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Why I Can't Stop Watching The Bachelorette

... or The Bachelor, for That Matter

By Natasha Burton

I can track almost a decade of my life based on which season of The Bachelor or The Bachelorette I was watching at the time. It's an obsession that makes boyfriends, and less-girly-girl girlfriends, roll their eyes. And, understandably so: I've dedicated more hours of my life than I'd like to count to two TV series that, season after season, end quite predictably — and without fulfilling their promised goal at that. Of 14 seasons of The Bachelor, and five of The Bachelorette, only four couples remain together.

Yet, I have consistently convinced roommates (who, at one time, included my parents) to sit with me and watch “The Bach” (the term I lovingly use to connote either franchise currently airing). Watching these series has been a constant: In college, my suite-mates and I sat upon the scratchy student housing couch, passing freshly-microwaved bags of popcorn as season one Bachelorette's Trista Rehn fell in love with Ryan. Then, my roommate and I swooned over football-playing bachelor Jesse Palmer in our dumpy downtown L.A. apartment, while clutching matching bowls of cookies and ice cream. (Stereotypical girl food is a necessary staple of Bach-watching.) And the tradition continued in my New York City studio, where my roommate and I — armed with red wine and dark chocolate — huddled on my twin bed for Italian pseudo-prince Lorenzo Borghese's turn at finding love.

Why exactly do I love The Bach so much? Here are some theories:

The Cheesiness: I'm a sucker for ritual. Watching the shows is a ritual in itself, so I appreciate the sense of formality their host (perpetual-good-guy Chris Harrison) has maintained season after season. I've even given Chris a special nickname: “Smitty,” an adjective combining his air of simultaneous pity and sympathy, with just a hint of smugness. (Note: He's been happily married to his high school sweetheart since 1993.) As he utters that familiar refrain each episode, “Ladies, this is the final rose tonight,” my fellow viewers and I have been known to cheer, “Smitty! Smitty!” And yes, my friends and I are huge dorks.

The Drama: If I had a dollar for every sentence I've started with, “So-and-so told me not to tell anyone, but ...,” I would be retired in an Italian villa with a rented bachelor of my own by now. I love drama — and The Bach is filled with it. Take last season, when bachelor Jake Pavelka set his final rose ablaze one episode, dropping it into a strategically-placed fire pit in lieu of bestowing it upon a lucky lady. At this, my hippie-yoga-teacher roommate (the latest victim of my obsession) and I uttered a duet of gleeful “ooohs” in between spoonfuls of Nutella. While I know deep down that those moments are carefully planned orchestrations from the shows' producers, I prefer to suspend reality. I'm sure the actual filming of a rose ceremony takes a couple hours and many takes, that the lilting music in the background and those deliciously pregnant pauses made in the editing room are the real reasons for my Bach-induced anxiety — but I won't let this rationale kill the thrill.

The Competition: Each week on The Bach, potential suitors are systematically eliminated — and the inevitable crying that ensues ups the aforementioned drama factor especially well. At the end of the day, the shows are games and there are prizes. And, it just so happens that The Bachelor's prize — the handsome, diamond-ring-bearing man of your dreams — is one that I would bet many women in America covet. These are high stakes, folks.

The Fantasy: I'm all for equality, splitting the check on the first date, female empowerment and the like — heck, I performed the Vagina Monologues in college, twice — but I would totally allow a handsome, rich man to whisk me out of my cubical and into a private jet bound for some tropical island on a fantasy date (courtesy of ABC) and treat me to free dresses and gourmet meals (also courtesy of ABC). I should be politically correct and say I'd probably get bored, but I'm not so sure.

The Fantasy, Part II: In all seriousness, though, I also totally buy into the romantic promise of the show — despite its aforementioned track record of break-ups. When a new season starts, I think maybe this time the contestants will find love. Perhaps I want to be able to brag that I saw the magic happen right before my eyes, or perhaps it's the fact that, as hard as I try to fight it, I get embarrassingly gooey over The Bach's perfect-romance-that-doesn't-really-exist plot lines. (And, surely, saps like me explain why the shows are still running strong.)

The Education: My gross fascination with the opposite sex turns watching The Bachelor into a particularly prime opportunity for viewing a man and his motives. He'll tell one woman, “I'm developing really strong feelings for you.” Then, after the commercial break, he'll make out with another woman in a hot tub. I could discuss for hours the nuances of those “really strong feelings” he's “developing." How very noncommittal and carefully-chosen are those words — so as to not lead on the lady, yet still show her that he's interested enough. On The Bachelorette, there's a very different opportunity for behavioral study, as 25 men experience what it's like when the woman calls the shots.

The Symbolism: At the same time, that Monologue-performing feminist in me wants the show to be so much more than simply sublime entertainment. For the franchise's next installment, the sixth season of The Bachelorette gives former front-running Bachelor contestant Ali Fedotowsky a chance at love. But, for me, the season will be about more than her quest for true romance: The reason Ali is on the show is because she didn't win the last season of The Bachelor, which in turn was due to her decision to go back to work rather than staying on the show for its full run. The question is: Will she, in the end, be rewarded for choosing career over love? I spy a metaphor here for that epic female battle: If Ali can have her career and get the man of her dreams to marry her, hey, so can I! (Oh, life lessons from The Bach ... so very poignant.)

Come 8 p.m. tonight, you all know where I'll be: Parked on the couch, large bowl of ice cream in lap, eyes glued to the TV to see if Ali can turn The Bach's low success rate around. And, as always, I'll be cheering for Smitty.

Will you be watching this season of The Bachelorette?

  • Will Ali find love as The Bachelorette?

    Henry Flores/BuzzFoto/FilmMagic
Why I Can't Stop Watching The Bachelorette
... or The Bachelor, for That Matter
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