Today is a special day in Bachelor Nation. Not only is it the day of the dramatic finale of Arie Luyendyk Jr.'s season of The Bachelor, it's also the release day for the book Bachelor Nation by Amy Kaufman, a revelatory look inside the franchise we love to pick apart.
Kaufman — a Bachelor superfan/Los Angeles Times reporter who investigated sexual misconduct claims against Brett Ratner, Russell Simmons and James Franco — dug deep into the franchise and came up with some amazing secrets about how the reality TV sausage gets made. Here are some of the juiciest things she found out.
1. There's a lot of truth in UnREAL. UnREAL, Lifetime's drama series about the inner workings of a Bachelor-like show, was co-created by Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, who worked as a producer on The Bachelor for a few seasons early in the show's run. The Bachelor is not a fan of UnREAL and its ruthless portrayal of the production of a reality dating show, but according to former producers Kaufman talked to, some of the characters Shapiro created are very specifically based on real people. Quinn King (Constance Zimmer) is inspired by former Bachelor executive producer Lisa Levenson, who is credited with shaping much of the show's candlelit idea of romance. Levenson was a brilliant producer who had an uncanny ability to extract tears from any contestant. (She's now a senior vice president of unscripted at Fox.) Meanwhile, Chet Wilton (Craig Bierko) is based on creator Mike Fleiss. No one can say for sure whether there was anything romantic going on between Fleiss and Levenson, but their dynamic was not unlike the illicit, volatile relationship between Quinn and Chet (Kaufman did not speak to either of them).
2. The on-set party culture is wild. Fleiss liked to party, and so a party atmosphere became an integral part of the show. Contestants, producers and crew members have all been known to tie one on in the pursuit of great TV. No one makes anyone drink, but alcohol is ever-present and producers use it to build rapport with and loosen up contestants. Plus, contestants drink because they're bored. After the Bachelor in Paradise scandal last year, new alcohol and consent policies were implemented. The consent policies are strictly enforced — no one goes to a fantasy suite without producer permission — but the new two-drinks-per-hour rule may have led to people getting more drunk, since some contestants made sure to get their two drinks per hour.
3. The main reason applicants get denied is because of STDs. Kaufman includes a detailed description of the casting process. Potential contestants have to go through a battery of tests before they get cast on the show, and the most common disqualifying factor to get into the pool of 50 finalists is that the applicant has herpes. Sometimes a producer was the first person to tell an applicant they had a sexually transmitted disease. Producers like people who "just barely" pass the psychological test, though. A former producer said they specifically cast people who seem like they might be "kind of unhinged."
4. Kaufman saw the contracts, and they're intense. To be on The Bachelor or The Bachelorette, you have to waive your right to not incriminate yourself. Any "embarrassing, unfavorable, shocking, humiliating, disparaging and/or derogatory" thing you do on the show is theirs to use. And they reserve the right to "portray [you] in a false light." Clare never talked to a raccoon, you know? As for the money, only the star gets paid, and the salary is negotiated based on what they'd make doing their real-life job. It's not supposed to be about the money. Meredith Phillips, the second Bachelorette, says she was only paid $10,000. But nowadays people have wised up, and the star usually doesn't make less than six figures. Contestants don't get paid, but the real money is in social media sponsored content anyway. Ashley Iaconetti told Kaufman that she figures that someone with a million Instagram followers can charge at least $10,000 per sponsored post.
5. Lauren Bushnell got the most expensive Neil Lane ring. Ben Higgins' fiancée's engagement ring was supposedly worth $100,000, but she had to give it back when they broke up. Neil Lane sends the bands to "ring heaven" if the couple splits within two years. If they make it to the second anniversary of their engagement, the ring is theirs.
6. Producers have binders full of women (and men, if it's The Bachelorette). Producers keep binders of annotated contestant bios for reference, and among the age and hometown detail there's some dark insight into what makes each person tick. Kaufman saw a binder from Jesse Palmer's 2004 season, and it contains descriptions of each contestant's exploitable vulnerabilities.
7. Producers track contestants' menstrual cycles. So that they know when they'll be the most "emotional." Yeah.
And that's just a sampling of some of the highlights. There's something to fascinate hardcore Bachelor fans on every page. Nothing previously written about The Bachelor has as adequately dissected the complicated appeal of the show. The ambivalence of enjoying the show is baked into every passage. If you hate that you love The Bachelor, this book is for you.
The Bachelor's season finale airs live tonight at 8/7c on ABC.