It’s a question viewers of “The Bachelor” ask themselves every time a new lead is announced. Will this season finally be the one—the one that focuses on Romance, with a capital ‘R’? Or will it succumb to the drama, go down in flames, and turn the once barely likable lead into a man we never want to see find happiness?
This season, Zach Shallcross is 6 feet of mediocrity. A white man with almost nothing to his name except a famous uncle (Patrick Warburton, the voice of Kronk in “The Emperor’s New Groove”) and a healthy family life, Zach is most known for his no-nonsense attitude in last season’s “The Bachelorette.” Coming off of an incredibly messy season (there were two Bachelorettes, Gabby and Rachel, and it seemed like the producers had no idea what to do with them), Zach as the new bachelor promises a change of pace, but it doesn’t seem like Bachelor fans quite know what to do with this tonal shift.
As of this week, we’re four episodes into Season 27, and yet we have already cut the group of women down to a measly eleven (from thirty). The general trend: if you show even a hint of drama, of being there “for the wrong reasons” (an almost laughably common trope), you’re getting cut. Zach has a Zero Tolerance Policy. If something feels off, he sends them home. Initial thoughts were somewhat similar across the board: Zach is boring and not Bachelor material. He doesn’t have enough charisma to carry the show, or maybe even the willpower needed to go through a season of “The Bachelor” (the show is downright traumatizing).
A season of “The Bachelor” asks its lead to fall in love with one woman out of thirty, deciding who to propose to after a combined twenty or so hours of alone time with them. It asks them to make tough decisions in a matter of hours, like after the very first night, when all thirty women arrive at The Bachelor Mansion with hopes of being someone’s future wife. They must all meet with Zach, and the night quickly turns into the morning, when, at dawn, Zach must choose who will go home and who will stay. Barely staying awake, after hours of drinking champagne and trying not to look annoyed that they are getting all of fifteen minutes with Zach, a group of girls will see not a second more of screen time. What was it all for?
Now, four weeks later, the opinions surrounding Zach have begun to shift. After I finish watching a new episode, I immediately open Twitter on my phone, typing #TheBachelor into the search bar. The results are starting to interest me. After a month, Zach has almost completely turned the tide, in fact, he is now, according to dozens of accounts, a great lead? Elements of his “style” as the new Bachelor are almost unprecedented. It was long ago accepted that “villians” of the season, or women that got a bad edit, would stay on for multiple episodes, creating a storyline that would last weeks. The Bachelor would continue to keep them on, not because he truly liked them, but because producers would tell him that they needed her for compelling storylines. When a woman like this—who was objectively annoying and horrible—was kept on for multiple rose ceremonies (the time when the Bachelor would choose who stays and who goes), fans would have to decide that one of two things was happening: the Bachelor was truly dense and easily manipulated and just thought she was too hot to send home, or he was fully aware of the drama and was pressured to keep her on the show by producers. This pattern, fairly common and completely expected with each new season, has seen a pause with Zach. With every new episode, it feels like the producers are scrambling to find a new “mean girl” to dominate the drama section of 90 minutes of otherwise fairly drama-less content. Since at the end of each episode Zach becomes aware of this drama and sends the offending woman home, the next episode must start from scratch when attempting to convince the audience that this new woman deserves to go home for stirring the pot.
This new structure of the season has raised several questions for a fairly regular viewer like myself. Is Zach’s style of sending home any girl that even raises one alarm bell in his brain a sign of maturity? Does maturity in the context of reality television equal boring? Do people want boring? And then there are the broader questions about our concepts of love. Do viewers truly believe in the verisimilitude of a show with this premise, do they believe that real connections are being formed, or have they tricked their brains into thinking there is some sense of reality within the manufactured interactions caught on camera? Do we even think what “The Bachelor” produces is love? Is this what we want? Or have we long ago separated the two, recognizing that stable, maybe boring love is okay out in the real world, but we’re not here to see that version of reality depicted on our screens?
I thought I had a pretty clear idea of what Bachelor fans truly wanted to be part of their viewing experience. While I (and many others I follow on Twitter) would endlessly criticize the drama inherent to some seasons, like Pilot Pete or Clayton, we secretly enjoyed the complaining, of declaring we would never watch another season after the trash we just witnessed, just to sit down again every Monday and consume it all over again. I thought that was part of the fun. I thought we were all just “pretending” to not like the drama, knowing that this wasn’t really anything close to romance and never would be. I guess Zach proved me wrong. People are starting to like him, like truly enjoy him as a person. They like boring. After every elimination, every time Zach is so unabashedly forward in his dislike, I see more comments rooting for his success. It’s confused me on what kind of men these women are actually looking for (he really truly is boring), and confused me on what reality television even is. It’s a shift I didn’t expect, although one that isn’t entirely unwanted. If people really like this representation of bland heterosexual love, if they think Zach’s tendency to cut out people that lie to him or try to manipulate him is ultimately good, then awesome. It’s healthy in some sense, even if it’s not the entertaining reality television I’ve come to love.