Bachelor and Bachelorette fans are rarely content with their newest lead. Earlier this year, Peter Weber came off as a drama-hungry man-child. Even 2019 breakout Hannah Brown had eyes rolling with her weeks-long refusal to recognize the darkness of her initial favorite suitor, Luke Parker. But, the vitriol around the current Bachelorette, Clare Crawley, is different. The furor is scarier as Clare’s exit from the series looms with Thursday’s “Week 4.”
“Bachelor Nation needs to chill. I just feel for Clare,” former Bachelor Nick Viall said on the Bachelor Party podcast earlier this week. His ex, and fellow Bachelor Nation lead, Rachel Lindsay wholeheartedly agreed. The pair have a point, as viewers have vocally turned against Clare en masse, often tweeting harsh comments like, “I hope Dale cheats on Clare. Is that mean? Like don’t lead people on bitch, you knew what you were doing.” Sometimes the tweets go much further in their aggression. As past Bachelor contestant Ashley Spivey noted, a certain group of viewers started an effort to harass Clare via Venmo for “shitty” episodes.
The root of the oftentimes cruel backlash comes down to fans blaming Clare for the chaos of this season. But Clare isn’t the one at fault — the producers are.
Clare — a woman simply fulfilling a famously strict reality TV contract — does not control the parameters of the dates on The Bachelorette. She does not control what we see of those dates. She may have a lot of agency, but Clare doesn’t even control when she leaves the show — that, like everything else in Bachelor Nation, comes down to the producers. They are orchestrating every single red flag that is stoking viewers' fury.
The “Week 2” strip dodgeball date is the first legitimately polarizing moment of The Bachelorette 2020 (Clare’s “Does anybody wanna spend time with me?" dressing-down was harmless reality TV nonsense). During the dodgeball date, the men were split into two teams. Every time one of the teams lost, they were told to remove a layer of clothing. One team was so bad at dodgeball, they were down to their jockstraps and underwear in three rounds of play.
Many viewers accused The Bachelorette of offensively objectifying the men during the date, and they squarely placed their rage on Clare’s shoulders. She did, admittedly, really enjoy the experience. Yet, Clare is not the mastermind of the nudity-heavy excursion. The producers are the ones who planned the date, as they always have since the beginning of the Bachelor franchise. It’s not like Clare is the person who went to Staples and printed out a humongous “Strip! Dodgeball” sign. Similarly, she didn’t pick out her suitors’ revealing dodgeball outfits — down to their jockstraps — and leave them in the locker rooms of La Quinta Resort. Instead, Clare was a very excited bystander in a plan The Bachelorette producers gleefully put into motion.
The producer’s scheme worked: It led to scandalizing shots of half-naked men for early-season promos, the kinds of scenes viewers couldn’t help but tweet about during air, and whipped initial season 16 villain Yosef Aborady into a frenzy for a future episode. Yosef’s subsequent misogynistic blowup created the kind of footage that has come to define Clare’s Bachelorette run (“I'm the oldest Bachelorette, that's 39, that's standing here, that's single because I didn't settle for men like that!”). All of this controversial TV magic would have been impossible without producer involvement. They are, if nothing else, very good at their jobs.
They’re behind the more subtle moments that have kept this untraditional season whirring with must-see drama. Take Clare’s two dates during “Week 4,” both of which fans have taken as an indictment of her as a Bachelorette. In the first, Clare “cancelled” the day date and seemingly left the men in the dark for hours. Clare does not have the power to call off an entire scheduled production event on her own — the producers must approve that development, if not make the decision themselves. It would be production’s job to tell the men about a change of plans, not Clare. If the men were left confused and waiting for hours, that’s because The Bachelorette wanted that for them.
“Week 4” suggests Clare ruined the day date to talk to friend and former Bachelorette DeAnna Pappas-Stagliano about front-runner Dale Moss. DeAnna has called that editing into question, telling the Almost Famous podcast earlier this week, “You guys saw in the episode, it looks like Clare only talks about Dale. But I legit heard about a lot of the guys and heard about her experience. We did not just talk about Dale.” The Bachelorette leans into the angle of Clare’s Dale obsession by allowing her unlimited time with him during a date that somehow has access to her personal quarters and inviting him to act as a spectator in a date that wasn’t his.
Considering how many strings the Bachelorette producers have pulled this season, there is one very simple way they could use those manipulating powers for good: by making a very empathetic and logical case for Clare’s exit. As she told Yosef in “Week 3,” her mother, Lilia Crawley, is dying. Clare has spoken about her mother’s Alzheimer's and dementia diagnosis for years. It makes sense that Clare would be interested in immediately choosing the contestant she likes best and going all in with them as quickly as she can. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it painfully clear how fragile life can be — there’s no reason to waste precious moments Clare could be spending with her mother on men she doesn’t like as much as Dale.
Nobody has time for games in 2020, least of all Clare. The Bachelorette has to stop playing them with her.