“The Bachelor” is back for its 19th season Monday night — no, indeed, this show never will die — and on the surface, everything looks the same. There’s a single stud looking for love. There are more than two dozen women vying for his affection. Host Chris Harrison will be his usual smug self as he warns eight of the ladies that they will be going home, without a love-token rose, at the end of the first night.
But regular viewers know that over the past two seasons, the game has changed. After most recent seasons of “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette,” we finally got a startling, inside glimpse at the behind-the-scenes mechanisms that keep the dating series one of the most enduring reality franchises in history. And as you might imagine, it wasn’t always pretty. Is it still possible to enjoy the show when you realize how sordid it truly is?
Basically, it depends on how much patience you have for cads and how much tolerance you have for brazen exploitation of personal tragedy. The first situation involved the unfortunate pick of the all-time most obnoxious “Bachelor,” athlete Juan Pablo Galavis, for the spring 2014 edition. Galavis alienated almost everyone — including, reportedly, the show’s producers — and two women walked off the show.
The disastrous season culminated in a riveting-but-horrifying season finale where for the first time, we saw what happened when a star of the show refused to play along with producer’s games. Not only did Juan Pablo decline to propose to the winner, Nikki Ferrell, (even though a Neil Lane diamond is always part of the package deal), he didn’t want to spill any details about their relationship in the finale. The latter, as we learned, is non-negotiable. Poor Nikki was forced to sit through Harrison’s testy interrogation of an uncooperative Juan Pablo (were they still dating or not?; why didn’t he tell her he loved her?), and everyone ended up looking terrible. It exposed a fascinating — not to mention uncomfortable — reminder of just how manufactured the series really is.
The last “Bachelorette,” starring attorney Andi Dorfmann in summer 2014, was far more troubling. Contestant Eric Hill died in an accident several weeks after he was eliminated from the show, but before it actually aired on TV. Producers addressed the news on the premiere, but then for some reason, decided mid-way through the season to air an excruciating scene where Harrison breaks the devastating news to Andi and the remaining guys.
It was hard to look away, which is obviously the goal for reality TV producers, but it was unnecessary and downright unseemly. It demonstrated that “The Bachelor” franchise will capitalize on anything for ratings, even death.
This season, ABC is all about marketing star Chris Soules and his “nice guy” personality. He came across as a genuinely good person during Andi’s season. (She rejected him because she didn’t want to move to his Iowa farm, a non-negotiable point for him.) But remember that this is “The Bachelor,” and the path from “guilty pleasure” to “disturbingly twisted” can be pretty short.