Amy Kaufman literally wrote the book on the Bachelor franchise. As a longtime fan, and entertainment writer based in Los Angeles, she was uniquely positioned to cover the ins and outs of the franchise that so captivates our country. But it's not all roses and love - as Kaufman discovered through interviews with former contestants and 'winners' (some choosing to stay anonymous) - there's a dark side to the show seemingly dedicated to love.
After choosing her book "Bachelor Nation" for our April book club pick, we finagled a Skype interview with the author to find out more about her personal experiences with the franchise, what she finds most ridiculous about the production, and her thoughts on the most dramatic season yet.
Seattle Refined: How long have you been watching 'The Bachelor'?
Amy Kaufman: I was a fan of 'The Bachelor' for probably a decade or so, and I just loved watching it every week with my friends on Monday nights with a good ol’ bottle of wine. Don’t ask why that was handy. And because I live in LA and I cover entertainment and a lot of my friends do as well, we cross paths with a lot of Bachelor people and invite them over to watch with us and during commercial breaks we just ask them questions about their experience, you know, get some juicy details out of them and some of the stories they had to share were so interesting. I thought if I could get enough people to talk with me there might be a book in it.
Has anyone reached out to you after the book published? Contestants, ABC Network?
I honestly haven’t heard from them at all, it’s only when journalists have written about the book and republished any of the claims in it they will reach out to ABC and say "Do you have any comment about what Amy says in her book" and so far they have just said "No comment." So it seems like they are just trying to act like it doesn’t exist which is cool with me. I thought I would hear from the people even in the book but I haven’t really heard from any people. If anything, I did an interview the other day with a former contestant who didn’t want to talk to me for the book, and then she was like "I read it and now I regret not talking to you and so we did a podcast".
Why do you think people love this franchise so much?
I think the Bachelor deals with something we can all relate to, which is love and marriage. And it’s fun to watch other reality shows, of course, but at the end of the day how many of us know how to build a fire or how to fillet a steak perfectly on ‘Top Chef’, not everyone. And when we are watching ‘The Bachelor’ we’re like "Oh is that what you have to do to get a guy?" or "Would he find that attractive?" We have some point of reference, so I think it’s obviously really accessible - even though they are on helicopters and at Machu Picchu and doing some things that not all of us have done.
These last few seasons - social media has changed the game for these contestants. Between the horrible comments they sometimes get from viewers, and the "careers" they get as influencers afterwards...
I do think social media helps them, because I really think people like to snark online and feel like a community in the sense of - it’s one of the few event television things that is still left out there. But in terms of - how long do you think it will keep going - I never count them out, because even this season was the lowest ratings there have ever been, like 5 million, and then they got to the end of the season and they were like ‘We have the most dramatic thing ever’ and then the ratings popped back up to 7 or 8 million so they always find a new dramatic thing to hook us with.
We started to see in, say, Kaitlin’s season - they had Chris Harrison talking on the reunion special about the intense vitriol that was being directed Kaitlin’s way, and certainly I don’t think people are aware when they go on the show that the scrutiny is going to be that intense. Or that they would be portrayed in a light that would even deserve scrutiny! So yeah, I don’t think that the social media is all good – I mean, yes - you can become an influencer and find a lucrative career path for a few years, potentially – but you also, we as fans can often underestimate how difficult it can be to go on these shows and scroll through your comments every day. I mean, some days I’m like they should just stay off. Or they should deactivate their comments. I don’t think I would want to read that every day.
What do you think needs to change about the show? Or should I say - do you think it ever will change?
I like the tried-and-true formula, but I think they need a more diverse cast. Not only in ethnicity but in body type and sexual orientation, not just beautiful white people that are 5 pounds finding love. [It] isn’t exactly that interesting or representative of the audience, obviously. When we saw the ‘Bachelor in Paradise’ scandal, that was the closest the franchise came to grappling with real world issues and really the issues of ‘Me Too’ that have been on the show were then because they were dealing with issues of consent and alcohol. While I think they did an okay job of bringing up the discussion of consent, even though it was very PSA/after-school special, at the same time I think they didn’t explain the situation fully - so it was weird to have a conversation about something that we didn’t know what went down. The Bachelor doesn’t do a great job of serious issues of race or consent because they want to keep the show light and fluffy, so when real world stuff comes into it I don’t know if they know how to deal with it properly.
Was there one person you wish you could have talked to for this book?
I always said that Alex Michel was my white whale, he was the first Bachelor, because he never does any press, ABC reunions or Bachelor reunions and you can find his LinkedIn and his Facebook and see where he is working but he just won’t respond. And I was like ‘Should I doorstep him?’ That seems extreme - like ‘Hi I’m Amy I’m writing book on The Bachelor.’
Why do you think there is so much drama on these shows? And how can these people fall in love so fast?
Everyone asks this and I feel like it is more just an understating of the pressures of the environment of The Bachelor. That they are in a situation, a bubble - as they call it - where they don’t have access to phones or internet or television or movies or books and there is an open bar at their disposal and everyone around them is talking about how great Joe-Shmoe is, and then all the producers are like ‘Isn’t Joe-Shmoe great? Don’t you think he’s be a great match for you?’ And then you start to go crazy! So that helped explain a lot of why people act the way they do to me. People don’t remember that these folks have usually left their jobs, they might not be able to get their job back, they’ve been paying for bills while they’re gone, they know that they are going to be on television looking like a loser who wasn’t picked. There is a lot more that goes into this than just being obsessed with this person that they have spent two hours with. I think it usually has nothing to do with that, in fact.”
One of the things you talk about in the book is "Frankenbiting", the act of splicing certain sound bites together to make it seem like a person said something different than they actually said.
We will never know that that’s why they made such a big deal about it at the end of this season being ‘raw and unedited’ and obviously that backfired too. I mean, there are ways you can pick up on editing tactics by not seeing people’s mouths moving or if they are using a lot of b-roll. In terms of who someone really is, I think it is really difficult to tell. I mean even with Lauren this season, a lot of people were like ‘I bet she can’t really be as boring as the edit showed her,’ but because we just saw a lot of silences from her and they didn’t use a lot of clips of her discussing things, perhaps she’s a quieter person. The show doesn’t really exist to show off who you are as a sparkling example of a human, they have to make something entertaining.
How big do you think Bachelor Nation really is?
It’s hard to tell how big Bachelor Nation is because there is so much stuff around Bachelor Nation. There are contestants that have written books, there are SO many podcasts, there are the recaps of episodes. So - like I said - it feels like talking to your friends. Recaps exist for almost every television show but on this one it’s like, ‘Oh my God you thought what he said was kosher, or you thought when she did that she looked ridiculous.’ It’s like, we can all weigh in and all feel like experts, and they all feel like friends of ours too because they are sort of ‘normal people’ without any skills, but they are all beautiful. But the culture that has popped up around it never ceases to amaze me. Every Bachelor contestant, I feel like, has a podcast now! Like, do they talk about anything other than the Bachelor? I don’t know if their podcast is good. I think that was just another potential money-making thing for contestants, because you get a portion of the ad revenue.
Who was your favorite person to ever be on any of the Bachelor shows?
This one may not be as familiar to people because she was on a few years ago, but I really like this woman Charlene Joint, she was on Juan Pablo’s season. She was a really smart opera singer, and she actually left the show because she wasn’t feeling an attraction to Juan Pablo – which is so rare for someone on the show to be like, I know this guy you’re selling me is supposed to be like a prize, and the coolest dude ever, I’m attracted to him, I just don’t want to marry him. And despite all the pressure was able to realize that and leave. And that made her feel like – oh my god, someone with a brain of her own! Not that you couldn’t find then guy attractive, but I just think like – so many people get caught In the loop of thinking he’s all that and a bag of chips when he’s just an average Joe.
Who was your favorite Bachelor?
Well before Chris Soules accidentally killed someone, I was a Chris Soules fan. I don’t know why, just something about that farm life I could see myself, you know? It has a really good writing school, University of Iowa in Iowa, so I thought -you know, maybe I could – although, it was very remote. But perhaps, make some sort of commute, at the end of the day he’d be there working on the farm, it seemed very idyllic to me. Now he could be in jail though, so that’s upsetting.
Who would you rather marry, out of Jake Pavelka, Juan Pablo and Arie Luyendyk Jr.?
I guess I would say Juan Pablo, because he didn’t seem evil per se, he was just really honest. Maybe not ready for marriage at that point in his life. So I feel like he would at least be fun. Arie? No. And Jake Pavelka, don’t even get me started.
Who do you think is the next couple to break up?
I really don’t want Kaitlin and Shawn to break up, I’m obsessed with them. But I just don’t know why they haven’t gotten married yet, that makes me kind of nervous. Not that you have to, but they’re engaged – for like, three years. You know, it’s kind of like – do it. I really want them to get married.
Any couples you're surprised that have made it this long?
I’m surprised JoJo and Jordan have lasted that long, but they seem – at least through social media – kinda happy? I’m surprisingly a fan of theirs right now.
We have a lot of folks from Seattle that have "made it" in the Bachelor world: Jason Mesnick, Chris Siegfried, Catherine Lowe and Taylor Nolan.
I think if you don’t live in LA, it helps. Like, not LA or New York, go back to your normal life tends to give you a better shot.
Where you shocked by the ending of Arie's season?
Well I don’t know, because there were so many spoilers out there that I didn’t have a natural, like, exposure to it. I really don’t like spoilers, I try to avoid them, but at this point Reality Steve gets picked up everywhere, and like every other Twitter said like, “What will happen at the end of the Bachelor”, instead it just said “He does this!”. Well, alright, so. So even though I didn’t know the knitty gritty details, it just wasn’t as – it didn’t even seem shocking. If I was watching that live I probably would have been like, OH!
Any thoughts on Becca as the next Bachelorette?
I hope she has a fun personality! I miss a Bachelorette like a Kaitlyn, or Jillian – I like a fun one, even Ali, who doesn’t seem to care so much about every word that comes out of her mouth, is more emotional, and Becca – when she was getting broken up with, barely – and yes, maybe she was just stunned, but we didn’t see a ton of emotion from her. And her storyline was so much about her ex showing up, and Ari blind-sighting her. I don’t know who she is, really. SO if we can see more of who she is, then I think it will be good.
You can find "Bachelor Nation" on Amazon, and in most bookstores. The next season of The Bachelorette, featuring Becca Kufrin, starts May 28, 2018.