Last week, millions of viewers watched as complete strangers, in whose lives the public has gotten totally invested, attended the “most dramatic rose ceremony in Bachelor history.” That’s right: The non-reality world of American Broadcasting Company’s long-standing sensation begins another winter hiatus as the public laments the end of Bachelor in Paradise and waits in anticipation for Season 20 of The Bachelor.

Each consecutive season of The Bachelor attracts more and more viewers. The franchise’s current spin-offs—The Bachelorette and Bachelor in Paradise—only add to those numbers as the self-proclaimed Bachelor Nation now occupies airwaves for eight months out of the year. Given the shows’ popularity, it is no surprise that the franchise has stuck around for thirteen years; it has a seemingly bottomless pool of reality-dating-game-show hopefuls to apply each cycle.

But do these applicants know what they are signing up for? Chances are slim.

These shows and their producers and parent companies (collectively, The Bachelor) require each applicant to sign statements indicating their knowledge, understanding of, and compliance with what the show’s legal team has termed its “Eligibility Requirements.” One can only hope that the applicants have not actually read this document when they indicate their accession, given what the requirements demand.

Among the most notable provisions of the “Eligibility Requirements” is the understanding that The Bachelor can disclose any information contained in the candidate’s application to third parties, including, but certainly not limited to: sexual history, employment history, criminal history, medical history, and secrets and confidences with family, friends, and acquaintances. Additionally, the applicant agrees that, should any claims or damages arise from the dissemination of this information, The Bachelor is immune from any legal battle.

The requirements go on to mandate agreement to being filmed and recorded 24/7 by visible and hidden cameras, to living and cooperating with all other contestants, to signing any additional releases that The Bachelor deems necessary, and, most ironically, to keeping any and all communications from The Bachelor to the applicant strictly confidential.

In light of the restrictions that The Bachelor places on its applicants, it is unsurprising that so few lawsuits have emerged because contestants have waived all rights to a cause of action. The ABC franchise did come under fire in 2012, however, when two applicants sued the show for alleged racial discrimination. While The Bachelor can make applicants relinquish their privacy, it cannot contract away equal protection rights, so one would assume.

The case, Claybrooks v. American Broadcasting Company, 898 F. Supp. 2d 986 (M.D. Tenn. 2012), was resolved in favor of the television giant, but not without the expense of some negative publicity. Two African-American applicants to the show, not selected for participation, felt they were discriminated against based on their race and attempted to certify a class action suit for damages and injunctions compelling the show to consider minority applicants as thoroughly as it considers Caucasian applicants. The suit was dismissed on First Amendment grounds, but news outlets from Time to CNN to NPR took up the story and shed light on the questionable casting practices of the franchise.

Perhaps applicants, particularly those of minority status, will view the ruling from the Middle District of Tennessee as part and parcel with the stringent “Eligibility Requirements”—a tacit, rather than explicit, acknowledgment of the rights relinquished upon application. In the same way The Bachelor requires its applicants to forego their privacy rights, it may seem to implicitly deprive them of their rights to equal protection, as well. The question remains whether the franchise took anything away from this media attention. Since dismissal of the suit, six seasons have aired, five of which featured Caucasian Bachelor/ettes, though one featured a Latino Bachelor.

Clearly, though, this discrimination speculation and the strictures that participation in the show places on applicants’ lives have not diminished interest in the chance to compete for “one final shot at love.” Fans of the franchise can undoubtedly rest assured that the next Bachelor will grace our television screens in January with a fresh-faced group of twenty-five women vying for his affection. And we will be privy to ALL of their secrets.

Natalie Gabrenya


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2 Responses to Bachelor Nation: Citizenship Comes Without Rights

  1. Lawrence Crane-Moscowitz says:

    Also worth noting is how it looks like a number of reality TV stars just cycle through multiple shows again, and again, and again…

  2. Danielle Dudding says:

    It will be interesting to see if the policies get changed just from a PR standpoint, even if there isn’t a legal issue.