Krystal Nielson’s story took a turn. She arrived on The Bachelor looking to find love, as all contestants want to do, but by the third week of filming, she knew that the reality show would portray her as the “villain.” A time-honored tradition, the “villain” of The Bachelor takes the form of most reality television antagonists. She’s competitive to a fault, i.e. she’s not there to make friends. With the Bachelor, she’s coy and flirtatious — a quality that’s seen as villainous by the other women, but a-okay by the Bachelor’s standards. In Krystal’s case, the other contestants perceived her as overly competitive, another form of Bachelor infraction. When she returned from her first date with Arie Luyendyk, Jr., she refused to tell the rest of the girls what had transpired. The date was between her and Luyendyk, not something to be shared with her competitors. Her fellow contestants blanched, surprised at this lack of friendship — why wouldn’t she be a good gal pal and just dish?
Nielson didn’t intend on being the villain of her season, but here she was, confronting a pack of overtired and possibly hungover women in the Bachelor mansion. How did she become the Scrooge in her own fairytale narrative?
“Going in, I was so mindful of not wanting that label,” she told me over the phone a week and a half after her elimination. “It's so funny, because I just completely blew it. That's exactly what happened!”
Nielson says she knew she’d be the villain by the time she arrived in Lake Tahoe the fourth week. She’s also understanding of her situation: The Bachelor needs a villain, and after she earned the role, she was happy to oblige.
“It's what makes a good story,” she explained. “You definitely need a hero to overcome evil, in a sense. And I think that” — she paused — “that makes for good television.”
The Bachelor formula is time-tested. Fifteen years in and the show is still a winner for ABC, keeping the network a top Monday performer with adults aged 18-49 through the first quarter of 2018. Though the crux of the show is love and marriage, the love part doesn’t really begin until halfway through the season, when the Bachelor “establishes a connection,” to borrow the show’s phrasing, with three or four women. Before that happens, the season needs something controversial to entice viewers. The controversy is often delegated to a woman in the house who seemingly doesn’t care what the viewers at home think. The villain sometimes seems self-aware. She’ll get hammy and lean into “catchphrases” as if she’s a performer with the WWE. Of the three villains I spoke to for this story, all confessed that they were faintly aware of their role in the proceedings, although they may not have known they’d be a “villain,” per se.
“The word ‘villain’ never entered my mind while filming,” Courtney Robertson, the villain from season 16 of The Bachelor, told me over email. “I didn’t watch my season while it aired. When I started seeing headlines like... Maneater, Shameless Seduction, etc.. that's when it really sank in.”
Robertson’s villainy bled into her post-show life. She and her Bachelor Ben Flajnik broke up while the show was airing, a fact the tabloids gleefully discovered when Flajnik was photographed with Jennifer Love Hewitt. Flajnik has, in interviews, blamed the producers for their breakup. Seeing Robertson portrayed as the antihero, he claimed, soured his affection for her. America didn’t want to celebrate his love story; they hated him almost as much as they hated Robertson.
“I felt like the franchise, the people that cut the show, produced the show, really didn’t give us a fighting chance. Because she was cast so negatively,” Flajnik explained on Reality Steve’s podcast. “I was like, ‘Man, I don’t really wanna be with somebody like this.” Flajnik knew that what he saw on television wasn’t a true representation of who Robertson was, but he found it difficult to reconcile her private and her public persona. (He later added that her “true colors” came out when she published a tell-all memoir.)
That said, Robertson knew she might ruffle feathers going into the experience. “I knew a lot of the women weren’t going to like me,” Robertson continued. “I was prepared to stick up for myself.”
She also thinks the show needs a villain to thrive. “I think the ratings would go way down without [villains]. I can’t imagine a conflict-free season given the situation. It would be impossible.”
Corinne Olympios, one of the more high-profile Bachelor villains thanks to a few handy catchphrases, had similar thoughts going into the show. “I've never been one to just join into the girl crowd and smile and wait for my turn to talk,” she said. ‘I'm not sure if they could sense that about me before I was there or if they were just in for a surprise, but it certainly helped push the drama.”
Olympios thinks villains help viewers sift through the competition. There are the frontrunners, and then there are the villains. Sometimes, the villains are successful, as with Robertson. Olympios herself made it all the way to hometowns before she went home. There’s job security in being the villain. You know you’ll stick around for at least three episodes and then, when you return for Women Tell All, you’ll have your personal “Rose’s Turn.” In the television show UnREAL, which depicts the behind the scenes machinations of a Bachelor-like show, the producers “cast” the villain as if the show is scripted. UnREAL is, of course, fictional, but the showrunner Sarah Gertrude Shapiro worked on The Bachelor, and she has assured fans that this aspect of running the show is real.
Villains are immensely popular on social media, as people take to Twitter to complain about their least favorite characters. Olympios herself has spun her status into a clothing line. Robertson wrote a book. Olivia Caridi from season 20 has a podcast, and Nielson told me she’s grateful for The Bachelor for helping her promote her fitness brand.
When asked if she thinks her villainy contributed to her post-show career, Olympios replied, “I have no doubt that it has.”
Ever the entrepreneur, she added, “You'll see more evidence of that in retailers later this year.”
Olympios, Robertson, and Nielson all insist that their goal during the show was only to get to know the Bachelor. This is part and parcel of being a villain: Contestants who are aggressive about getting to know the lead tend to ruffle feathers. Other contestants deem it “inconsiderate” when the ambition of these women gets in the way of their Bachelor love stories. But then there’s that old reality TV adage: These women aren’t here to make friends. They are here to fall in love. Being goal-oriented on The Bachelor also means being a villain.
“People have to realize that when you get there and see that much competition, you don't know whether you're going to be gone the first night or if you'll make it to the end. So you try to let the bachelor get to know you,” Olympios explained. “There are too many other options to expect that he'll notice a wallflower, so I made 100% sure I was noticed.”
Being coy isn’t an option, but being overt causes friction within the Bachelor manse.
Nielson described struggling with “the accelerated process of dating a man who’s dating 29 other women who you live with and who you want to be supportive of.”
“However, supporting them to have a stronger relationship than you kind of defeats the purpose that you're there,” she said. “You're there to date the guy.”
The Bachelor wants to create this type of friction, and the show is uniquely retrofitted to allow it. Who in their right mind would submit themselves to a competition against 25-30 other women for the heart of one man? The concept is antediluvian — like princes jousting for a woman’s hand in marriage, or a ball created solely so a prince can pick a bride. In this case, though, the competition isn’t wearing armor, the duels are only semi-conscious, and women don’t have the ability to scurry away after the stroke of midnight. The result is a forced-smiles competition where ambitious women end up looking like heartless hawks.
Villains on the Bachelor are Frankensteins of the show’s making. They’re half-organic, natural solvents of the show’s chemistry. And they’re half-machinated, orchestrated by the producers to become the hostiles we know. When asked about her famous line “my vagine is platinum,” Olympios was coy.
“I never reveal my process,” she said.
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