My good friend introduced me to the The Bachelorette during Desiree’s season. While I would watch on and off, I never quite saw the true value in the production. With the added ridicule from my family, my commitment to The Bachelor franchise proved next to none.
Things really starting to change for me when my mom began tuning in every Monday night for Jojo’s season. Soon, Monday nights became a ritual for my family (minus my father, we are still working on getting him into the show), as we watched Jojo find her “happily ever after” amidst the turmoil of the “Chadberry.”
The editing is, believe it or not, genius, perfected to tease viewers and create a warped view of the season. As my mom, sisters, and I became more and more engrossed, we became to pick apart the editing and found many questions about the show itself. How does the Bachelor remember everyone’s names, especially at the first Rose Ceremony? How much interaction do the contestants have with the Bachelor off camera? What do the contestants do when they aren’t competing over the Bachelor in cocktail dresses, or swimsuits, or (in Corinne’s case) nothing at all? And most importantly, how in the world do so many girls appear to fall in love with one man in six weeks?
I’ll admit, the The Bachelor is really weird. In the words of Elijah Wood, “It is like a weird human experiment, I don’t understand it. I find it equal parts entertaining … and I’m also disturbed.”
One man, or one woman in case of The Bachelorette, dates anywhere from twenty to thirty woman at one time. Filming, which lasts for a meager six weeks, typically ends with an overly dramatic proposal set to equally dramatic music.
One could argue that it’s all a ruse. In fact, many people do. Given the rise of reality T.V., with its implications and dramatizations, it is entirely possible that much of the “love” depicted in the Bachelor is, simply, orchestrated, operating on the acting talents of aspiring dolphin trainers and erectile dysfunction specialists across the country.
There is, however, another potential reason behind the seemingly miraculous love discovered on the show: conditioning.
In 1971, professor Philip Zimbardo, professor of psychology and author of The Lucifer Effect, conducted his Stanford Prison Experiment. The goal of this simulation was to discover the psychological affects of prison life, both on the prisoner and the prison guard. After 70 male college students submitted applications to the study, each were given psychological tests and were deemed an average group of middle-class young men.
Randomly, half of the boys were assigned the role of prison guards, and the other half of prisoners. They then began the experiment in the “Stanford County Jail”: the simulated prison created by Zimbardo, his team, and actual ex-convicts.
What followed in the next six days proved to be far beyond Zimbardo’s expectations. In fact, the experiment was scheduled to last longer; it was abandoned after six days after a graduate student involved in the project made objections to its continuation.
The guards, who were given no instructions save for the idea that they had an important duty to enforce their role in the prison, quickly turned to physical attack and psychological torture. One prisoner had a mental breakdown after just 36 hours in these conditions. As Zimbardo described, “#8612 then began to act crazy, to scream, to curse, to go into a rage that seemed out of control. It took quite a while before we became convinced that he was really suffering and that we had to release him.”
Not only were the prison guards and prisoners completely submerged in this experiment, but also Zimbardo himself. He cast himself in the role of prison superintendent, a decision he now recognizes as his greatest mistake in the set up of the experiment.
“I feel guilty that I made the mistake of playing the role of prison superintendent. I should have only been the objective research principal investigator. [But] over time I became the prison superintendent. With that label at my door, and when parents visited and treated me as if I was prison superintendent, I began to act that way.”
This decision to include himself in the experiment revealed just how harrowing the results truly were and are.
“What that means is that when I see prisoners breaking down, instead of saying, ‘Oh my God, I have to end this study, people are suffering,’ my job is what? Get a replacement [student prisoner]. Bring the student to student health — which we did — get a replacement.”
“I lost my sense of compassion, which when I think of myself, is one of my main attributes — to be a compassionate, caring person, as a professor, as a person. I totally lost that.” – Philip Zimbardo
While the Stanford Prison Experiment specifically looked at personality traits of of guards and their connection to the abusiveness of the guards, it revealed something far more haunting: the conditioning of our surroundings.
Now what does this have to do with America’s favorite show, The Bachelor?
After applying and passing the first few rounds of inspection, potential Bachelor contestants are required to take a series of psychological exams. As Jesse Csincsakincsak, the winner of season 4 of The Bachelorette, described, “They lock you in a hotel room for three days and give you a psychological evaluation.”
Once the women find out about their future on The Bachelor, the next step is preparation: in this case, shopping. The women have to purchase all of their own dresses and clothing for the show, some allegedly spending more than $40,000 for their six week adventure. Before they have even met the Bachelor, every contestant has given careful consideration to their wardrobe, investing their own money into the experience.
Upon arriving at the villa used for filming The Bachelor, the contestants and the Bachelor himself are put on a kind of lock down. No one is allowed to have cell phones, watch T.V. or movies, or use the internet. They can’t even read books, leaving the majority of the time they are not on group dates, one-on-one’s, or the unfortunate two-on-one with the Bachelor is left to dream and talk about the Bachelor.
“I kind of feel like they’re playing the part … it is very easy to get wrapped up.” – Sharleen Joynt, a contestant on Juan Pablo’s season of The Bachelor
The eliminations also create a pressure around the process. The show is, again, only six weeks total. The constant eliminations, as well as the limited time, pushes for the contestants to develop a rapid relationship with the Bachelor.
Robyn Howard, a former contestant, commented on the stress of a lack of time. “You learn on The Bachelor that you have to be yourself and give all of yourself [to a man] pretty quickly because you don’t have much time.”
The irrational, emotional, and all around crazy behavior of many Bachelor contestants becomes more understandable: not only are they competing with their roommates, but they have also been set up to feel pressure and act out because of it.
Finally, the Bachelor and his final choice for a wife have the opportunity to cement their engagement with a Neil Lane engagement ring, ranging from $20,000 to $90,000 — on one condition. In order to keep this outrageously expensive, and often outrageously large, ring, the couple must stay together for at least two years.
So, is the love depicted on The Bachelor real? Probably not. But do the contestants and the Bachelor himself believe that they are in love? It’s certainly likely.
Our conditions shape who we are. As Zimbardo said in a recent interview, “[We like to think] our personality is relatively fixed, we are who we are, that we are not influenced by things around us. [But sometimes] when you’re put in an unfamiliar situation where you don’t have nay guidelines or any rules that contain who you are, you could be anything.”
The Bachelor and Stanford Prison Experiment both demonstrate the fluidity of the human self. Each of us can become a monster, each of us can feel like we are in love when, perhaps, it is only an orchestrated fairy tale.
Am I wasting my time by watching The Bachelor? By many people’s definitions and opinions, yes. However, while I do get caught up in the drama and plot twists, I’ve also learned about the tendency of humanity to believe in something that may not in fact be there—that I, perhaps, am no different than the people I criticize, whether its a girl crying in a limo or a guard consumed by his role.