When 'The Bachelor' And The Democratic Primaries Collide

The politics/reality TV crossover comparison nobody asked for.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man who goes on “The Bachelor” is in search of a wife. Whether the Bachelor is successful in that quest is a question without a consistent answer.

As anyone who watches the show — or anyone who takes a wild guess at whether reality TV is conducive to finding love — will tell you, couples formed within the larger Bachelor universe tend to break up. In recent seasons, those endings have become more and more dramatic. (Perhaps you heard about the fence jump seen ’round the world.)

Curiously, that narrative can also be applied to the contemporary Democratic Party. During the finale of Delta pilot Peter Weber’s season of “The Bachelor” on Tuesday night, primary results for six states began to roll in — and it struck me how much Weber’s season has, improbably, mirrored the 2020 Democratic primary.

I know! I know what you’re thinking. But if you’re even mildly interested in both subjects, bear with me. (I hope it goes without saying but, to be perfectly clear, I don’t think the stakes of “The Bachelor” are as high as those of the Democratic presidential nomination process.) 

On Tuesday night, former Vice President Joe Biden was building a delegate lead over Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) after a surprisingly successful Super Tuesday a week earlier, which had followed a month of decent poll results but lackluster debate performances and a series of Biden’s typical gaffes. 

For months, Biden and his campaign were not particularly exciting, but they were trucking along. Sanders’ candidacy was generating hype and enthusiasm, but how that would translate into primary votes remained fuzzy. Biden and Sanders were arguably in the best positions as the nominating contest ramped up: Each man’s name recognition among Democratic voters was matched only by the other’s, and both had very high favorability ratings among primary voters.

Similarly, Hannah Ann Sluss and Madison Prewett, the final two women vying for Weber’s hand, were strong contenders from the start: Sluss received the coveted “first impression rose,” and Prewett got the first “one-on-one” date with Weber — victories that have historically boded well for contestants. Weber’s subsequent interactions with Sluss and Prewett made his attraction to both contestants clear. 

The two women also managed to stay above the fray of most of the season’s petty drama, especially after Sluss was implicated early on in a low-stakes spat in which she accidentally opened a bottle of Champagne that did not belong to her. Sanders faced a similar path on the campaign circuit: After his heart attack in early October, his support in the polls continued to grow, but it was not the story that dominated the primary, as various other candidates’ profiles rose and fell. 

Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden both have something to say during a presidential primary debate in Ch
Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden both have something to say during a presidential primary debate in Charleston, South Carolina.

Biden and Sanders remained active in debates, but they faced predictable criticisms, and their responses were the same each time. While other candidates lobbed barbed attacks at each other, the senator and the former vice president filled their preset roles, largely without changing the arc of the race. The same was true for Sluss and Prewett, who sailed through the bulk of the season scot-free, rarely involved in any of the show’s typical blowups. 

Then, in recent weeks, stories emerged about Biden and Prewett that seemed to predict the beginning of the end. Biden began telling a bizarre story about how he had been arrested trying to visit Nelson Mandela in prison — despite the fact that it hadn’t happened. (Maybe the anecdote was meant to be a Hail Mary after Biden’s earlier missteps on racial issues, which included an outdated defense of his anti-busing position in the 1970s.) Prewett revealed that she was saving herself for marriage, obliquely suggesting to Weber that she would not be able to go forward with their relationship if he slept with the other remaining women, despite producer-sanctioned intimacy being one of the show’s main gambits. 

To risk overextending this comparison: Neither Democratic primary voters nor Weber wanted to deal with this new information, and neither appeared to let it affect their decisions in any negative way. 

Which brings us to Barbara Weber, the Bachelor’s mother, whose incredible reactions on the finale gave us something we so rarely get on the show: sass from people over 40. From the beginning of the season, previews of upcoming episodes included a dramatic clip of Barbara Weber begging her son, through tears, to “bring her home.” On Monday, the first night of the two-part season finale, it became clear that she was talking about Sluss. Throughout the primary season, Sanders received similarly passionate support from many voters under 40, who voted for him in disproportionately high numbers.

Things looked really good for Sluss and Sanders: She got engaged to Weber, and he won the first two primary states. And then, within 30 minutes of reality TV and two days of primary voting, everything changed. 

Weber, whose connection with Prewett became more and more obvious as the final episodes dragged on, ended his engagement with Sluss, who delivered an eloquently self-righteous speech and then gave Weber a brutally necessary “talk to the hand” as she left his house. With nearly all the other moderates dropping out of the primary, Biden emerged from Super Tuesday with a competitive delegate count and all but locked up the nomination after this Tuesday’s voting.

Once the pre-taped footage came to an end, Weber was forced to face Sluss in front of a live studio audience. As the two talked, a dedicated camera captured his mother’s unhappy reaction. Meanwhile, Sanders supporters under 40 tweeted their shock and vehement disappointment in his losses.

When Prewett joined Weber onstage — after telling “The Bachelor” MC Chris Harrison that she is still in love with Weber — she received a tepid welcome from the studio audience. Weber seemed over the moon; his mother did not and proceeded to tell Prewett why, exactly, she didn’t like her. Sanders supporters have recently published similar arguments about Biden in various progressive publications.

Madison Prewett and Peter Weber smile at each other on Tuesday night's finale of "The Bachelor."
Madison Prewett and Peter Weber smile at each other on Tuesday night's finale of "The Bachelor."

Prewett seemed to bristle at the implication that she owed Barbara Weber an apology for being three hours late to a date with Weber’s family. And Biden has repeatedly scoffed at some of Sanders’ signature proposals, which are exceedingly popular with young voters. 

Prewett and Barbara Weber did not end the TV series on a positive note. Democrats ought to hope that my already overstretched comparison stops here and that Biden is able to excite voters under 40 if he wins the Democratic nomination. 

Politics are rarely explicitly discussed on the Bachelor franchise, though traditionally conservative viewpoints are often points of principled tension. (As just one example: Prewett’s pre-marital chastity and the chauvinist comment her father made about praying for her future husband when she was just an infant.)

Notable exceptions to the franchise’s conservative leanings include Rachel Lindsay, who was so rattled by Donald Trump’s victory in 2016 that she drank too much and fell asleep on her “fantasy suite” date with then-Bachelor Nick Viall. (Lindsay later became the franchise’s first Black lead.) And Derek Peth, who appeared on “The Bachelorette” in 2016, more recently canvassed for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in Iowa. 

As for Warren, her clear corollary on Weber’s season was Iowa native Kelsey Weier, who had a rocky start, unabashedly clashed with other contestants, scored a series of conversations with Weber that demonstrated their mutual affection, said she was falling in love with Weber (which she admitted, seemingly sincerely, she had not expected to happen), made it to the final four (aka “hometown dates”), and was then, fairly unexpectedly, dumped during a rose ceremony at an airplane hangar. 

Two months after her stint on Weber’s season ended, Weier deviated from the Bachelor playbook of basically ignoring politics. On Feb. 3, she posted on Instagram, “It’s caucus day in Iowa! Make sure you go out and do your part!” And in Bachelor Nation, that’s analogous to announcing a plan for big, structural change.

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