Last night, The Bachelorette Season 13 premiered with its new leading lady, Rachel Lindsay. The 31-year-old Texas lawyer navigated the overwhelming first night as 12 women on the program had done before her. She stood outside the famed McMansion and greeted 31 gentlemen from all walks of life with the grace and elegance of someone media trained for the position (and this isn’t to be taken lightly—she didn’t even flinch when a dude exited the limo with a sledgehammer and huge block of frozen water, whipping the giant stone to make a first impression with “That should break the ice.”) But this season is different. Lindsay is the first black Bachelorette (there’s never been a black Bachelor, either.) With the exception of Season 17 Bachelor Juan Pablo Galavis, all male suitors in the franchise’s history have been white. Lindsay, in addition to seeking love in potentially all the wrong places, is doing so during the show’s most diverse season to date, contestants included. So what is it going to look like? Judging by last night’s episode, identical to how the show has been operating for almost two decades, with some pretty unfortunate and transparent failings.
In the Bachelor/Bachelorette’s 15-year history, the producers of the one of the world’s most popular programs have completely mastered the formula of how to make television fairy tale romances look real. Each premiere works the same way: there are flashbacks to the suitor’s recent heartbreak (i.e., the season of the show they just lost, thus getting their own,) clips of their home and work life, an examination of their personal weaknesses when it comes to dating and, of course, the great promenade of contestants.
Some of the latter—the ones who stay and you know are going to stay—get additional air time. It’s usually because the program wants to acquaint the viewer with a few names, faces and personalities. For Lindsay’s premiere, that was the case: we got to know Josiah, the 28-year-old prosecuting attorney from Fort Lauderdale, FL who seemed almost too perfect for her, Diggy, the 31-year-old senior inventory analyst from Chicago, a few miscellaneous white dudes who shared jokes in lieu of any real profession or goals and, perhaps most interestingly, Mohit, a 26-year-old product manager at a start up near Silicon Valley, CA (he lives in Pacifica, CA, a nearby, laidback town home to the world’s most beautiful Taco Bell.) Mohit spends his free time with his family, Bollywood dancing—and for whatever reason, he gets cut on night one. For all of the camera time he was given, for all the insight into his life, it seems like a calculated move. Mohit brought a different kind of diversity to the show, enough to showcase but not enough to sustain.
Like any reality program, there are stereotypes that form the foundation of the season. There must be at least one “crazy” person, and one person whose insecurities leave them focusing on the crazy person instead of what they’re actually supposed to be there for—love and marriage, or whatever. Last season on the Bachelor we were given Corinne Olympios, may her “cheese pasta” and “Raquel” never leave our pop cultural consciousness, but because dudes are supremely less funny than women, Lindsay’s season is given Lucas, a guy who, in instead of having anything going on in his life or even a real job, just screams the non-word “Wahboom” a lot. This qualifies him as jokester of the bunch. He goes on the interrupt the episode with animalistic noises and is somehow granted the last rose of the evening. Was literally every other man busy? (Some guy named Blake plays the role of the insecure dude obsessed with Wahboom, whose only salient point is that he calls Lucas out for wearing a t-shirt with his catchphrase visible on night one. Blake’s profession is listed on his chyron as “aspiring drummer.” Yes. Aspiring.)
Outside of those comedic relief-shaped men are the few early contenders: her first impression rose went to a Colombian man named Brian, the only guy she kissed; Josiah seems to be pulling at some heartstrings and ample screen time was given to men who probably don’t wear V-necks or henleys. This diverse group will dictate the rest of the season—race will inevitably become part of the conversation in ways it was skirted upon in the show’s past, better reflecting reality in a reality TV setting. The Bachelorette and it’s production will remain similar to how it’s always been, but now, has the potential to do something important—and Rachel Lindsay will guide us there.
At the very beginning of her premiere, Bachelor host Chris Harrison mentioned that the franchise has never seen such an outpouring of support for a suitor than Lindsay. It’s easy to believe. She’s the most likeable person to enter the mansion in recent history, possibly ever, and there’s an air about her that makes her more believable than most—she spent most of her time on the Bachelor with Nick Viall a skeptic, waiting to mention love until she really meant it. When questioned why she hasn’t found the one, her friends (the very women she was competing against to win Nick’s hand just a few months prior) highlight what she’s always known to be true: she likes being in charge, in control, and vulnerability terrifies her. She’s scared of falling.
That her fear in love is exposure endears her even more, because admitting that you don’t like to admit things is challenging. It’s not an emotion typically associated with femininity, at least how it has been expressed in the series’ previous heteronormativity. It means Lindsay is different from Bachelorette expectation in ways that go beyond the franchise’s diversity problem. It appears as though she is truly showing her cards after months of apprehension and that makes her likeable. What we have is the complete opposite problem of Nick Viall’s Bachelor season: the suitor, Lindsay, is too interesting and engaging for the group of men she’s supposed to find a partner in. Let’s hope that changes because dear lord, where is the love? Wahboom!