Bachelor villains: Nobody in the cast likes them. They stick around forever. They’re never there to make friends. In short: They’re the worst.
They’re also a dying breed.
If you asked someone watching The Bachelor in the early 2010s to name the season’s villain, they’d easily give you one name, no caveats. But after 18 years, the definition has gotten a little more complicated thanks to figures like once-polarizing Demi Burnett from Colton Underwood’s 2019 season of The Bachelor. She went from a snarky 23-year-old could-be villain to one of the most sympathetic and beloved characters in Bachelor Nation. Burnett was just one of several recent pseudo-villains who completely transformed how fans think of Bachelor nemeses. And now, with the sun setting on Peter Weber’s time as the Bachelor, the entire notion of the show’s classic villain role is losing its grip.
Weber’s season was a complete and utter mess, full of bad decisions from all involved, but no one is one-dimensional enough to be The Bachelor Villain™ — not even Peter's mother Barb, who is a whole other can of worms. Could it be because the concept, as we know it, was already dying by the time Peter’s crew made it to television? This season was an unfruitful attempt to resuscitate it, but the problem may be that the fandom is getting too wise.
“It was UnREAL coming out [in 2015]. I always say it's pretty unreal, pretty decorated, but that show actually had fans looking at The Bachelor in a different lens,” former Bachelor and Bachelor in Paradise contestant Ashley Iaconetti tells Refinery29. She’s never quite been the villain, but was pitted against the season 19 villain during a now infamous two-on-one date, and pictured as the crying roadblock in many a Bachelor in Paradise relationship. “They realized that there was some sort of production to it, and that it wasn't just watching people have lives unfold in front of us. A lot of people realized that there are a lot more people involved than what you see on the screen.”
It seems, in season 24, that producers struggled to employ the trusty old villain formula. But not without lack of trying. First, there was Hannah Ann Sluss, who drank Kelsey Weier’s bottle of Dom Perignon. That didn’t make Sluss a lasting villain, so Weier was the next villain target for being furious about her move, letting it fester in the Bachelor production bubble, and then wearing all black and a smoky eye to a group date.
Unfortunately for the producers, fans and experts alike were quick to note that the debacle was way too heavily produced to have happened organically. Bachelor spoiler purveyor Reality Steve described the situation as “production’s ability to create a situation out of nothing.” Yes, Hannah Ann could have just told Kelsey that producers gave her the Champagne, but then, the two women after Peter’s heart don’t get their screen time, and The Bachelor doesn’t get its now beloved shot of Kelsey chugging Champagne and spilling it all over herself. And in 2020, Bachelor fans have wised up. They see the producers behind the curtain.
But that was just producers’ first attempt at villainizing one of Peter’s contestants. When that didn’t work, they moved onto Alayah Benevidez, who was called “fake.” The accusation grew wings and became an actual storyline that consumed the entire cast and three whole episodes. That, too, fell apart when it turned out that Victoria Paul, who played good guy to Alayah’s villain, appeared to have lied. But when Victoria P. was sent home shortly after that, producers served up a replacement: Tammy Ly, who, in two short episodes went from fan-favorite to Most Likely To Go Home during a 2-on-1 date. She did, after calling Weier “unstable” and accusing Mykenna Dorn of using the show to get social media followers (it seems like they all do), and she came back to play the villain role on the Women Tell All special. She also used her time at the reunion to speak up about the severe bullying she withstood from Bachelor fans. After that, calling Ly a villain doesn’t seem quite right.
The closest we’ve gotten to an actual villain is 2020’s lightning rod Victoria Fuller, who — prior to the show — posed in an ill-advised joke photoshoot that evoked White Lives Matter (she issued an apology in February) and allegedly dated a bunch of married men in Virginia Beach (she has denied the rumors multiple times). But while many fans, especially those on Reddit, have deemed her the antagonist of Peter’s season, the series itself refused to make her one. There were no confessional interviews with other women calling her names; she seems to be well-liked by her Bachelor costars on and off screen. And even though the infidelity rumors arose during the Hometowns episode, she was given the opportunity to quickly squash them with a very sympathetic edit on the March 2 Women Tell All special. Most of her drama happened off-camera, so while fans may have their opinions, as far as the series goes, she’s best categorized as a prime player in Peter’s melodrama rather than a textbook Bachelor villain.
Every so-called Bachelor villain is usually associated with a major moment — Courtney Robertson skinny- dipped; Tierra Licausi on Sean Lowe’s season “fell” down the stairs; Kelsey Poe on Chris Soules’ season was too happy when telling producers that becoming a widow was such a great story for TV.
“People thought I was a paid actor to be on the show. There were so many crazy rumors about me, but I wasn't going into it like, I'm going to be the villain. If anything, I felt the opposite,” Robertson tells Refinery29. She even wrote a book called I Didn’t Come Here To Make Friends to tell her side of the story, which won her some fans in the Bachelor world, including Iaconetti.
“I loved watching Courtney and being like, Oh my God, she says like all the things that I would probably say if I were there, but that’s now more accepted. Back then you had to be on your best behavior and put on a facade,” she says.
Despite that retroactive reading, people like Licausi and Poe (who got dumped during a two-on-one date with Chris Soules and Iaconetti) have gone down in TV history as the characters they were shown to be on The Bachelor. The villain narrative only truly started to change when viewers met Olivia Caridi on Higgins’ Bachelor season in 2016.
Caridi was a character in the Robertson vein — she got the first impression rose from Higgins, consumed his attention, and didn’t like the other women because they didn’t “read books and talk smart things.” Unlike Robertson — who won her season, much to the audience’s chagrin — Caridi was famously left on a misty island in the Bahamas after a bad two-on-one date. She also had public social media profiles, where she says she withstood death threats and vicious attacks.
As the season aired, Caridi went on social media to defend herself and embarked on a series of interviews in which she told her side of the story — even Robertson got a chance to pick her brain. Eventually, Caridi opened up about the effects of the series on her mental health in an interview with the L.A. Times, in which she shared that the reaction to her time on the series made her “suicidal.”
Caridi’s experience started a discussion about empathy and how to treat contestants after the show that paved the way for the outspoken Bachelor contestants we have now. After Caridi, we met Corinne Olympios, a then-24-year-old who had a nanny and a viral recipe for “cheese pasta” (literally just shredded cheese on hot pasta) that took her from a regular old villain to a Twitter sensation beloved enough to start her own T-shirt line. Krystal Nielson went from the glitter-bombing baddie in Arie Luyendyk’s 2018 season to a romantic heroine on Bachelor in Paradise, where she fell in love with fellow former villain Chris Randone on the beach. Demi Burnett kissed her Bachelor, Colton, in front of the rest of the cast and made ageist statements to “older” (by Bachelor standards) contestants. In a surprising turn of events, Burnett later became the darling of the 2019 Bachelor season after her difficult family life was explored. She then went on to be the queen of Paradise as her love story with her ex, Kristian Haggerty, unfolded before our eyes, and she spoke openly about her apprehension to publicly come out as queer.
“Corinne and Demi were classified as villains early on, but now everyone kind of loves them,” says Iaconetti. “So now, they aren’t really villains as much as they are the girl who showboats a bit in the house.”
“Villain” characters have always appeared a bit differently on The Bachelor than on The Bachelorette. Historically on The Bachelor, women have been labeled villains for getting lots of attention from the lead, not being friends with the other women, and often for being overtly sexual. With the right editing, a contestant’s momentary lapse of judgement, misunderstanding, or expression of sexual desire can turn her into a witchy figure. The viewership, which is largely female, is increasingly aware of this constant manipulation, so the villain branding has less staying power. On The Bachelorette, however, the men have tended to be a bit more…direct.
Generally, a male villain is just an asshole, full stop. And since Bachelor Juan Pablo Galavais became the villain of his own Bachelor season, it’s almost as if the word got out that the series was looking for men that the entire audience could unite against. From the kinds of men who threaten physical violence against fellow contestants and insult the lead (Chad Johnson from Jojo Fletcher’s season) to men who’ve been flagrantly, publicly racist outside of the show (Lee Garrett from Rachel Lindsay’s season) in 2017, to Hannah Brown’s slut-shamer Luke Parker, and her deceitful winner Jed Wyatt, male villains haven’t changed quite as drastically as the women have.
But the thing about Bachelor Nation now is that, even in the face of obvious dastardly behavior, things are complicated.
King of Bachelor in Paradise drama Dean Unglert became a villain in 2018 when he cheated on Kristina Schulman on Paradise right in front of her face. It seemed that he was doomed to hang onto that reputation forever. Enter Bachelor in Paradise 2019, when Unglert came onto the scene and romanced Caelynn Miller-Keyes. The two hit it off and spent every waking moment canoodling — until Unglert ditched her because he couldn’t handle a relationship. Villains gotta vill, right? Wrong. Unglert swooped back onto the show and asked Miller-Keyes to run away from the beach with him. This could have made him an even bigger villain — Miller-Keyes was coupled up with someone else by then — but the rom-com move worked, and she and the audience were swept up in the romance. Their wanderlusty life as seen in Unglert’s travel Instagrams after the fact didn’t hurt either, nor do the rumors that they might already be married.
Even Blake Horstmann, the villain of 2019’s Bachelor in Paradise season, managed to wriggle out of his yoke. Prior to filming, he had quite a few almost-romances with multiple women from the 2019 Paradise cast, including Miller-Keyes, at the country music festival Stagecoach. When this came to light on the show, he became the villain, and Horstmann came to his own defense in real time. He posted a series of Instagram stories during one of the Paradise broadcasts using screenshots from his private texts with Miller-Keyes that seemed to refute her claims. While it seemed Blake wasn’t as wrong as we once thought, on the other hand, he’d just violated Miller-Keyes’ privacy without her consent. So while, on the show, Horstmann later found himself a lonely, marginally sympathetic character, his actions in the real world had torn that reputation to shreds.
Yet, cut to 2020, and he has enjoyed a renaissance. Horstmann’s got plenty of friends in Bachelor nation, from Kaitlyn Bristowe and Jason Tartick to former Bachelor Colton and Paradise staple Chris Bukowski. He’s got Instagram sponsorships. He’s doing the reality star rite of passage and hosting DJ nights in Atlantic City. Even after all that mess, people still love him.
This season’s could-be villains can relate. Benavidez actually sees a lot of love from Bachelor fans, from those defending her amid the Victoria P. debate on Reddit, to the people suggesting she should be the Bachelorette, to the fans who are salivating over rumors that she may make a triumphant return on Paradise. Though Ly had to defend herself from further hate after her appearance on the Women Tell All, she and her co-stars have poked holes in much of her villain edit. Ly continues to be close with her castmates, including Shiann Lewis, who professed to Lindsay on her ABC-sanctioned Bachelor podcast that Ly is an incredible friend. Ly herself also hopped on her Instagram stories with a screenshot of a Cosmopolitan article that confirms the show’s editors disingenuously spliced in shots of her making sour faces after sincere moments from Weier. Even Fuller — whose disavowal of the cheating rumors was immediately refuted by Weber’s ex, Merissa Pence, the next day — has her supporters. Scroll through her Instagram comments and you’ll see Ly and fellow Weber season alum Savannah Mullins making sweet comments, along with fans (presumably, Fuller has deleted or blocked negative commenters). There’s even a theory that she’s the secret winner of season 24.
And the reason the producers started using such a heavy, obvious hand this time around seems to be because they were struggling with this brave new world, one in which their audience has outgrown their age-old villain narrative.
No one walked away from Peter’s Bachelor with a clear reputation. What does seem to be clear is that the Bachelor world needs to learn some new tricks. It’s too complicated now to churn out the next Courtney Robertson. Because even Courtney Robertson isn’t a “villain” anymore.