I Don’t Have It in Me to Root for Another Mediocre White Guy on ‘The Bachelor’

I Don’t Have It in Me to Root for Zach ShallcrossABC

When The Bachelor returned for its 27th season this January, I felt mildly intrigued, like when I discover the beginnings of mold on the cheese I’ve abandoned in my fridge: I’ll put it back in the drawer because I’m not ready to throw it away, but I want to keep an eye on it just in case. Part of my initial disinterest in the season had to do with the casting of Zach Shallcross as the lead. When Zach vied for Rachel Recchia’s heart on the infamous double Bachelorette season, he didn’t leave an impression on me. “Human Ken doll,” I wrote in my notes, an observation that was reinforced every time his bio flashed across the screen: college football player, current tech exec, some assembly required.

Watching him this season, there’s something about his presence onscreen that makes it hard to pin down any defined personality traits—let alone root for him. The internet takes him even less seriously, with jokes that he might be some sort of Frankenstein-esque AI cooked up in the bowels of ABC’s studio. To date, the most interesting thing Zach has done is utter the words “bad bitch energy” and that looked to be forcibly pulled out of him by production.

The twist is that Zach probably is a good guy looking for a committed relationship instead of brand partnerships. Lack of personality aside, he doesn’t seem like the type to gaslight women or play into petty drama. He seems genuinely there for the right reasons, as the contestants love to say, which should be an upside. But that’s the real root of ABC’s problem: It’s hard to drum up excitement about a season of reality television when its subject is the picture of boring white mediocrity.

And look, the numbers don’t lie. ABC has been battling record-low ratings for years now. At its peak in 2003, The Bachelor was averaging 12.5 million views. Zach’s premiere generated a measly 2.9 million—a big drop even from Clayton’s season last year, which had 3.5 million viewers. This might be why ABC has doubled down on branding this season as “back to basics.” They want to recapture what made the earlier seasons so successful: clean storytelling, minimal drama, and maximal romance.

In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, ABC executive Rob Mills hinted that Zach’s season would return the franchise to “great, classic Bachelor storytelling,” implying that after years of controversy and failed relationships, Zach is supposed to be the guy that saves the franchise from itself. As if to emphasize this commitment to “classic” Bachelor storytelling, the producers have been drawing pretty obvious lines between Zach and Bachelor golden boy Sean Lowe. Producers have even positioned Sean as an unofficial second mentor to account for his frequent guest appearances (he showed up in episode 1 to offer advice about what makes a Bachelor relationship successful and again in episode 3 to FaceTime Zach before a date).

sean lowe and zach shallcross
Sean Lowe and Zach ShallcrossCraig Sjodin - Getty Images

Connecting these two together visually reminds viewers of the supposed heyday of Bachelor. As a strategy, it’s not necessarily new or groundbreaking. Over the years, the franchise has attempted to replicate the Sean Lowe magic by selecting Bachelors who aesthetically resemble him: white, blonde, religious (but not obnoxiously so), virgins (or those who at least appear so), former college athletes, and “nice guys.”

It’s just that the strategy never really works. ABC’s attempts at making vanilla white guys appealing usually blows up in their faces. Colton Underwood, the second-ever virgin Bachelor, spent his season running (and jumping fences) away from the women. Years later, he would stalk his winner after they broke up before coming out as gay. Clayton Echard, another boring nice guy, screwed up his season so badly that none of the women wanted anything to do with him. When the women were finished eviscerating him on national television, the internet set fire to the remaining scraps of his character.

The problem isn’t just that ABC is trying to replicate Sean Lowe’s Bachelor success—it’s that what made Lowe successful as a Bachelor a decade ago clearly won’t resonate with audiences today. Ten years ago, I was wearing giant bubble necklaces and Ke$ha was my god. Barack Obama was the president. It was simply a different time. And since then, The Bachelor has tried and failed to shift the kind of person it spotlights. But as we learned during Matt James’s seasonthe first Black Bachelor ever—and during that 2021 interview between Rachel Lindsay and Chris Harrison that is burned into my brain—which ultimately led to Chris Harrison losing his job—this is not a show (or, hell, an ecosystem) that knows how to handle race with any sort of nuance. So instead they fall back on their comfort zone—spotlighting the same contestant archetype over and over—and cross their fingers that their core audience feels the same way. The “back to basics” approach they yearn for is a time when the Bachelor universe ignored diversity because it was convenient for them. But the thing is, that kind of whitewashing seems pretty bland these days.

In the past six-ish years—I’ll pinpoint it to the beginning of the Trump administration—there’s been a cultural shift in how we think about men and what we want from men, particularly white men. I mean, just look at the uproar over Harry Styles saying, “Things like this don't happen to people like me very often” after winning Album of the Year at the Grammys. Dude, they do, in fact, happen to people like you quite frequently!

As a society, we’ve (thankfully) all wisened up to the fact that white men just aren’t that relatable. They’ve been in charge of literally everything for the past million centuries! Who else can say the same thing? There’s nothing particularly compelling about watching a guy who has gotten everything he ever wanted out of life get one more thing. Especially when that viewing experience is coated with a glossy sheen that’s meant to convince us that a person who is just average is worthy of this pedestal plus 12-or-so hours of prime airtime. Like, what makes Zach or Clayton Echard or Peter Weber so special to deserve all of this? No one is buying it anymore. ABC fails—or refuses—to take into consideration that what might make these white, mediocre storylines “safe” for broadcasting is also what makes them so boring.

Zach will probably find love, but let’s be honest, he was never in any danger of languishing in spinsterhood. Without this show, he would have definitely still gotten married and had his 2.5 kids and a labradoodle. And good for him. But I’ve seen this story so many times, it makes my eyes bleed. ABC’s urge to continue promoting white male mediocrity as if it’s perfection is to its detriment. They might as well be shouting into the void. If this is “classic” Bachelor storytelling, I’m not sure audiences are invested in that kind of gold standard anymore. I know I’m not.

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