The Bachelor made its triumphant return to television last night, as square-jawed future politician Ben Higgins kicked off his quest for true love in the same way that all such quests begin: shamelessly drooling over unemployed 22-year-old blonde twins from Las Vegas. Nicholas Sparks would be proud.
I love The Bachelor because, in its twentieth (!!!!) season, it has reached peak self-awareness. Pitched initially as a show about finding true love, back when “reality show” purported to mean “unscripted real life,” Bachelor struggled to strike the right tone during its first few go-arounds. In retrospect, this should not have surprised anyone; it turns out that it is really difficult to develop a sustainable romantic relationship primed to last a lifetime when the contestant ultimately selected knows for a fact that s/he will then be able to watch on national television as his/her spouse has a grand old time sleeping with other people. By taking its facially absurd premise so profoundly seriously, the show was hard to enjoy without feeling like said joy was composed disproportionately of schadenfreude.
Only when The Bachelor figured out that it was not a documentary but a serialized giant game show did it find its true calling. Now, contestants pay obligatory homage to the show’s roots by loudly and repeatedly (and drunkenly) proclaiming that they are there for true love (the “right reasons”) and castigating anyone who they perceive (again, often drunkenly) to perhaps have ulterior motives. But, as evidenced by the tropes that manage to appear and reappear every year, the rule that one must be there to Find A Spouse is honored entirely in the breach: each season features a remarkably suspicious number of aspiring singer-songwriters and actors, and it’s delightful when fan favorites show up again either as the eponymous bachelor or bachelorette or as repeat contestants on the same show (you know, pursuing their one chance at true love…AGAIN).
This year’s bachelor who had his heart broken last season but whose consolation prize is running the show this time around is Ben, who immediately started his search for love by taking the worst possible step: soliciting advice from former bachelors Jason Mesnick, Sean Lowe, and the immortal Chris Soules, the lovably dumb Iowa farmer who constantly looks like he’s trying really, really hard to read cue cards that don’t exist. Jason and Sean are two of the five (out of thirty!) contestants who remain married to their picks, but Chris is not! A man who broke up with his choice almost immediately after choosing her is a VERY bad man from whom to seek advice! Chris’ return was perfect, and he immediately began stroking his chin, nodding while squatting, and doing other similar things that he thinks people who are thinking about things probably do. Look pensive, look pensive, there, that’s it, super pensive. Every one of his sentences felt like they had been exhaustively rehearsed before filming and probably took 1-2 takes to get right.
Setting aside his dubious choice of mentors, though, Ben otherwise comes off as just a little bit too smart for this. Whether pretending that Chris is saying smart things or dapping up Chris Harrison or meeting the women for the first time, Ben speaks thoughtfully and seriously and carries himself like a politician greeting supporters. Look at how dreamy! He’s 26, which is absolutely old enough to run for Congress. If love doesn’t work for him, I would absolutely watch him in his next role on Ben: The Road to Washington on E! or something like that.
This season, Ben will chose from 28 women, most of whom will not matter at all. But since at this point the show hews so closely to its formula season after season, we can nonetheless predict the contestants’ fates with what I’m sure will be startling accuracy (I am not at all sure of this). We’ll say brief goodbyes to the eliminated seven we-hardly-knew-ye contestants, and then read the tea leaves for everyone else.
Best fact: Initiated meeting Ben by enthusiastically gushing that she wanted to “break bread” with him. Hey, that’s kind of fun! If I were the bachelor and I had been up for 18 hours and I was tired and getting kind of sweaty in my rented slim-fit suit, and I knew that instead of going to sleep I had put on my best smile and meet Woman Emerging From Limousine #19 for the evening, I would ABSOLUTELY welcome a snack.
Worst fact: Zero snacks were involved in this remarkably deceiving offer. Turns out she’s a nutritional therapist, and she exhorted Ben to literally BREAK the loaves of bread that she brought, since gluten, she explained, is “the devil.” Oh. Well, then.
Inevitable outcome: N/A – ELIMINATED. Rule of thumb, if your Bachelor appearance starts with you slamming stale baguettes down on the driveway as Ben looks on in horror, your tenure is bound to be short.
Best fact: Showed up in a onesie, explaining to Ben that he is “the onesie” for her. Awwww.
Worst fact: Again: this show is NOT about finding love. It is about glorifying the fact that Ben gets to sleep with multiple women at the same time, and all of them know all about it, and it is totally okay and even encouraged, which is a scenario that would never work in any situation other than this feminist dystopian TV show. First impressions are everything, and by “first impressions” I mean “what percentage of your private parts are clearly visible through the dress the producers made you wear.”
Inevitable outcome: N/A – ELIMINATED. Should have gone with the backless just like EVERYONE ELSE.
Best fact: I remember literally nothing about this person’s twelve seconds on screen.
Worst fact: See above.
Inevitable outcome: N/A – ELIMINATED. Apparently Ben didn’t either. Moving on.
Best fact: Seemed pleasant, sensible, cheerful, smart, and fun, and had a completely normal interaction with Ben that both of them seemed to genuinely enjoy. All of these facts immediately sealed her fate.
Worst fact: Lacks a certain, um, particular type of beauty that tends to carry the day on this show, with her, um, well, the skin, and, usually the hair is, um, different, oh fuck it, Laura is a super pale redhead, and when it comes to The Bachelor, non-Stepfordian types might as well not exist.
Inevitable outcome: N/A – ELIMINATED. She knew it, too, tearfully positing to the camera during her exit interview: “I don’t know what he was thinking, but like, he may have not been into redheads. Honestly, some people aren’t.” She’s right, and he’s shortsighted. Laura got a raw deal. Add this to the franchise’s lengthy list of diversity issues. (NO, DO NOT DO THIS, but do hold that thought).
Best fact: Math teacher whose ideal dinner party would be her, Jesus, Michaelangelo, and Justin Timberlake. That is a good answer.
Worst fact: Perhaps it is inevitable in a show that both features and is marketed toward almost exclusively upper middle class white women born in the late 80s and early 90s, but each season, there are ALWAYS too many Laurens. Ben’s lot features Laura, Lauren R., Lauren B., and a SECOND Lauren B., who was a good sport and agreed to go by L.B. This was never going to be sustainable.
Inevitable outcome: N/A – ELIMINATED. I get it, Ben. You already have far too many women to remember to have to worry about falling victim to Lauren Overload on national television.
Best fact: Brought a mini-horse (for once in The Bachelor, that is not a sex metaphor) out of the limousine for her big meeting with Ben. Later, she reacted to the presence of possible sex robot twins by shrugging in mock horror and then pointing to her sidekick: “Twins?! How do you beat twins? WITH A FUCKING MINI-HORSE, THAT’S HOW.” She’s not wrong!
Worst fact: Megan is beautiful and smart and fun, but is just a bit larger than the ethereal, waif-like creatures to which serious participation in this show is limited, so of course she had no shot whatsoever.
Inevitable outcome: N/A – ELIMINATED. And to make it worse, she WAS wrong. The sex robot twins advanced. #justiceforminihorse
Best fact: Based on Ben’s picks this episode, he certainly seems to have a thing for blonde women, and Tiara is blonde.
Worst fact: When asked to name the five things she can’t live without, she listed her chickens, her horse, food, her car, and her dad and sister. THAT’S SIX THINGS, TIARA. Either get Lauren R. to help you count, or cut your sister from that list right quick.
Inevitable outcome: N/A – ELIMINATED. Though I assume she and Megan will both go on to enjoy lengthy runs as Co-Queens of Farm Animal Twitter.
Best fact: Lots of gratuitous shots of her being a good mother to her two adorable daughters; she is pretty; she earns the coveted “oh wow, she’s pretty” from Jenna.
Worst fact: Parents NEVER work out on this show. You can’t simultaneously be responsible for a human child and also make sport of boning as many people as possible JUST out of sight of TV cameras. Unless you’re Juan Pablo, but that’s the sociopath exception.
Inevitable outcome: Amanda will last three or four episodes, and have a real CONNECTION with Ben, but he won’t be quite as interested in her as he is in some of the others. Fortunately, he can use her kids as an excuse to tearfully send her home. “I just can’t keep you away from your beautiful children,” he’ll say, choking on every word and dabbing gently at his eyes. To be fair, he’ll be right. Mom should NOT be on a reality TV show. Do it, Ben. Get it over with.
Best fact: Beautiful smile, sparkling personality, clearly makes an impression on Ben. But most importantly, she’s a Bachelor VETERAN who was eliminated from actual idiot Chris Soules’ season, and her experience means that all of the other women are absolutely terrified of her. This is probably my favorite way in which the franchise doesn’t even pretend to be anything other than a game show: when a retread arrives, everyone acts like they’re in a YMCA rec league and just watched the Golden State Warriors walk in and sign up as a team. WATCH OUT LADIES, AMBER HAS BEEN HERE BEFORE AND KNOWS HOW TO WIN. THIS IS NOT PICKING UP GUYS AT YOUR LOCAL CHILI’S.
Inevitable outcome: Not even being a WILY, GRIZZLED VETERAN can get Amber past episode 5 or so (just long enough for plausible deniability, as ABC’s legal team assured the producers).
Best fact: ANOTHER VET. Becca was the runner-up Chris’ season who famously confided in him that she was a virgin (he squinted, waited too long before talking, and then stammered for awhile, yes). The return of this subplot provides producers with some sexy intrigue with which to surround Ben. Chris Harrison welcomed her warmly to the show on Monday and immediately asked about this, and while she demurred and again talked about how much she wants her first time to be with the Right One, I desperately wanted her to look Chris dead in the eyes and say something like “Oh, yeah, I fuck guys all the time now.” What a letdown.
Worst fact: Watchers of Chris’ season couldn’t decide what they wanted in the finale: a win for Whiny Whitney, a win for Boring Becca, or a horrifying limousine accident in rural Iowa that gets rid of both of them. Becca remains a wonderfully uninteresting paper cut-out of a person who brings nothing to the table other than the novelty of a very attractive person who has never slept with other attractive people before.
Scope of possible outcomes: Ben cuts her after episode 6 after at least one full episode dedicated to will-she-or-won’t-she (she will not).
Best fact: She is a software salesperson, which is ALSO what Ben does. She reveals that she sells retail products, while he specializes in back-room business products. They laugh, but neither think it is funny.
Worst fact: She reveals in her on-camera introduction that after watching Ben last season on The Bachelorette, she DUMPED HER REAL-LIFE BOYFRIEND because she decided Ben was The One For Her, which is an actual insane person thing to do. In any context that is not The Bachelor, she would not be allowed within 500 feet of Ben, but in this world, the producers can’t get her on camera fast enough.
Inevitable outcome: Delusional Caila will get by for an episode or two until she reveals her backstory in a a-little-drunk group-date cocktail hour heart-to-heart with Ben; Ben will wait until the rose ceremony to dismiss her only after the producers refuse his request to file for a restraining order mid-episode.
EMILY & HALEY
Best fact: TWINS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Which one is which? You are correct, it does not matter even one little bit.
Worst fact: I mean, they’re 22 years old (significantly younger than the standard Bachelor or Bachelorette contestant who makes a big, tearful deal of being ready to fall in love and get married, a fact that earns the twins several catty remarks upon entering the mansion); one lists Taylor Swift as her idol, while the other states that going to Six Flags and “riding every single ride” is one of the TOP THREE things on her bucket list, which are profoundly sad facts; they speak almost exclusively in unison; and they never, ever blink. At one point, they confidently and matter-of-factly assure a visibly terrified Ben that he’ll have time to get to know them both individually AND as a pair, if you know what they mean, and I think you do, hehehehe (sex). I know this might shock you, but he gives roses to both of them at the end of the episode.
Inevitable outcome: Ben keeps them around on the off chance that he’ll be involved in network television’s first on-camera group sex scene; at least one other woman eventually has to be physically restrained from attacking one or both of them; Ben eventually mistakes one twin for the other, deeply offending both; he dismisses one during a rose ceremony, and the other one voluntarily leaves in solidarity; they immediately sign a VERY lucrative adult film contract with Vivid Entertainment.
Best fact: Seems normal enough?
Worst fact: NOPE NEVER MIND, her first-impression icebreaker is presenting Ben with a personalized save-the-date for their hypothetical, statistically-unlikely-to-ever-exist wedding. She even has an unconscionably bad wedding hashtag: #tohigginsandtohold. Ben briefly considers throwing himself in front of her departing limousine.
Inevitable outcome: She’ll be out by episode 2 and will be stuck with 499 useless save-the-dates to a nonexistent wedding to explain to everyone that comes to her apartment from now on.
Best fact: She’s from Alberta! Jami immediately becomes the second-most famous biracial Canadian.
Worst fact: A reasonably clever joke about how Canada is small and they all know each other immediately goes sour when she reveals that she is friends with Katelyn Bristowe, last seen breaking Ben’s heart in the last season of The Bachelorette. I liked this moment because it broke the unwritten rule that no contestant-turned-bachelor or contestant-turned-bachelorette EVER pines on screen for whoever they lost last time, despite having spent much of last season telling the camera that they’ve found the perfect one for them (for example, on the last Bachelorette, you never saw a glum, brooding Katelyn stand on her hotel balcony and wistfully say things like “Well, these guys are awesome, but they can’t hold a candle to Chris Soules’ vacant, unseeing stare”). Still, Ben did not look pleased. Don’t bring up his greatest heartbreak during this moment of triumph, Jami.
Inevitable outcome: Two more episodes at most.
Best fact: She’s great! She seems confident and comfortable. Plus, she list her ideal type AS Ben Higgins. Who is the bachelor on this show!! What are the odds of that!?
Worst fact: “Small business owner” and “entrepreneur” are Bachelor code for “profoundly unemployed.”
Inevitable outcome: Ben’s not here for the money. Jennifer is going places. Top three.
Best fact: I loved “Too Little, Too Late.”
Worst fact: Emerged from limousine wearing a giant novelty unicorn head, which is a great power move! If she had introduced herself and walked inside without removing the head, coyly telling him that he’d just have to find out more about her later, I’d be all in. Ben would be so INTRIGUED the rest of the night. Which one of these is the unicorn girl? Unfortunately, she immediately takes it off and proclaims, “Unicorns do exist.” She laughs, but only to mask the tears.
Inevitable outcome: You will look back on this season and not even remember when she got eliminated.
Best fact: Joined the military at age 18 and did 4.5 years of active duty; lists her occupation as “war veteran.” Which is awesome. Jubilee is way, way too good for this show.
Worst fact: I don’t know, she seems pretty cool, plus her introduction video features demonstrating her grappling skills by throwing a fellow soldier with ease (I assume all branches of service are composed predominantly of Bachelor watchers). Neither Ben nor the other contestants, this means you, TWINZ, should cross her.
Inevitable outcome: Has a good chance to obliterate any suggestion that this franchise ignores minorities by…making the top five, maybe.
Best fact: Lace’s post-limo introduction to Ben might never be topped: she asks him to close his eyes, and when he does, she kisses him, and shrugs and smiles, explaining, “I wanted the first kiss.” Ben, realizing he may be the first contestant to spark legitimate jealousy and outrage before even meeting all the contestants, immediately whips his head around in terror to see if the other women saw it.
Worst fact: Lace proceeds to get very drunk during the rest of the episode, cattily sniping at other women and sneeringly proclaiming them less pretty than she is. She then takes Ben aside, asks to kiss some more, gets very sensitive when he suggests that this is PERHAPS a bit too quick, and then berates him after the rose ceremony (despite receiving a rose!) because he didn’t even LOOK at her, like he is her slack-jawed husband staring at cheerleaders at a football game or something.
Inevitable outcome: RIDE OR DIE FOR LACE, who will not win but will absolutely make for great television. Lace is a mortal lock to make at least three women cry and to say coldly, at some point, “I didn’t come here to make any friends.” Ben will finally dismiss her in episode 6 after too many women tearfully complain to him that Lace makes cow noises at them every time they change clothes in the mansion.
Best fact: Helps fulfill this show’s rigid, uncompromising Lauren quota; lists The Parent Trap as a favorite movie.
Worst fact: Name too reminiscent of Laura Conrad.
Inevitable outcome: Three episodes, max.
Best fact: Not applicable.
Worst fact: Grew up in Portland, but, she explains, she was MEANT to be from Southern California, which is just code for “it wasn’t until senior year of high school that I found out that The OC was not a documentary series, and I cried for three weeks.” Explains that if she could be another person for just one day, she would be the First Lady, because she “would love to see the life of the president, but not actually be the president,” which is a sentence that all by itself just caused Hillary Clinton to dip three points in the polls.
Inevitable outcome: She is equal parts fantastically perky and fantastically dumb, so she’s both a top-3 finisher and the early favorite to be on the next season of The Bachelorette.
Best fact: Teaches kindergarten, which is cute. Also, the best date she’s ever been on is a trip to a grocery store, so Ben (and The Bachelor‘s considerable travel budget) should hopefully be able to help her recalibrate a bit.
Worst fact: Looks too much like Whiny Whitney.
Inevitable outcome: Lauren H. missed her calling by one season. But since Chris and Whitney did not end up married, perhaps Bachelor in Paradise will provide a forum to bring Lauren H. and Chris together.
Best fact: She broke the ice with Ben by emerging from the limousine, hiking up her dress, turning around, and long-snapping a football to a bewildered Ben. This at first appeared as awkward as it sounds, but then you remember that Ben was a high school sports star, and as Leah walked in the mansion, he sort of absent-mindedly gripped and re-gripped the football, and you could tell he was thinking, Man, I do love football…maybe I love her, too? Someone definitely read up on Pavlovian conditioning before filming started.
Worst fact: Lives in Denver; hates the cold. Idiot.
Inevitable outcome: Four episodes, roughly.
Best fact: Describes herself as being opinionated and independent, with a tendency to drink too much. So…she’s honest, I guess.
Worst fact: Tried WAY too hard to be this year’s kooky, zany contestant, with disastrous results. She wore a giant rose on her head throughout the entire premiere, and after giving the standard “Do you floss?” question to Ben that’s basically mandatory if you are a contestant who is also a dentist, she followed up by actually giving him a dental exam on camera, with the little circle mirror and the terrifying pick and everything. Plus, Jenna points out that her boobs are too far apart, which I at first thought was silly but now, yeah, she’s totally right. What’s going on there?
Inevitable outcome: This year’s Ashley S., the producers will require Ben to keep her on for entertainment value for at least four episodes. A lock to be the first one to get naked in the water on Bachelor in Paradise.
Best fact: Olivia is a former TV news anchor who quit her job to appear on the show, which is not quite as terrible a plan as Caila’s, but close. But that matters less when it becomes apparent that she is the contestant who most enjoys being on camera. Olivia scores the coveted First Impression rose from Ben, accepting it with a polished, perfectly-comfortable “ohmigosh of course!” or something to that effect.
Worst fact: Lace has already quietly completed an elaborate plan to poison her to her death and frame the twins.
Inevitable outcome: She’s either winning, or the next Bachelorette (which, yes, is arguably more of a win than getting this Ben dude to propose a wedding that will never happen).
Best fact: Says nothing even remotely memorable, but rolls up to the limousine on a hoverboard, which, to be fair, is a GREAT move to pull if you have nothing even remotely memorable to say.
Worst fact: Occupation listed as “unemployed.” Come on, Rachel, say you’re an entrepreneur! You know The Code!
Inevitable outcome: Ben cuts her after observing that said hoverboard does not appear in subsequent episodes.
Best fact: She is on this show, which pays her money to be there, so she is a gainfully employed recent law school graduate! Samantha is firmly not a liability to the Florida Coastal School of Law employment office.
Worst fact: Introduces herself to Ben by telling him that she found out, in the limousine and on the way to the Bachelor mansion, that she passed the bar exam. There’s no way. You found out about that while hopelessly refreshing a terribly formatted state bar association web site on your phone on some godforsaken Thursday afternoon and really hoping that your day drinking would be of the celebratory type and not the morose type. Not at night, on your way to the Bachelor mansion. Too convenient. So Samantha’s worst fact is that she is a LIAR.
Inevitable outcome: Nah, two episodes.
Best fact: Uh, has a cool name, I suppose.
Worst fact: Does not speak a word of English during the entire episode. All Russian subtitles, all the time. There are two possible explanations for this: 1) she is a Russian person who implausibly made it all the way through auditions without telling the producers one single thing about her or communicating in any way to them that she might be a good contestant, or 2) she realizes there is no precedent for a contestant refusing to speak English, and banks on people being intrigued by mysteriousness.
Inevitable outcome: She’s right! I absolutely have no idea what to make of Shushanna, and this is absolutely delightful. If she indeed speaks no English, how did she end up here? How do we know she has any idea what is going on right now? Is she trapped in some kind of Twilight Zone nightmare in which she desperately wants to apply for political asylum but is forced to keep filming episodes of a TV show? Or, if she is engaging in some kind of elaborate performance art, what’s the endgame? At what point, if any, does she crack and lapse into English? Before Lace sneaks up on her in the hallway and silently begins choking her to death, or will it be too late? Whatever the case, I can’t wait to find out.