Monday at 8 p.m. (EST), ABC will air the two-hour season finale of The Bachelor, followed by the one-hour "After the Final Rose" segment, where Bachelor Sean Lowe and his fiancée — either Catherine or Lindsay — will chat with host Chris Harrison about their plans for the future. Since the series debuted in 2002, it has developed an intense following — largely of women — and has become increasingly more over-the-top, doubling in length from an hour to two, and sending the bachelor or bachelorette and the contestants to exotic places around the globe. At its peak in 2010, 12 million viewers tuned in to watch the show, and this season is proving to be just as popular. Our apparent love of the show (people at least love to hate it) reveals quite a few things about American society. Here are five.
1. We Love A Good Montage:
The Bachelor editors have an awesome job. At least as I picture it, they spend their days choosing the best shots of Sean, whether he's sudsing up in the shower, lifting weights in the gym, or walking his dog in the park, and group them together in a montage set to slow, "easy listening" jams. No matter what, Sean is always shirtless and the scenes are reminiscent of 1980s soft porn. Nonetheless (or maybe because of this), they are highly entertaining, serve as excellent eye candy, and are back every week because, well, we love them.
2. We Seriously Love Reality TV and We Love Poking Fun at Ourselves for It, Too:
Reality TV is one of the fastest growing genres of television, accounting for about 40% of primetime shows. It's clear that we love it; Americans spend about a third of their free time watching television, and 67% of what is watched is reality shows. While there are many die-hard fans who believe everything they see is — well — real, there are just as many who understand they have to take the show with a grain of salt. Thus, most are more than willing to poke a little fun at themselves for loyally tuning in every Monday night. The parody account "Sean Lowe's Abs" has over 1,000 followers on Twitter, and "Tierra's Eyebrow," an account supposedly belonging to contestant Tierra's infamous raised eyebrow, has over 30,000 and counting. Viewers care about the show, but they enjoy making fun of it, and themselves, at the same time.
Take, for example, the Ben Stiller-produced Burning Love parody featuring cameos from Paul Rudd to Jennifer Aniston. Originally appearing on Yahoo! and since picked up by E!, the mini-series relies on contestants and situations from The Bachelor seasons past for inspiration. The hilarious 10 to 15 a minute episodes target The Bachelor viewers as many of the jokes can only be understood by people who watch the show. It's popularity demonstrates that the same people who seriously watch the show can also seriously enjoy a little making fun of the show, which in turn pokes a little fun at themselves.
3. We Know It's Not About Winning, but How You Play the Game:
Of course for every lucky winner who rides off into the sunset happily ever after, at least for the next few months, there are 24 contestants left ring less and loveless. But as we've learned over the years, being a loser on the show is a blessing in disguise. With the show's 12.5% success rate for actually getting the couples to the altar, rarely do the winners truly find true love. Often, it's the runners-up who have the last laugh, as they are in good positions to be asked to be the next Bachelor or Bachelorette. We all know it's better to be the one choosing a mate among 25 people than being one of those 25. Plus, let's be honest; most of the contestants sign up for the show as a means to find fame, not love, so the more exposure the better.
So knowing how to play the game is the real way to win in The Bachelor. This season, fan favorite Desiree was a front-runner to land the ring. But during hometown dates, she threw a crazy ex-con brother into the mix, eventually leading her to get the ax at the rose ceremony. Now, she's an eligible and likely candidate to be the next Bachelorette, or at least enjoy some time on Bachelor Pad where contestants complete for a substantial monetary prize. Well played, Des, well played.
4. We Love to Hate the Villain:
Every season has a villain whom we love to hate. After all, studies have shown that viewers often watch reality TV in order to feel better about themselves (if you think this doesn't include you, it does — especially if you've ever watched Jersey Shore). Therefore, it makes sense that we'd pick one person to hate because he or she is so mean, dishonest, self-obsessed, you name it. Almost every season has a clear hero and a clear villain. Twice, in the cases of Vienna and Courtney, the villain has even ended up with the ring on her finger, much to everyone's chagrin. This season, Tierra LiCausi played the villain, with antics such as faked illnesses and cattiness towards the other women. Not surprisingly, she got quite the earful from fellow contestants and fans during her "Women Tell All" interview.
5. We Still Believe in Love:
Cue the "awwwww"s now. I know it sounds cheesy but it's the truth; we tune into The Bachelor season after season hoping to see two people find true love. Sure, the drama is pretty amazing, but I truly believe that everyone watches with the hope that it results in a happy couple. Viewers get invested in the couples and want them to work out.
Of course the way in which "true love" is found on the show is unconventional to say the least. Yet the same used to be said about online dating and now online dating is responsible for one in five couples (thanks for the stats, eHarmony). Our society's ideas of love are changing with the times but our belief that love can be found won't go away. After all, even though it happens time and time again, we're devastated when the couples don't last. So before you get all cynical about how fake, or marketed, or whatever the show may be, think about the upside: In the end, it's all about love. Because love, actually, is all around (I had to steal that from Love Actually; it's just too good).