Back in December, former Bachelorette star Kaitlyn Bristowe sat down on a stage in Vancouver and gave a short interview as part of a TEDx event. Host Riaz Meghji asked her, referring to her time on the ABC reality show: “True intention: did you do this to find love, or did you do this to build a brand?” Bristowe paused before she answered. “To build a brand,” she replied. “I’m going to be honest. I’m not going to sit here and lie.”
Nor should she have been expected to. Reality TV viewers, and Bachelor watchers in particular, have surely noticed their favourite characters quickly begin to hawk various wares upon exiting the mansion and taking up camp on Instagram. There, they leverage their (often brief) fame into a few easy bucks. Equally, we have long assumed these plans were forged prior to them arriving on the show – it’s part of the reasoning why the phrase “not here for the right reasons” has such staying power. Everyone knows only some of the people involved in these contests are really looking to get married. In fact, if that occurs, it might be by accident, as it was, apparently, for Bristowe.
“I went on to it being like ‘I’m going to build this lifestyle brand and I’m going to have this platform and do great things,’ and then I came out of it being like ‘oh actually I went on that to find Shawn and it worked out for me’,” she explained.
In writing about how long the Bachelor series might run, I once compared it to The Price Is Right, in that its main attraction for the viewer is to make us feel as though we are expert judges of the formula for creating true love, just as The Price Is Right makes us feel like expert consumers.
Is that analogy correct in another way? Might it point us to the future of reality TV, or at least the Bachelor franchise? If we all know and understand that reality show contestants or stars partake in these projects as a way to build their personal brands or as a way to propel themselves to a spot where they can be spokespeople for others, why even bother with the standard conceits any longer? Why not just make a reality TV show about who can be the best advertising spokesperson?
Maybe the future of reality TV is a program wherein a bunch of contestants live in a house together and every week have to compete to be the best face of a brand. How do they market a product? Do they use their Instagram feed (that the audience can quickly reference)? Do they post a YouTube video (that the audience can vote up or down)? Do they create a viral marketing campaign that makes headlines or prompts a Buzzfeed article? They could, perhaps, even be given the chance to undermine each other or throw one another under the bus when it came time to decide who stayed in the mansion and who left each week.
But maybe even that’s too complicated. Maybe there doesn’t need to be a new show at all. Maybe we just re-format the Bachelor series, so that group dates are not cooking competitions or soccer games (as they have been this season), but product pitches. Whoever makes the best one, or creates the most interesting brand campaign, gets a one-on-one date with the bachelor/bachelorette. Then, just to make it interesting, at the very end, the last woman or man standing would choose between love/marriage, or an extended, potentially lucrative, spokesperson contract.
True love might still flourish, as Bristowe discovered. Or it might not. But there would be no further confusion as to what we were actually seeing – we could strip away the bogus idea that this is all about love, and accept what we all know we’re really watching. If nothing else, we could at least do away with the idea that someone might be there for the wrong reasons.