There comes a time during every season of The Bachelor or The Bachelorette when we must ask ourselves this question: What are we doing here?
Are we here (and by "here" we mean "watching this show," not like, "in existence") to watch two (or more) people fall in love or are we here to watch a bunch of aspiring Instagram models fight over a date? Are we here for important conversations about love, loss, race, sex and humanity, or are we here to watch a bunch of women make fools of themselves? Are we here to hold a TV show accountable or watch it manipulate people for our enjoyment? Do we want real romance or do we really just want drama?
Similarly, are the contestants really here for a 1/32 chance to end up with the lead or are they actually hoping for the much more likely Bachelor in Paradise fame and #ad fortune that comes after?
This week's episode of The Bachelor was the ultimate example of this conflict, complete with a lesson in erotica-writing and one very dramatic exit.
The episode's group date was introduced under the guise of making Matt James "comfortable in the uncomfortable." It opened with Bachelor alum Ashley Iaconetti reading erotica and then explaining that the women on the date would have to write their own scene with Matt as the subject and then read it out loud, in front of Matt and all of the other women both on and not on the date—not to mention the cameras. (It was also a plug for Chris Harrison's romance novel, obviously.)
It was the kind of date that felt simultaneously incredible and cruel, empowering and embarrassing. For certain kinds of people, this would be a great time. For other kinds of people, it's a nightmare. For those of us with secondhand embarrassment problems, it was a literal exercise that involved both throwing ourselves into and/or off of the couch and laughing until our abs really did hurt. It was hard to watch and equally hard to look away.
It was great and refreshing to see female orgasms openly talked about on national television (just a couple weeks after Matt opened the season with a prayer, mind you), but it still felt like something that we shouldn't be privy to, especially if any of the women felt at all uncomfortable about sharing their bleep-filled fantasies in such a public way.
One woman definitely felt uncomfortable, but she wasn't even on the date. Sarah just got to watch the date and she suddenly found herself jealous and upset at the kinds of moments that other women were getting to share with Matt.
She's not stupid, she promised. She knew this was the point of the show. She knew what she was signing up for, but she couldn't have known how real it would feel to her. Sarah had a bit of a breakdown, and while Matt was at his post-date cocktail party, she was fully freaking out. She was freaking out so much that she decided she had to go tell Matt and hope he could calm her down, so she went over and interrupted the date in order to talk to him about how she was feeling.
From there, all hell broke loose. The other women absolutely lost their minds over Sarah interrupting the date and decided she was Public Enemy Number One. How dare she interrupt a date to talk to Matt? How dare she "faint" at the rose ceremony? How dare she stay in her room instead of crowding onto that one couch with all the other girls all day long? How dare she want to leave but also, why doesn't she just leave?
Sarah's behavior makes it seem as if she was on the verge of leaving right then and there that night and needed to talk to Matt in order to not do that, but that's not how the show portrayed it. We also definitely didn't see the producers who told her where the cocktail party was and who likely encouraged her to interrupt. What we saw was Sarah getting pouty over jealousy and deciding it was totally fine to interrupt a date, and it got to the point where we were almost agreeing with Victoria about it. Victoria! The girl who calls herself a queen and who successfully got Marylynn eliminated for no reason at all (which is a whole other essay).
As Sarah hid in her room, clearly distraught, the other women talked mad s--t about her right out in the open. And sure, her decision to interrupt that cocktail party was a bad one, but was it bad enough for the entire group to turn on her in that way, and for us to almost turn with them?
In the end Sarah decided to leave, and she explained to Katie that the show was hard on her particularly because her dad has a terminal illness and only has weeks to live, so it was hard for her to be her best for Matt when she just wasn't her best in any sense of the word. So basically we were watching a bunch of women bully another woman who was not mentally well, and we were eating it up like candy only to be suddenly horrified just a few moments later.
We can't fault Sarah for recognizing that something was amiss with her own self and we can't even really fault the other women for getting upset that Sarah wasn't following the unwritten rules of the show in the same way they were, because that's how this show is designed. If they all stop following the rules, the whole thing falls apart, so they end up having to keep each other in check by being absolutely awful to each other.
Right now, we want nothing more than to have a good time watching a dumb reality show, but it's hard when The Bachelor constantly teeters the line between dumb reality show and show about real dating. Watching Sarah and Matt navigate the realities of her dad's health and their potential relationship would have been more l like real dating, while Sarah getting bullied for being dramatic was more like dumb reality show. The dumb reality show won, but we didn't have a good time, and the more we watch, the more we wonder if reality TV can even be both dumb and a good time anymore.
But of course, we've gotta stick around to find out who Matt picks (and how long Victoria can possibly last), and therein lies our forever conflict. See you next Monday!
The Bachelor airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on ABC.