We don’t know if it will the most dramatic Wordfest reading EVER, but we do know that Amy Kaufman is coming to Calgary for all the right reasons.
Sure, she covered the series as a writer with the Los Angeles Times (or she did until her media access was revoked), but Kaufman’s real cred lies in being a loud and proud member of Bachelor Nation — the rabid fan base that devours The Bachelor franchise in all its iterations.
That access, love and conflicting emotions for all things Bachelor led her to write Bachelor Nation: Inside the World of America’s Favorite Guilty Pleasure. The unauthorized examination of our fascination with the series — in which an extremely telegenic suitor/suitress is presented with a bevy of beauties of the opposite sex, from which they narrow the candidates down to two finalists through a series of contrived and often ridiculous “dates” — looks past the implants and no-carbs-allowed gym bods to question the underlying narrative of the show.
From producers and celebrity fans to contestants, feminist scholars, cultural anthropologists and the spoiler king himself, Reality Steve, Kaufman interviews them all, spinning an engrossing tale that includes the trademark candlelight and roses, but also the mascara-melting sob fests during the inevitable elimination ride of shame.
The book has the inside track on what goes on during those (eight-hour!) Rose Ceremonies, and the dirt on how producers create their own version of reality from the endless footage shot for every episode, including Frankenbiting — editing soundbites to change the meaning of what was said — and how those in-the-moment (ITM) interviews are creepily akin to police interrogations.
Here’s a taste of what you can expect at Kaufman’s Wordfest event, which goes down Wednesday, March 21 at the Memorial Park Library.
Q: The latest Bachelorette, Becca Kufrin, was introduced to five of her suitors on After the Final Rose, which the show first did with Rachel Lindsay last year. And the producers live Tweeted from the mansion on Becca’s first night of shooting on Thursday. Are they going to have to keep upping the ante every season?
A: I am surprised that they brought out the first five again. It wasn’t a disaster last time, but I don’t think it was particularly exciting flourish. I didn’t even remember when I watched the first episode that I had seen some of the guys earlier. I just remembered the banjo guy because he had a prop.
It’s hard for the show because they’re trying to stick to the format the we all know and love. And that includes weird tropes that we expect, like the fantasy suite and hearing people say, “I’m here for the right reasons.” But they want to continue evolving, so they add subtle tricks like that and I’m not sure it makes any difference.
Q: In terms of Bachelor shit shows, where would place Arie’s season?
A: This was a rough season, I am with you on that . . . It was pretty up there. Jason Mesnick is the only guy who had done this before. I don’t think this was more dramatic. But the spoilers weren’t as prevalent then, so I didn’t know really what was coming at all (when Jason broke up with his fiancée to pursue his second-place suitress, his now-wife Molly). This time, I knew it was coming even though I didn’t want to because it was so out there. Also, the coldness in the way he broke up with Becca felt weird.
And then we have Juan Pablo, who is an ultimate shit show as you put it, with him rebelling and not doing at all what the show wanted and saying, “I like you a lot” rather than “I love you.” That was pretty crazy.
Q: I am a big fan of Brooks bowing out, despite being the frontrunner of the final three on Des’s season.
A: That was so good! He is in the book. I loved talking to him. I told him, “Your breakup is one of the most iconic in Bachelor history.”
Q: What makes a good season of The Bachelor or The Bachelorette?
A: I think the lead needs to be invested in the relationship in a way that the audience can see. It was beyond Arie. He seemed to have had chemistry with so many of the women. He kissed them all the same. He talked about them the same. He told so many of them he loved them. And then he wasn’t emotional. What pulls me in is seeing the guy crying on the side of the balcony, right? I want to see the struggle someone is going through. Or Kaitlyn when she slept with Nik early, how that really threw her into emotional turmoil
You need the lead to be emotionally open in a real way and that doesn’t mean just sharing rudimentary tidbits from your past and saying you’re ready to find a wife. It means baring it all.
Q: You know how the sausage is made in terms of the machinations it takes to make the show. What keeps you watching?
A: With the exception of this season, because Ari did not deliver in the end, I like the last few episodes where the quote-unquote sincere emotion comes out. And to me, it’s embarrassing knowing that none of these relationships hardly ever work. And I know the pressure the contestants are under from the producers and yet I still get sucked in. I still get warm and mushy when I see two people connecting. That’s why I like it at the end of the day.
Q: And there’s the push and pull between the identifying with what’s on the screen and endless mocking what’s on the screen.
A: I think it’s a mix. It’s super fun to sit on the couch and judge and feel superior. That is part of the allure for me, too. But when people say, “I love to watch these train wrecks,” there is more to it than that. I think we underestimate the extent to which the fairy-tale narrative has been ingrained in us since we were young and how powerful that is. Maybe the people who go on the show are just more open about their desire for that kind of thing than the viewers are.
Q: If you had a chance to tweak the franchise, what would you do?
A: I would continue to diversify the cast. Everyone looks the exact same. In the book, Amy Schumer said she considered going on the show because she thought it would be so cool to have a girl sitting by the pool with cellulite.
I agree. Make these look like people like people see in the world every day. People of different races, ethnicities, body types, sexual orientation. I get that the show is supposed to be aspirational and you’re only supposed to be getting the quote-unquote hottest people, but c’mon, it’s 2018. Let’s evolve a little bit.
Q: Would you change the format?
A: Maybe less group dates. I hate the group dates. I get that you need to have them in the beginning and they can be exciting. But there’s too many people. There’s one winner and 10 to 15 people on the date. It’s too unruly. I don’t think it works.
Q: In the book, you write about something Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, co-creator of UnREAL, said. (This was in a previous interview with Kaufman, as Shapiro didn’t reply to requests to be interviewed for the book.) She recalled that in college, they talked about what it would take for them to sell their souls in a class and Shapiro thought it would have to be something in the order of millions of dollars. Working on The Bachelor, she found out it was “just a fucking paycheck. After 18 years of your parents building your morality, the desperation of staying alive sinks in so quickly.” How can you balance entertainment — because that is what The Bachelor is at its core — with the genuine emotion and effect the show has on the participants’ lives?
A: She is saying that about the producers because other than the lead, they (Bachelor participants) don’t get paid. That is what is alarming to me is that people that I spoke to just excused away their behaviour by saying it’s a job and these people signed on the dotted line and so therefore I need to create entertaining television and I don’t have to stop at anything to do that.
I don’t know. I mean there are lots of ways to make a paycheque. And so, I think your morals and ethics do factor into it. Making TV doesn’t mean you just completely throw them out the window to do your job. It’s not written in stone that you have to behave a certain way as a producer. Everyone finds the tactics that works best for them.
I thought that was super revealing that she said that. It shows the group-think mentality once you’re there. You see the way other people are behaving and you slip right into it. You think, “Oh, it’s my job. I have to,” but you really don’t.
Q: Do you think that that also applies on the flipside for the participants in terms of group think?
A: In terms of behaviour, there’s a lot of pressure on them to say that certain things or to fulfill character arcs. They have the history of the show in their head and they know who does what to get airtime. And we don’t know what it’s like to be in that environment. You’re completely cut off from the outside world with no books, Internet, phone, friends, family. And then we have these producers acting like they’re your close friends and telling you that they have your best interests at heart when that’s a questionable thing. I don’t necessarily fault the contestants for what they are saying for the sake of their 15 minutes (of fame).
Q: Do you think that any of them are there for the right reasons anymore? Were they ever there for the right reasons?
A: I think some of them are. But it’s like (former Bachelor) Sean Lowe says in the book, it’s kind of weird if someone was on the show. Is it Cupid or is it The Bachelor? Why would that be a realistic way to find your partner? It seems like a kind of crazy option to find love if you are looking at it that way. And again, sometimes it works.
I think it’s sort of a mix. Some people say I thought it would be an adventure. I get to travel the world. I made new friends. And if I get love out of it, that’s an added bonus. And you know 50,000 followers on Instagram doesn’t hurt the ego or the pocketbook. Nothing is quote-unquote pure anymore, but I also agree with Sean in that if someone says I must go on The Bachelor and marry the eligible guy that the show has presented me with, then that’s weird, too.
(This interview was lightly edited for clarity.)
(Photo courtesy Colin Douglas Gray.)
Wordfest presents Amy Kaufman and Bachelor Nation: Inside the World of America’s Favorite Guilty Pleasure, Wednesday, March 21 at 7 p.m. at the Memorial Park Library. Tickets here.
Ruth Myles is a Calgary-based writer who covered all things reality TV, among other topics, for the Calgary Herald and Swerve. She now has a job that doesn’t involve becoming emotionally invested in the questionable choices of reality-TV characters.