On the finale of “The Bachelorette” Season 13, host Chris Harrison announced a format change: For the first time ever, the lead, Rachel Lindsay, would be onstage with him throughout the live show, reacting in real time to the final pre-taped segments. While ABC usually airs a two-hour finale, followed by a one-hour “After the Final Rose” interview special, this twist meant a three-hour finale with interviews interspersed throughout.
Poor Lindsay (the first black Bachelorette, as the network has constantly reminded us) chided Harrison, “I don’t know why y’all keep doing this to me!” She looked nervous and on edge.
For good reason. As we soon learned, Lindsay had broken up with fan favorite Peter Kraus and become engaged to Bryan Abasolo, whose cheeseball lines and unflappable confidence had rubbed many fans the wrong way. Now she was about to watch the whole sequence play out in front of Bachelor Nation, and would have to react.
The resulting finale was terribly paced, lurching from intense dates to tense conversations on Harrison’s couch. Plus, it kept yanking us brutally out of her emotional roller coaster, slowing the momentum toward her final rose. By the time we got to Abasolo’s proposal, it was hard to remember that it was still coming; we’d spent hours treading and retreading her goodbyes to two other men before we even opened on Lindsay, radiant in a silver gown atop a castle in Rioja, awaiting her final bachelor.
After Lindsay sent home Eric Bigger at the last rose ceremony, he was immediately trotted out to revisit that painful moment with her. To their immense credit, they handled the discussion just as graciously and maturely as they handled their on-show break-up.
Her split with Kraus was another story. We watched the couple sobbing as they confronted the fact that they wanted different things from the end of the show, and that they’d have to compromise too much on what they wanted (a proposal for Lindsay, a commitment to keep dating for Kraus) if they chose each other. She insisted that if he proposed as a compromise, it wouldn’t be enough for her; he needled her that choosing someone else would mean choosing a mediocre life. Finally, they gave up. They kissed and clung to each other by the elevator, her false lashes peeling off as the glue proved no match for her waterworks. After she left, he ripped off his sweater and used it as a handkerchief for his streaming eyes.
Y’all, it was a lot.
Bachelor Nation found ourselves in the kind of vicarious star-crossed romance that we usually have to rent “The Notebook” to enjoy. Even “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette,” which are built to extort this kind of meltdown, rarely if ever succeed to this degree.
But usually, whether it’s “The Notebook” or “When Harry Met Sally” or “10 Things I Hate About You” or even vintage Jane Austen, audiences are accustomed to see the painful, climactic break-up scene followed by a transcendent romantic gesture. And sure, we got that ― when Abasolo got down on one knee and asked Lindsay to marry him ― but typically, for us romance junkies, that happy ending happens with the same guy. (Small detail.) Some Twitter fans clung to the fading hope that Kraus would turn things around with a dramatic gesture, even once he’d been brought out to weepily confront a chilly Lindsay. We’re used to getting that dramatic gesture after a scene like what we had just experienced.
Instead, finally, “The Bachelorette” limped into Abasolo’s proposal scene. He poured out his heart, and Lindsay squealed with happiness. It was so romantic ― or would have been, if we’d been rooting for him.
It’s not just the gravely misguided format that ABC chose for this season’s finale, though it certainly exacerbated the anticlimactic nature of the climax. Usually the show is paced more deftly, taking us from date to suspenseful date, a painful but necessary dumping, and then a buoyant conclusion: Love triumphant. The rehashing of the drama comes after the lead has seen his happy ending, after she’s been able to collect herself. We’re able to view her interview with the runner-up with a full sense of closure, having already seen her happy with the other guy. Not so for Lindsay.
But the problem goes deeper: ABC doesn’t seem to want us to like its winners.
If it were just the occasional bad apple (remember Vienna?) we might chalk it up to the lead’s poor judgment. Hating the winner, however, has become a trend. Nick Viall’s fiancée Vanessa Grimaldi was disdained; JoJo Fletcher’s fiancé Jordan Rodgers was dismissed; even Kaitlyn Bristowe’s fiancé Shawn Booth and Lauren Bushnell, Ben Higgins’ then-fiancée, had rough goes of it.
Abasolo, despite a tendency to put his foot in his mouth (he once referred to Lindsay as his “sloppy seconds” on “Ellen”) and an annoyingly bulletproof confidence, seems like a perfectly nice guy. Just as importantly, he seems genuinely head-over-heels for his future bride. But Bachelor Nation mostly didn’t go for him. Even his enthusiasm for getting engaged seemed suspect. While we dinged Rodgers for waffling on a future with Fletcher, many fans applauded Kraus for taking a more cautious approach to commitment. Why? Perhaps because he was framed as a sweet Midwestern boy, while Rodgers was a playboy athlete?
Time and again, “The Bachelor” and “Bachelorette” edits fixate on the eventual winner’s worst qualities and, quite possibly, leave the couple’s best moments on the cutting room floor. At BUILD on Tuesday, Lindsay expressed deep frustration that fans never saw the more meaningful conversations she had with her new fiancé ― just seemingly hours of noisy make-outs and cheesy compliments. “Our relationship had more depth than you saw,” she told HuffPost’s Leigh Blickley. “We had a very mature relationship, and there’s so much depth to it, that I hate that you just didn’t get to see the essence of our love story.” Given that seeing your love story play out on TV is one of the main perks of finding your mate on “The Bachelorette,” that’s actually a huge bummer. (Lindsay was also, she said on BUILD, not a huge fan of the live three-hour finale structure.)
Often it seems the show cares more about building the suspense than making viewers invested in the romance; to make sure we aren’t sure, the show undercuts the strength of the winning relationship or plays up the desirability of another contender. In a way, it’s a savvy tactic. Despite all the spoilers out there, “Bachelor” fans are happiest on tenterhooks. Making the winner too obvious might sap enthusiasm for the big finale. But is it worth it, at the cost of introducing the happy couple into a maelstrom of second-guessing, personal criticism and unpleasant speculation about their motives? Wouldn’t we all be happier to be happy for them?
Besides, the Season 13 finale hardly seemed built for suspense. Some sharp-eyed viewers noticed Abasolo’s much-discussed watch on the wrist of the man who exited a limo as the proposal was teased in previews of the episode. Kraus’s early goodbye to Lindsay and long, emotional talk with her on the live show, made the winner clear by default, long before the final rose-giving. The suspense was nowhere to be found. So why couldn’t we just love the couple together?
Of course, part of this is on us as viewers. We should try to suppress our baser human urges and find joy in Lindsay’s joy. At the very least, we should avoid tweeting hurtful things about her judgment and her fiancé on what should be a happy night.
The thing is, the show’s creators are good at what they do. If they’re generally not getting us to love the winning couple, that suggests that they really are not that invested in making us love the winning couple. Frankly, once a contestant wins the show, they no longer need to be all that lovable to the fandom, at least for ABC’s purposes. Couples typically vanish from the spotlight, at least until their wedding special, once they get together ― and after a few months of laying low, the fandom is often willing to forget that we once thought the winner was a poor choice. The show seems to have little to lose by letting us down with a lackluster engagement.
It’s the recently dumped cast, i.e. future lead candidates, who must be marketable and sympathetic. We have to believe the next Bachelor is a catch; that’s what helps the network drum up interest in the next series. They need us eager and ready to watch a heartbroken man get his happy ending. Unfortunately, that probably won’t happen; by the time his ending rolls around, the show won’t be working very hard to make it seem happy. In the end, it’s a bit self-defeating. Sure, we want to see the devastated loser have his own chance to shine, but that chance means little if the lead and winner never get to shine at all.
As Kraus, or Bigger, or another “Bachelorette” alum eventually takes the reins to the next season of “The Bachelor,” we just have this simple plea to ABC: Please let us love the winner. Every now and then, we all need to believe in a happy ending.