On Monday, Jan. 2, The Bachelor returns for its 21st season. Thirty women will compete for reality show pro Nick Viall's attention in the hope that at the end they'll be the one whose finger he puts a ring on.
Thanks to social media, where fans and participants congregate to discuss the drama, The Bachelor is more popular than ever. So perhaps, dear reader, you're thinking that maybe this is the season you start watching to see what all the fuss is about. But maybe you're daunted by 20 seasons' worth of history and the seemingly arcane rules of the series. Let me assure you that there's nothing to worry about. After reading this guide to what you need to know to start watching, it'll be like you've been watching from the very start.
Let's begin with the most unique part of Season 21:
Who is Nick Viall?
Nick Viall is, ostensibly, a 36-year-old software sales executive from Waukesha, Wis. who currently lives in Chicago, but he's actually a professional reality TV personality who lives in Los Angeles. This is his fourth time participating in a Bachelor franchise show. He made his debut on Season 10 of The Bachelorette, where he was the runner-up when Andi Dorfman chose Josh Murray over him. He infamously asked Andi on live TV "if you weren't in love with me, why did you make love with me?," breaking one of the cardinal rules of the show by talking openly about sex. Andi was a well-liked Bachelorette, so Nick earned a reputation as a bit of a villain as a result. He appeared again next year on Kaitlyn Bristowe's season, where incredibly he came in second again. That second appearance made Nick into something even worse than a villain: a joke. He came back for a third time this past summer for Bachelor In Paradise, a show where former contestants hang out together in Mexico, as an older, wiser Nick, dispensing wisdom to the younger contestants. He was reunited with his nemesis Josh Murray, and came off the better man when confronted with Josh's meathead aggression. Bachelor In Paradise rebranded Nick as a nice guy who's caught some bad breaks, and so he was chosen as this season's Bachelor in order to finally get a chance to find love for himself.
As for Nick's personality, he's a little cooler than the average Bachelor. He has a self-deprecating sense of humor. He's more self-aware and sensitive than the alpha males the franchise usually attracts. He's probably a really good dinner party guest. At the same time, he has a reputation as a bit of a ladies' man. He's been rough with some girls' hearts. He forgot all about his Bachelor In Paradise girlfriend Jen Saviano when The Bachelor came calling (don't worry about her, though — she's killing the sponsored content game).
So this season will in many ways be about Nick trying to reconcile his genuine desire for love with his doggish tendencies. He'll have to find a woman who can match wits and hold his attention.
Wait, but isn't this all phony?
Yes and no. Emotions are certainly exaggerated for the cameras, the show is edited for maximum drama and plenty of contestants are "not here for the right reasons," a cliched Bachelor phrase meaning "on the show to promote themselves rather than find love," but the franchise has a surprisingly good track record for lasting relationships. The three most recent Bachelor and Bachelorette couples are all still together (admittedly not a very long time frame), and Trista and Ryan Sutter, the first Bachelorette couple, recently celebrated their 13th wedding anniversary. Put it this way: The Bachelor has a better matchmaking percentage than Tinder. Every contestant, no matter how they feel about their experience on the show overall, has something to say about how emotionally intense the show is. Everyone is together in this house, cut off from the outside world, being fed alcohol and prodded into behaving in outrageous ways. It's a forced environment, but it leads to genuine results. Whether or not someone is phony depends on how they play the game (and where they land on the self-promotional spectrum).
What about the show, though. Is it serious?
That's another yes and no. The show kind of wavers on how seriously it takes itself. Sometimes it's very much like "we're in the business of bringing people together" and sometimes it's loaded with double entendres and camera-winking gags and general silliness. It always professes to take the institution of marriage very seriously, but it gets there by having one impossibly hot dude make out with a parade of impossibly hot women while they all jump through absurd romance novel hoops. It's all very exaggerated. You have to watch it to really get a handle on the tone, but it's mixed. I think the show would like to take itself totally seriously, but since no one who watches it takes it that seriously it has to make concessions to how its audience sees it. The host Chris Harrison takes it very seriously at all times, though.
So it's for fun?
Yeah, it's like sports. There are contestants you root for and villains you root against. There are even brackets where you choose your final four before the start of the season. Except in sports the outcome isn't determined by the time the game airs, but it's the same idea.
What do you mean by "villain?"
Every season has at least one contestant who everyone loves to hate. Last season it was a blonde newscaster named Olivia, who honestly was probably just misunderstood. The villain is a manipulator who doesn't get along with other contestants and sows seeds of discord. They're usually "not here to make friends." They're without fail the most entertaining contestants because they create highly dramatic situations.
So how does it work?
Everybody arrives on the first night — this season there are a whopping 30 contestants — and each week they're winnowed down until the Bachelor proposes to the last woman standing (usually — he isn't required to). Each week he goes on individual and group dates. The one-on-one dates are almost always boring. The group dates are always a silly activity like a touch football game or a talent show. The Bachelor selects the women he wants to keep by giving them each a rose. It's pretty simple.
What about social media?
Social media enriches the Bachelor experience to such a degree that if you're not following contestants on Twitter and Instagram and Snapchat and watching each episode with your phone in your hand refreshing the #TheBachelor hashtag, you're not doing it right. There's even going to be a Bachelor tie-in show on Snapchat Discover. Social media is another world of fun happening alongside the show where you can follow along with gossip, conspiracy theories and other sides to the story you won't get from the show. Also memes.
How long is it? I don't know if I can commit to this.
Each season is only twelve episodes. However, each episode is two hours long. It's a big commitment for a short period of time.
I'm a straight woman and I want my significant other to watch it with me. How can I get him to?
Tell him it's like college basketball but with beautiful women in bikinis and it's funnier than almost every sitcom.
I'm a straight man. I can't watch this.
Yes you can. Get over yourself. It's fun.
When does it premiere?
The Bachelor Season 21 premieres Monday, Jan. 2 at 8/7c on ABC.