The Bachelor

Edited by Annie Bares and Rhya Moffitt

The Bachelor at 21: Our Final Rose

Annie Bares and Rhya Moffitt

Disability Narratives in Bachelor Nation

Layla Colón Vale

Here for the Wrong Representation: The Misuse of Diversity in the Bachelor Franchise

Anne Y. Van

Lesbians at Sea: Queerness and The Bachelor Franchise

Lauren Nelson and Emma Train

The Bachelor as Novel of Manners

Emily Bacal

Behind the Camera: The Crucial Role of Parents on The Bachelor and The Bachelorette

Lisa Beckelhimer

Feasts and Famine: Consumption on “The Bachelor” 

Madeline Shuron

Will You Accept This Job? Labor, Love, and Bachelor Nation

Robin Hershkowitz and Emily Edwards

The Labor of Love

Megan Cole

Pod45 Episode 16: The Bachelor

Post45 Contemporaries Editorial Team


March of 2023 marked the twenty-first "birthday" of ABC's hit show The Bachelor. Since its inception, the show has presented itself as helping young, wealthy, and conventionally attractive Americans find love. The show is centered around a lead man or woman who slowly whittles down a bevy of potential suitors until they find "the one." To do so, the lead and viewers move through the process of evaluating who is there "for the right reasons," a query that's become more and more relevant as contestants increasingly use the show as an outlet to promote their lifestyle brands, coaching businesses, or artistic talents. Along the way, viewers witness group dates, one-on-one dates, hometown visits, and fantasy suite dates, where the lead is finally able to spend a night alone with their remaining suitors without the intrusive gaze of a camera. While the show doesn't have the best track record for helping its contestants find love only 25 couples over more than 55 seasons are still together, and most of those couples have come from spin offs or meeting off camera the Bachelor franchise (here after, The Bachelor) does do a good job of producing D-list celebrities, inspiring other reality dating shows, and creating some of the "most dramatic [content] yet" (if you know, you know).1

This cluster examines how The Bachelor refracts and distorts supposed facts of life coupling and sex and the cultural forms they create and are created by, namely romance and courtship. When the show premiered on March 25, 2002, politicians and sociologists debated the virtues of marriage amidst (misleading) statistics suggesting its decline. Marriage, the cloyingly reactionary arguments went, benefitted the couple, but perhaps more importantly, the "well-being" of children born to heterosexual two-parent families. In the same year, the Bush Administration codified this ideology into law with the Healthy Marriage Initiative, allocating $1.5 billion in funding for federal "marriage promotion" programs, which had no demonstrated poverty reduction benefits amidst continued cuts to the welfare state.2 The institution of marriage and its attainment were posed as necessary salves to the conditions of precarity created by late capitalism.

It's obvious enough to argue that The Bachelor is the cultural equivalent of these marriage promotion programs. Ironically enough, monogamous marriage is, of course, the organizing principle of the enterprise, a feature which yokes it to mores of gender, sexuality, race, and class and conventions of their representation. However, there's also always been a weird amoral energy that's coursed under the franchise's shiny exterior. No normal courtship, the multiplayer competition format is less a shrine to monogamy than the seedy underbelly of dating and the potential of romance and sex with multiple partners that underpins it: one man (and eventually, woman) dates multiple people, only settling down with one at the eleventh hour.

This format lends the show a strange socio-historical resonance. On the one hand, it hearkens back to formal courtship rituals, in which marriage came before having a personal relationship, much less intimacy, sex, or cohabitation. In others, it anticipated the dating app landscape of today, where many actors from the field are always in play. That's to say nothing of the conspicuous wink and nod of the Fantasy Suite episodes, which retained their emphasis on decidedly premarital sex even in seasons saturated with Evangelical Christians pledging abstinence and being celebrated for it. In fact, one season's whole guiding premise was around the (surprising, but commendable, as viewers are so guided to think) virginity of Colton Underwood the first virgin Bachelor, and also, as we later learn, the first gay Bachelor.

This tension that underwrites the show is its appeal, both for the "sincere" viewers, those who believe in the show's proposed mission, and for its guilty pleasure set: those, like many of us in this cluster, who relish the show's escapist qualities while cringing at the staid representations of heteropatriarchal love. Although the promise of watching people behave badly underwrites much reality television, The Bachelor occupies a notable position in this landscape. Competition goads contestants into fighting, lying, bullying, manipulating one another, throwing temper tantrums. As the show has progressed, the promise of fame means that some contestants commit the ultimate sin of "being here for the wrong reasons," or, going on the show not to find love, but to grow a social media following. The phrase is incisive in capturing the problem that's underwritten the enterprise all along: a commercial reality television competition is an impossible vehicle for representing human connection; a commercial reality television competition is simultaneously the most appropriate vehicle for reflecting the difficulties of human connection in these times a reality that has only shifted more in the "post-" COVID-19 era.

For the critically inclined viewer, the "guilt" in the guilty pleasure of watching this paradox is not only a product of inanity, but also of the show's supposition that the right reasons are romantic love and marriage. The pleasure derives, in part, from the show's reliance on the familiar generic patterns that it relies on, both those that hearken back to the marriage plot and those that are of its own making, signified by a shorthand vocabulary: cocktail parties, journeys, falling in love, frontrunners, "watch backs," all of which are part of a process that should above all, be trusted ("trust the process" is perhaps, the most repeated phrase). These conventions build over seasons and across the show’s spin offs, recaps, and social media spheres. Once again, it's easy to compare the show's repetitions to the compulsory monogamous repetition that is heterosexuality, a reading that's true enough. However, the show has historically rewarded longtime viewers with the thrill of departure from convention and new combinations and permutations of its many sui generis tropes.

And while The Bachelor can also easily be read as a tribute to the isolating virtues of heterosexual monogamy one man, one woman, together forever it's also a relentlessly social enterprise. There's of course, the social media fan universe that has come to define the franchise, a subject that several contributors to this cluster address. This online fandom has its roots in the social experience of watching the show, beginning with phone calls after the show, which later evolved into watch parties, group texts and live tweeting, all of which the members of this cluster have been part of, in some cases with each other.

That brings us to this issue. After nearly twenty years of hopeless devotion to the franchise, a devotion around which we thought this introduction would center, we, the authors, have fallen out of love. The Bachelorverse is in some ways so different from what it was twenty years ago: despite the chaos that the show aims to foment to inflate ratings, it somehow seems even more staid and overly orchestrated. The aggressively commercial, annoyingly entrepreneurial spirit of the franchise and its contestants means that spon-con once a source of funny jokes about Sugarbear hair vitamins now rules the day. There is no alternative to Flat Tummy Tea.

The Bachelor has also failed to grow with us as a culture. Its meager attempts to adapt to times of increasingly diverse representation and anti-racist commitments can no longer be ignored. After the uprisings around the murder of George Floyd, fans and show favorites alike began to hold the franchise accountable, work that some such as Rachel Lindsay, the first Black bachelorette, had already been doing. The increase in support put additional pressure on the franchise. The Instagram-run Bachelor Diversity Campaign (@bachdiversity) garnered more than 160,000 signatures, shining light on the show's past: "40 seasons, 18 years, 1 Black lead." The Bachelor Data Analyst (@bachelordata) account was created by a fan and includes infographics that track the show's progress toward its promises around diversity.

While The Bachelor did concede and supplied Matt James as the first Black Bachelor, the effort was a merely gilded attempt. Fans, while pleased, were confused as to why the franchise broke its own rule and selected a Bachelor from outside of the Bachelorverse. Despite the ample choices of Black men who had formerly appeared on seasons of the show the show's typical casting protocol they went outside of Bachelor Nation and found a lead who suited their vision: a Black man who also happened to cohere to traditional, American values, or, put differently, a registered Republican voter who ultimately forgives the racist past of the woman he picks.3 Regardless of Matt's personal choices, the show, despite choosing him, also thoroughly failed him. While The Bachelor Diversity campaign called for increased representation, it also detailed 12 additional demands, including vetting potential contestants for hate speech on their public social media presences, giving BIPOC contestants more equitable screen time, and providing mental health resources.4 The franchise instead staged and televised forced, reconciliatory moments between Matt and both his estranged father and his still-girlfriend, Rachael Kirkconnell. Several pieces in this cluster go deeper into failures such as these that have only continued to persist in the face of calls for accountability.

These choices illustrate The Bachelor's stagnation. But this has not gone unnoticed: more and more former stars are leaving Bachelor Nation, and Vanity Fair has declared the franchise "officially on life support"5 as viewership steadily declines down to 2.9 million viewers as compared to the 25.9 million it had when it first aired.6 Thus, it's worth tracking the cultural impact of this show, how it no longer acts as a microcosm of mainstream American values, and most importantly, why it's quickly losing its relevance. 

The Bachelor's decline can also be contextualized in the conditions of its production, as streaming services have propagated a new spate of streaming platform reality romance shows. Shows like Netflix's Too Hot to Handle operate on different premises altogether that reflect the fact that due to changing social mores and economic conditions, "the one" is (and perhaps, always has been) a fantasy. HBO's FBoy Island, created by former Bachelor producer Elon Gale, centers on the premise of being "here for the right reasons," asking its leading ladies to distinguish between the "f-boys" and the "nice guys," challenging women to choose a nice guy, reform an f-boy, or as Tamaris Sepulveda did on season 2 of the show choose themselves. These shows recognize the transactional nature of what was "romance" and, in a refreshingly self-aware fashion, challenge the immediate necessity of marriage and push contestants and viewers to look beyond cheap thrills and gilded exteriors. These spin-offs both reinforce and destabilize the concept of "the one" on which The Bachelor so heavily relies.

This cluster asks what, after twenty plus years, in the wake of its decline, we can make of The Bachelor franchise and the fan cultures around it today. We begin by highlighting several issues of representation. Moving beyond the ways the show tends to glorify white, young, able-bodied Americans, cluster authors analyze how the franchise has come to grasp toward a more diverse vision for itself, however inadequately it does so. Layla Colón Vale highlights the ways that the Bachelor franchise's treatment of disability mirrors that of our culture at large, inconsistently oscillating between moments of empowerment and support and reproducing reductive stereotypes. Anne Y. Van analyzes the way the Bachelor franchise responded during the racial uprisings of 2020 and critiques its promises of diversifying representation and making the show otherwise more inclusive and supportive of Bachelor Nation's BIPOC members. She finds that the franchise has immediately failed to uphold its promises and now merely uses categories such as race for representation without substantive accountability. 

This cluster also delves into the structural mechanics of the show and how it orders conventions of gender and sexuality. Lauren Nelson and Emma Train present the way The Bachelor's formula was sloppily rainbow washed to bring it up to speed with queer representation. Sometimes referred to as a feminized fantasy football, the Bachelorverse has rules.7 The Bachelor, un/surprisingly similarly to Jane Austen, instructs its audience on how to consume its plot. Emily Bacal draws generic comparisons between The Bachelor and the novel of manners, underlining the similar rules of engagement that are present in the franchise and Austen's novels.

Somehow, The Bachelor has even commented on some of the more mundane and quotidian elements of dating life: family and food. Lisa Beckelhimer considers how The Bachelor's formula selectively involves parental engagement and examines how what we see of parenting styles influence the show’s contestants. Madeline Shuron tackles food and consumption within the world of The Bachelor, delineating the ways that food is presented on the show and how its presentation underscores commentary about capitalist consumption. She shows how rather than physically eating food, the contestants themselves are the ones that are consumed.

Leveraging a Marxist critique of the ways capitalist values are reinforced on the show, this cluster touches on the ways labor is represented and functions for those within and beyond Bachelor Nation. Robin Hershkowitz and Emily Edwards chart the ways labor has evolved in American culture and how that evolution has been portrayed on The Bachelor. They reveal the ways that being on The Bachelor has become a career in and of itself, providing contestants a brand new identity within Bachelor Nation. Megan Cole explores Bachelor alum's careers after the show to illustrate how productivity culture allows them to stay relevant to their working-class fans a notable feat for a show that decidedly lacks class consciousness.

After more than twenty years on air, The Bachelor has had plenty of time to respond to critiques and correct itself, but perhaps the very premises upon which the show rests are no longer compatible with the American public. How many fans are still willing to do the work of holding the franchise accountable compared to how many are simply ready to move on? With the volume of other romance reality television that has been produced since The Bachelor first emerged, there is plenty to choose from that both fits the bill of providing more meaningful representation and commitments to diversity while still delivering the "trash" we so guiltily enjoy. Many of us have spent the last twenty years rooting for one contestant over another and reading the dirt on Instagram and subreddits, and we are well-versed in the things that make a good partner. Perhaps it is The Bachelor itself who was never there for the right reasons all along.

Annie Bares (@Abares981) is an independent scholar in Brooklyn, New York. She holds a PhD in English Literature from the University of Texas at Austin. Her research focuses on the relationship between contemporary culture and charity, philanthropy, and nonprofits. Her favorite members of Bachelor Nation are Tayshia Adams and Catherine Guicidi.

Rhya Marlene Moffitt (@rhyamoffitt , is a PhD student in the Black Studies cohort in the Department of English at the University of Chicago. Her research centers around Blackness, affect, and mental un/wellness. Her favorite members of Bachelor Nation are Natasha Parker and Peter Kraus.


  1. Michelle Regalado, "25 'Bachelor' and 'Bachelorette' Couples Who are Still Together," Cosmopolitan, June 30, 2023, This number is constantly in flux, and the number mentioned in the article is even fewer than originally planned in the article title.[]
  2. The Nation staff, "Marrying Absurd: The Bush Administration's attempts to encourage marriage." March 6, 2017, The Nation,[]
  3. Devon Ivie, "Is Matt James a Secret Republican?" Vulture, Jan 5, 2021,[]
  4. "A Campaign for Anti-Racism in the Bachelor Franchise,", June 8, 2020,[]
  5. Walsh, Savannah Walsh, "The Bachelor is Officially on Life Support," January 24, 2023, Vanity Fair,[]
  6. Jamie Burton, "'The Bachelor' Franchise's Painful Decline," July 4, 2023, Newsweek,[]
  7. Jay Willis, "This Bachelor Fantasy League Is Here to Make You Forget All About Your Awful Fantasy Football Team," December 19, 2016, GQ,[]

Past clusters