On Monday night, we got our first look at the batch of men who will vie for the affection of Becca Kufrin, in all her metallic gown glory, on the latest season of The Bachelorette. Despite a few producer-mandated duds, the pickings were promising. They included two extremely nice professional football players, a Silicon Valley engineer who helped create the Venmo app (read: rich), and a surprisingly handsome guy in a chicken suit. Becca’s first-impression rose went to Garrett Yrigoyen, an outdoorsy medical sales representative from Reno, Nevada, who appeared equal parts cute, humble, and forthcoming. The moment he rolled up to the Bachelor mansion in a minivan, she was smitten. “He was so easy to talk to and so sweet,” she gushed to the camera.
But almost immediately after the episode aired, Yrigoyen became a Bachelor Nation milkshake duck—a protagonist turned antagonist by way of online receipts. HuffPost reported that the smiley 29-year-old has a history of liking Instagram posts that mock undocumented immigrants, trans people, and left-wing women, and also ones that perpetuated misinformation about Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg and California’s immigrant sanctuary policies. These revelations were problematic for a couple of reasons. For one, Yrigoyen apparently supported an account exhibiting hateful behavior toward a handful of minority groups and survivors, thus chipping away at his convincingly compassionate facade. For another, his critique of feminists directly clashes with Becca’s own social media presence, which has displayed her support of Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and the Women’s March.
In any normal real-world scenario, this situation would’ve fixed itself. Elated after a nice first encounter with a handsome, eligible rando, Becca would’ve gone home and immediately Googled Yrigoyen, like any respectable millennial who has grown up stalking her crushes online. Maybe she’d have seen a comment thread or an old photo that might have tipped her off to their differing politics. Maybe she would’ve brought that up the next time she saw him. Maybe he would’ve revealed himself to be a passionate, right-wing conspiracy theorist. And maybe that would’ve been fine with her. But because she was banned from using social media while on the show, none of that happened. She went with her gut, and was then swept back into her highly controlled Bachelorette quarters. The possible racist got the rose.
For a long time, the Bachelor franchise has followed a strict strategy to ensure its couples fall in love. They take away contestants’ phones, computers, and magazines, drop them into romance-optimized mansions littered with rose petals and subject them to candle-lit meals. This process is rooted in a logic that dictates that two strangers can’t possibly develop serious feelings for each other over the span of three months without full dedication to the process. There may be some truth to that. But in an age when our online personas have blurred with our real-life ones, Yrigoyen’s outing is a sign that The Bachelor’s operating system needs an update.
The first season of The Bachelor aired in 2002, two years before Facebook was founded and long before anyone could’ve predicted that a normal first-date follow-up would be a three-hour hunt through a person’s Instagram like history. Sixteen years later, an individual’s internet presence informs their existence in the real world, and vice versa. There have been countless examples of lives ruined or altered by unwise social media activity—the most recent being the cancellation of Roseanne after Roseanne Barr tweeted a racist remark about former White House aide Valerie Jarrett. It follows that researching a potential mate’s online presence has become a common, if not necessary, element of dating. That may seem superficial or unfair, but it’s practical. When you choose to marry a person, their social media feed becomes a part of your life, much like their family or financial assets.
At the same time, social media has indisputably transformed the Bachelor experience for the show’s contestants. The series has amassed such a massive viewership since it began that simply appearing on the show for an extended period of time is enough to boost a person’s real estate business or modeling career. It can transform a very attractive nobody from Jacksonville into an Instagram influencer, media personality, or tabloid star. “Casting has its work cut out now that social media can be profitable,” Lauren Bushnell told The Wrap in March 2017, following the Bachelor season in which Ben Higgins proposed to her. (The two have since split.) “Now that companies are using influencers to market their products more and more I would imagine you have more and more people applying to be on the show ‘for the wrong reasons.’” Whereas early-days contestants might have wrapped up the show and become small-town celebrities, being a notable Bachelor contestant in the year 2018 translates, almost automatically, to immediate opportunities and financial gain.
Bachelor producers exist in part to introduce elements that will enhance a season’s drama. And even if a revelation about a contestant’s unsavory social media activity might upset Bachelor Nation, it simultaneously drums up free publicity for the show, encouraging viewers to pledge a deeper allegiance to their chosen heroes and villains. The show even has a history of teasing disturbing behavior for the sake of intrigue. Recent examples include a conversation about Lee Garrett’s racist tweets during the “After the Final Rose” episode on Rachel Lindsay’s season and a botched discussion of Corinne Olympios’s account of sexual assault on the most recent edition of Bachelor in Paradise.
Chris Harrison and the crew have made their best efforts to present controversies as teaching moments, and to present the seasons’ most dramatic moments without wading into their obvious political subtext. But this has only eaten away at the credibility of the show, which continually harps that its raison d’etre is to help one eligible man or woman find love and get married. Consider the fact that, months after we witnessed Rachel Lindsay’s emotional fantasy suite date with Nick Viall, we learned that her experience was dampered by President Donald Trump’s election. The incredible influence of partisan politics on an individual’s life is almost unavoidable in 2018. And if producers feel the need to omit moments that reference current events, then they might want to consider more thorough vetting of each suitor’s social media posts for conspiracy theorists and racists.
For the sake of its continued existence, the show has a baseline responsibility to ensure that its chosen Bachelor(ette) is generally happy in the end. Recently, that’s meant shifting the formats of dates, cocktail parties, and elimination procedures according to the preferences and needs of each season’s lead. Bringing the show into the future means allowing those leads to more thoroughly vet their potential husband or wife’s online persona. Not only is this crucial to determining a lead’s “forever love,” it’s also essential to his or her self-preservation. The Bachelor Nation comprises millions of passionate, powerful fans, ranging from January Jones to the Minnesota state legislature. And it has been known to rain harsh judgment on a Bachelor(ette) for choosing an unpopular contestant. The show can edit the narrative to look however it wants for the sake of suspense, but it’s unfair to deny a lead relevant information to which critical onlookers already have access.
May I suggest a solution to this problem that will simultaneously preserve the show’s tension and offer a fair opportunity for each season’s star to make an informed decision? Prior to hometowns, producers should allow the Bachelor(ette) to survey the remaining contestant’s social media pages. This is a moment when, traditionally, contestants have yet to profess their love but are considering the more practical elements of a future with their suitor. The process doesn’t have to be secretive. It can be gussied up, named something cutesy like “the Social Media Station,” and presented as a traditional pillar of the show—on par with an intimate, largely accepted tradition like the fantasy suite.
Sure, social media stalking would mess with some of the show’s Disneylandesque aura. And it would also break its sacred fourth wall by potentially introducing—gasp!—politics. But if Arie’s historic and well-rated dual-camera breakup with Becca proved anything, it’s that viewers are hungry for something raw, honest, and shocking. Introducing a real but mediated conduit to the outside world could make for a more realistic “journey” to love, and perhaps even compel those of us who feed off of receipts-driven internet drama to tune in more frequently. At the same time, Bachelor Nation would get a glimpse into a natural step of any serious modern-day relationship. And the Bachelor(ette) would have a better sense of the internet personas that they might soon pledge to spend an eternity with. Any major red flags could be brought up on the hometown date, for maximum drama. Becca is free to fall in love with a man who may or may not think a survivor of the Parkland School shooting is a paid actor. But she at least deserves to know as much before she “does the damn thing.” And let’s be honest: It would make for great television.