The Bachelor has been shockingly low on fun this season. Instead of focusing on its history-making, undeniably handsome lead, The Bachelor 2021 has been swallowed up by painfully serious drama (as opposed to last year’s Real Housewives-y infighting). Victoria Larson led a campaign of subtly racist attacks for five long episodes. Victoria and Anna Redman partnered to slut shame new contestant Brittany Galvin in a way that could have long-lasting effects. MJ Snyder spends Monday night’s “Week 6” repeatedly yelling at co-star Jessenia Cruz, who is Puerto Rican, to “stop talking.”
The late-in-the-episode appearance of Bachelor Nation favorite Tyler Cameron, best friend to 2021 Bachelor Matt James, should have been the joyous boost the ABC reality show desperately needs. As viewers see in “Week 6,” Matt lights up the second Tyler arrives at Nemacolin, revealing the kind of light and bouncy personality we’ve rarely glimpsed over The Bachelor season 25.
Unfortunately, even Tyler’s cameo has an underlying sense of gross discomfort. This queasy effect all comes down to Matt’s “prank” date and consent.
Previously on this season of The Bachelor, Matt’s one-on-one dates have included romantic excursions such as the classic shopping date, hot air ballooning, and, earlier in “Week 6,” a private carnival. Reported presumptive Bachelorette Katie Thurston is taken to a resort spa… and told that her special day is dedicated to “pranking” what Tyler believes is a “nice, hour-long massage.” The Bachelor producers have hired an actress to play Tyler’s masseuse; Matt and Katie will be in the actress’ ear the whole time, instructing her on what to “do” to Tyler.
From the jump, this should feel unsettling for audiences. A massage is an extremely vulnerable time for someone. The person in question is half naked (or even completely nude) and attempting to trust a complete stranger to touch their bare form for a full hour. That action takes a lot of faith. It’s harmful to secretly record such a private moment for national televised consumption in the first place, let alone dispatching a fake massage therapy professional on an individual totally unaware of the many cameras pointed at them. Of course Tyler eventually finds out about the recording — and agrees to let it air in the episode — but that doesn’t make his initial forced ignorance any better.
Then, there is the matter of what actually happens during the “prank.” Because of the essential setup of the date, Matt and Katie see Tyler in his skintight underwear before the massage begins. This is the kind of visual access Tyler should have consented to beforehand. It doesn’t matter that Tyler is an Instagram hunk who constantly shares shirtless pictures of himself. He’s allowed to decide when people — including complete strangers like Kate and Melissa, the real-life actress/completely fake “masseuse” — see him in his skivvies. Even in the case of the controversial 2020 Bachelorette strip dodgeball date, the men decided if, and when, they were going to remove their clothing for camera (Brendan Morais noticeably declined stripping off a final layer at the end of the competition).
As Tyler eases into his massage, and Matt and Katie get into the “prank,” the situation takes a turn for the sexual. Matt tells Melissa to “work her way to Tyler’s nipples.” She does. “Twist his nipples occasionally, too,” Katie adds. Again, Mellisa obliges.
It is impossible not to wonder if Tyler feels uncomfortable — or even confusingly sexually aroused — during such purposefully erotic activity, which, again, he didn’t consent to in the slightest. Melissa then picks up a phone call from a “friend” — who is actually Katie — and gushes, “You’re never going to believe who I’m massaging right now.” Melissa shares Tyler’s identity with her “friend” and announces, “He’s even hotter in person.” Tyler’s confused face suggests he is not at ease in this situation. It’s also possible he immediately wonders if all that unconsented-to nipple play was actually his vocally horny masseuse’s way of coping a feel while he is in a vulnerable position (remember: Tyler has no idea this is a “prank”).
Finally, as a way to reveal the “prank,” Matt slathers his hands in oil and takes over massage duties from the masseuse. Tyler did not consent to having his friend touch him in such a personal (and surprise) manner.
While these antics are wholly inappropriate, Matt, Katie, and Melissa are not the ones ultimately at fault. They were emboldened by the producers to put Tyler in this situation and ran with it. As with the aforementioned strip dodgeball competition, it’s the producers who should answer for this quietly disturbing date. They planned it, they hired the actress, they set the cameras, and they’re the ones who didn’t tell the cast to avoid anything explicitly sexual like varied nipple play on an unsuspecting half-naked individual. As former Daily Beast writer Olivia Messer pointed out on Twitter, a franchise like The Bachelor, which once had to shut down production over alleged consent issues, should know better and do better.
It’s not like The Bachelor couldn’t have done a less coercive prank. If producers wanted to show off Tyler’s physique, it’s easy to imagine the series sending him to play basketball with Matt’s on-site “trainer,” who is actually an actor hellbent on ordering the model into the weirdest displays of physical prowess. Tyler also could have been forced to interview “a contestant” Matt isn’t quite sure about, leading to ratcheting odd behavior from her, or been terrorized by Nemacolin’s “worst waiter” for lunch. The intimacy and vulnerability of a private massage was not the only option here.
“I feel like Matt would know what Tyler would think was funny or not,” Entertainment Tonight host (and Chris Harrison girlfriend) Lauren Zima said on Monday night’s Bachelor Party Pod episode, explaining what “comforted” her about the “prank.” But, it was never Matt’s — or the producers' — decision to make.