How The Bachelor has changed since 2002

Melanie Roberts
commons editor

It isn’t often that a television show lasts 20 seasons, let alone a dating reality show, so the fact that The Bachelor franchise has seen a total of 48 seasons worth of love and drama is an impressive feat.

The awkward group dates, rose ceremonies and the beloved host Chris Harrison have kept people coming back for more since 2002, so it makes sense that the general formula has remained consistent. While the format remains mostly the same, the franchise has changed quite a bit from its earliest days of the classic boy “meets girl and gets engaged in six weeks” love story.

One of the biggest changes to the show deals with the stars themselves, or rather their general profile. When the show started in 2002, the contestants recruited to try their hand at love were more like “regular” people. The men showed up looking like the average boy next door. They definitely didn’t bring with them any of the six-packs that the bachelors of this age sport. These days the producers are undoubtedly prioritizing physical characteristics over personality, both with the men and the women, in order to boost ratings. “As far as the women go, these days, it’s the norm for them to show up with eyelash extensions, killer wardrobes, and makeup skills most people can only achieve through cosmetology school…Back in the earlier days of The Bachelor, it was far more frequent to see women in everyday clothes and makeup,” according to Bustle.

More so than any other factor, social media has had the greatest impact on the franchise. Similar to the way social media platforms have affected society as a whole, it has broadened the horizons for The Bachelor both for better and worse. On one hand, today’s contestants having been exposed to social media and sharing their private lives with wide audiences priorly gives them a leg up on the shy and standoffish contestants of the past, making for a more authentic production. The platform has also been a source of income for former stars of the show who become influencers and make a living off of brand deals. “Bachelor In Paradise couple Jade and Tanner Tolbert reportedly made almost $1 million in 2018 because of their sponsored posts,” according to Us Weekly.

On the other hand, the emergence of social media has allowed critics a direct line to the contestants, leading to cyberbullying. “It was shocking to me because I never had a problem in my life with bullying growing up…and now at the age of 30 people are hating me for who I am and just being myself. I think sometimes people think I’m a character on a TV show, that I’m not an actual human being,” Season 11 Bachelorette Kaitlyn Bristowe said.

Perhaps the biggest change to the show overall has been the break from traditional norms by the leads. The show used to have a specific formula and rules to follow throughout the season, but in recent years these have been relaxed in favor of more spontaneity. “In recent seasons, the leads have been freer to follow their hearts, whether that means sending someone home outside of a rose ceremony who they just don’t click with or spending time overnight with someone when it feels natural after a date,” according to Bustle.

Even with more time to fall in love as the timeline has increased from six to 10 weeks, the leads tend to forge their own endings that differ from the classic engagement, which is perhaps what keeps Bachelor Nation coming back for more. After all, this unpredictability allows Chris Harrison to keep declaring season after season as “the most dramatic yet!”

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