask me all the time why I watch this show. Despite the monstrous editing and paper doll personalities, there are some amazing people in the mix. Sometimes they do fall in love, or at least think they do, which is a fascinating funhouse mirror of our own relationships. Sometimes that reflection is less romantic: even as the show talks back to the slut-shaming of its Bachelorettes, it turns dangerous men into mini-celebrities. Chad is the Donald Trump of reality television, hilarious until he gets his own spin-off.
The Bachelor franchise shows us where we are as a society, an American Studies thesis in a ten-week romance. I give this season a D.