In the search for love, the chances are that each of us has — on at least one occasion — done something stupid that we regret. We all unintentionally embarrass ourselves, to one extent or another, in our quest to fill the void in our hearts and not die alone. It’s quite possibly in our nature; it's assuredly deeply embedded in our culture.
However, some are willing to intentionally subject themselves to deep public humiliation and embarrass themselves in front of an audience of millions as contestants on the reality show, "The Bachelor" — a hilariously entertaining reality show during which a group of often-inebriated contestants seek to be proposed to at the end of several weeks of an orgy of adventures and jealousy-fueled screaming matches.
It is the personification of what makes America an exceptional nation.
Last week, the latest season of this uniquely American treasure premiered with 30 women vying to be the object of affection of Colton Underwood, a 26-year-old former NFL player who never played a down in a regular season game. His draw for both the ladies and the audience, outside of his extremely short professional football career and good looks, is in keeping with the season's theme of roads untraveled: He is a virgin.
While rare in this day and age, it is a commendable aspect of Underwood’s values: He explains to the camera that he believes that sex is important, so that is why he wants to wait — not until marriage, but until he finds someone worthy of being intimate with. Colton’s earnest devotion to his principles and values (combined with his aww shucks smile) make him not just likable, but the first Bachelor in a while for whom we could seemingly all truly root — or at least support losing his virginity on national television.
(His likeability factor declined slightly, however, when one contestant, Alex, introduced herself by forgoing the traditional evening gown in favor of a sloth costume, joking that like Colton, she liked to take things slow. Heartless Colton exposed his anti-sloth bias by dumping Alex by the end of the first episode.)
"The Bachelor" (aka Schadenfreude television) is escapism that gives Americans the ability to feel better about our own lives, while also living vicariously through the contestants. Most of us will never have a date where we are whisked off to a private dinner for two at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art or spend a romantic day on a private island in the Caribbean.
But most of us also won't have to date people like the sort who would sign up to date on reality television. So, when contestant Demi — whose mother, during the filming of this season, was incarcerated in a federal penitentiary for conspiracy to commit bank fraud — suggests that she and Colton get matching prison tattoos or fashion a shank out of a toothbrush, or when Catherine (already positioning herself as the season's villain) drives the other women crazy with her need to dominate every conversation with Colton, we can look at our own partner and say, You aren’t so bad.
You see, we love that the majority of the contestants are vain and emotionally underdeveloped. These good-looking simpletons allow us to feel a satisfying smug superiority.
We all watch "The Bachelor" and are able to escape to a fantasy where, each week, we choose from a shrinking pool of gorgeous-but-flawed potential suitors... and it's a game rather than our lives. Their flaws only heighten the entertainment factor, as well as our own personal enjoyment — and that would not be the case if casting agents were sending in the best and the brightest. The escapism they offer us make us feel better about our own existences.
"The Bachelor," then, is our modern-day version of Ancient Rome’s coliseum. The blood that satiated the masses in some of the earliest days of humanity has been replaced by more so-called civilized entertainment: Narcissism, insecurity and jealousy that combine to result in tears — delicious tears that feed our hidden sadistic nature.
Our innate lust for drama is today nourished by the participants — bachelors or bachelorettes — who engage in romantic combat that is nominally for their benefit, but truly designed for the entertainment of the masses.
Yes, as each season ultimately draws to a close and the shallow inter-contestant dramas dwindle, as the emotional ones associated with our perceptions of the players' intimacy rise. We will cheer for whom we believe is most compatible with "our" bachelor (or bachelorette) and jeer those we see as poor matches.
It might not comport with traditional romance, but "The Bachelor" is wholly entertaining and everything that makes America an exceptional nation. It allows us to come together as a nation and cheer or jeer while indulging our voyeuristic nature. And everyone is going to keep watching even if the likable Colton exhibited astonishingly poor judgment by getting rid of America’s take-it-slow sloth, Alex — or maybe because he did.