Amy Kaufman and The Bachelor have a love-hate relationship. She watches it weekly with a group called "Bach Discush," but she's also, like many of its viewers, plagued by its ills. She's a reporter, after all, and many of her ventures for the LA Times have proven that Hollywood lies. Kaufman broke the story about sexual harassment allegations against James Franco as well as those against producer Brett Ratner. She was also one of the first people to tell Twitter that Warner Bros halted production of Bachelor in Paradise in June of 2017.
The Bachelor is a thorny topic, but, at the same time, it's delicious television. Bachelor Nation, Kaufman's book on the topic, explores these two sides of the show. There's the show's dark side, chronicled in part by the Lifetime show UnREAL, and there's the show's imminent likability, which everyone from Roxane Gay to yours truly have tried to explain. This dissonance led Kaufman to Bachelor Nation, the new foremost authority on the making of The Bachelor. Refinery29 spoke to Kaufman about the horrors of the show, the pleasures of the show, and the future of America's strangest franchise.
Refinery29: I want to know how you feel about this season. It's been controversial, to say the least, if only because it's controversially boring.
Amy Kaufman: "Obviously, like most people, I was not down for Arie initially. And it's been a pretty bland season. Thank God for some interesting women. Everyone's been teasing that the ending is crazy. I just don't know what it is. And last night, it delivered pretty hard, I thought. The sincerity with which [Arie] was telling both of them he loved them was intense. I keep asking my friends who know [the spoilers] like, 'Is is that he says he's in love with two people?' And they're like, 'No, it's even more crazy.'"
Editor's note: This interview was conducted before the finale of The Bachelor aired.
Do you already have a pick for Bachelorette?
"I'm not stoked on any of the possibilities to be quite honest. Tia seems to want it too badly, and that annoys me. And then Becca and Lauren — I mean, Lauren, no. Never in a million years. I actually would stop watching the show. Becca maybe. Maybe they could make it interesting. I would love for them to just go outside the franchise. I know that's, like, a pipe dream, because they're too scared to do that, but that's what I want."
You mean like a celebrity, like they used to do?
"Or just, like, an eligible lady. I think they would probably only do someone with a built-in fan base of some kind. There are some recent season options in terms of women. They were talking about Kristina from Bachelor In Paradise."
What was the strangest detail you uncovered in your reporting on the book?
"Well, I think the tracking on menstrual cycles [is crazy]. I mean, that was from a producer who worked on the show early on, but still. That was pretty weird to me. I know they leveraged — [producers] use emotions to leverage situations, but actually tracking someone's menstrual cycle was a level that I was surprised they took it to."
Yes, and that herpes is the number one reason that contestants don't make it on the show.
"Yeah, the New York Post excerpted that chapter today, and so now people are picking it up. Which is funny to me because I was like, I didn't even think that was that crazy. It's getting a lot of attention or surprised by it. But of course they do STD screening on a show where people are sleeping together!"
You mentioned the producer who shared the information about menstrual cycles was from early in the show's lifetime. Do you feel like the show has changed in the past few years? Has it become less extreme?
"Yes, in some extreme ways. But it depends on what you call extreme. There are plenty of examples in the book where contestants did things they never would have done in the outside world, like saying 'I love you,' or proposing to people, or making serious life decisions. And that all came from being in the same mind set and being persuaded by people on the show. When the result is that you end up doing something that extreme [like proposing to someone], I still think that's pretty — I don't want to say manipulative. But the producers have a big sway."
What are your thoughts on UnReal, after having reported on the actual show? Do you think it's accurate?
"I like UnREAL. That was honestly what got me really thinking about pursuing the book. I was like, okay, it does seem incredibly outlandish on UnREAL, so how truthful is it? Just out of being a fan I wanted to know the legitimacy of it. And I think, especially as the seasons have gone on, they've sort of become even more outlandish and more fictionalized, but as readers of the book will learn, I think there's a lot of aspects of truth to the stuff the show features on UnREAL."
You broke the story about the Bachelor in Paradise production halt. Can you explain how you ended up sharing that news with Twitter?
"I had a source who was there. And I had heard that the taping was on hiatus, so I reached out to that person, and they gave me their side of the story. And I tweeted it out. It was pretty simple. In retrospect, I wish I had done a bit more reporting before I tweeted it, even though it ended up seeming like what went down was pretty close to [what] that source initially told me. That story blew up and become complicated in ways that I don't think I realized when I was first talking to that person. That there was an element of consent included in it was not something I understood initially from that source. [My source] thought it was more like, 'Oh, wow, the producers are scandalized from seeing such graphic sex stuff.'"
How can The Bachelor franchise reckon with the Time's Up initiative? Do you think a push for stricter laws on workplace harassment will affect the future of the show?
"I would think on paper, it would. But frankly, no. Look at — has anyone talked about the Bachelor in Paradise scandal? When that happened, it seemed like it was the death knell for the show. And for the franchise. [People said] 'This is the kind of behavior that happens on set, this is the way the producers don't look after the contestants. This is trashy, this is horrible.' And then I wrote about a lawsuit a few months ago where the producer sued the production company saying she was sexually harassed in the workplace.
There's been a lot of stuff out there about it not being a great environment and yet everyone's still watching. I mean, yes, ratings are not as strong as they've ever been, but I think that has a lot to do with Arie, though. Honestly, it's kind of troublesome to me. We get up on arms about this stuff, and then we just go back to watching, and I'm part of that problem. I have a lot of feelings about how the show is made, and how I'd like to see it change but, admittedly — last night, I'm watching fantasy suites and I'm not thinking about how disturbing it is that he's sleeping with three women, I'm just like, 'Oh! It's The Bachelor.' You get sucked in. And it's weird."
After having reported on it for this book, how would you say you want The Bachelor changed?
"Well, obviously, I think it needs to diversify the contestant pool, not just in race and ethnicity, but in body type. I feel sort of complicit in the fact that I'm watching every week and by just tuning in, I'm saying, 'Oh, a woman who is very skinny, and can wear a bikini, and was really tan and whatever, that's the kind of woman who deserves love.' Because that's the only kind of woman they have on the show, generally. That doesn't make me feel great about it.
I'm tempted to say, 'Oh, they should have women with more careers or women who wouldn't be willing to just pick up and move to where the Bachelor has his life.' But honestly, there haven't been a lot of those in recent years. Rachel, the Bachelorette, didn't just pick up and move to Bryan's hometown. And neither did Jojo. Also, if a woman really does just want to prioritize marriage and love in her life instead of her career in her life — I know that's not what we're taught to value as millennials — but I think part of the reason we all love watching The Bachelor is because we all crave that stuff more than we're admitting to ourselves. Maybe the girls who go on the show are just more open about it in some way."
You spoke to Ashley Iaconetti about her income as a Bachelor influencer. Were you able to get a sense of her yearly income? What does a Bachelor-launched influencer make in a year?
"I mean, you can probably figure it out from the information she gave. [Ashley Iaconetti] said if you have a million followers, you're getting 10k a post. The other ones you're getting, like, 3 - 5k per post. I think she has 600k followers. It's sad that I know this off the top of my head. So, if she's posting twice a week, like 6k a week, and you have to assume she has other income from events and stuff. So, what would that be? It could be as much as $300,000."
How do you feel about The Bachelor as a launch pad for influencers?
"I mean, it's weird. I don't love it. Listen, I don't begrudge them for doing it. I completely get why they do, and they just take their 15 minutes and do whatever they want with them. It's more just the idea of influencers in general that I don't like. I don't go on Instagram for that. The fact that Bachelor people want to get in on that makes sense to me. Of course, it's harder for the casting departments to suss out who's legitimate or not. And I think, like, even if you don't have social media. They made such a big deal out of 'Arie hasn't been on social media' and all these years between Emily [Maynard] and now, but it's like, you don't think the day after the finale that bro isn't going to be hawking some Movement watch? Like yes, he is."
You mention in the book that, after Desiree Hartsock's season of The Bachelorette, you were banned from covering Bachelor events. Why do you think this show has such a fraught relationship with the media?
"I mean, it's hard. I get why they don't want to reveal how everything works. It's not like other reality shows are being completely transparent about that. If you look at who gets access to contestants and stuff, generally, they're doing pretty — I don't want to say fluffy — just like, 'Yay! The couple's together.' The second you start to question the validity of the relationship or how the contestant may be vocalizing some negative feelings, they're not as quick to give you access.'"
Do you feel like Bachelor in Paradise and Bachelor Winter Games affect the attraction to the homeship show at all?
"I've never been a Paradise person. My group of friends love Paradise. They love how openly schticky and jokey it is. I am more into the quote unquote sincere parts of The Bachelor. But, I was so into [Bachelor] Winter Games. And I did not expect to be at all. Because I'm not a big sports person. The relationships were arguably even more sincere than on The Bachelor in some cases. I was crying at the finale! I was like, 'What's wrong with me?' Just when I think I'm maybe moving on from The Bachelor franchise, I'm like, 'Oh my god! Love can happen in the most unusual of places!'"
Editor's Note: This conversation has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.
Bachelor Nation: Inside the World of America's Favorite Guilty Pleasure arrives on bookshelves on March 6.
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