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ABC/Craig Sjodin The women of 'The Golden Bachelor' begin their journey
How does one woo a handsome widower? On a warm August evening at the Canyon Club in Agoura Hills, Calif., 12 sexy single women of a certain age — all contestants of ABC's senior citizen dating show The Golden Bachelor — are doing their best to answer that question. Tonight's group date activity is the "Golden Bachelor Talent Showcase," in which the ladies must show off their skills in front of about 150 curious spectators. And the prize? A romantic, one-on-one dinner with the Golden Bachelor himself, 72-year-old widower Gerry Turner.
A stylish 75-year-old in sleek white pants and a black tank top takes the stage to deliver some corny-cute jokes. ("Why did the football coach go to the bank? To get his quarter back!") She's followed by a stunning, 70-something blonde who reminisces about all the games she used to love playing as a kid — hopscotch, pick-up sticks, jacks — and then pulls out her trusty yo-yo and performs a few tricks. ("I was so shocked that I could still do this!") Then a soft-spoken 60-year-old reads a poem about how nervous she was to meet Gerry.
It's all very sweet — even a little quaint. But here comes a lithe, 64-year-old brunette sporting a black backless unitard. As a pop song blasts through the speakers, she begins to dance, quick-stepping and shimmying with a fluidity that would make most thirty-somethings jealous. The groovy grandma pulls the Golden Bachelor up on stage and instructs him to take a seat. Gerry lets out a surprised laugh — "Whoa-oh-oh!" — and the crowd shrieks with delight. Is this Golden gathering about to lose its G-rating?
Not quite. The sexagenarian siren prances flirtatiously around Gerry, and even drops her derriere down low a few times. But she ends on a decidedly wholesome note, producing a plate of cookies. "I bake, too!" she announces, feeding the object of her affection a bite and planting a quick peck on his lips.
Yes, The Golden Bachelor is a kinder, gentler, older reality show, and it might just be the most anticipated Bachelor spinoff ever. (No offense, Listen to Your Heart and Bachelor Winter Games.) When ABC announced in July that Gerry — an earnest, folksy father and grandfather from Indiana — would be Bachelor Nation's first-ever senior star, the internet responded with a tidal wave of "protect him at all costs" energy.
"As we've traveled and been through airports or at restaurants, people are not just recognizing him but rooting for him," says executive producer Jason Ehrlich, who serves as franchise showrunner alongside Claire Freeland and Bennett Graebner. "They're like, 'I hope you find your person!' People are really excited for him."
ABC/Craig Sjodin 'Golden Bachelor' star Gerry Turner at the mansion
Gerry — whose wife of 43 years, Toni, passed away in 2017 — shares that hope. Though the retired restaurateur says he's dated "from time to time" since Toni's death, nothing really clicked, and he admits the solitude started to drag him down.
"I really believe people are designed to live with someone," says Gerry (pronounced like "Gary"). "Living alone, it's obviously lonely, but I also think that we're not our best selves when we're not with the right person. Consequently, I had kind of stalled."
Loneliness, and a similar lack of luck on the senior dating scene, motivated many of the 30,000 women who applied to join this experiment in elder matchmaking. April, a 65-year-old therapist from Florida whose significant other passed away in 2021, says she heard about The Golden Bachelor when friends, family, and "people that I didn't even know liked me" started sending her links to the application. "I thought, 'I don't always pick the best men, so maybe somebody else could help me find love.'" (The women interviewed for this story spoke to EW across multiple days during production.)
And Sandra, 75, says she's tried it all — "the blind dates, the double dates, the online dating sites, the bumping into someone at the grocery store" — with no luck. A retired executive assistant and longtime fan of The Bachelor, Sandra saw ABC's promo seeking "seniors looking for love" during Zach Shallcross' season and didn't hesitate to apply.
"When this came up, it wasn't 'Why?' It was, 'Why not?'" the elegant divorcée says while sitting in the shade outside the Bachelor mansion. "What I've been wanting is to have a relationship with someone who pretty much has the attributes that Mr. Turner has." As our interview draws to a close, Sandra holds out her hand: "Help me up."
Bachelor producers have been kicking around the idea of a senior citizen spinoff for almost a decade. The idea finally started to get real traction in 2019, and in January of 2020, ABC began actively recruiting singles in their "golden years" through on-air promos and ads on casting websites.
Two months later, the world shut down. ("This is not the show you want to make with a bunch of 70-somethings while COVID's raging across the country," notes Graebner.) Once producers relaunched their search in late 2022, the focus was on finding a leading man who was legitimately golden.
"When we announced that we were doing the show, so many of the viewers [were] speculating about who this guy would be, and they thought it was going to be some 40-something silver fox," says Graebner. "It was never going to be that person. We felt it was important to choose someone who really felt like a Golden Bachelor, not one of our Bachelors who had aged 10 years."
ABC A casting ad for ABC's 'The Golden Bachelor'
Gerry, who applied way back in 2020, was a frontrunner from the start. "We went through the files, and we found him," says Ehrlich. "Although we kept looking, we just couldn't find anyone better than Gerry. He was exactly what we looking for, which is obviously incredibly handsome — but it's so much more than that. He was kind and considerate and genuine, someone who had experienced real love before, and unfortunately experienced loss, and could come to this open and filled with hope that it could happen again."
But by the time producers finally called Gerry in February of this year to offer him the starring role in The Golden Bachelor, their would-be leading man was no longer interested. At least, that's what he told them at the beginning of the phone call. "The conversation was very persuasive," admits Gerry, who says the producers emphasized "the excitement, the fact that I could find a forever partner, travel. You put all this together, and I start looking at my calendar and it's blank, and I'm thinking, 'Hey, this might be a pretty good deal.'" With that, he accepted the gig, hoping to find a high-energy, adventurous, family-oriented woman. Bonus points if she likes pickleball.
Of course, going from the relaxed cadence of retirement life at his lake house in Indiana to the whirlwind existence of a reality TV star in Los Angeles has been quite an adjustment. "Some of the details that caught me off guard include the scheduling," says Gerry. "Just because it says that I'm going to eat lunch at 2 o'clock, that really doesn't mean a whole lot." It's day 6 of production, and he's sitting backstage at the talent show, waiting for the crew to set up for his one-on-one with the winner. "It seems as though in this industry, everyone runs late," the Golden Bachelor continues. "I hope I'm able to catch up on sleep. When the adrenaline runs out in conversations, I just sort of drop off a cliff. It's not a ramp-down, it's" — he makes a nosedive gesture with his hand — "a crash." Gerry looks at his watch and chuckles. "Right now, it's 9 o'clock," he says. "I still have a dinner date, and it's bedtime for me."
ABC/Craig Sjodin Edith, a 60-year-old retired realtor from California, meets Gerry on 'The Golden Bachelor'
The 22 women vying for Gerry's heart — an accomplished group that includes retired educators, real estate professionals, business owners, and even a "pro-aging coach" — are grappling with their own sleep-related issues. For one thing, they're bunking together in the Bachelor mansion, four to six in a room, with some of them in literal bunk beds. "It's a challenge," Sandra says with a diplomatic smile. "It's kind of like being in college again. It's tight. We're telling jokes, getting to know each other. So, it's been fun. And no one in my quad snores." Adds April, "I feel like I'm at summer camp for adults! Tonight, we're going to have a beauty night to share our beauty products and secrets."
There have been a few minor complaints about the cohabitation situation; some of the women in bunk beds "were afraid to drink water later in the evenings for fear that they would have to climb down and find a bathroom," explains Ehrlich. And on move-in day, "there was a big debate [about] earplugs versus the white noise machine," reports Graebner. "I think that's on camera. That's TV gold."
He's kidding, but he's not wrong.
Gerry Turner's eight-episode "journey" to find love will feature all the Bachelor-franchise hallmarks fans expect, from limo arrivals and date cards to hometown visits and Fantasy Suites. (More on that later.) The Golden Bachelor will hand out the show's signature red roses each week. There is a gold rose in the mansion (see the photo below), but whether Gerry will hand it out has yet to be revealed. Many of the date activities will feel familiar, as well: A talent show, a photo shoot, an over-the-top romantic dinner for two. It should be noted, however, that producers wisely swapped group date staples like mud wrestling and tackle football for a nice game of pickleball.
And just like on the regular show, the opening night cocktail party at the mansion ran until the early hours of the morning, with Gerry handing out his first batch of roses as the sun came up. Producers initially toyed with moving the limo arrivals and subsequent party to the afternoon so that the AARP-eligible contestants wouldn't be "zombies" at the rose ceremony, but they scrapped that plan at the last minute. "They had more energy at 7 o'clock in the morning than sometimes our 20-year-olds have," marvels Ehrlich. "Gerry said, 'I could go another two hours!'"
ABC/Craig Sjodin Marina, a 60-year-old educator from L.A., meets Gerry on 'The Golden Bachelor'
Despite their star's admirable stamina, producers have made a few tweaks to their typically grueling shoot schedule to accommodate this Golden group. "We're really trying to be mindful of making sure everybody has enough rest, and enough turnaround time between our filming days," says Freeland. On The Bachelor and Bachelorette, group dates are usually broken into two parts: A daytime activity and then a nighttime "after-party" at another location. On The Golden Bachelor, group dates and after-parties take place at the same spot, so Gerry and his potential wives don't have to sit in crosstown L.A. traffic at the end of a long shooting day.
The Golden Bachelor reveals that his daughters, Angie and Jenny, warned producers that he can get a little hangry at times, so staffers on set "almost shove food in front of me," he says with a laugh. "They want to make sure they don't see mad Gerry." Still, Graebner says their leading man "never really complains." Occasionally, Gerry's knees hurt a little bit from standing so much during filming, "so we'll sit him down a little bit more than we normally would in interviews." That said, the franchise's longtime wardrobe stylist, Cary Fetman, says he didn't have to make many sartorial modifications for his senior subject: "When you are choosing clothes for a 72-year-old man who is fit like Gerry is, the only difference between him and a typical 25-year-old is that his size 14 shoes need a little more support."
Until now, the Bachelor franchise has focused on people in their 20s and 30s — usually a mix of genuine romantics, free-spirited singles, telegenic famosexuals doing it for the 'gram, and frantic young women being driven mad by the loud ticking of their biological clocks. (Shout-out to the "my eggs are rotting" lady from The Bachelor season 8.)
On The Golden Bachelor, however, the stakes will be… not lower, per se, but much more profound. "When you get to our age, it's almost inevitable that you have suffered a loss in some way, whether it's the death of a spouse or a terrible divorce," explains Gerry. "And when we share that commonality of loss of a spouse, it really is a huge launching pad for us in conversation. We can cut through a lot of the frivolous talk that maybe is necessary when you're in your 20s and 30s. What kind of car you drive and what color is your favorite color, it doesn't matter. We're more talking about the core values and how do you spend a normal day?"
That perspective resonates with Ellen, 71, a retired teacher from Florida, who says she's had a difficult time finding an "intimate connection" since her divorce. The lively, quick-witted septuagenarian feels hopeful about a potential romance with Gerry — they're both big fans of pickleball and golf — and she's ready to get serious about a second act. "We've had the kids, we've had the homes, we've had the careers, a lot of us are enjoying retirement already. We have a different perception of life at this point," says Ellen of her fellow contestants. "Our goal is not to form all the beginnings of a relationship; our goal is to form the end of one. I want to find the end of one with someone who loves me for me and enjoys the things I like to do. When I say, 'I wanna go play golf,' I want to say, 'I want you to go with me.'" (Sorry… give me a minute. There's something in my eye.)
ABC/Craig Sjodin This mysterious gold rose will be on display at the 'Golden Bachelor' mansion, but whether Gerry will hand it out or not remains a mystery.
It's all so moving and emotionally mature! But wait — how is that going to work in the Bachelor franchise, which likes to season its recipe for romance with a heaping scoop of petty drama? No one wants to see a group of stately senior citizens snapping at each other over stolen champagne or tossing lunch meat at their rivals. And according to Gerry, we won't have to. "The women are genuinely happy for each other," he insists. "They're already planning an annual reunion; they're cooking for each other. They're helping each other with wardrobe. There is not a single person that has tried to use manipulation for their own advantage." We don't just have to take his word for it. "What we have all decided in private conversations, and even on camera, is that there's no need to be catty here, even when the numbers whittle down," says Sandra. "We don't need to tear each other down. Now, I don't know how the production company likes this kumbaya, but they'll figure it out."
The producers say they always assumed The Golden Bachelor would be short on backstabbing and bitchery. "In doing my research for this show, I watched extensive Golden Girls episodes," says Ehrlich. "We entered this thinking there's going to be hope, a lot of heart, and a lot of humor in the show. We weren't really sure if there would be drama." Naturally, emotions run high for the Golden bachelorettes at times — "Any time you have multiple people vying for the attention of one person, there's going to be some drama that comes with that," says Freeland — but the turmoil is often internal. "The conflicts that they experience are about, 'What will my grandkids think of this?' Or 'How will this work when I've got responsibilities with my own kids, or where I live?'" explains Freeland. "That's different than on the main shows."
When tensions do boil over in the mansion, the resulting brouhaha leads to more laughter than tears. "A lot of times, I feel like I'm watching a sitcom," Freeland continues. "These women, their timing is hilarious. They don't even know how funny it is. And of course, we're laughing with them, not at them. It's just such a joy in that way. They don't care about followers. They're not seeking out that kind of approval. There's a naturalness in what they're doing that was just hilarious."
ABC/Craig Sjodin Gerry and Natascha sit down for a chat on 'The Golden Bachelor'
Take that time a small group of the women chose to "clean the bad aura" from the house by burning a bundle of sage. "Within the first 30 seconds, the smoke alarm was going off," recalls Ehrlich. "They're saging everyone, they saged someone who was taking a nap at the time. And the whole thing ends in the Rose Room with three or four women going, 'Out with the bad, in with the good! Out with the bad, in with the good!' That's how they handled the drama."
Okay, so it sounds like Golden Bachelor viewers won't be forced to watch women bickering over shrimp — a storyline that dragged on for three episodes during Clayton's season of The Bachelor, by the way — but the senior spinoff may include at least one culinary conflict. "There were some meatballs that were made in the house, and it caused a lot of controversy," says Graebner. "Some of the women claimed that the meatballs were responsible for their prodigious gas. It was hotly debated because another woman claimed that it was actually the guacamole that another woman had made. I don't know if we ever got to the bottom of it." (For the record, Graebner said he tried the meatballs — "they were delicious" — and had "no issues.")
Things will turn serious, of course, as Gerry's "journey" progresses. He will have to break up with 21 women along the way, and those goodbyes get harder each week. "I cried like a baby," says Gerry. "With each rose ceremony, [host] Jesse Palmer looked at me with more and more concern, because it really felt like the weight of the world was on my chest a couple of times. I remember walking out of the mansion during one of the rose ceremonies and bending over because I really felt like I couldn't catch my breath." (Fear not: No Golden Bachelors were harmed in the making of this show.)
Gerry must also undergo the rigorous vetting process that comes with hometown dates, which usually happen after the Bachelor has narrowed his pool of potential wives down to four women. The families, says Gerry, were "warm" and "welcoming," but there was one protective brother who "made it clear to me that if my intentions weren't honorable and I broke her heart unfairly, that I would pay a consequence for it."
ABC 'The Golden Bachelor' star Gerry Turner with a pooch pal
And yes, there will come a time when the Golden Bachelor must decide whether to forgo his individual room and spend the night as a couple with someone in the Fantasy Suite. It should not be a spoiler to anyone who has ever watched any Bachelor show to reveal that Gerry does have at least one overnight date. "This is the first time we've ever heard someone say, 'I have to consider what my grandchildren will think' before they go into a Fantasy Suite," says Graebner. "I really love that Gerry and the women are open to that experience. But I don't know if I want to hear the term 'knockin' boots' again. I think I've heard it enough."
Um, WHAT? Mr. Turner, we're going to need you to elaborate. "I guess what I was trying to do is avoid some of the cliché phrases about physical intimacy, and maybe I did just the opposite," explains Gerry with a laugh. "But the Fantasy Suites were about connecting intellectually and emotionally, and not about connecting physically. I guess with some age and wisdom you realize that the most important and lasting things that you're looking for in a relationship come from areas other than physical intimacy. It's the difference between love and lust. It's also probably the difference between 30 and 70."
Here's another big difference between 30 and 70: The women of The Golden Bachelor do not disintegrate into a puddle of despair when faced with rejection, unlike many of their younger counterparts. "These women have a lot more life experience to know that they're strong enough to handle this," says Ehrlich. "When they leave the mansion, they are certainly disappointed, they are certainly bummed. But they aren't devastated in any way. There is this feeling that 'I'm glad that I put myself out there, and I will continue to put myself out there for the next adventure.'"
Even though she's only known Gerry for a short time, April is certain that taking a gamble on reality TV romance was worth it. "One thing I realized from this show, I am open to falling in love," she says. "Whether it's with him or someone else, I am lonely, and I am interested in having someone to share that space with. I think this is a gift from the universe."
Our final conversation with the Golden Bachelor takes place on a recent September morning, shortly after production on the season wrapped. Gerry's in a good mood, as per usual — "This is a great day, isn't it?" — which one might interpret as a sign that he is, in fact, in love. "I'm so pleasantly surprised by how things ended, there's absolutely no regrets," teases Gerry. He wants viewers of his age group ("the Boomers," as he calls them), to be inspired by his love story and feel empowered to seek out their own. "I hope they all realize that if they stay open to opportunity, those things can and will come to them," he says. "They can't sit by and wait for something to happen; they have to make it happen. They can still find someone if they want to."
Gerry's happiness could bode well for future seasons of The Golden Bachelor. Or, dare we say it, The Golden Bachelorette? For now, producers will only say that a female-led spinoff of the spinoff is a "possibility" — but if the way they rave about their Golden Bachelor contestants is any indication, it could graduate to a "probability" soon.
"It's been really inspiring to be part of this show for me," says Freeland. "To be able to celebrate women of this age, and their stories, their life experiences, on the platform of mainstream media is very special." Graebner admits that he never realized "how much women in their 60s and 70s feel like they're not seen as viable romantic, sexual beings. And for the first time, we've heard it so many times from these women, they feel seen."
Should ABC greenlight The Golden Bachelorette, the wardrobe team will be ready. "I am so excited at the idea of styling a Golden Bachelorette!" says Fetman. "My perception of dressing a 70-year-old woman is completely different than it was three months ago. There is truly an inner beauty that comes out with maturity of reaching a certain age that gives a confidence many 20-year-olds do not have."
Gerry is also wholeheartedly on board with the idea and would even "love to be involved" somehow, perhaps helping a Golden Bachelorette navigate the strange world of reality TV romance. "I think the advice I would give a Bachelorette is to be patient and surrender to the process," he says. "Don't fight it. Allow it to take you on its path and stay open-minded to what could happen, because you never know what's around the next corner."
What's next for Gerry, meanwhile, is a whirlwind of publicity leading up to The Golden Bachelor's premiere on Sept. 28, and catching up with friends and family when he can. Though production is over, he's still sleep-deprived — but he's not too worried about it. "It seems like every time it looks like I'm going to get a long, good, solid night of sleep, something happens: an old friend calls, a group of friends wants to talk longer, a hundred different things," says Gerry. "I'll get there. But I'd really rather go a little skimpy on the sleep and enjoy every moment right now. I do realize that my 15 minutes of fame will be over shortly, and I'll want to enjoy as much as I can."
The Golden Bachelor premieres Thursday, Sept. 28, at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.