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The Golden Bachelor already made the case for aging up reality TV

The Golden Bachelor already made the case for aging up reality TV
Golden Bachelor Gerry and Natascha laugh together on the first night (Photo by Craig Sjodin/ABC)

ABC’s took its longest-running reality TV franchise into a new chapter with The Golden Bachelor, opening with a scene of its star, Gerry (pronounced “Gary”) Turner, age 71, getting dressed, and reaching for his hearing aid.

The camera zoomed in on the device, and then on his ear as he slid it on. You see, he’s very old.

“I’m 71, and I’m your first Golden Bachelor,” Gerry said.

I’m surprised they didn’t next show him sliding on his Oops I Crapped My Pants before riding a Hoveround up the soaking wet driveway at The Bachelor mansion.

A person in a tuxedo holding a red rose
The Golden Bachelor star Gerry Turner prepares to present a rose on the first night (Photo by Craig Sjodin/ABC)

The Golden Bachelor echoed its non-metallic sibling in many ways. The candles were lit, producers had prepped the women with props and corny introductions, and the preview for the season shows Gerry bringing the drama by saying “I’m done” and walking away.

Gerry, who seems very genuine, was well-coached in repeating the show’s bullshit. “I’m going to meet the woman of my dreams very shortly,” he told host Jesse Palmer. “I hope I recognize her.” You mean: I hope they cast her.

ABC even managed to squeeze in a Jimmy Kimmel promo, with his aunt, Concetta, showing up as a pretend contestant.

This is very much The Bachelor, just with an older contestant. The show has taken no risks, no derivation from its well-worn formula. Yet it also had more life than a typical season.

Two people sitting on a couch, holding hands and looking at each other; a wall of candles is behind them
Peggy and Gerry chat on The Golden Bachelor’s premiere (Photo by Craig Sjodin/ABC)

The Golden Bachelor did this all this, though, on a different foundation.

After the hearing aid scene, Gerry told us the story of his wife’s death. They bought their dream house; shortly after, “I took my wife to the emergency room on July 7, and she never came home,” he said.

Crying, Gerry said, “I yearn for the second chance in life, to fall in love again.”

During a commercial break, there was a preview for Bachelor in Paradise in which its pretty young dumb things said “I’m ready to do life with somebody” and “I want to find my person so badly.”

Of course people in theirs 20s and 30s can desire connection, partnership, and love. Yet compared to Gerry’s ache, and similar stories shared by the women who’d arrived to the mansion, Bachelor in Paradise just seemed ridiculous.

A cast’s life experience makes for better reality television: there’s more to draw from, more to compare to. That doesn’t mean sad stories, either, and The Golden Bachelor didn’t just construct a foundation of sadness during its arrivals episode.

There was a joyous early-morning dance party, and a fun moment about the production’s expectations after the first woman pulled Gerry away.

When 75-year-old Sandra arrived, she asked Gerry to do some meditation with her, and then said “fuck” with each breath, making Gerry laugh, too.

Two people, one in a red dress and one in a black tuxedo, face each other and hold hands
Sandra meets Gerry before walking him through some fucking great meditation on The Golden Bachelor (Photo by Craig Sjodin/ABC)

And even in an episode that doesn’t have time to do much more than give each of the 22 women one character note—”I can’t wait for the next chapter of this journey. What I’m most looking for is to get to the next layer,” Gerry said, and I agree—there were additional beats.

For example, Sandra told us, “I want intimacy with a guy.” We may be 38 years after the premiere of The Golden Girls, but television shows, especially prime-time broadcast TV reality dating shows, still don’t acknowledge the sexuality of older people.

There’s a lot of room for The Golden Bachelor to still go wrong. This is a franchise that hasn’t earned trust, from its treatment of women to its treatment of people of color, never mind the decades of manipulative producing to engineer drama. And the hearing aid scene worries me that they’ll settle into comfortable clichés.

Yet The Golden Bachelor’s first hour was more watchable than I expected, and more interesting than the start to any recent season of The Bachelor or The Bachelorette I can remember.

It proved that a cast with depth can overpower even the most rigid of formulas, even if it’s not exactly fresh. The stories and experiences all the cast brought to the mansion grounded even this, a ridiculous, high-failure-rate competition that exists to be a soap opera, not a matchmaking service.

I found the first rose ceremony, which usually is almost perfunctory since we know so little about most of the about-to-be-eliminated people, actually heartbreaking. The women vying for Gerry’s affections can certainly find love elsewhere, but to have this opportunity cut so short after just an overnight cocktail party and two conversations? Alas.

And I just about lost it after the episode ended. Earlier, Ellen, a 71-year-old retired teacher from Florida, got out of the limo and exclaimed “Roberta, we made it!”

She was talking to her best friend, who’s dealing with cancer, and who watched The Bachelor with Ellen and encouraged her to apply.

Ellen referred more than once to the excitement of getting to watch herself on TV with Roberta. And then came this title card:

“This season is dedicated in loving memory to Roberta Zaktzer, 1952-2023.”

The show filmed in August and debuted in late September, and Roberta didn’t live long enough to see Ellen on The Golden Bachelor.

This was not the only death mentioned in the spin-off’s premiere episode, but what really came through for me—in Gerry’s story, Roberta’s death, and many of the stories we heard—was not lament, as tragic as those losses were. Instead, it was about the cast taking advantage of the time they do have, and continuing to find new experiences and connection.

Whether or not finding love can happen in a few weeks of filming a highly produced reality TV show remains to be seen, but I’ll keep watching The Golden Bachelor for now, because with this cast brings more weight and seriousness to the proceedings than those who’ve occupied the mansion before them.

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart

    Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.

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Happy discussing!

Michael Harmstone

Wednesday 4th of October 2023

I mean, it's a slightly different example, but this is why I keep a track of the average age of Mole casts. You shouldn't have the oldest person in a cast be *40*. You shouldn't have a cast averaging as low as 28 - with the experience comes a variety of characters.

Andy Dehnart

Wednesday 4th of October 2023

Agreed! I'm curious what your data shows overall—is the U.S. one of the younger casts worldwide (for the Netflix version, at least)?


Tuesday 3rd of October 2023

I watched, prepared to mock, but was touched by its sweetness instead. I'm sure there will be plenty to mock going forward since it is The bachelor, but I'm rooting for all of them. It's like a long, competitive Lifetime movie and I'm in.


Monday 2nd of October 2023

I watched this, not sure I'm completely on board. I have only watched one season of The Bachelor ever. I think it's overproduced trash. Not that there's anything wrong with watching trashy shows, this one just isn't for me.

So far, The Golden Bachelor doesn't seem much different to me. I really like Gerry, but most of the women seem to be just older stereotypical Bachelorettes, with their fed lines and fakeness. Maybe that's just the first episode, I don't know. I'll give it a few more episodes.

I did shed a tear for Roberta. :(

Andy Dehnart

Monday 2nd of October 2023

I'm not sure if it's anything other than overproduced trash, taken a notch up by having a cast with life experience! More episodes will tell, but it doesn't seem willing to stray from the formula, which for me is just boring after a while. Hopefully the cast can keep bringing life to it.


Friday 29th of September 2023

Just want to wish you a speedy recovery from Covid. I'm in the Golden Bachelor demographic (76-years-old), and have been reading Reality Blurred since the early days.