A new theme has emerged between the end of The Bachelorette and the start of Bachelor in Paradise. While ABC leans in the (new) idea that men should be held publicly liable, it is impossible not to think about how the # MeToo era will shape the bachelor’s franchise in 2019. The most moving moments of the show are no longer based on women’s heartbreak (à la Becca Kufrin’s Bachelor final or Kristina Schulman’s Paradise season). Instead, they are based on uncovering and confronting the man responsible for that damage. In their treatment to date by Jed Wyatt and Blake Horstmann, ABC seems to indicate a new era of reality TV entertainment: an era that feeds the collective anger of women.
Although bachelor programs from the past have always been full of men who wanted to lie and abuse their partner’s trust, ABC is shifting how it creates entertainment. The tone was set from the first evening of Hannah Brown’s Bachelorette season. She immediately confronts a participant who has been revealed to have a girlfriend at home and loses her patience not only with him but with all the men there. If someone else has something to say, she urges them to do this now. The message is clear: if you lie to the bachelor, the truth comes out – and all of America will watch when it does.
Fast forward to the Bachelorette final and that promise is fulfilled: Jeds lies about his relationship in the past were revealed in People magazine and Hannah confronts him directly in the show, both in a pre-recorded segment and on live TV. She asks him all the questions that have been floating around Twitter since the article came out and explains to him point by point exactly why what he did was so confused and how it hurt her. The live audience (almost completely women) loses its mind and cheers every time Hannah pauses to breathe.
At a very magical moment of the final, Hannah Jed tells us that there is no hope for their future: “My feelings have changed,” she says. “When that trust was broken, my feelings […] were broken with it, and I don’t love you anymore.” At the point of tears, she pauses – and various members of the public begin to clap. “It’s not something to flip over,” says Hannah. “It’s sad.” Right now, it’s very clear why Jed is on that stage, and it’s not because of Hannah. If she had let her say she would probably never have seen him again. But ABC knew that his viewers wanted to see him punished and punished himself by withholding their support or forgiveness, as seen in the deafening silence after each of Jed’s apologies.
Looking back on the season of The Bachelor by Arie Luyendyk Jr. in 2018, that final also ended with a dramatic development after the show. Arie decides that he has chosen the wrong girl and wants to be with his second Lauren Burnham instead. He breaks it up with Becca on the camera, who sobs and sobs – and is then followed by cameras in her house as she tries to hide or leave – sobs echoing into the microphone. When they are reunited on live TV, Arie is not treated cold by the public. He apologizes and she accepts and both says she forgives him (two things that Hannah is pretty careful with).
The difference between these 2018 and 2019 seasons is not so much the man’s behavior: in both cases, women engage under false pretenses about the other relationships of their fiancé, and both break their hearts. But where Arie’s season aimed the cameras at Becca’s humiliation, Hannah’s season aimed them at Jed’s. And that pattern only gets stronger in this season of Bachelor in Paradise.
When Blake appears on stage in Paradise, he is sold as the ‘it’ boy of the island: he has been hunting other participants for weeks and half of the girls appear with a budding crush. But in the first episode, Blake’s cool, collected character is taken away: it turned out that he slept with two participants in the same weekend, Caelynn and Kristina. They are both on the island, and neither is happy – especially when he takes a third girl on a date. The women quickly spread Blake’s news and prospects sinking like flies. He is essentially a pariah by the time he returns from his date, and the drama does not stop there.
On night two, both Kristina and Caelynn Blake directly confronted his behavior: why it was painful, how they now feel and what they would like to expect from him. When Blake takes the first conversation lightly, a light bulb seems to be turned on by the second, where he realizes what is happening. He watched Hannah’s Bachelorette final and he knows exactly how bad this looks. In the blink of an eye, Blake blows into obvious panic, sputtering apologies and even seems to be undergoing a full panic attack during a conversation with a producer, holding his chest and gasping for breath. “I’m so sorry, I feel so bad,” he says again and again. The stubborn, frat-boy swagger has disappeared, replaced by a man terrified of his reputation.
To be honest, the season of paradise has just begun, and ABC may have a redeeming bow in mind for Blake. But for now they are doing everything to turn this show (or at least the first few episodes) into a Crucifixion of Blake for his wrongdoing. “Will he get away with his fascinating ways, or will the women of Paradise be his downfall?” The voice-over muses at the start of the episode. It is clear how Paradise viewers would prefer to play things – and that is exactly what ABC wants to give them.
Looking at Blake’s face, the parallel seems clear: ABC’s treatment of men in 2019 is an echo of what is happening on the national stage with #MeToo. The charges are of course less strict, but the message is the same: women earn better from men, and men who do not meet that standard expect them to be held responsible. Blake’s panic about his reputation is exactly the same as every anti-MeToo rally cry that claims that the lives of these poor men are being ruined for nothing. As bartender Wells Adams says so concisely: “The best way to protect your image is not to be a shower bag.”
In 2019, women will be finished letting the worthless behavior of men slip. We want responsibility and consequences. In response, the Bachelor franchise does what it does best: people give what they want in lurid details. Once it meant looking at hopeful women who were crushed or fell in love. But in an age where we are tired of seeing women injured, we are given talks about self-esteem and crash courses in emotional intelligence instead. If you want to treat dating today as a reality show game, be warned: men no longer make all the rules.