On Monday night’s “Women Tell All” episode of ‘The Bachelor,’ season 20 villain Olivia Caridi claimed she was “prioritizing my relationship and trying to stay afloat by doing what I feel comfortable doing, which is kind of being on my own.” Or, to put it in reality TV lingo, she was not there to make friends.
That infamous refrain is uttered at least once a season and is “Bachelor” viewers’s go-to catchphrase. But between all the drama and catfights that get screen time, it can escape our attention that many of the competitors do, in fact, become friends.
If you look at former contestants’ social media accounts, you’ll see Instagram photos of them out on the town together and tweets announcing how excited they are to meet up. Two “Bachelor” and “Bachelor in Paradise” veterans, Carly Waddell and Jade Tolbert, even made “friendship goals” T-shirts together.
So, which are the real “Bachelor” women: the ones bad-mouthing one another to the man they’re competing over and making catty remarks to undercut his front-runners? Or the ones hugging on reunion shows and exchanging Twitter shout outs?
Clare Crawley, season 18’s runner-up, was depicted as a participant in several catfights on both “The Bachelor” and “Bachelor in Paradise,” the spinoff show she appeared on afterward. But in the hairdresser’s memories of her time on TV, her connections with the other women far outweighed any drama.
“There’s so much that appears to be conflict, and it comes out as that, but you’ve got to realize that you’re away from your family, you’re away from your friends, [and] you’re away from your comfort zone, so when you’re tired or when you’re struggling, it can manifest in real ways,” she explained over the phone. “In real life, it wouldn’t be a big deal, but it seems like this huge conflict.”
Crawley was also the subject of a rare moment when “The Bachelor” highlighted the women’s solidarity. On that season’s “Women Tell All” reunion show, the contestants discussed a scene when Juan Pablo Galavis guilted Crawley for sneaking out with him for a late-night swim. Crawley’s former competitors defended her, saying the Galavis should have taken the blame. The show played up the women’s jealousy toward Crawley throughout the season, but she wasn’t surprised that they came to her defense. “Any woman’s going to get defensive of their friend being portrayed a certain way,” she said.
Now, she and her former competitor Renée Maynard consider themselves sisters. Maynard also mentioned Crawley right away when asked about the friendships she formed on “The Bachelor,” saying she didn’t even mind being her confidant. “When Clare would talk to me about Juan Pablo, I knew she needed that girl talk, and I was flattered that she felt comfortable talking to me,” she said. “You absolutely need those girl talks.”
Not a single one of the women interviewed for this article said she felt jealous of other contestants. “Some weird, messed-up thing happens where you love the other person and you know you’re dating the same person as well,” said season 15 contestant Ashley Spivey. “For that reason, that doesn’t come into your head as a malicious or mean thing. It does make you upset, but for some reason, it doesn’t make you upset at the other girl. If anything, it makes you upset with the guy.”
“You just have to compartmentalize the process and not let emotions affect the friendships you’re building,” said Desiree Siegfried, who was season 17’s third runner-up and went on to become the Bachelorette. “There’s just a weird bond that doesn’t really affect the friendships. It actually just makes them stronger.”
Some contestants had no trouble compartmentalizing — because they weren’t that into the Bachelor. “Literally, I don’t even remember any conversations I had with the guy,” season 18’s Cassandra Ferguson said of Galavis. “It was a small fraction of time with him. It was like he didn’t even exist.”
On TV, Spivey appeared head-over-heels for Bachelor Brad Womack and devastated when she was forced on a two-on-one date with Ashley Hebert and then sent home. In reality, she said, she was concerned that Hebert, who had stronger feelings for Womack, would get kicked off. She even almost left earlier in the episode on her own accord to make sure Hebert made it through, but the producers told her she always put others before herself and needed to put herself first “in order to move forward in life.”
“When Brad eliminated me on the two-on-one,” Spivey said, “he actually told me … he didn’t feel like I was as emotionally invested in him as I was the other girls. And I think in a way that was true. I spent more time with my friends on the show than I did him. We barely talked.”
The women often come off more invested in the Bachelor than they are, Spivey explained, due to clever editing. The producers will ask contestants to discuss “how you feel about love,” she said, “and it ends up looking like you’re talking about the person, even if you’re just talking about former relationships or something.”
Spivey wasn’t the only one to mourn separation from a “Bachelor” friend. When Lesley Murphy was kicked off Sean Lowe’s season, his now-wife Catherine Giudici cried. “That was one of the first times they’d really shown friendship on a show,” said Murphy. “I see ‘The Bachelor’ portraying more friendship on the men’s side and more camaraderie than on the women’s side.”
“If they show that the girls are really good friends, then you wouldn’t want them to end up being the winner,” Spivey pointed out. “Sometimes, I wish they did show more of that. A lot of the focus gets on ‘who’s the villain?’ — which I think portrays women in a really negative way.”
The image of women that emerges from their “Bachelor” and post-“Bachelor” friendships is a very different one, though. These relationships prove that even when women are pitted against one another and made to threaten one another’s romances, they can still not only retain civility but also form some of the strongest bonds.