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Nothing Means What You Think It Means on The Bachelor

The franchise’s ever-expanding terminology is hurting its odds for success.
  • Zach Shallcross is the latest lead to be spewing nonsense on The Bachelor. (Photo: ABC/Craig Sjodin; Primetimer graphic)
    Zach Shallcross is the latest lead to be spewing nonsense on The Bachelor. (Photo: ABC/Craig Sjodin; Primetimer graphic)

    Over the past 20 years, Bachelor Nation — The Bachelor and its spinoffs The Bachelorette, Bachelor in Paradise, and, yes, even The Bachelor presents: Listen to Your Hearthas spawned its own language. Contestants quickly adapt to calling the process a “journey.” Suddenly everyone is questioning who is there for “the right reasons,” whatever those are. The shows even have their own hierarchy of declaring feelings for someone — “I can see myself falling in love with you,” “I’m falling in love with you,” “I’m in love with you,” and, finally, “I love you.”

    It’s a nonsensical language that viewers have nonetheless become fluent in: We’re all on this “journey” together, on a never-ending search for “clarity” and a “forever” “connection” on “the most dramatic episode ever.” We know that eventually someone will be “blindsided” on a “two-on-one.” We see the devious intentions behind the seemingly innocent phrase, “Mind if I steal you for a sec?”

    But what are these contestants and hosts really saying? Look deep into their eyes, and it’s clear that they barely know what the words coming out of their mouths express anymore. At this point, most of the people appearing on the show grew up watching it, only to arrive at the mansion to be fed this specific vocabulary — words that have real definitions and purposes in the English language. But here in Bachelor Nation, these words have now lost all meaning.

    The loss of meaning is ironic considering “clarity” is one of the things the series’s leads and contestants search for most. That particular word is one that isn’t a natural part of most people’s dating vocabulary, a clear plant from producers asking, “Did you find the clarity you were looking for?” Viewers and stars alike have noticed it sticking out like a sore thumb. “Can I get some clarity on why the Contestants the Bachelor/ette like to say ‘clarity’?” one Reddit thread asked. “How many times can we all say #clarity?” Season 15 Bachelorette Hannah Brown tweeted. And it’s a staple in the Instagram account Bachelor Data’s buzzword charts for each of the franchise’s new seasons. Clarity can be a moment or a conversation, or, in some cases, is just some nebulous thing that people are searching for but can never find. And even if it is found, it can quickly be lost. It’s like a mythical creature that’s been frolicking around ABC for years.

    The current Bachelor, Zach Shallcross, seems to understand that normally, words do have power. He marvels at how “things can change after a conversation.” So true, Zach. One of the words du jour of the currently unfolding 27th season is “connection” — Bachelor Data charted the word’s rise in popularity during Bachelor in Paradise Season 8. In real life, a connection can mean any sort of link between another person, place, thing, or idea. You can have a connection to your mail person or your succulents or Jungian Psychology. On The Bachelor, it’s possible to have a connection with everyone and no one, and the connection can mean two people are soul mates or that they’re just friends or that they’re simply in the same vicinity.

    Even in the world of The Bachelor, a connection isn’t enough. During a pre-rose ceremony cocktail party this season, Shalcross assured Davia Bunch that they had a “fast, hot connection,” only to dump her later in the night, leaving her to sob to camera, “I thought we had a connection!” Even if the word “connection” was first introduced with a deeper meaning in mind, the show, as we’ve amply demonstrated in these very paragraphs, overuses it to the point that it no longer even sounds like a real word, no matter how hard you try. Con-nec-tion. Nope, still nothing.

    Everyone who’s a part of Bachelor Nation is expected to be vulnerable. That’s not a completely ridiculous ask when the end goal is to get engaged and spend the rest of your life with someone. But in The Bachelor universe, the definition of the word has been twisted to coax out the contestants’ deepest traumas. In the real world, being emotionally “open and vulnerable” can mean to be unafraid to share your feelings and show your true self, even if it means it’s opening you up for heartache. If a contestant is being asked to be “open and vulnerable,” they’re expected to share their darkest secrets, not only to the season’s lead but to the millions of people watching at home. Being open and vulnerable means sobbing about abandonment issues during a first date on television.

    It’s a common tactic on many reality shows to craft an enticing narrative for contestants, pushing them to do their best modeling or singing or dancing while gaining devoted fans from their sob stories. In the world of The Bachelor, failure to be vulnerable in this exact way makes the contestant flawed as a person and therefore unfit for marriage. It’s especially frustrating and jarring to watch this season, because Shallcross doesn’t feel the need to show any vulnerability in return — he’s about as open as a solid brick wall.

    This lack of meaningful language is part of why the franchise has such a bad track record — out of 54 seasons of The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, and Bachelor in Paradise combined, only 12 couples that actually met on the show are still married. How are you really going to meet your future spouse if every conversation may as well have been AI generated? The pressure to squeeze in these producer-prompted words and phrases can step on the toes of contestants saying what they actually mean. Any and all authenticity and, yes, actual clarity is easily lost. If a person says they have a “fast, hot connection” with someone but what they mean is “physical attraction and nothing else,” that needs to be discussed in more understandable terms. Otherwise, it’s a flimsy foundation for a lifelong commitment in which communication is one of the most important tools.

    There is some hope for change. The word “clarity” has been used less than ever in Season 27, perhaps because it sounds too similar to the name of the long-lasting contestant Charity. The best contestants do bring their own catchphrases and linguistic quirks with them, which at least makes their conversations sound somewhat authentic. But even those phrases, like Juan Pablo Galavis’ “it’s OK,” can end up being repeated to death. The hydra that is Bachelor cliches will always sprout new heads, even after some have been cut off. For those who are still watching the Bachelor franchise after all these years, it’s just something we’ve to accept as part of the process — er, so sorry, the journey.

    The Bachelor airs Mondays at 8:00 PM ET on ABC. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Brianna Wellen is a TV Reporter at Primetimer who became obsessed with television when her parents let her stay up late to watch E.R. 

    TOPICS: The Bachelor, ABC, The Bachelorette, Bachelor in Paradise, The Bachelor: Listen to Your Heart, Hannah Brown, Juan Pablo Galavis, Zach Shallcross