Trash TV For A Trash Year

Why “The Bachelorette” is the Perfect Show for 2020

Emily McDougall, Co-Editor

This year, frankly, feels like a late-season plotline dreamed up in the writer’s room of a CW show. Wildfires, celebrity deaths, impeachment scandals, a turbulent election, and a pandemic that changed life as we know it forever packed into just 12 months. With each new headline, the year twists and turns into a never-ending source of stress and anxiety. The news is ridiculous and stressful, and the plethora of streaming services offer an easy escape from the harsh realities of 2020. Sure, you could turn on a sophisticated show like Netflix’s smash hit The Queen’s Gambit, or expand your mind with a new documentary series. Or, you could turn to arguably the most appropriate show for this dumpster fire of a year– season 16 of ABC’s The Bachelorette

For the wonderful readers who keep their minds pure from the rot of reality TV, The Bachelorette is a show that centers around one woman dating a pool of 25-30 men over the course of several (televised) weeks. The men live in a beautiful mansion, vying for the attention and time of the always beautiful, usually young, and usually white, Bachelorette. They go on meticulously planned dates, start drama in the house, and visit exotic locales unless they are eliminated in the weekly Rose Ceremony. The group is whittled down, through drama and tearful goodbyes, until the final proposal at the end of the season. It’s cheesy and trashy, the peak of reality TV programming.

And for the past fifteen seasons of The Bachelorette and twenty-four of The Bachelor, the show has followed this model to incredible success. According to Variety, 7.4 million people watched the finale of last year’s Bachelorette Hannah Brown’s season. Rose-themed merch dominates Etsy, recap podcasts predict outcomes and theories to thousands of subscribers, not to mention the millions of dollars ABC rakes in on ad revenue alone. It’s a moneymaker, selling the fantasy of one true love with beautiful people falling in love with other beautiful people. 

Of course, these beautiful people are almost always white, young, and physically fit. Until Rachel Lindsey, there had never been a minority Bachelorette lead. And Matt James, the next lead of the upcoming season of The Bachelor, will be the first black Bachelor in the series’ history. And there have been countless instances of potential love interests being exposed for racist comments and posts online, histories of sexual assault, and toxic tendencies revealed on national TV. A simple Google search reveals countless scandals connected to the show, from slut-shaming to the sheer inauthenticity of the heavily manufactured romances that blossom under almost scientific scrutiny. The Bachelorette runs on drama, even when they get burned because of it. 

But this season of The Bachelorette is the perfect microcosm of the sheer insanity of 2020. On March 2, Clare Crawley was announced as this season’s Bachelorette, and at – Gasp!gasp! – 39, would be the oldest lead thus far. And then the rest of March hit, and COVID forced production to a halt. Reality TV Shows — they’re just like us!

And when episodes finally started to air, it was clear that Crawley was short-lived for the screen. Within four episodes, Crawley declared that she had found her husband, dumped the other 19 guys, and accepted a proposal from Dale Moss, a clear favorite from the beginning.

The formula, developed over sixteen seasons, had been tossed out the window. Even this escape from reality, insulated by champagne and roses, wasn’t safe. Because in a year where nothing is normal, nothing is safe, even the contrived and manufactured are forced to change, to adjust to the turbulence of rapid turnover. 

But this uncertainty was only the rising action for this season of The Bachelorette. Out of the dust rose Adams, replacing Crawley as the Bachelorette and bringing a breath of fresh air to the show. The show goes on, and now follows Adams in her journey to find love.

Maybe this all sounds absolutely ridiculous, a waste of time and brain cells. The Bachelorette is ridiculous. It’s over the top, dramatic, and absurd. That’s the beauty of it. It’s enjoyable, mental junk food that’s the equivalent of that second piece of cake, that late-night McDonald’s run. 

It’s a show that does not exist to better the world or to make a statement about the state of the unprecedented times that affect us all. The Bachelorette exists intentionally as an escape from reality. It presents life through rose-colored glasses, convincing their mostly female viewers across the nation that love is possible. It doesn’t matter that the franchise has a laughably terrible success rate, or that the love they peddle is a product of producer manipulation and strategic camera angles. It’s two hours where the viewer can fall into a story, and forget.

How many times has this year forced us to turn to the comfortable background noise of another viewing of shows like The Office or New Girl? In stressful times, sometimes a little escape is what we need. We can’t live there forever. Even The Bachelorette ends after 12 episodes. It’s not a long-term solution, but a release. 

I’m not arguing to stick your head in the sand and completely ignore the world in favor of spoonfed romance. But as the year comes to a close, the burnout of an oppressive news cycle alone would make anyone a little crazy. For two hours, the world can pause, and give you time to breathe. You can watch the ridiculous dates, the tears, the heartfelt declarations, and simply be. And maybe, next Tuesday at 7, the world can pause for you, and you’ll see how delightful it is to enjoy the trashiness and sheer craziness of a show that is perfect for the most ridiculous year of all.