Let’s be honest, “The Bachelor” is not what most would call a great – or possibly even good – show. But while the number of reasons not to watch can add up faster than dead roses and limo tears, Bachelor Nation remains united and as passionate as ever.
To be more specific, before Monday’s finale, ratings for “The Bachelor” were up 11% from last season among adults 18-49 and up 15% in adults 18-34.
For context, ratings for “The Bachelor” follow only Fox’s “Empire” among adults 18-34.
The 21-season-old dating competition is among the most reliable weapons in ABC’s programming arsenal, outrightly defying the Peak TV premise that only high-brow fare and buzzy streaming shows can capture the conversation.
Claire Fallon and Emma Gray have some theories why people still watch.
Fallon, a culture writer at The Huffington Post, and Gray, the publication’s executive women’s editor, host a “Bachelor” recap podcast called Here To Make Friends and are go-to commentators for all things “Bachelor”. (They appeared on AOL’s BUILD Series ahead of the finale to talk about the show.)
Fallon has watched the show since Brad Womack’s second season (2011) and Gray since “Ashley’s season of ‘The Bachelorette’” in 2011.
They started their podcast in 2015 and have experienced first-hand the culture of co-viewing that “The Bachelor” breeds. Watching “The Bachelor” in a group, is “half the fun,” according to Gray.
“The Bachelor is the best sport on TV,” Gray tells CNN. “When a show involves guessing the outcome, investing in the players, tweeting along with a community online – and drinking a whole lot of wine – it’s going to become appointment television.”
To that point: the 2-hour season finale of “The Bachelor” was Monday’s number one most social program with 1.2 million interactions on Twitter and Facebook, according to Nielsen figures provided by ABC.
Fallon acknowledged the show is “anti-feminist by design,” but she thinks that’s part of the appeal – and “not because we’re secretly patriarchal.”
“It magnifies and enacts the sort of reductive tropes and expectations we face in the real world, especially the real dating world,” she said of the show. “Watching ‘The Bachelor’ means watching a more exaggerated version of the sexist landscape we navigate, but the exaggeration (and the remove of watching it on TV) makes it easier to observe, discuss, and critique.”
That discussion is key, added Gray.
“Anyone who tries to argue that ‘The Bachelor’ is a feminist franchise is kidding themselves,” she said. “But I’d also argue that it’s retro-ness is what makes it both captivating TV and a fascinating teaching tool.”
Higher-minded viewers might agree, but not every “Bachelor” viewer is watching to spur discussions about the patriarchy.
The show’s cheesy appeal can be as entertaining as the discussions. Live-snarking with friends is fun whether it happens on Twitter or at a viewing party.
“I would personally say it’s a little bit of everything – that’s why the obsession is so hard to shake,” Fallon said.
Gray also finds it difficult to watch a show for two hours a week and not buy into it a little bit.
“As a Bachelor viewer, I want to be able to judge the show and also get a bit of enjoyment from the cheesy ‘love journey,’” Gray said.
Some may call it all hate-watching. But Fallon and Gray reject the idea that “Bachelor” viewership stems from pure disdain.
“I think you could make a similar claim about people who love the Mets, based on their engagement on Twitter – it’s not always fun, sometimes you’re screaming at the TV, but if you really hated it, you wouldn’t still be watching,” Fallon said. “I think some people hate-watch, many people genuinely love it, and for many more it’s a love/hate relationship.”
Gray added: “Sometimes entertainment is just allowed to be entertaining, and we turn our brains off for two hours, tweet a whole lot and then unpack the absurdity.”