A decade after Steve Carbone began writing recaps of The Bachelor, and five years since he began spoiling it, the show now fuels his life. The six-figure income he makes from the site means he doesn’t have another job: his job is spoiling The Bachelor. As a result, he mostly dates women he’s met through his site and understand the amount of time and energy he devotes to a show he doesn’t really like.
Yes, Steve Carbone told me that he would rather watch other television shows, reality or scripted, and would skip The Bachelor entirely if it was not his job. But his name and site has become virtually synonymous with the ABC reality series and its spin-off, The Bachelorette.
Steve is now so well-known that The New York Times just profiled him, and when The New York Times gets around to covering something in popular culture, it is definitively a thing. (When I interviewed Steve early last week, I didn’t know about the NYT story, and so when I saw it on Dec. 31, the deflation I felt may mirror the feeling Steve’s site creates in those who try to keep The Bachelor’s secrets. Many of the details that had come up in our conversation were in Jon Caramanica’s story, but at least there was some fun irony in having my story about The Bachelor’s spoiler spoiled.)
Steve Carbone’s journey to becoming Reality Steve, king of Bachelor spoilers, began unexpectedly: when someone contacted him six years ago with information about the The Bachelor 13’s outcome.
The early days of Reality Steve
Since 2003, Steve has recapped 29 of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette‘s collective 31 seasons. Those early recaps and posts were funny and biting, and, he says, sometimes were “frankly, bullying. I think I’ve mellowed. I think I was way worse in the beginning.”
It was in 2009 when he broke through and became more than a recapper.
A message he received revealed a “shocking” finale for Jason Mesnick’s season. Steve published its claims, teasing them in a way so familiar to the show that it seemed possible that he was just part of the show’s promotional machine. But his source was absolutely right.
“I didn’t really even believe it, because it was pretty crazy,” Steve said. “Nobody had any reason to believe that. I had to wait just like everybody else for the finale to be vindicated.”
Why publish it, then? “It was too detailed. This person knew way too much for them to make that up to come to me randomly and say, ‘Hey, here’s what happened.'”
That earned credibility established him as the go-to person for Bachelor spoilers, for which there is basically no competition. And his approach toward the spoilers that he receives has remained pretty much the same.
How Reality Steve spoils The Bachelor
Reality Steve is more of a filter than a reporter, analyzing the information that comes to him and contextualizing the information distributed across the Internet.
“I’m only as good as what I’m told,” Steve told me. “I do have confidence in a lot of sources.”
He doesn’t do original reporting: “I’ve never called a hotel in my life for this show. I’ve never had to; I probably never will.” Instead, he mostly passively receives spoilers—about 95 percent, he estimated, just come to him.
The spoilers he receives may identify contestants, locations, or elimination order, but sometimes he just puts the puzzle pieces together. He’ll uncover a spoiler because, “by process of elimination, I’m able to figure stuff out.” A big assist comes from Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. “Social media has been huge because there are so many more dates that are spoiled publicly,” he said, which means it’s clear who’s made it to a certain stage in the competition and who’s been sent home.
Steve has been wrong before, but told me, “95 percent of the stuff I get is legit. … I think people, for the most part, want to help.” He added, “the bottom line is, I don’t think a lot of people are out to give me misinformation.”
“Obviously, since the site has gotten bigger, and the accuracy has gotten better, yeah, I want to get it right,” he said. He verifies tips by “determining, do I really need to follow up with this?” He’ll ask the source questions (“maybe you don’t want to give up your source, but I need to know how you know this”) and “be very meticulous” about checking it against what he has heard from others. He’ll look at “a number of factors—the way they present their email, the detail of what they told me.”
Information that aligns or makes sense to him goes up on the site, where it’s devoured by his regular audience and those searching for spoilers.
Reality Steve gets sued, twice
There is a notable exception to Steve’s laissez faire approach, and it resulted in two lawsuits from ABC and the show’s producers.
He was sued, they settled, and then he was sued again for violating a settlement, which was also settled. Steve says “I never owed anything” except his legal fees, which were significant because the two cases collectively consumed 10 months.
Instead of just receiving spoiler tips, he decided to be proactive, reaching out to contestants. One message he sent offered “$2500 to help me out. Not joking.” In another, he wrote, in part, “I know you’re scared and a little paranoid by it, but don’t be. Unless they are hacking your email or tapping your phone, there’s absolutely no way for them to find out.”
The Bachelor did find out, and sued him, asking for damages of at least $75,000.
“My opinion was they were just looking to see if they could put me out of business,” Steve told me. “I think it was more or less the big guy going after the little guy. They’re a major corporation, they’re a network; I’m a one-man operation, or two if you count my webmaster. They finally had some evidence—which was just dumb on my part.”
He said then and now that he did not get any information from the contestants he contacted and offered money for information. Steve told me, “I didn’t do anything wrong, but I shouldn’t have done what I did.”
Making a living off a show he wouldn’t watch
The lawsuit didn’t put him out of business—and RealitySteve.com is, actually, a business.
In August of 2011, he partnered with YEA Networks, a company formed by the late Kidd Kraddick, which now owns 10 percent of RealitySteve.com. Prior to that, from 2003 to 2010, he said, “I wasn’t making a cent.”
The site is now his full-time job.
Many readers are new to the site, which is why he repeats a lot of information or refers to his previous spoilers. “It’s not back-patting,” Steve told me. His spoilers and recaps can spawn many online pages—broken up to increase ad impressions—and Steve admitted, “I kind of write how I talk,” and “I don’t know if I’d ever be able to work for an editor. I’m my own boss.”
His work on the site is just that: “I just look at it as a job now.” Still, I was a little surprised when Steve told me, “Survivor: that’s my favorite show.”
He watches The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, of course, but he told me, “If it wasn’t my job and I wasn’t making money off it, I would not watch the show, no. There are too many other good television shows, reality and scripted.”
But he does derive pleasure from The Bachelor: “I like making fun of the show; I don’t necessarily like the show itself. It’s not realistic to expect someone to get engaged,” especially with the way things are “being manipulated behind the scenes. … It’s just complete silliness to me,” Steve said.
Yet he did have some praise for the franchise: “they’ve just done it a lot better than anyone else has that have tried to copy them,” he said. “It’s become part of the American fabric. I think people have taken to it because it’s relatable. It’s just regular people dating.”
That appeal and relatability, he thinks, is also because “we’ve all dated,” he said. “You’re tapping into people’s heartstrings.” In addition, there’s something for everyone: “Even the most hated girls and guys on this show still have their fanbase.”
So, of course, does Steve Carbone. Whether they love and loathe the show, they turn to him to see what’s going to happen, changing their viewing experience from passive to active.
“There’s no other sites out there that do this. For whatever reason it’s kind of fallen on my shoulders,” he said. “I’m going to ride this wave as long as this show’s on the air and just have fun with it.”