Update (August 6, 2018 at 11:00 p.m.): On the season finale of The Bachelorette, Becca Kufrin selected Garrett Yrigoyen. They are now engaged and plan to vacation soon in Thailand.
Original post follows.
As of Monday night, Becca Kufrin will have picked her final suitor on The Bachelorette. He will either be Blake Horstmann, a Coloradan with a soft side, or Garrett Yrigoyen, a Reno, Nevada, native who has been compared to a puppy. Onscreen, they are equally appealing: Horstmann brought an ox to meet Kufrin in the first episode, and Yrigoyen does a great Chris Farley impression. Public perception of the candidates is different, though. Yrigoyen faced scandal in early June when Ashley Spivey, a former Bachelor contestant, disseminated a series of screengrabs proving that his Instagram account had “liked” several memes with offensive rhetoric. One meme equated feminism with being fat and ugly. Another suggested that boys in 2018 were too “girly.” Yet another suggested that David Hogg, a survivor of the Parkland massacre, was a crisis actor. At best, the “likes” looked like evidence of a sick sense of humor. At worst, they demonstrated that Yrigoyen shares views with alt-right pundits like Alex Jones, who did, in fact, accuse Hogg of being a crisis actor.
Following mounting pressure, Yrigoyen apologized, claiming that the likes weren’t representative of him as a person. Kufrin later commented on his apology, asking that viewers “get to know” her and her suitors over the course of the season.
“I came into this knowing I was going to meet a handful of men who came from different backgrounds and different walks of life, and I wanted to just be open to everyone, and I hope that the viewers can do the exact same thing,” she said in a statement provided to The Hollywood Reporter. This suggests that Kufrin, who appears to be liberal, or at least anti-Trump, found herself reconciling her attraction to Yrigoyen with some opposing political views. But there’s no way to know this information for sure: The Bachelorette doesn’t directly address politics, ever — yes, even in 2018.
The Bachelor and The Bachelorette produce love in vitro, in a colorless void where things like political affiliations and religious views simply don’t exist. This is part of the show’s concept: Production purposely prevents contestants from using phones, TV, and the internet as a way to keep them “focused” on falling in love (and from leaking any of the season’s plot points early). This practice also keeps the show in increasingly clueless territory. Contestants can discuss past relationships, but they probably wouldn’t discuss misogyny. They’ll talk about the personal experience of immigrating to the U.S. — as Kristina Schulman did on Nick Viall’s season — but they won’t touch on the broader issue of immigration. Even the show’s Reddit page forbids the discussion of politics. The Bachelor is pretending that politics aren’t personal, when they very much are. Beyond the candles, the editing, and the antics of certain villainous contestants, this is the show’s biggest lie. And, with almost 5 million viewers per episode, this is the show’s most dangerous suggestion.
“You're very isolated on the show,” Danielle Maltby, a contestant from Nick Viall’s season of The Bachelor, tells Refinery29. “People don't really understand. You don't have a phone. There's one working clock. We don't have a radio. We don't have a TV. There aren't newspapers being delivered. You don't have interaction with the outside world. You're in a bubble.”
Production of Viall’s season took place from September 2016 to November 2016, right atop the 2016 election. Maltby packed an absentee ballot to have with her during filming, although she made it home just in time to vote. She recalled that Rachel Lindsay, who went on to be the Bachelorette, also packed a ballot, though a number of girls did not. (Lindsay did not reply to multiple requests for comment.)
Viall’s season was tricky because it filmed in the pre-Trump era, but aired in the post-Trump era. Aside from Corinne Olympios’ mantra “Make America Corinne Again,” the season didn’t mention the current POTUS once. Maltby says that while Bachelorette co-executive producer Elan Gale, who is openly anti-Trump on Twitter, likes to talk about politics, producers generally kept politics off the table.
“A lot of the other producers try to keep it very, you know, politically correct, walk the line. Try to not get anybody too riled up. I think they really wanted everybody to be focused on the world that you are in right now,” she says, adding, “That's kind of what they do.” During one of her times with Viall, she says she made an anti-Trump comment that Viall quickly dismissed. This interaction didn’t make it to air, either.
“I brought it up and made an anti-Trump comment, and he agreed, and then it was shut down,” she says. “I don't know if that's something that the producers had talked to him about, like, 'Listen, no political stuff.'”
A lot of the other producers try to keep it very, you know, politically correct, walk the line. Try to not get anybody too riled up. I think they really wanted everybody to be focused on the world that you are in right now
— Danielle Maltby, season 21 of "The Bachelor"
Another contestant from that season, Taylor Nolan, recalls being told in one instance not to bring up politics. During some alone time with Viall, she wanted to ask him who he planned to vote for. “[Producers] were like, 'No, don't bring that up, because by the time this airs, the president will already be picked, and that's a pointless conversation,’” she says. Representation for Warner Brothers have yet to respond to Refinery29’s request for comment.
She also says that production compared her two-on-one date with Olympios to the 2016 election, casting one girl as Trump, and one girl as Hillary Clinton. “You know, 'Is Trump going to win the election, or is Hillary gonna win the election?' And I'm like, 'Well, I'm definitely not Trump!' And I was like, 'I don't think Trump is gonna win. Hillary's going to be our first female president,’” Nolan recalls. Viall sent her home during that date, proving that sometimes the contestant with the catchy slogan wins.
Taylor recalls, laughing, “I was then like, 'Oh, I should have known. I got sent home on a two-on-one, I should have known Trump was gonna win!'"
On an episode of The Ringer’s Bachelor Party podcast, Rachel Lindsay admitted that she didn’t know Viall’s political affiliations before she got to the Fantasy Suite. She discovered that America had elected Donald Trump the day before her Fantasy Suite date with Viall. She entered the Fantasy Suite vastly hungover, per her Bachelor Party interview, and promptly fell asleep. Viall, who did not respond to multiple requests for comment, has since quietly made his political views clear on Twitter.
The seasons since the election have been plagued by politics, even if the topic doesn’t explicitly get discussed on screen. Lindsay’s season featured a contestant named Lee Garrett who was revealed to have a history of racist tweets. Lindsay was the first Black Bachelorette, and when the ratings for her season were comparatively low, Bachelor creator Mike Fleiss declared the reaction “Trumpish.”
“How else are you going to explain the fact that she’s down in the ratings, when — Black or white — she was an unbelievable bachelorette? It revealed something about our fans,” Fleiss told the New York Times.
The Bachelor Winter Games, per the Times article on the show, also struggled to get certain international contestants due to new immigration policies. There’s Trump, slowly encroaching on the franchise’s blissfully apolitical space.
Michael Garofola, a contestant on Winter Games, which aired in February 2018, tells Refinery29 that Fleiss hoped to get Trump’s name, at the very least, onto the show.
“I was sort of instructed that [Trump] would be relevant,” Garofola, who first appeared on Desiree Hartsock’s season of The Bachelorette, says. Garofola, who hails from the U.S., claims he filmed a scene at Fleiss’s request in which he discussed Trump’s presidency with the other international contestants. The plan was: Garofola would go into detail about how the 2016 election upended American politics. Slowly, as he ranted, the fellow contestants would depart, leaving him alone in a kitchen monologuing about Trump.
“I was like, 'I'll do it, but it's never gonna air,’” he says. Indeed, the segment did not make it to air. Garofola himself barely appeared on the show at all. He suggested on Twitter that this is because he liked talking about Donald Trump.
Ben Higgins, the show’s 20th Bachelor, agrees that Trump came up a lot during Winter Games. “He was our president,” he tells Refinery29. “I mean, how often are you able to have kind of a global summit for a month where you're all living together? I loved the idea of talking about President Trump but also just the current world status that was happening in the moment.”
Higgins has political aspirations. Following his 2016 stint as the Bachelor, he nearly ran for state representative in district four in Colorado, where he lives. He would have run as a Republican. He withdrew his bid after realizing that, thanks to contractual obligations with ABC, he wouldn’t have time. This political fake-out is a nice metaphor for the game The Bachelor is currently playing with politics: Many of the producers and contestants express their political opinions on Twitter. The show just might not have the time or the fortitude to actually go there.
Higgins says he doesn’t want to see politics discussed on the show, even though he himself loves to talk about them. (When he calls, he’s currently listening to a political segment on NPR.)
“How would this work out well? Let's discuss this. The show takes a strong stance on some politically heated topic? Maybe. Right? But then, if you have the contestants taking hard stances on political topics, then there's just a bit shown of them explaining it to the masses, then they are left on an island where they're not able to explain themselves,” he says. “My fear is that if [The Bachelor and The Bachelorette] start to get too lenient on heated topics, you're leaving the contestants out for failure.”
“My fear is that if [The Bachelor and The Bachelorette] start to get too lenient on heated topics, you're leaving the contestants out for failure
— Ben Higgins, season 20 of "The Bachelor"
Higgins closely aligns himself with his religious beliefs, another taboo topic in Bachelor world, and says he asked all of his contestants about their relationships to God. “I was never told, 'Hey you can or can't talk about politics.' Or 'Hey, you can or can't talk about Jesus.' I did that because I'm trying to find my wife. And I'm not going to find my wife without knowing those things,” he explains, adding, “I don't make sense unless you know where my faith is.”
During production of Arie Luyendyk Jr.’s season of The Bachelor, on October 1, 2017, Stephen Paddock opened fire on a country music festival in Las Vegas, leaving 58 dead and 851 wounded. Production pulled aside the women of The Bachelor to inform them of the massacre. According to Jacqueline Trumbull, at this point during filming, “gun control came up” as a topic of debate.
“I don’t remember anything getting politically tense, [but] the conservative women were pretty tight-lipped about politics,” Trumbull recalls.
Brittany Taylor, another contestant from Luydendyk’s season, says that Caroline Lunny and Bekah Martinez, who are both chatty about politics on Twitter, would bring up politics in the house, but most contestants did not. “I was surprised to hear that some of the girls were Trump supporters,” Taylor adds. Trumbull said that there was some “tension” surrounding the fact that Luyendyk could be equally interested in “a Trump supporter and a liberal.”
Both Trumbull and Taylor said that producers never discouraged them from talking about politics or Donald Trump. In general, though, contestants avoided the topic on Luyendyk’s season. The apolitical waters are less choppy. Sharleen Joynt, a contestant from Juan Pablo Galavis’ season of The Bachelor in 2014, describes the atmosphere as “superficial.”
“It's not like [talking about politics] was some faux pas. It was more superficial,” Joynt explains. She recalls asking Galavis about his views on gay marriage during their one-on-one date. This never made it to air, although Joynt brought the conversation up during her “Women Tell All” appearance. She says contestants probably could talk about politics, but that just wasn’t the de facto conversation.
Sarah Shapiro, a former Bachelor producer and the co-creator of UnREAL, says that during her time on the show, production made a concerted effort to be apolitical. “I kept pitching things, like, what if they had an NPR date? What if they talked to Terry Gross? And people were like, 'Uh, no,’” Shapiro said, laughing. She says most of the production staff is liberal, which a number of the contestants Refinery29 spoke to corroborated. The audience for the show doesn’t necessarily match that left-leaning demographic, though. “We were definitely playing to the middle of the country. I would say it was apolitical centrist, maybe leaning a teeny bit right,” she says.
In 2018, straddling this divide is increasingly ludicrous. Watching the show this season has been like watching a horror movie: Viewers are keenly aware of how Yrigoyen leans, at least socially, and have had to watch Kufrin woo him despite it all. Politics materialize on the show in the smallest way, tiny imprints that prove Trump and his smothering presence cannot be avoided. The contestant Jean Blanc remarked on the season premiere that Haiti is not a “shithole country,” referencing the President’s comments about it. In another episode, the characters engaged in a mock debate on the steps of Richmond, Virginia’s capitol building. The conversation surrounding Colton Underwood’s virginity has come dangerously close to discussing misogyny, locker room culture, and sexual shame. During his hometown date, Horstmann described surviving a school shooting, which is political from any angle.
At some point, this will all erupt, and The Bachelor might have to acknowledge politics more explicitly. (Hell, even Love Island mentioned Brexit.) The longer it stays in Trump-less territory, the more clueless and maddeningly context-free the show seems.
Higgins argues that the show is a release, a place where politics shouldn’t need to exist. “The Bachelor and Bachelorette are like sports. It's an escape from the day-to-day grind. It's a way for people to release their mind and watch mindless TV,” he says. Sports are political, though, if you’re paying attention. Remember: Former quarterback Colin Kaepernick is still a free agent.
Higgins found himself at the center of this paradox this week when he decided to criticize the President for his tweet about Lebron James. One of Higgins’ fans asked that the former Bachelor stay apolitical because he’s a celebrity. In his defense, Higgins tweeted,“Celebrity doesn’t define me...Do you believe we are best as a nation when we can openly dialogue and freely discuss? Or do you feel like voices don’t matter?”
Ashley Spivey, a contestant from Brad Womack’s season, has been holding the show accountable this season. She shared the “likes” from Yrigoyen’s account, and she’s the one who discovered that contestant Lincoln Adim was convicted of indecent assault in May of this year. She wants the show to be political, and thinks it should at least use its platform to encourage viewers to vote.
“At this point, I don't know how you couldn't talk about [politics],” she says. When we speak, she’s actually calling from Pod Save America host Tommy Vietor’s wedding. “I just don't know why they're so afraid to show those conversations because I think that it is really important when figuring out if someone is right for the other person.”
At this point, I don't know how you couldn't talk about [politics]
— Ashley Spivey, season 15 of "The Bachelor"
The Bachelor’s decision to be apolitical is a symptom of its homogeneity. The average contestant is cis, white, able-bodied, heterosexual, and above a certain income. To this archetype, politics aren’t inherently personal and can be conveniently discarded when necessary. If the show wants to continue down its apolitical path, it might also have to stay this way. Trouble is, The Bachelor and Bachelorette has made quiet (and not-so-quiet) gestures that suggest a desire to evolve beyond its tight borders. Last year, ABC hired the first Black Bachelorette. Season 4 of Bachelor in Paradise included a conversation about sexual consent. There are hopes the franchise will soon elect its first Black Bachelor. Former contestant Bekah Martinez actively holds fellow contestants accountable on social media. Hell, Jason Tartick, one of Kufrin’s finalists, quoted Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony acceptance speech at this year’s “Men Tell All.”
Like it or not, Bachelor Nation might have to catch up to the nation itself.