Does The Bachelor have a social media problem?

BURBANK, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 05: Peter Weber visits "Extra" at Burbank Studios on February 05, 2020 in Burbank, California. (Photo by Noel Vasquez/Getty Images)
BURBANK, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 05: Peter Weber visits "Extra" at Burbank Studios on February 05, 2020 in Burbank, California. (Photo by Noel Vasquez/Getty Images) /

A disastrous Bachelor season, the Quarantine Crew and Peter and Kelley’s paparazzi shots reveal a stark and growing problem for ABC.

It’s hardly controversial to suggest that social media has changed the fabric of The Bachelor franchise. It’s well known that an appearance on either The Bachelor or The Bachelorette is an effective launch pad to a career as an influencer, netting, at minimum, solid sponsored content connections and a decent array of paid appearances and at most, a legitimate degree of low-level celebrity. If we’re talking “here for the wrong reasons,” yesteryear’s desire to “be on TV” pales in comparison to the opportunities an entree into Bachelor society can provide.

But neither has this fundamental change been one way. Yes, contestants get more out of their time on The Bachelor than they have in the past, they’re more media-savvy and this, in turn, no doubt affects their behavior on the show. Social media also presents a higher risk for spoilers, as Bachelor sleuths during Peter’s season went wild trying to decipher location tags and the background of Instagrams.

But there is also an implicit and explicit agreement here. Beyond whatever contract provisions restrict their statements and behavior for at least a year after filming that protect that show, Bachelor Nation personalities have a shared investment in making the community look good because they are the face of that community. Beyond an investment in the Bachelor brand though, by most accounts, that community is real. Bachelor Nation personalities see each other at events, they bond through their shared experiences. And it’s here that the show gets its ultimate dividends.

The Bachelor franchise of shows is lightly self-cannibalizing. The titular Bachelors and Bachelorettes are drawn from a previous season of the other show. (Usually he or she comes from the most recent season, upcoming Bachelorette Clare Crawley, of course, comes from a far earlier season, but she is a Bachelor vet nonetheless.) This helps with audience familiarity and interest, viewers already know the person searching for love and are already invested in his or her previous heartbreak. But it is far more powerful on the far sillier spinoffs. Bachelor in Paradise and The Bachelor: Winter Games both cast equal numbers of men and women, all, again, drawn from previous seasons of The Bachelor or The Bachelorette, and encourage them to find love Real World style.

The entire appeal of Paradise, for many fans, is simply getting to see more of the Bachelor Nation personalities you’ve come to know and love. Active social media presences not only allow ABC to quantify who Bachelor fans want to see, but also maintain a high level of exposure to and interest in each of these people between and throughout the actual airing of the seasons.

The Bachelor franchise thrives through fans perceived familiarity and investment in its personalities; Bachelor personalities thrive through social media. It’s simple and, up until this point, largely symbiotic. But, as Peter’s season has thrown into stark relief, the system only works for the show(s) if the show(s) can provide something social media cannot.

The Bachelor, with its two-hour episodes and true love fantasy, must remain the more entertaining property.

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Lately, due in large to the unmitigated disaster that was Peter’s season, this is more apparent than ever. Part of the reason Peter’s season was so exhausting was because the narrative the show was spinning was so disconnected from what fans were seeing on social media from him and the other contestants. From the Instagram announced breakup a mere 24 hours after recommitting to Madison during “After The Final Rose” to this weekend’s paparazzi shots breaking quarantine with Kelley in Chicago, the drama Peter was serving up as a highly visible personality was both better than and undermining to what happened on his actual season.

Then, of course, there’s the daily TikToks from Tannah (Tyler Cameron and Hannah Brown) and their Quarantine Crew, which have been providing more delight to Bachelor Nation in 2020 than the actual Bachelor ever did.

The Bachelor can correct course. One good season and the show can regain its footing. For now, with The Bachelorette filming on hold and no formal product to offer, ABC has nothing to lose from leaning into the franchise’s personalities plastering their lives, drama and rumored romances across social media.

But when the series come back, any of them, all of them, it will hopefully be with renewed vigor, better plotting and a clear understanding of what the show provides that influencer self-exposure cannot. Which means, of course, the drama we tune into see because the contestants would never post it themselves.

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