Bachelor’s shameless manipulation of reality reaches a new low

ABC’s The Bachelor reached a new low last night with an episode that included multiple moments where producers’ manipulation was clear and shameless. The show is overproduced to within an inch of its life, and we wonder why it’s a colossal failure in terms of romance.

I have no problem with artificial contexts–they’re the central part of many great reality shows, such as Survivor–and this show has always had a fantasy element about it, with expensive dates and stunning backdrops. Okay, that’s fine. And there’s minor manipulation that I’m not that bothered by, like producers allowing/encouraging others to, say, interrupt dates or pull Brad away. Add in some crazy, like Michelle and her super-creepy and terrifying face-touching and kissing, and you have a decent show.

But what The Bachelor‘s producers did last night, and what they’ve been increasingly doing, was like wrapping up some dead kittens and putting them under a Christmas tree and pretending to be amazed when the kid who opened the package cried and screamed. Worse, they throw in someone else to actually take the blame and deal with the situation–the parents in this disturbing metaphor, or Brad on the show.

First, the women learned that Brad was going to take a group of women on a group date, but leave Ashley H. and Ashley S. behind: two women who’d become friends and thus knew that one of them would go home. I’m sure Brad told producers he was uninterested in Ashley S., and the producers decided it’d make great TV to add the other Ashely so they could cry about having to be split up. The outcome may have been genuine, but the whole thing was unnecessary. “Unfortunately, we can’t continue with both of you here,” Brad said, when instead he should have said, “unfortunately, the producers are making me lie about this false dichotomy.”

However, the worst, most horribly manipulated situation was the racetrack date with Emily, which was teased last week and so awful hatchet man Chris Harrison was sent out to defend it in the most awful way possible. (I’m not even sure he realizes how awful he is, because he said “we have to force the issue” as if he really does think it’s the show’s job to play psychologist. Today, he even calls the date “one of the most heartfelt, beautiful moments we’ve ever had.” You need to reexamine what those words actually mean, Chris.)

During the group date, Brad told us, “I’m realizing something’s really wrong with Emily.” Yes, her dead fiance was a NASCAR driver, and here you are asking her to drive around a racetrack and have fun with some guy she’s dating with alongside a bunch of other women. Of course, the unspoken part–which I have to imagine/hope is obvious to everyone except the most casual, non-analytical viewers–was that the show’s producers knew this all along, but not only didn’t prevent it, they set it up.

Later, the girls sat around and were catty because they, too, had no idea what was going on. You can just see producers grinning: Look what we did! This is great TV! As if the producers’ set-up of this whole situation wasn’t bad enough, let’s not forget the product placement NASCAR Racing Experience that was present the whole time. And editing Emily’s experience driving around a racetrack with uplifting music doesn’t change the fact that the people who set this up are, you know, fucking dickheads.

It was clear Brad was pissed off at the producers when he talked to Emily and she finally revealed what had happened. “I just honestly had no idea, I mean, honestly,” he said, although he preceded it by saying, “I feel like a jerk, is what I’m thinking.” Nice guy to blame himself for something Mike Fleiss and company set him up for.

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.