We all know how the story goes.
Boy meets girl. Girl falls in love. Girl competes against twenty-three other girls for boy’s affection on national TV while producers edit their story to engage the audience. Boy chooses one of the girls to be his ‘life partner’. Wash and repeat.
Every single season of The Bachelor has followed the same formula. With the U.S. series having just wrapped up its 22nd season and the Australian incarnation in its 6th rotation, you’d think we’d be sick of it by now. But it’s a national discussion that no one wants to be left out of. Recaps upon recaps fill social media feeds after each episode, and offices run sweeps about who will win. Each season we complain about how all the girls look the same (predominantly white, pretty and thin) yet we tune in every single night. While a lot of people still claim to be ‘hate-watching’ it, there’s no denying the huge ratings each episode draws. So why do we all keep coming back?
There’s been numerous, real, scientific studies conducted into why audiences love reality TV. One 2010 study linked a preference for reality tv to higher voyeuristic tendencies. This makes sense – these shows are basically a social-acceptable way to peer into others’ private lives. The details we might ordinarily keep to ourselves, or within our inner circles, are broadcast to the entire country for everyone to analyse, dissect and make memes out of. It’s like high school gossip except you’ve got 25 million classmates.
A 2016 study also raised the idea of reality TV casts being skewed towards the upper-class and the social elite. In essence, the theory is that ‘common people’ use these shows as a way to experience a life outside their own. While this may be more relevant to shows like Keeping Up With The Kardashians, most of the participants in The Bachelor aren’t exactly struggling. This year’s Bachelor is an ex-Wallaby with numerous sponsorship deals, if that makes it a bit clearer for you. For a student living in a share-house in Sydney, the idea of a mansion with free champagne is also quite appealing.
Additionally, the intense level of access we are given to the lives of those on the show allows us to feel as if we know them personally. It’s easy to imagine seeing one of the Bachelor contestants down at Coogee Pavilion, or out for brunch at The Grounds of Alexandria. Pretty much everyone has a distant connection to at least one of them, even if it’s just your hairdresser’s son’s best mate’s ex-girlfriend. Another 2016 study found that, contrary to popular belief that most people watch reality tv to enjoy others’ humiliation and suffering, a driving factor in watching these shows is a sense of empathy. The producers know this, and they use it against us to keep us engaged. Having one of the girls read from ‘her diary’ (that was blank?!) was incredibly cringeworthy, but in theory was an intimate moment that the audience was lucky enough to be privy to. It’s this sense of familiarity that keeps most of us asking for more.
While The Bachelor isn't for everyone, and it certainly has its flaws, there is some science behind why we love it so much. So embrace your reality-TV-loving self, and don’t feel guilty for enjoying the love lives of people who don’t know you exist more than your own.