Maybe, if you’re lucky, it never becomes an issue. Certainly, if you subscribe to the more fantastical view of falling in love, like the kind ABC’s The Bachelor regularly features as its selling point, the question of exactly where this romance will ultimately play itself out rarely comes up. If it does, it’s most often easily brushed aside in the moment as an unimportant detail: “Oh, we’ll be happy wherever we are together”.
Sure. But seriously, where are you going to live? This annoying detail has occasionally been addressed in the recent past on the show, as well as on its spinoffs, but rarely as much as it has this season. That’s unfortunate, because this simple question has entirely changed the show, and made it much more interesting.
Let’s back up a step. Last year’s Bachelorette, Andi Dorfman, was concerned about moving away from Atlanta. She eventually chose Josh Murray, and sent Chris Soules packing partly because of where he lived: the tiny town of Arlington, Iowa, population 427.
Chris became this season’s Bachelor.
Which meant this time around on The Bachelor, the question of where the new couple will live can’t be brushed aside and answered at a later date. It’s already been answered. As a result, the show has a very healthy dose of the other feature it’s sold to viewers for years: reality.
This is a weird thing, because most of the time, reality on reality television is of the alternate kind. The Bachelor isn’t the pinnacle of this, but it’s close. There’s very little about the show’s premise – having a mansion full of sexy potential mates next door from which you will gradually choose a life partner through a gradual process of elimination, sometimes based on elaborate dates, but other times based on nothing much at all – that anyone could call real.
And yet, finally, there is this issue of residence.
Over at Salon, there has been discussion regarding the construct built by the production team and the editors within which we’re being told to watch this drama, and that this city vs. rural dilemma is just this year’s trope.
Likely, that’s true. There is inherent drama in that dichotomy that is widely accessible to viewers. When Chris’ potential wives make the trek to Arlington of their own accord to see just how small it really is, we are forced to put ourselves in the position of wondering whether, if asked, whether we could live in such a place. The Bachelor’s production team is banking on our answer being the same as the girls’ – “probably not” – and thus we’re all the more worried that this romance we are being asked to root for might not work out in the end.
But production construct or not, the centrality of Chris’ tiny hometown in the season has anchored it in a way that’s not happened before. That is, Chris’ small rural town not only forces questions of relationship longevity, it is effectively running the show. The producers of this year’s Bachelor have, perhaps inadvertently, changed the program entirely. This is no longer a show about love. Instead, it’s now a show about quality of life.
By consequence, it prompted one of the more interesting conversations on the program in a while. In Bali this week to experience the fantasy suites, and to eliminate one of the remaining three women, Chris entered into a discussion with finalist Whitney Bischoff about life after the show. His fear for her has been shared by others – that as a successful woman in Chicago (she’s a fertility nurse), she would not want to leave her career and life to move to a backwater in Iowa to just raise a family.
This directly addressed the conservative nature of the program, which tends to assume that the women will want marriage as an ultimate life achievement, above all other things.
“Arlington is 500 people. There’s nothing to do in Arlington. Zero,” Chris told Whitney. “So you go other places, for a career or whatever.”
“Is it some place I’d honestly look at on a map and say ‘I’m going to be here, y’know, with 400 people’? Probably not,” Whitney conceded.
"To me, when I look in terms of my future, I have worked so hard to get where I am. But, I have always wanted to be a wife and to be a mom," she said. "I have this career, but I'm not fully happy. ... So, in terms of my career, I'm going to be honest with you: If I move to Arlington, I would leave that and I wouldn't have any hesitation about it because I'd know this is something I was meant to do."
Make of that what you will – or wonder if it’s the right decision – but had it not been for the pokey little town of Arlington, that conversation might have never happened. There may have been no reason for it, even though the expectation of marriage and children would still have been there all the same – it would have simply been put off to another time.
It’s not to say that mature assessments of life and goals can’t occur on The Bachelor, it’s just that they usually happen in the background, behind all the dramatic personality clashes, drunken tears, and vague to-camera fawning about each other’s broadly attractive traits. Or they happen when the cameras are off. Or they don’t happen at all.
What we got, finally, thanks to a small town in Iowa, was a conversation based not in the show’s universe, but in the one that exists outside of it – the real one.