an investigation

Is ‘The Bachelor’ using ideas from mid-2000s dating shows?

ABC/Hulu

On Monday, Olivia Caridi cemented her role as The Bachelor villain when she suggested that listening to another contestant talking about her children was like watching an episode of Teen Mom. Olivia was wrong, The Bachelor has very little in common with Teen Mom, but I’m starting to think that this season looks a whole lot like some delightfully trashy mid-2000s dating shows.

The Bachelor first aired in 2002, one year after Elimidate and The 5th Wheel, one year before Room Raiders, and two years before Date My Mom. Aside from the fact that these are all dating reality shows, The Bachelor does not share DNA with any of these. Elimidate and The 5th Wheel were raunchy and trashy, Room Raiders and Date My Mom suggestive and goofy. Nobody expected contestants to spark a relationship through any of these shows. It would have been, frankly, shocking.

The Bachelor, on the other hand, is and always has been a show that commands viewers to expect love. Hypothetically, the pleasure we get out of the show is directly tied to whether or not the bachelor (or bachelorette!) finds a fiancee. It’s a successful format, with well-defined rules and a sheen of cheap class that makes you want to drink a glass of wine while you watch.

But after decades on the air, The Bachelor fourth wall has been broken and the formula’s been exposed. The contestants easily fill the roles of their predecessors and come to the show prepared with a script and, more often than not, a crush on the Bachelor. The show, in response, has gotten more self-aware, introducing a post-show, hashtag-driven recap episode (Bachelor Live) that tries to sprinkle some Andy Cohen magic onto the post-Bachelor block, bringing in professional comedians (Jimmy Kimmel, Amy Schumer, Kevin Hart) to crank up the yuks, and becoming more flexible with the format.

The show has also, I think, been doing some old things—like leaning on the tropes of Elimidate, The 5th Wheel, Room Raiders and Date My Mom. Here’s how those shows have been sneaking into this season’s episodes.

Date My Mom

On Date My Mom, the dater would take the mothers of three potential datees out on dates. The dater would then determine which daughter or son he or she would like to date. There were two strategies: Go with the hottest mom and hope the genetics work out in your favor, or pick a daughter based on personality, as described by her mom. The most cunning did a combination of the two.

During the fourth episode of this season of The Bachelor, Ben Higgins paid a visit to the home of Emily and Haley Ferguson. That’s highly unorthodox: Home visits are generally reserved for the contestant the bachelor is expected to have sex with in the Fantasy Suite. They are not supposed to be an opportunity for the Bachelor to go on a date with the contestants’ mother, which will in turn help him determine who to ditch.

But that’s exactly what happened here, and after chatting with Mrs. Ferguson about which twin was more suitable to his tastes, Ben left Haley behind.

Room Raiders

That episode also gave us a taste of MTV’s Room Raiders, where the dater goes through a potential datee’s room while he, or she, watches the search in horror via telecast.

That’s pretty much what happened when Ben came into Haley’s room and saw a bunch of her stuff—including photos of her with old boyfriends—that she did not want him to see.

Effectively, the only difference between this and Room Raiders is that Haley was in the room to witness Ben checking out her things.

We also got a Room Raiders throwback in the following episode, when Ben surprised the girls with a pre-dawn wakeup call. Most of the raidees are pulled out of bed, and driven around in a van in their PJs. Ben didn’t do that to the women, but we did get plenty of shots of their pre-makeup morning faces.

The 5th Wheel

The premise of The 5th Wheel is a little complicated: Two men and two women (this show is fundamentally heteronormative) are out together. Couples are formed, and then a “fifth wheel” is dropped into the mix. That person is generally way more DTF than the other men or women, and is expected to be an agent of chaos. The couples swap. Eventually, everyone votes on who they would most want to date (or something) and someone gets kicked off.

This format really comes into play on Bachelor In Paradise, but it has also made its way into the Bachelor franchise proper with the introduction of previous cast members into new seasons. Just as the advantage of the fifth wheel is sexual promiscuity, the advantage of the old contestant is Bachelor-based promiscuity: She’s presumably more savvy, more comfortable with the process, and more ready to find love. On this season of The Bachelor, Becca Tilley and Amber James, both from Chris Soules’ season, serve as the fifth wheel. When they show up, the women are shaken:

This isn’t the first time that The Bachelor has brought back a contestant (Nick Viall came back for Kaitlyn Bristowe, and contestants have been dismissed and brought back before) but it’s solidifying the practice as a new norm.

Elimidate

Elimidate is pretty close to The Bachelor, premise-wise: One man (or woman) goes on a group date with four women (or men) and eliminates three over the course of the episode. But the real through-line between Elimidate and this season of The Bachelor is how artlessly contestants are plopped into bodies of water. On Elimidate, the goal was clearly to get people into a pool or hot tub to steam things up a bit:

This is not a very sophisticated trick, and The Bachelor has, of course, put contestants in pools and hot tubs and natural springs before (the women must been seen in bikinis). But the use of the hot tub has, this season, been decidedly random.

Here are Ben and Caila Quinn, taking a dip in a hot tub that is still in a hot tub store:

And here are Ben and Lauren Bushnell, enjoying a their time in the (recently purchased?) hot tub in what appears to be an empty field:

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It’s possible that there is no connection between The Bachelor and these bygone shows, and that what I’m seeing is the trick of a mind addled by years of watching reality dating shows. But if that’s not the case, I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the rest of the season.