At around 8:00 p.m. ET on Monday, June 22, I found myself in an awkward position. The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team was kicking off a critical game against Colombia at the Women’s World Cup in Canada, and I am one of the sports editors of this very website. The game, by any reasonable measure, should have held my complete and undivided attention.
But I’d be lying if I said it did. It didn’t, and the reason is that there was another important game starting at that exact moment, one that I found myself even more engrossed in: the latest episode of "The Bachelorette."
I probably should have been horrified by myself. A sports editor who cared more about a reality television show than his country’s national team? Unforgivable. But honestly, by that point, it was already over. I had already become an unabashed "Bachelorette" fanboy. I found myself looking forward to the drama, comedy, strategies and debates of Monday nights. For some godforsaken reason, I cared, just like I care about my Los Angeles Lakers.
I’d be more embarrassed, except that I now know I’m not alone. All over the country, I have discovered, there are sports fans who have found in "The Bachelorette" something oddly similar to what they love about the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL. Simply put, a growing number of people are waking up to the fact that "The Bachelorette" is the best sport available on television right now, and we’re not going to hide anymore.
“Oh, it absolutely has become a sport,” Kellye Kohn, a 24-year-old mental health therapist in Charleston, South Carolina, told me in an email.
Kohn noted that in most seasons of "The Bachelorette," there are two or three top contestants clearly vying for the title early on, and that’s particularly true this season with Shawn and Nick’s intense rivalry for Kaitlyn, America's latest Bachelorette.
“The show contestants have to have a bit of a sports mindset,” Kohn added. “Every season, there's the girl or guy who refuses to compete with the others for the Bachelor/Bachelorette's attention because ‘that's not who they are.’ Those types don't typically last long.”
Erin Hale, 25, a graduate student in Cleveland, Tennessee, told me over email that just like with sports, rule No. 1 of "The Bachelorette" is play to win or don't waste your time.
“In both cases, if you aren’t playing in order to ultimately win a prize (a trophy in sports and a husband or wife in the Bachelor/Bachelorette franchise), there’s no point,” Hale said, adding that's it's "just like March Madness."
The competitive streaks of the contestants, and the sometimes conniving tactics they employ as a result, foster rivalries comparable to Yankees-Red Sox or Bears-Packers, Kohn said.
“As a viewer of the show you really start to align with certain contestants and root for them much like you would align with an athlete or team while watching sports,” Ainsley Burton, 21, an advertising associate in New York, noted over email.
“Obviously the reasons behind liking a contestant versus an athlete/team are probably different," she added. "I'm an Aaron Rodgers fan because I've been a Packers fan forever, whereas I'm a Ben H. fan because he is super handsome and charming as hell.”
Burton admitted that sports teams do have an inherent advantage over reality television contestants when it comes to their respective fan bases. Regardless of what happens this season, your favorite team will likely be there next time around. The same can't be said of your favorite "Bachelorette" contestant.
“But I will say 'The Bachelorette' can be more fun and carefree as a result," Burton said. "People don't riot and burn cars when their favorite contestant doesn't get a rose.”
Anne Juceam, 33, of Brooklyn, New York, loved the competition surrounding reality television so much that she decided to start a fantasy league with some of her friends. Soon enough, the waitlist for the league became so long that she founded realityfantasyleague.com, a site where fans of both "The Bachelor" and "Top Chef" can create leagues to compete with friends. Today, she estimates that 700 people use the site to keep up with the two shows.
“My husband is a sports fanatic and he’s been the commissioner of his fantasy football league for over a decade, and I found myself as passionate about these reality TV shows as he was about football,” Juceam told me over the phone.
“It’s really thrilling,” Juceam added. “It’s a way to watch the show on a whole new level. [Fans] have been feeling invested in the show for how long? But now they have an outlet to choose the contestants and they feel invested in a new way."
Anne’s husband, Jason, told me over the phone that he sees a lot of similarities between his wife’s new site and the early years of fantasy sports.
“Think back to the early ‘80s [when fantasy sports were first getting popular] and you think about all these people who wanted to be a part of the sport, to show that they are an expert,” Jason, a 33-year-old New York Jets fan, said. “['Bachelorette' fans] know the ins and outs -- -- there’s code words on the shows, different things. They’re experts … But up until recently, there was no way for them to manifest their passion, so I think creating this fantasy league is a good way to put their expertise to good use.”
Lizzie Rubenfield, a 24-year-old consultant living in Washington, D.C., is among those who have started a "Bachelorette" league on realityfantasyleague.com. “It gets really intense,” she told me over the phone. “You have to have time to actually put into it."
“My general strategy is to pick people who are kind of boring because they tend to last longer,” she added.
But sometimes, the producers’ desire for drama can interfere with the purity of the competition, much to the detriment of the league. This season, that was most apparent in the mid-season entrance of Nick, who is now one of two remaining contestants on the show. The producers' decision to add him late might have been good for the show, but it was bad for Rubenfield's league. Unable to decide a fair way to dole out him out after the draft, the league left Nick on waivers, and what should have been the league's dramatic ending is now anything but.
Talk to non-"Bachelorette" fans, and they’ll argue that production decisions like that are part of the reason the show shouldn't be considered a sport. They have a point. After all, it's true that producers are constantly enhancing the drama by way of creative editing and editorial decisions. But they should also look in the mirror and consider the percentage of sports media dedicated to the drama surrounding the games, rather than the games themselves. They should consider the near-constant rule changes in sports meant to alter the on-court product for the betterment of the games. Suddenly, doesn't the line between reality TV and sports appear at least a little blurrier?
Or, as Burton more succinctly stated, “The same shit happens every time there's a rivalry in sports ... It's all just drama created by someone trying to drive up ratings.”
For women who love both "The Bachelorette" and sports, however, there does appear to be one clear difference. “I've been questioned and doubted probably hundreds of times (mostly by douchebags trying to talk shit in sports bars) regarding my love of sports,” Burton said. “But never once has anyone doubted that I'm a true fan of 'The Bachelorette.'”
Another, less infuriating difference between the two: the commonly associated alcohol of choice. “I live with two girls so it's just like me and my boys watching the game on Sundays with beers, wings, and buffalo dip, except it's wine, cheese, and hummus,” Ryan Soos, a 25-year-old 'Bachelorette' fan living in Manhattan, told me.
“Honestly, the only real difference for me in consuming 'The Bachelorette' versus sports is that I drink wine with 'The Bachelorette' and beer with sports,” Burton agreed.
Even if "The Bachelorette," unlike sports, doesn't involve watching the blood, sweat and tears of the best athletes in the world, it does display the art of manipulative decision-making, and the drunken tears that inevitably follow. And really, in 2015, isn't that more representative of our society as a whole than any feat performed on a field? Or at least, comparably entertaining? We say yes.
“I probably, in general, have more respect for professional athletes than contestants on the show,” Burton finally admitted. “But I still love talking shit about both equally.”
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