Every Rose Has Its Thorn

The questionable morals reality TV shows like “The Bachelor” portray may not be worth their entertainment value.


drawing by Kristen Kinzler

The roses handed out on “The Bachelor” often represent a lot more than pure intentions.

Kristen Kinzler, Junior Class Editor

Just about every Monday, I sit on my couch with a bag of my favorite chips and a fuzzy blanket and turn on my television. The rest of the evening is consumed with lots of drama, a few rivers of tears, a dozen roses, and some horribly choreographed storylines.

Yep, every week, I sit and waste two hours of my life watching The Bachelor. 

For those who don’t know, The Bachelor is a reality show that is currently airing its twenty-fourth season. The premise is simple. Thirty women sign up to compete for one man’s — the Bachelor’s — heart, and after participating in various activities and dates, he picks the women he wants to advance to the next week by giving them a rose. The goal is to get engaged by the end of the season, and obviously, live happily ever after. The show has also prompted spin-offs like The Bachelorette, where thirty men compete for one woman, and Bachelor in Paradise, where they place all the losers on a beach and tell them to date each other. 

The show is certainly popular (last season’s finale attracted an astonishing 7.5 million viewers), so I’m not sure why admitting I watch it feels like a confession of sorts, but it does. For years, I despised everything the show stood for. It seemed degrading that so many women would give up months of their lives to compete in such an embarrassing competition, all in the pursuit of a guy they hardly even knew. 

But this past summer, I had been hearing a lot of buzz about then-Bachelorette Hannah Brown. And on a seven-hour car ride to the beach, I was bored and desperate enough to watch an episode. It was horrible television, but it was different than the supernatural dramas I typically watch, so it was interesting enough to keep me hooked.

And then I found myself continuing to watch it, even after I got home from vacation. I was annoyed with the majority of the men on the show, but there was something likable about Brown. She was imperfect and relatable, and she carried a particular kind of self-respect — something I had never expected to see on reality TV — that was admirable. 

But I still felt pathetic watching the show. I mean, come on. Although Brown was the lead, the show still reeked of patriarchy — the guys arguing over her like she was a coveted object, shaming her for having relations with the other men. So, I told myself I’d finish The Bachelorette just to see how Brown’s story ended. However, my plans were foiled when ABC announced that Peter Weber, the only guy I liked the entire season, would be the next lead.

And now I’ve been watching The Bachelor for months.

Turns out, when the roles are reversed, the show becomes even more unbearable. Weber has become increasingly pathetic, wallowing in self-pity every time the women don’t act completely in love with him. He also has kept around all of the drama queens just because they burst into tears, and he simply can’t stand the sight. And while most of the competitions on Brown’s season revolved around physical activities, the girls competing for Weber’s heart have had to model in swimsuits, walk a runway, and participate in a pillow fight.

So, now that I’ve criticized the entire franchise, the question becomes, why am I still watching it? Why do seven million people waste two precious hours every Monday watching something that, in theory, depicts romance as a shallow competition?

Honestly, I have no idea. I can only speak for myself, and even then, every reason feels more like a hypothesis.

However, before I get into said reasons, it feels necessary to make one thing clear: this is not a judgment of anyone on the show, or anyone who watches it.

When you see the extreme lengths contestants go to be on the show– intensive psychological testing, agreeing to be filmed 24/7 for months on end, spending thousands of dollars on extravagant dresses and makeup– it’s easy to wonder why. What reasonable person leaves their job, family, and cell phone behind for months to be on reality TV?

But I consider myself a feminist, so I don’t judge what any of these girls are doing. Okay, maybe I do just a bit, but I promise, I actively try to see it from their perspective. It’s their right to put their careers on hold to search for love — or for a job as an Instagram influencer. I don’t respect them any less for wanting to be romanced around the world.

Just like any girl who watches The Bachelor isn’t any less respectable or any less of a feminist for doing so.

There’s something compelling about watching the show. You know what they say about an ugly car accident. Sometimes, you just can’t look away. Logically, most people know that this show isn’t a formula for a healthy relationship, just as they know there’s bound to be a lot of drama along the way. It’s more fun to watch someone struggle than go through it ourselves.

Maybe people who watch The Bachelor also want to feel included. A show that’s been airing for almost twenty years is going to have an impact on pop culture, and it’s nice to feel in the know when you see a meme about the latest episode on Twitter. 

If a girl traveling the world, spending time with the supposed love of her life, and going on lavish dates can find a reason to hysterically sob in front of a camera, then maybe the rest of us can feel a little less pathetic about whatever we’re going through.”

But I think the biggest reason so many people tune into the show every week is perhaps even simpler than that. It makes us feel better about ourselves. No matter how justified it may be, we find superiority in watching the participants compete. It’s as if, no matter how bad we have it in our personal lives, at least we’re not making fools of ourselves competing for a man’s attention on national television. At least someone out there is having a worse day than us.

The Bachelor preys on that human nature. It’s built its empire on the love and romance and adventure that so many people long for, and it’s based its premise on the idea that we all want to feel less alone in the ups and downs of everyday life. If a girl traveling the world, spending time with the supposed love of her life, and going on lavish dates can find a reason to hysterically sob in front of a camera, then maybe the rest of us can feel a little less pathetic about whatever we’re going through.

So, yes, I get why people watch it. I get why I fell into the black hole that is Bachelor Nation. However, despite all of these factors, it’s impossible to ignore its pitfalls.

There’s hardly any minority representation since the majority of the contestants are white and the premise of the show itself revolves around heterosexuality, and most of the girls who compete are church-going former pageant queens from the South, fresh out of college with a degree that is most likely related to fashion or interior design. I, along with most of America, don’t see myself in any of these people. 

And those who say they watch it for love, well, we must not have the same definition. There’s nothing romantic about having to literally compete, fight, and yell your way into more time with someone who loves you. Plus, most couples break up shortly after the show.

So, even though there’s nothing wrong with liking The Bachelor, after looking at it through this lens, I personally just don’t think I can continue to watch it with a clear conscience. Every rose Peter Weber hands out this season feels like it is laced with patriarchy and double standards. And if something feels occasionally sexist and demeaning, it probably is. Maybe I’m just overthinking a trivial reality show, but I no longer feel like asking myself every week if what I’m watching aligns with my beliefs. 

I don’t have a lot of free time in my life, so it’s important that I spend it on things that make me feel good, and I just know I’m never going to be okay with watching women have a pillow fight to spend extra time with a guy.

But, hey, the show won’t miss me — it has seven million other Americans hooked. I’m sure my chemistry grade and sleep schedule will appreciate those extra two hours of my time.