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The ‘Bachelor’ Premiere: I Fed an AI Bot 26 Seasons of ‘The Bachelor,’ and All I Got Was Zach Shallcross

‘The Bachelor’ is back, this time featuring the most boring man in America … if we can believe Zach’s actually a human at all

ABC/Getty Images/Ringer illustration

There are worse things in the world than a boring man. There are unevenly charged AirPods and chronic lower-back pain; there’s feeling like you have the flu after you get the flu shot or immediately locking eyes with someone when you open the door to an unlocked bathroom stall. There are people who chew with their mouth open, and people who take their shoes off on planes, and people who say, “That’s so funny,” instead of just laughing. But in the world of The Bachelor, there is, unfortunately, nothing worse than a bore …

Except, of course, being deemed a boring Bachelor before your season has even begun filming. Longtime watchers of this franchise know that boring leads don’t necessarily equate to boring seasons, but when a boring lead is chosen, the audience is left with nothing but time on their hands to wonder why this particular slice of milquetoast was chosen when any number of home runs, like Rodneys or Tyler Camerons, or even a wild card, like Nayte, could have been chosen instead. All of these queries and more have been directed toward Season 27’s Bachelor appointee, Zach Shallcross, whose most memorable characteristic from his time as a contestant on The Bachelorette was the reveal that his uncle is Kronk (a.k.a. legendary character actor Patrick Warburton).

Zach, however, seems unaffected by any of the speculation around his worthiness as Bachelor. He has taken the innate entitlement granted to him as a 6-foot-4 white man and channeled it into genuine excitement for the process. There’s no existential crisis over whether he deserves to have 30 women vie for his attention, no wilting under the skepticism of a ferocious viewing public—Zach Shallcross is simply happy to be here, looking for his future wife.

So, the first quarter of this premiere is more of a branding campaign for Zach than anything else. There is a concerted effort by all of the other square-jawed men onscreen to convince us that this square-jawed man before us has levels. Sean Lowe, this season’s chosen Bachelor mentor delegate, insists to us that there is a side of Zach we haven’t seen before while helping him trim his body hair inside a single shower stall … certainly something I had not seen before. Likewise, Jesse Palmer explains that we may think we know Zach: “a good-looking guy, tall, ready to find a wife. But in fact, Zach was also a DJ in college—bet ya didn’t know that!” And with each new description of how tall, handsome, and ready for marriage Zach is, I only became more and more convinced of one thing …

Zach isn’t boring; he is simply our first AI Bachelor. This premiere makes it crystal clear that our Season 27 Bachelor was created in a lab with one mission: get engaged on television or create a reality robot uprising trying. He is the M3GAN of matrimony, the Ex Machina of telling us how much his parents love each other. I only regret that our resident Ringer recapper Rodger Sherman couldn’t be here to bear witness to this historic Bachelor first, but rest assured that Rodger will be back soon, by which time I’m sure sentience will be setting in, and things should really get interesting.

Loser: Humankind, Probably

Our first clue that something may be amiss with Zach actually came a few months ago when he was announced as the next Bachelor on Rachel and Gabby’s “After the Final Rose” and presented with five of the women who would be competing on his season. An executive recruiter from Nashville named Bailey asked Zach to remember her name by using the rhyme, “On the daily, I’m gonna be thinking of Bailey.” Does Bailey have the gift of verse? No, I’m gonna be thinking she does not. Still, what else could explain Zach’s recollection of that phrase mere moments later as, “In the morning … Bailen,” other than a robot attempting to re-create human language from a limited data supply?

But by the time Zach made it to this premiere, he’d been fed 26 prior seasons of The Bachelor, and he’s ready to say a bunch of words in the right order. When he makes his first speech to the women, he tells them he’s “just a dude who loves family, football, and frozen pizzas.” Just hit ’em with the old “be-bop, be-boop” next time, my guy! And yet, the women are floored by this display of humanity. Zach is such a catch! Zach loves family! Zach wants a wife! And yes, these are all quotes from Zach himself, who, when asked to describe himself, replies in a totally normal way: “Zach is just a regular dude who lives in Austin, who really wants to find his forever person and spend his life with someone forever.”

But let me be clear: If Zach is a robot made out of Jesse Palmer’s former football pads, these women are in on it. Because their descriptions of Zach are where I begin to get truly suspicious and start collecting screwdrivers, just in case the robot uprising cometh. During the initial meet-the-contestant packages, no fewer than two women who’ve already met Zach during the “After the Final Rose” segment describe him as having a warm smile and “kind eyes.” Are they being fed these lines? Are Brianna and Brooklyn being held at screwdriver point and forced to tell us about these kind eyes that Zach has—these totally human eyes that make you feel just like you’re looking into the definitely human pupils of your future husband and overlord?

When taken in this context, Jesse’s final charge before Zach enters the Bachelor mansion is, well, haunting.

Winner: The Lim(tr)oductions

OK, fine. I’m willing to concede that Zach might just be a very nice, inoffensive human man, and not a M3GAN-style android at all. But his co-girlfriends must be at least as suspicious as I am because the most common limtroduction of the night is asking Zach to ingest a liquid and then (I assume) waiting to see if he explodes. Davia pops a bottle of champagne for a toast, Greer brings him a cup of coffee “from New York,” and Gabi from Vermont hits him with the ol’, “Here, drink this maple syrup, if you dare.”

Gabi goes on to become self-conscious that her syrup-slurping introduction wasn’t bold enough in the classic “women starting to spin out about the big, bold limo entrances” montage. But the thing is …

These limo entrances are pretty mid—which means they’re far more tolerable than normal. Mercedes from Iowa brings a pig to meet Zach, Vanessa arrives from Louisiana with a trumpet player, and Christina Mandrell—the only contestant with a full last name—rides in on a party bus. The most uncomfortable moments are actually with the women who’ve already met Zach at “After the Final Rose,” when they stroll up to him all, “I’m sure you recall the meaningful moment we shared where I accidentally said the f-bomb on live television, and Zach blinks those big, kind eyes at them without so much as a glimmer of recognition that he’s ever met these women before. I’m starting to wonder whether Zach is actually boring or if he’s just incredibly chill. He remains impressively unbothered by the weight of being the Bachelor, he seems completely optimistic despite half of these women showing signs of imminent emotional crumbling on the very first night, and his most commonly repeated phrase throughout the limo entrances is “OK, yeah.” Which is exactly what he says before he kisses Bailey (Bailen) right out of the limo in order to show her that he really has been thinking about her daily (dailen).

Looks like someone just got his 0s and 1s recoded to go off script.

Loser: Friendship

If Zach’s first mission is to find a wife, his secondary and parallel mission is to find a best friend. And I have to pause to be a little rude here: Going on TV to find a best friend is so much more embarrassing than going on TV to find a fiancée, which is basically as common as, like, taking an artisanal cocktails course these days—just part of the young-adult experience. And yet, Zach proudly announces in his opening speech that he’s come to The Bachelor “looking for [his] forever best friend.” The women love it. Strapless satin gown after strapless satin gown approaches Zach during the cocktail party to tell him just how much what he said about looking for a best friend resonated with them. And listen, it’s fine to be best friends with your partner. I just want all of these young people to understand that they also need an actual non-spousal best friend, lest they end up in a Paul Rudd I Love You, Man–style situation.

Winner: The First-Impression Rose

We rarely have a reason to hand it to Bachelor producers—but in the case of the first-impression rose, you really have to hand it to ’em. This franchise has gone to great lengths to psychologically torture and manipulate its contestants over the years, but no gimmick has had quite as much staying power as the resident it girl, the first-impression rose. The moment Jesse Palmer walks her out on that signature Anthropologie platter, the Season 27 gals start spinning like clockwork. The contestants who haven’t talked to Zach are now desperate to talk to him, and the ones who have are desperate to know whether their conversation with him was a standout. The thing that always gets me about this inevitable tailspin is that handing out the first-impression rose is typically the last thing that happens before the rose ceremony. It’s like getting to board the plane early so you can … watch everyone else board the plane five minutes after you. Who cares?

Ultimately, of course, the answer is everyone—everyone cares. Everyone wants the first-impression rose, but per the editors, only a few women stand a chance. Zach likes his initial connection with Katherine, who asks him if he’s ever goofy, to which he replies, “Yeah, I’m weird.” Just a couple of Jugheads on our hands here, folks! Zach kind of briefly seems like he’s going to cry when Kaity genuinely asks him how he’s doing with all of this, which I assume suggests an emotional connection, or maybe a fluid leak of some kind. There’s Charity, a beautiful therapist who gets a kiss on the mansion steps. There’s Jess, who is absolutely covered in body glitter and takes turns with Zach saying, “You’re cute,” “No, you’re cute,” back and forth until they make out. All of these connections are fine. Maybe they’re great; I don’t know! It’s impossible to tell with Zach, because what I never could have expected …

Loser: Actual First Impressions

… was that he would give the first-impression rose to Greer, a 24-year-old medical sales rep from Houston whose entire intro package consisted of her struggling to open, and then drink, champagne without spilling it all over herself.

And I’m not saying that clumsiness can’t be charming—I’ve seen rom-coms; I’ve read Twilight. But I found the conversation between Greer and Zach nearly incomprehensible, in that Greer arrived absolutely thrilled to tell Zach that not only have her parents been together since their 20s just like his, but both sets of her grandparents are also still together. I thought Zach had an appropriately middling reaction to this at the time, which was, “Oh yeah, no way!” But maybe Zach could also hear the romantic music the editors chose to play over this moment because, somehow, this was the conversation that he decided to award with the first-impression rose.

Draw: Kissing

Zach does quite a bit of kissing during his premiere, often telling the women, “I’d like to kiss you,” before kissing them, which not only brings a nice level of consent, but for some reason encourages the women to then rate his kissing afterward. He receives top marks from all kissed parties except for Madison, who bursts into tears moments after hitting the Griddy and quite literally stealing a kiss from the man (robot) she was sure would be her future fiancé. You see, after first not receiving a kiss during her time with Zach, Madison reconsiders her options and declares, “I know for a fact that he’s kissed other women, so I’m going to fight for that.” Which is simply not how kissing works! Nevertheless, Madison marches back over to Zach, interrupts his conversation, instigates a series of dance moves that lead to a hug, and then sort of yanks on Zach’s head.

Oh, it is torture to watch! And Zach departs their supremely uncomfortable closed-mouth peck by saying, “OK, I’ll let ya go,” like he’s ending a phone call with his dad after asking if it’s OK to go 5,000 miles between oil changes if you used a fully synthetic blend. Naturally, after such a dismissal, Madison collapses into sobs, wails that she gave up her entire life to be here, interrupts Zach one more time moments before the rose ceremony, and basically demands that he tell her if he’s going to give her a rose. He is not, and she gets whatever the opposite of the first-impression rose is, receiving her pink slip just moments before the other nine women who depart under the harsh glare of the morning sun.

Winner: Cat, Long Live Cat

But, hands down, the winner of the premiere is Cat, the dancer from New York, who not only fits five meatballs in her mouth while simultaneously eating them, but also causes Zach to exclaim, in a moment of true human emotion, “This is beyond my wildest dreams!”

I’m not sure if we’ll be able to say the same in the end, but if the previews are anything to go on, Zach may just complete his mission to get engaged and become a real boy after all. (Man, do I not understand AI.)