The Bachelor’s Brad exposes real reality love

Last Monday, the 11th installment of ABC’s The Bachelor came to an unexpected and riveting conclusion: After whittling the field from 25 nubile women to his final two, Brad Womack — the rugged Texan bar-owner and self-made millionaire — dumped them both. In his break with tradition, the Southern beau laid bare the folly of this preposterous program.

The following day, ABC aired “The Bachelor: After the Final Rose,” wherein the snubbed ladies returned to face the man who sent them home. Though such piggyback specials are typical — a way to squeeze another night’s ratings out of the finale — this one was unusually awkward. Judging by the booing, grimacing and head-shaking in the studio audience, Brad’s choice was unpopular indeed.

It’s easy to see why viewers feel violated: Brad broke the rules. At its core, The Bachelor is implicitly a contract. We the public anoint one man, and give him a stable of beauties from which to select his mate. In return, we demand to be entertained: he shall slowly pare the field down to one, and there shall be True Love. Nothing shall interfere with this hallowed process, and in no event shall he be so ungrateful and so arrogant as to look beyond his women.

In other words, rejecting 24 ladies means love; rejecting 25 is a drink in the face of a benevolent public and an affront to romance in general.

For a series that matches dozens of beautiful, pre-screened women with one successful and ostensibly desirable man, the show has a remarkably poor track record in fostering real relationships. Of the 10 previous Bachelor installments, all but two unions have ended in breakup and only one has yielded a lasting engagement. The franchise’s lone and oft-touted success, the televised marriage of Trista and Ryan Sutter, is in fact drawn from the companion series The Bachelorette, which turns the tables and puts a single woman among two dozen men.

It’s no wonder the show rarely succeeds. It is unlikely that any one group of 25 women — even when screened for age, looks and relationship status — will include a given man’s future wife. People are too picky; marriage sets the bar too high. Even if by a fluke a good match is formed, the swift early eliminations — 10 girls are sent home on the first night alone — make short work of the pack. Very early on, the bachelor is forced to choose one of only a handful of women, with no credible guarantee that any were right for him in the first place.

This is not to say it’s impossible to find one perfect match in 25. But we should not expect to see this outcome with any substantial frequency. The problems don’t end there: if two people on the show truly are destined to marry, they might gravitate to one another very quickly — effectively excluding others from the game. Since this would make for boring television, the bachelor is compelled to avoid playing favorites and to date several girls at once — a dilution that, if he were truly smitten by one, might well prove repugnant.

In the end, the series is a corruption of the dating process: a saccharine but soulless love virus that hijacks the hearts of a few dozen people, jerks them around for six weeks and spits them out, single and abused.

One might expect a show so hopeless to flounder, but somehow it’s stayed afloat. Viewers rush to the trough year after year to watch artificial romance unfold on screen, choosing to ignore the obvious truth that any relationships thusly born are ersatz facades doomed utterly to failure.

This makes The Bachelor a strange hybrid: “Eternal Sunshine” meets “Mulholland Drive.” We know the relationships will fail. No matter: we want to be deceived.

Brad Womack refused to play out our fantasy. He stole our happy ending.

In reality, Brad just remembered what The Bachelor asks us to forget: that love is irrational, bilateral and can’t be forced. That the show’s history of happy endings is a charade. And that six weeks in a rented mansion dating several women at once is not a good foundation for a relationship. Brad showed America the rats in the kitchen, and with any luck they’ll be tough to forget this time.

Of course, the franchise will recover — presumably returning with a new, ironclad contract to ensure one woman is chosen in the end. With this loophole closed, viewers will again be treated to escapist fantasies and insulated from the unpleasant truth about televised romance.

But for now, we can enjoy Brad Womack’s legacy. This scruffy rake didn’t just reject two pretty girls on national television: he derailed the network’s ham-fisted attempts to cram courtship into a prime-time format. He laid bare the perverse truth behind the rose ceremonies, the soft-filter camera work, the ever-cheery bachelorettes and the hammy host. For a few short moments, he stripped the whitewash from reality TV.

Michael Seringhaus is a first year student at Yale Law School. His column appears on alternate Wednesdays.


  • Anonymous

    excellent piece…. first thing written that has been authentically true. thank you.

  • Anonymous

    Why would anyone waste their time watching any of these so called "reality" series? It's just more opiates for the masses. Personally, I'm holding out for armed galaditorial combat of matched pairs to the death. Now that's entertainment!

  • Anonymous

    I love the fact that the Yale Daily News ran an analysis of why "The Bachelor" is not an effective vehicle for creating lasting, stable marriages -- with a straight face, no less.

    Good work, YDN. Insightful journalism at its finest.

    "The Bachelor" is a tongue-in-cheek joke. Everybody seems to know that already, with the exception of the bright kids in New Haven.

  • Anonymous

    Brilliant comments, and writing.

  • Anonymous

    I can't believe the amount of fuss this has caused.

  • Anonymous

    the reason people were upset were because of the circumstances surrounding Brad's rejection of the final girl, not because he rejected her. He made a decision between proposal and rejection, not between proposal and dating, or dating and rejection. He told her to look forward to the day, flew her father out, and picked out a ring, and just chickened out in the end, deciding he didn't even want to date her at the last second. I don't think anyone expects marriage to last from the show, but a significant relationship is certainly likely.

  • Anonymous

    Brad Womack doesn't know if he is coming or going. He is running out of excuses, so why won't he tell America that he was seeing his EX while doing the show. He is on Ellen tomorrow I can't wait to see what he says then.

  • Anonymous

    Excellent writing. I couldn't agree more.

  • Anonymous

    Michael, as Billy Bob Thornton said in Sling Blad, "I like the way you talk"! Wonderful article, you truly expressed the absurd nature of this show.

    Personally, I found this season most addicting, mainly because of the people. That is the one element of this program that I find endlessly fascinating -- people's personalities and the chemistry between them.

    Keep on writing Michael, I look forward to it.

  • Anonymous

    Excellent article. Thank you for your insightful and thought-provoking journalism. I personally feel that Brad did, indeed, take the high road. Some question why he didn't even try to continue dating one of the girls. To them I would say this: why should he lead someone on (even further than the producers demand) when he doesn't believe there is any hope for a lasting relationship? Why go through the stress of long-distance dating, or moving one of the girls to TX? I don't know if he's seeing an old girlfriend, or not. It is none of my business. But he did the right thing in letting Deanna and Jenni go, with kind words and good wishes for their futures. Good wishes to Brad.

  • Anonymous

    I enjoy this show very much even if there is not a proposal at the end. Its a clean show and nothing dirty about it. Can't wait for the next season.

  • Anonymous

    Bravo! The first commentary that I've seen that makes sense AND is fun to read. Should you decide not to pursue law…perhaps a career as columnist? A+ well done!

  • Anonymous

    I think the show also exposed our society's unrealistic expectations about love and relationships - the black/white either/or kind of thinking that sets one up for disappointment and disillusionment. Let's face it. A lot of us have unrealistic expectations about falling in love and being in love - "butterflies" in the stomach, undying, intense passion, "only one soulmamte for me," etc. and so on. When the butterflies go away and passion fades, we mistakenly think love is gone and it's time for a new partner -- this person can't possibly be our soulmate because we've lost those feelings! We forget that butterflies and intense passion can fade in order to make way for true companionship, bonding, and deep love -- the kind that has us there for each other through crises, losses, and the not-so-happy times. We also need to remember that love is a VERB, not just a feeling. Think about it.

  • Anonymous

    I can not, for the life of me, figure out why any of this matters at all or why a YLS student would dedicate more than a few minutes of his/her time writing an opinion on such an absurd, meaningless, and unimportant topic. I won't ask you if there is something better you could have used your obvious talent in analysis, research and writing on because we all KNOW that there is. It is very telling that our society thinks it's interesting to spend more than a moment discussing such trivia.

  • Anonymous

    I love the show and can't wait for the next bachelor. At least it a clean show.