There’s A Big Issue With The Bachelor‘s Date Budget — & Not Just Because It Tells You Who Probably Wins
Editor’s note: There are no “official” Bachelor season 25 spoilers ahead — just theories.
The romance portion of the 2021 Bachelor has been a mess. The “Women Tell All” episode confirmed footage from multiple dates was left on the cutting room floor to fit in more (usually cruel) drama. It took 10 weeks for Bachelor lead Matt James to open up to cameras beyond surface level chatter. One of the season’s frontrunners didn’t even arrive until the fourth week of production.
Monday night’s “Week 10,” which serves as The Fantasy Suites Episode, finally invests in Matt’s relationships over petty reality TV manipulation (although viewers were still force fed some of the latter). This decision allows fans to see the difference in Matt’s final three connections: the contrast between how he treats each contestant — and, possibly more importantly, the contrast in how Bachelor producers handle each couple.
When you really look at the stark separation between dates for the finalist portion of the season — which includes Hometown and Fantasy Suite dates — you realize the franchise’s all-knowing puppet masters have seemingly already picked their winner. The answer is the now-controversial contestant Rachael Kirkconnell — who apologized last month for a slew of racist findings — and the writing has been on the wall since “Week 5.”
In the middle of the Bachelor season, Rachael was the recipient of the date colloquially, and creepily, known in the fandom as “the Pretty Woman date.” During the shopping-based date, a Bachelor Nation lead takes a contestant to a fancy store to try on luxurious clothes and “buys” their love interest thousands of dollars worth of items. It’s a date that is flashy in an obvious and tangible manner. In “Week 5,” Rachael receives the pandemic-era version of this date, with a stylist and racks of swanky looks coming to Nemacolin Resort just for her and Matt. Rachael is gifted a pair of coveted Louboutin heels.
Despite the outing’s unnecessary sex worker-related nickname, the extravagant date holds a lot of meaning in the franchise. Becca Kufrin and Bryan Abasolo, who both won their seasons, got the shopping date (Becca and her Bachelor eventually broke up). While Peter Weber’s 2020 Bachelor season did not have a traditional shopping date, his eventual “winner” Hannah Ann Sluss won the swag-heavy group date with Revolve. The moment Rachael is tapped for the shopping from Matt, her frontrunner status is undeniable.
The last two in-narrative episodes of The Bachelor have only driven home how much producers expect Rachael to win — much to the romantic detriment of Matt’s other relationships, which are with Black women. During Hometowns week, Michelle Young and Bri Springs, who will end up in Matt’s final three, are given fairly cheap dates. Michelle and Matt ride bikes together. One of the bikes breaks easily in the face of a little tomfoolery. Michelle is then given a Zoom call with her students, putting her on the same footing as every other burnt-out office worker during the pandemic. Bri gets to drive a big car through the mud. She is also allowed to eat a picnic with Matt in the middle of a barren Pennsylvania field.
Rachael, on the other hand, is tossed the keys a sexy little sports car to drive on the way to a skydiving date. Skydiving usually costs more than $200 USD for one person, including in Pennsylvania where this season of The Bachelor filmed. Bachelor producers had to pay for two people to skydive, along with the likely exorbitant insurance fees for such a daring date. Footage also suggests production had to figure out how to get their camera crew in the skydiving plane. That is a lot of effort, particularly when compared to Michelle’s rinky-dink bike.
Fantasy Suites week continues this preferential trend. Bri is told to carry a heavy backpack and go sit in a tent in the forest for her “fantasy” date. Bri finally comments on her exhaustion over these uncomfortably rustic dates, saying in a confessional, “I don’t know how I always end up with my dates outside because I am the least outdoorsy person.” Bri had been so thoroughly convinced to expect a complete lack of luxury from The Bachelor that she momentarily believes a freezing cold tent in the woods will be her Fantasy Suite location. It’s impossible not to think of The Bachelorette’s Ivan Hall and his Fantasy Suites Airstream in some corner of the La Quinta.
However, Bri, like Michelle, is eventually whisked away to what appears to be a genuinely beautiful hotel room. Then you see what Rachael Kirkconnel receives in the Final Fantasy suite of the episode and realize the Black women were given the small potatoes. The day portion of Rachael’s date includes a ceramics teacher, which normally wouldn’t be very expensive. But, this is the pandemic. The instructor had to quarantine for some amount of time to enter the Bachelor bubble. Production must have paid for her days-long stay. Rachael then receives an entire separate, sprawling “estate” for her Fantasy Suite location. Before cameras leave Matt and Rachael alone for their overnight date, the couple is treated to an extensive fireworks display.
Again, Bri was handed a tent.
It’s not like the divergence between Bri and Michelle’s finalist experience and Rachael’s legitimate fantasy adventure is random. In the wake of his disastrous 2019 Bachelor season, Colton Underwood was very clear about the fact that production knows the identity of a leads' favourite contestant and acts accordingly. “They always asked [me] to rank the girls,” he told The American Life in August 2019. Colton pretended to prioritize Hannah Godwin to protect his growing relationship with eventual “winner” Cassie Randolph. Since Cassie didn’t seem like a priority, production had no problem sabotaging Colton and Cassie’s relationship by inviting the latter’s father to Portugal to urge her to leave the series.
“They were like, 'Whoa, we thought it was Hannah because you kept telling us even on your list, when you’d rank them, [that] Hannah’s one,'” Colton recalled. It’s easy to see the same destructive behaviour on display now, two full years later.
There’s a world where The Bachelor increases the romance for women like Bri and Michelle to give them a fighting chance against a clear frontrunner like Rachael. It would be good for tension. Instead, we’re watching a woman whose adult behaviour created a franchise-wide racism reckoning get showered with luxury in the days before an all-but-promised win, while her Black counterparts are given what amounts to the tiniest of love kernels. This is the season that will never learn.