'The Bachelor's' bad track record: Why do people still watch?

Story highlights

  • "The Bachelor" has a terrible record at long-term relationships
  • But the show maintains a loyal following -- on TV and online

(CNN)According to the old -- and perhaps now discredited -- statistic, half of all marriages will end in divorce.

That's still a better record than "The Bachelor" has.
    Despite the romances and engagements, the hit ABC show, which concluded its latest season Monday, has a dismal record for creating long-lasting partnerships.
    "The Bachelor" has now attempted to pair off 20 eligible men with an array of swooning, and often conniving, women. (Let it be noted that the men vying for one woman's affections every other season on "The Bachelorette" behave no better.)
    Yet the romance of the Rose Ceremony has wilted rather quickly. Of the 19 couples the show has produced, 12 got engaged, and just one -- one! -- has married a contestant. (OK, technically, two: Jason Mesnick married his season's runner-up, Molly Malaney, after breaking an engagement with winner Melissa Rycroft.)
    Most of the other couples barely managed to sustain their relationships, engaged or not. Some weren't even together when their seasons finally aired.
    And yet the show continues to attract a healthy audience, perhaps drawn as much to the trainwreck aspects as to its promise of romance. The franchise has more than 4 million social media followers, and though nothing has equaled the show's second season, when the finale drew almost 26 million viewers, it's been a steady ratings performer for its entire run, ranked as a "hit" more often than not by analytic site SpottedRatings.com.
    Monday night's finale pulled in 9.5 million viewers, exactly the same as last year's "Bachelor" finale.
    "They've established themselves as the gold standard of reality dating shows. Nobody's even close," said Steve Carbone, who blogs about the show at RealitySteve.com.

    'Fantasyland' vs. reality

    The formula is well established by now. It's "fantasyland," Carbone says: travel to exotic locations, over-the-top expressions of love and the idea that you too can be fought over by two dozen beautiful people of the opposite sex with the possibility of meeting Mr. or Ms. Right.
    The concept is easy to mock or lament. Dave Willis, a pastor and writer who oversees the site StrongerMarriages.com, notes that the show may be intended as entertainment but feeds into a consumer-driven mentality.
    "Essentially, we look at people with this on-demand, consumeristic mindset of, 'What am I in the mood for? Who can make me happy? Who pleases me?' and as soon as they don't make me feel a certain way, they're expendable," he said. "When we approach our relationships this way, it's no longer based on commitment; it's based on feelings and compatibility."
    Feelings are fickle, he adds, and relationships based on them are likely short-lived. (Ironically, one of Willis' fans is Sean Lowe, the only Bachelor who married his intended.)
    But if the show's on-screen relationships have been (mostly) doomed, it's actually done well in developing another kind of relationship: that of its fans.
    "Over the years, it's become more communal," said Ashley Elgin, who blogs at BachelorExpert.com. "Social media has really changed the viewing experience, where people, even if they have no one to watch with in their living room, they can find thousands of people on Twitter along with contestants and producers and other people at ABC."

    'They know what the show brings'

    Like many reality shows, "The Bachelor" has been criticized for its manipulations. They've been written about by Carbone and others: the fair-weather-friend producers, lying contestants and bachelors like Juan Pablo Galavis, whose behavior drew wide criticism. It's no wonder that the show inspired "UnREAL," a scripted Lifetime series about, well, a manipulative reality dating show.
    Elgin, who's 24, has been blogging about the show since she was 19 and has watched it since "Jason Mesnick's season" (that would be 2009, when she was 17), says she isn't bothered.
    "At the end of the day, it's a TV show," she said.
    And, as with many reality shows, there's now the possibility of becoming a professional reality celebrity. "The Bachelor" spawned "The Bachelorette," which features an also-ran from "The Bachelor," and "Bachelor in Paradise," which puts rejected contestants on a beach to have their ways with one another.
    That's not to mention the other offshoots of the reality-industrial complex: tabloids, business openings, Internet traffic, access to other celebrities.
    Though some contestants may still seek true love, Carbone believes that, after 15 years, everybody knows what they're getting into.
    "I think everybody who goes on the show is absolutely 100% going on to increase their brand, increase their Twitter followers, increase their Instagram followers -- and probably 17th on the list is finding a spouse," he said. "They know what the show brings."
    Nevertheless, the swirl of romance still matters to some contestants -- and viewers.
    Izzy Goodkind, who lasted just one episode this year, told the A.V. Club that she gave the show an honest chance.
    "I definitely wasn't skeptical; you had to go in very open-minded," she said.
    And Elgin? She hasn't given up on true love, either.
    "I am still looking, but I believe it could happen," she said. "But I have not found it yet."