Anyone who has watched even isolated clips from The Bachelor or The Bachelorette can glean that it is an environment that makes otherwise normal people behave very strangely. The more savvy, dedicated viewer can identify week six as the usual tipping point where contestants go from having fun to crying at the slightest provocation, or threatening to punch someone at the slightest provocation, or doing bad karaoke, or getting naked, or trying to choke out the Bachelor at the slightest provocation.
It’s well known that the contestants have limited access to phones and the internet while they’re on the show, in part so that they don’t inadvertently spoil things and in part so that the producers can more convincingly orchestrate truly bananas scenarios in which the contestants “stumble upon” tabloids, consume them ravenously, and then freak out about their contents.
But just how limited is their access to media? As it turns out: so limited I can barely believe it. These guys and gals essentially sit in an enormous mansion (or various far-flung hotel rooms) all day for two months, with nothing to entertain them but their own thoughts and their competitors in the sport of love. It is a torture scenario derived from No Exit, and it thoroughly explains how stuff like this happens:
For starters, I asked the expert on all things The Bachelor and The Bachelor spinoffs, Reality Steve (a blogger who regularly knows the winner of a given season before it even starts airing), to fill me in. He said, to his knowledge, the only access to media the contestants ever have would be music, limited to flights between destination dates. Even then, as he has pointed out on his extremely popular blog, it’s case by case, and at the whims of the producers. Cellphones are taken away at the start of filming, and it’s not like these women are carrying Walkmans.
“They want their full focus 24/7 to be on the guy. Hence the reason you get so many meltdowns[.] You actually start believing you're falling in love [with] someone you barely know. It's essentially like Stockholm Syndrome.”
ABC declined to comment for this story, and several producers and former producers did not respond to request for comment.
So I took my question to the people who would know the restrictions of Bachelor Nation better than anyone: the contestants. They had varying accounts, which makes it seem as though the rules have changed over time, sometimes flip-flopping illogically. Though, all of them said that there was absolutely no access to internet and no exceptions to the mandate of surrendering a personal cellphone. (Contestants who have children are provided with a phone to use every few days, but can’t keep their personal devices.)
Two contestants from season 17 of The Bachelor, which starred Sean Lowe and aired in 2013, noted that the only books allowed on set were Bibles. Lowe’s religious beliefs weren’t marketed as central to the season, though his decision to remain celibate until marriage was often a point of discussion. ABC would not comment on specific claims from contestants, so it’s unclear why contestants would have been told that they could bring Bibles and no other books.
AshLee Frazier, who was eliminated in the penultimate episode of that season, told The Verge in an email, “No phone and no books. They were all taken. Music wasn't allowed, but some sneak it in and hope to not get caught. The only book[s] allowed are Bibles.”
Tierra LiCausi, known as the villain of that season, told The Verge via email, “Other contestants were allowed to read. Bible studies were held during my season, the girls would have weekly gatherings to study the Bible or discuss their beliefs [and their] religion (which was very interesting and unique to see) I definitely supported that and thought it brought a good vibe into the house. No magazines though.”
This rule may have been unique to Lowe’s season, as every other former contestant I spoke to recalled books being permitted. Wells Adams, who appeared on both Bachelorette season 12 and Bachelor in Paradise season 3 in 2016, said that he brought books with him to the sets of both shows. Whitney Fransway, who appeared in Nick Viall’s 2017 season of The Bachelor, said contestants on her season were allowed to bring “printed content,” including books and journals, but magazines were still prohibited. “They really try to keep us in the headspace of being in a bubble on the show,” she added.
Both LiCausi and Frazier said that “blackout days,” when the cast was allowed to take a day off from filming and rest, were the only times that anyone in Lowe’s cast could watch movies. Frazier remembered the production team choosing the film, which was Seth MacFarlane’s Ted.
Adams said contestants on his season of The Bachelorette were allowed to watch Interstellar in a hotel in Uruguay. None of the other contestants I spoke to remembered being permitted to watch a movie, though Tasos Hernandez, a contestant on Andi Dorfman’s 2014 season of The Bachelorette and the first season of Bachelor in Paradise, said that the restrictions on television were relaxed toward the end of his time on the former show. He said contestants were occasionally permitted to watch TV in hotel rooms between destination dates.
According to contestants, the rules around music have changed a lot, though not with any obvious progression. In general, the conditions for listening to music seem to be determined by individual producers, not the basic rules of the show.
LiCausi said her phone was held by a “chaperone” the entire time she was on the 2013 season of The Bachelor, but during flights and car rides some producers would lend iPads or iPods to contestants so they could listen to music: “The producers’ obligation was to keep us from being distracted from life itself and focus on what we were there for, to meet our future husband.”
Hernandez said iPods and books were both allowed on his 2014 season, “But whenever we were all together and filming we were not allowed to read or listen to music.” He also brought a guitar, and spent most of his downtime writing and performing new songs.
But Daniel Maguire, who appeared on both season 12 of The Bachelorette starring JoJo Fletcher and season 3 of Bachelor in Paradise, both in 2016, told The Verge in a phone call, “Once in a while, one of the producers might play a couple of minutes of a song, but they can’t have music playing often because they don’t have the copyrights. Plus they don’t want background noise and they don’t want people being distracted... On The Bachelorette, three or four guys brought guitars. Once in a while they played guitar. But [the producers] often didn’t want them to do that.”
Maguire said contestants were allowed to use MP3 players (but not phones) when running on the beach during Paradise filming, which Bachelorette season 12 contestant and Bachelor in Paradise season 3 contestant Wells Adams confirmed, saying he was allowed to use an iPod shuffle. Overall, contestants said they weren’t allowed to listen to music outside of exercise or travel time because producers don’t want anyone retreating from group conversation.
Maguire added, “If you’re sitting in a group, they won’t let you have headphones in. The number one reason is that they want everyone to engage with each other, they want everyone to be talking... They want dialogue and talking and discussion and that kind of stuff, they don’t want people to go off and listen to music.”
I asked Maguire if he thought this inability to seek private moments contributed to the drama on The Bachelorette or Bachelor in Paradise, reasoning that being forced to stay put and continue an uncomfortable conversation might escalate tense situations. He disagreed, saying “I think the biggest things for me were the lack of sleep — long nights, early mornings. In Paradise it gets very hot. And there’s a lot of alcohol.”
In any case, the rules around music seem to have swung back to Draconian measures in the last year. Fransway said contestants on her 2017 season of The Bachelor weren’t allowed “any personal electronic devices,” including music players: “We did always look forward to car rides when leaving home base because that would mean we did get to listen to music! We would only have to film for the first ten minutes when in transport and then we could listen to the music and dance during the car ride!”
Most of the contestants I spoke to didn’t remember being informed of any world or national news as a group. Maguire said, “Last year, when we were filming Paradise, someone brought up that there was a shooting in Orlando. They didn’t sit us down, but one of the producers or handlers or assistants kind of briefly just mentioned it to some of the people. For the most part they’re not saying anything, they kind of want us to be isolated and not have any distractions.”
Hernandez said his cast was not informed of any world news in 2014, but Adams remembered being informed by producers of two world news events in 2016: a terrorist bombing in Brussels and scores from the NCAA Final Four.
Nick Viall’s season of The Bachelor filmed during the end of the 2016 election season. Fransway said that contestants were provided with absentee ballots, adding, “The producers did keep us updated on what was going on with that if we wanted any information.”
Most access to media while filming the show seems to be granted via personal favors from producers. But there are a few other exceptions to the rules when a carefully placed piece of media can serve the plot of the show.
For example, on last summer’s season of Bachelor in Paradise, the contestants appeared to have easy access to just one book: Andi Dorfman’s tell-all memoir about her time as The Bachelorette and her subsequent relationship with Josh Murray. Murray was a contestant on that season of Paradise, pitted over and over against Nick Viall, who he’d originally bested in the contest for Andi’s heart. The book, and the emotionally abusive behavior described in it, became the crux of one of the season’s major dramas, following Josh as he pursued single mom Amanda Stanton and continued butting heads with Nick.
On JoJo Fletcher’s 2016 season, contestants coincidentally happened upon some tabloids about her and an ex-boyfriend in a barber shop in Uruguay. They were in English, mysteriously, though they served no purpose in particular other than making JoJo cry and giving the men an opportunity to virtue signal. Other than these expertly timed run-ins with the edge of the reality TV bubble, it seems ABC milks most of its drama out of contestants by setting them into a world apart, and providing little opportunity to step away from intense feelings. It makes sense, and it makes for good TV, but it’s also pretty extreme. It’s essentially a sensory deprivation tank, and Reality Steve’s Stockholm syndrome metaphor doesn’t seem far off.
Fransway said, “The fact that we did not have electronic devices or televisions to pass any down time ended up being one of the best parts of the experience. This is because all of the girls in the house got to know each other so well and so quickly. This is part of the reason why you see us girls developing lifelong friendships after the show.” She added that producers encouraged the girls to come up with games to play during downtime, and her group played a lot of charades.
There’s no air conditioning in the Bachelor mansion (the noise is supposedly too hard to edit around), and contestants are stuck there with nothing to do but drink and talk to each other and think about the Bachelor or Bachelorette. It’s easy to see how people get weird, fast. It’s expensive, isolating, and mind-numbing to be a contestant on The Bachelor or The Bachelorette. And, for the most part, all anyone has to show for it afterward is a verified checkmark on Twitter and a couple new pals. Once in a while, someone finds love, which is nice. Does love feel more special if you know that 30 other people went stir-crazy for two months so you could find it? Possibly, if you’re enough of a sadist to be into that kind of thing.
I appreciate a good opportunity to bond and form summer camp-inspired friendships, but the best way to do that is around a box of obscure, novelty-flavor Oreos and one of those Walmart bargain bin two-for-one John Hughes DVDs.
To ABC: please, out of respect for human life and dignity, have a movie night a week (not Mark Wahlberg). A dance party per day? It’s only decent.