Ben Higgins Leaving Bachelor Winter Games Is The Most Emotional This Franchise Has Ever Been

Photo: Courtesy of ABC.
Last night on the fluffy Bachelor spinoff The Bachelor Winter Games, former Bachelor Ben Higgins left of his own accord, citing "emotional unavailability." Higgins broke up with his season winner Lauren Bushnell in May of 2017. Bushnell has since moved on with Devin Antin, brother to the Pussycat Dolls founder Robin Antin; Higgins has not. Higgins is also still knee-deep in Bachelor Nation — he hosts a podcast called The Almost Famous Podcast with Ben & Ashley I., and, as previously implied, he appeared on Bachelor Winter Games, presumably to find love again.
"My fear is not entering into a relationship," Higgins told Chris Harrison. "My fear is not [of] pursuing somebody. My fear is that if I was to be broken again, I'm not full enough right now to recover from that." Higgins started to cry.
He cried again when he said goodbye to the remaining contestants. His tears proved infectious, inciting weeping from just about every woman on the show, as well as people way beyond the Bachelor 'verse. It was a tearful catharsis for a show that's been emotionally constipated for months now: A Bachelor show aired something devastating.
The Bachelor always wants departures to be devastating. Every time a contestant leaves, the toothless piano music plays and the show offers some platitudinous sentiment: They came, they saw, but they didn't really conquer, but that's going to be okay. This routine is effective approximately 3% of the time, a batting average the show maintains across most categories. Part of the issue is that it's a routine, period. Every episode of The Bachelor promises painful goodbyes, but almost none of them are truly painful. No matter how humbly contestants supplicate themselves at the altar of Bachelor Nation, their tears are normal, and, more importantly, they are entertainment.
Even when contestants leave of their own accord — as Higgins did Tuesday night — the goodbye is limp. Last Monday night, Jacqueline Trumbull, a PhD candidate on season 22 of The Bachelor, left the show because she didn't see a future with Arie Luyendyk, Jr. She cried probably twice as much as Higgins, crouching outside Luyendyk's hotel room with her hands in her impressive hair. Trumbull's goodbye wasn't that sad, though, in part because it made sense. She has a PhD to finish, and Luyendyk had only just taken her out on her first date. Her tears looked like the product of indecision more than anything else. She couldn't decide if she wanted to stay on this strange television show or if she should fly home to New York City, where she could finally pick up a book without getting in trouble. (Contestants on The Bachelor and related shows aren't allowed any forms of entertainment aside from each other.)
Higgins' departure wasn't necessary. He didn't have to leave, forced out by some Spartan love ceremony. Nor did he leave because his connection to another person was failing. He left because — in his own words — he's just a little broken, and it might have been The Bachelor that broke him. Higgins called the day he got engaged to Lauren Bushnell "the happiest day of [his] life." He later participated in a reality show called Ben & Lauren: Happily Ever After? (The question mark, which might have seemed funny at the time, now looks like a cruel foreshadowing of what came later.) The Indiana native was fully committed to a life with Bushnell, and even a Chris Harrison-esque career of hosting love-related shows. Before they broke up, Higgins and Bushnell hosted Disney Fairytale Weddings for Freeform. They announced their breakup weeks after Disney Fairytale Weddings aired.
In his conversation with Harrison, Higgins explained that having to defend his relationship with Bushnell is part of the struggle.
"They say, 'Did you really love her? Did you really care?'" he told Harrison. He's had to relive his breakup via the Bachelor press cycle. He added that he has to "defend" Bushnell who, by the way, has become a very successful lifestyle blogger and entrepreneur in the months since their breakup. (She's the blonde girl who shows up in Hello Fresh ads on your Facebook feed.) The Bachelor amplified his love story, which is wonderful, but then it amplified his pain — the true downside of Bachelor-style dating, although even the most discreet of breakups can be difficult. In admitting defeat, Higgins became the poster boy for Bachelor disasters: This is your brain dating in the real world, and this is your brain dating on The Bachelor.
"Going on a date sounds like a chore to me," Higgins told Ashley Iaconetti, his podcast co-host, before he left. Granted, dates can be tiresome, but Higgins' altered view is entirely Bachelor-created. He did the hourslong "one-on-one" filming thing before, and it ended with a monthslong public trial that's still sort of happening. Why let it continue?
After Higgins' emotional moment, a number of Twitter users think he's on his way to being the Bachelor once more. The franchise has done this before; Brad Womack took two swings at falling in love, and missed both times. (The second time, he got engaged to Emily Maynard, who later became The Bachelorette. She's now married to someone outside the franchise.) But Higgins' pain seemed too raw for future Bachelorhood, and goodness knows if he couldn't fall in love on Winter Games, he definitely wouldn't be able to do so in the puritanical Bachelor setting. Higgins has healing to do, and maybe he should be able to do that in private. Although, erm, I would like him to podcast about it. Or maybe vlog?
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