That question fills the Internet with theories and think pieces — inspiring guilt-ridden blog posts with titles like “ ‘The Bachelor’: Why Smart Women Watch (and Love) It” — and there’s no shortage of answers. The show, in which an impossibly beautiful person is presented with a couple dozen equally beautiful people from which to choose his or her soul mate, provides escapism. It can be train-wreck TV at its finest. Viewers want to distract themselves from everyday life. Women want to see a fairy-tale romance. Watching crazy contestants makes viewers feel better about themselves.
Whatever the reasons, people are still fixated on the show, which generally resembles a dysfunctional romantic comedy come to life. Though the ratings have dropped over time, the latest iteration — this past summer’s “Bachelorette” — averaged about 8 million viewers per episode, and it exploded across tabloid magazine covers and social media when star Emily Maynard (appearing on the series for the second time) broke up with her fiance, season winner Jef Holm.
Seriously, what about the fact that only three couples have found enduring relationships on a show that promotes everlasting love as its goal?
“I think that’s one heck of a batting average,” said Mike Fleiss, the show’s creator and executive producer, in a phone interview. Fleiss, the man responsible for such specials as “Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?” and “Are You Hot? The Search for America’s Sexiest People,” doesn’t pretend that he knew the show would be a long-lasting success.
Back in the first season, he said, no one had high hopes. There was trouble with casting because people were uncomfortable with the idea of being on camera while dating. One day, a member of Fleiss’s staff arrived at work, ecstatic because her psychic had told her that the show would last four seasons. Fleiss thought four might be a stretch.
“Saying this exceeded our expectations,” he said, “is an understatement.”
Fleiss has his own theories about why the series has succeeded where others have failed. Not only are the stakes high when people are at their most vulnerable and emotional, he says, but viewers find it comforting that “The Bachelor” proves it doesn’t matter how attractive or tan or rich you are — everyone needs help finding love. Plus, the central theme — the quest for a soul mate — simply never gets old.