Written by Kayla Bollers
“Alaya, will you accept this rose?”
Peter Weber hands Alaya the group date rose. Cradling the freshly cut stem between two fingers, Alaya exchanges a knowing look and heartfelt smile with the man she’s falling for. The couple leans in for a warm embrace.
But her softly murmured “Thank you” is drowned out by abrupt, suspenseful music. The camera pans to one of the many bachelorettes, Victoria P., staring down at her lap and shaking her head. The music crescendos as the camera pans over to the rest of the bachelorettes paying witness to the scene in Episode 4 of The Bachelor, all with crossed arms and vengeful scowls.
“Ohhh my goodness,” Tammy sighs in a voice over, disenchanted. The scene cuts to her incredulous face in a confessional.
“Are you freaking kidding me? I didn’t expect Peter to ask Alaya to come back, and now I’m kinda disappointed in him,” she continues. The video cuts again to three other bachelorette confessionals that echo her response. The strings and drums steadily rise in the background.
In less than two minutes, an innocent, heartfelt moment between two lovers has warped to a much more sinister scene.
Almost nothing about reality television feels real, but we still tune in to programs like The Bachelor for our weekly fix of over-the-top drama and tantrums that make four-year-old me look tame. Regardless of how much of a train wreck this series is, it makes for a heck of an entertaining story—that’s the reason we find ourselves watching. We love the story reality television sells us. We didn’t just waste those 84 minutes of our lives for nothing; we felt invested enough in these characters, the conflicts, and their resolution to make it to the two minute super teaser at the end of the episode, which promises us a whole ‘nother round of insanity next week. After all, this is a show about 30 girls all fighting for Peter ( bachelor and protagonist)’s hand in marriage for six weeks, in what has to be the most exaggerated fashion imaginable. The Bachelor, and reality series like it, have crafted page turners without pages—an innovation of the cheesy romance novel with new stakes and ferocity.
The producers, who have an interest in furthering this drama, have pulled some… strange stunts to heighten the tension and build the conflict necessary to any great story.
The producers—the masterminds behind The Bachelor—construct a terse (and toxic) environment by isolating the contestants from everything but themselves and their love interest. There’s no internet, no cell phones, no magazines, and certainly no television. I don’t know about you, but if I was told that I would have to quit my job and move to a mansion with no internet to choose my forever partner from a pool of thirty reality TV contestants , I would say no thanks and run far far away. But The Bachelor provides incentives to stay: clout, publicity, and the chance to be the next star of the complimentary series, The Bachelorette. The elevated stakes designed by the producers reinforce the bachelorettes’ fiercely competitive behaviors and drive so they become compelling characters—an integral component to a sensational story. Of course, we all root for the characters that make ludicrous decisions and follow their hearts, living vicariously through their daring and disastrous journeys. If all goes well for our protagonist, he will live happily ever after with his romantic interest, the love of his life, and we will have witnessed the most incredible love story of all time.
Luckily for us, all never goes well.
With high stakes and willing participants, conflict is necessary to give this story a spicy kick and prompt stimulating character development. Fortunately, there’s an abundance of cat fights and spectacles since there’s nothing better to do than obsess over Peter. The producers, who have an interest in furthering this drama, have pulled some… strange stunts to heighten the tension and build the conflict necessary to any great story.
In the beginning of Episode 1, the producers allow Hannah Brown, Peter’s former lover from The Bachelorette, to return a set of wing-shaped cufflinks that he gave her during their first meeting just a few months prior. In essence, this meeting marks the end of Peter’s time with Hannah and the beginning of a new chapter in his romantic journey. Not only does this “harmless” formality spur protests and shocked exclamations from the ladies, but Peter looks visibly distraught after seeing Hannah, having been reminded of the fresh sting of rejection. Although Chris Harrison, the iconic host of The Bachelor, seems keen on Peter moving past this relationship, the contradictory actions of the producers scream of ulterior motives. Clearly, Peter’s struggle between his ex and his prospective lovers has a much higher thrill factor for the audience than a single man with a clean slate “searching for love.”
And of course, The Bachelor is infamous for its share of sinister motivations on the part of the ladies. As much as we love to root for a hero, we also love to hate villains, and in this case, the villains of the show are Peter’s lovers. However, none of them fulfill this role on their own—in each episode, a new conflict between contestants comes to light, and weeks of intensive editing of the footage transforms one or more of the participants to embody the villain archetype. What one of Peter’s potential wives, Hannah Ann, claims is an innocent mix up of champagne bottles sparks a three episode-long war between her and another contestant named Kelsey.
The scandal starts with a scene on a patio with Kelsey and a handful of other girls discussing her plans to share the champagne she brought from her hometown with Peter. Everything catapults downhill from there, as evinced by the shift in music from gentle strings to a quirky synthesizer—a handy move from the producers to signal something disastrous is about to happen. Tensions build as the girls gush at Kelsey’s romantic gesture and ask where she placed the bottle for fear of accidentally opening it. The episode then cuts to a parallel scene with Peter and Hannah Ann, who spot the cute setup on the outdoor fireplace and decide to take a seat. The episode alternates between these scenes six times in the next thirty seconds, with each glimpse with Peter and Hannah Ann playing out the girls’ concerns as they playful shake up Kelsey’s bottle. Finally, in an ironic turn of events, the moment Kiara gushes that she’s “so excited to hear [the bottle],” an explosion rings out in the distance, accompanied by Peter and Hannah Ann’s giddy cheers. The camera cuts to Kelsey’s incredulous expression, and a string of venty confessionals punctuate her outrage.
The fact that a champagne bottle manages to ignite so much controversy is truly impressive. Accusations fly back and forth between Kelsey and Hannah Ann, but without the pensive music, omniscience of the camera, and calculated arrangement of the footage, this iconic catastrophe (nicknamed Champagne-Gate by the Bachelor fandom) would just be another petty pageant squabble. In this case, the editing of this moment heightened our sense of conflict and artificially ‘exposed’ these women to give them dubious motivations. For instance, from this footage, it seems like Hannah Ann might want to ruin Kelsey’s moment with Peter to eliminate her competition. On the other hand, the footage seems to hint at Kelsey’s emotional instability, especially as multiple girls come to testify about it later on in the episode. Either one of these angles gives us something entertaining and intriguing to focus on—as opposed to what really is just a harmless mix up between two champagne bottles.
We want a story that pushes our boundaries, gives our desensitized minds a bigger thrill, and keeps us guessing. The Bachelor strives to create such a narrative via video editing strategies and circumstantial manipulation. And although in the back of our minds we know this is messed up—you’re still gonna watch the season finale, right?