Ladies and Gentlemen, We Have the Finest Bachelor Contestant Ever Made

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Around this time last year, I quit The Bachelor. Despite never really liking the show all that much, I count this as a considerable achievement, because I tend to be a completist: Whether it’s stacks of unread magazines or rows upon rows of open browser tabs, I find it hard to let things go. Plus, I think everyone needs to have at least one TV show they can watch at about 50 percent attention while mostly doing other things (for me, that’s often opening even more tabs on my struggling devices—it’s a vicious cycle). But during Zach Shallcross’ season of The Bachelor, I noticed that my attention was frequently dipping down to more like 25 percent. Sometimes 10. I think there even were times there when I managed to have the TV on but absorb zero content whatsoever, a feat that would be impressive if it weren’t also pathetic.

So I quit. I stayed away for the rest of the season, and for the following Bachelorette season too. (I still watched Paradise, but I met the standard of 50 percent attention—hit me up and we can totally chat about half of the things that happened.) For once, I felt good about my choices and my relationship with this vexing franchise.

How, then, did I end up here, once again scurrying home on Monday nights in order to tune in? And not only that, but ready to declare that I actually like the show, for the first time if not ever, then in a very long time?

Ladies and gentlemen, his name is Joey Graziadei, and he’s this season’s Bachelor. Joey was introduced to Bachelor Nation during the most recent season of The Bachelorette, the one I didn’t watch. After coming in second (meaning he got dumped by the Bachelorette), he landed the gig as the next Bachelor, and as his season approached, I started hearing from friends I sometimes watched the show with that he was actually … nice. They liked him. Nothing bad to say. I can’t tell you how unusual this is. No one I know ever likes the Bachelor. You watch for the ladies, and sometimes you like the Bachelorette, but the Bachelor? Never. Once I saw some photos of Joey, my about-face was complete. (I am but a weak woman.) Once more unto the breach.

The show is in many ways the same as it ever was, and this season follows the familiar format it always has: A few dozen women arrive to compete for the lead’s love and attention, and week by week, their number is whittled down via “rose ceremonies,” wherein the Bachelor hands out flowers to the contestants he wishes to stay. If all goes according to plan, in the end, he will offer the last rose to the final woman standing, then get down on one knee and propose to her. The show has been airing for more than 20 years now, and the concept would have grown stale even if it weren’t further diminished by its track record: It’s increasingly rare for couples to stay together long enough to make it to the altar.

And all of that is still true this time around. In fact, the show seems to have made only one small, if meaningful, tweak to the formula: Literally all that changed is it cast someone good as the Bachelor this time. My friends were right about Joey. This should not be radical, to pick a lead who’s actually appealing for a show presumably designed to entertain. And yet this guy, a 28-year-old tennis coach from outside Philadelphia, is, believe it or not, kind of a revelation.

What’s so great about him? To start with the external, Joey is handsome. That’s a given. The Bachelor is always, broadly speaking, handsome. It wasn’t until this season, though, that I realized that while the guys they choose are always generically attractive, most of them are not particularly handsome to me. I have to own up to being guilty of sometimes—OK, often—snobbily considering myself more enlightened than the rest of the Bachelor audience. I imagine them as a monolith of women with boring, white-bread taste—who else would swoon over a football player, or a pilot? But Joey, with his sweet smile, curly hair, and frequent stubble, is handsome to me specifically. This is not me shooting my shot, just using myself as a data point, because I know that a lot of women feel the same way. Emma Gray and Claire Fallon, the hosts of Love to See It, a podcast that recaps the show, are on the same page. “It’s just, I’m so into this Bachelor,” one of them said on a recent episode. “We’re really showing our asses here, but we are obsessed with Joey,” the other agreed. It’s like The Bachelor’s producers realized something women have known for a while, which is that many of us don’t want a Gaston or even a Jacob Elordi—we want a Jeremy Allen White or a sensitive Irish cutie. As a user on Reddit put it, the show “must’ve hired someone who finally understood the female gaze.” Others have described him as “a man written by a woman.”

So while Joey is physically attractive in a less meathead-y way than usual, which is a plus for some of us, it’s also his kind, sensitive personality that elevates him to something special. He has quickly become known as one of the most thoughtful Bachelors in history, and he is particularly renowned for—I know this is going to sound nuts, but go with me here—his listening abilities. Listening? We’re praising men for listening now? Yes, the bar for men is low, but also … Joey is just that good a listener. Here’s how Vulture’s Bachelor recapper Ali Barthwell put it:

If Li’l Joey is one thing, he’s an active listener. He is following up a statement with a question. He’s repeating key information. He’s telling the reader during Out Loud Reading Circle who is struggling to take their time. This man has big “Classroom Aide” energy, and I’m here for it.

In addition to making him more attractive, Joey’s active listening abilities have a direct impact on the quality of the relationships he’s forming with the contestants, which leads to a better, more entertaining show. On a recent episode of the podcast Bachelor Party, one of the hosts, Callie Curry, commented, “I feel like Joey is a Bachelor that [the contestants] really want, and we haven’t seen that in a while.” Her co-host Juliet Litman agreed: “Like, they’re actually attracted to—that we’re all actually attracted to.”

A recent episode of the show featured a cute moment between Joey and a contestant named Maria in the back of a car. They were in Montreal, and Maria had Joey tell her, “Je t’aime,” to which she said back, “Merci!” Litman praised the exchange as an example of “real flirting that we don’t really see very often on this television show, good banter, good chat.” Once again, we’re dealing with a low bar here, in that so many of us have spent years watching a show that is explicitly about romance but features little good flirting or banter, but nevertheless! Now we have it, and by God, we like it.

Ratings for the show are up. On his podcast, Nick Viall, elder Bachelor statesman, recently casually noted, “Joey, you could argue, has in some ways saved the Bachelor franchise.” It’s true that some of the ratings bump could be attributed to The Golden Bachelor, last fall’s phenomenon, which earned the franchise some of its best buzz in ages. And it’s hardly the case that everyone loves Joey. Viall, for instance, made his “saving the franchise” comment within minutes of comparing Joey’s hairstyle to that of an Oompa Loompa and accusing Joey of never sharing anything about himself. There have been similar grumblings elsewhere online. And certainly there was the whole press cycle about Joey confusing Gypsy Rose Blanchard for Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Yes, really. Maybe this is a sign that I’m just too in the tank for Joey, but I actually found that somewhat endearing. It was a simple mistake, and to be honest, I don’t really care if he knows much about the Supreme Court—I leave that to Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern, not the Bachelor. While I don’t personally think not knowing who RBG is makes someone dumb, it’s also worth noting that in these himbo-affirming times, dumb can actually be a selling point.

Given all this, why doesn’t the show simply always choose a Bachelor who isn’t a dud? What took its producers so long to understand the basic math that likable star equals better show? A stand-up guy is hard to find if you’re just another single woman on the dating market, but if you’ve got the resources of a professional casting department, it seems doable, no? Something I heard on yet another Bachelor podcast, Game of Roses, complicated my thinking on this matter. After the two hosts agreed that Joey is “arguably one of the best Bachelors we’ve ever had,” one of them added, “But it’s not just him, it’s how he’s presented.” Speaking of last year’s Bachelor, Zach, the one who drove me to stop watching the show and whose season is widely regarded as a bit of a flop, Chad Kultgen said, “I have certain credible information that paints a different picture of a man who was very vivacious, very humorous, very engaging, a man we did not see in that season.” Co-host Lizzy Pace responded incredulously, “You’re saying you have secret information that Zach was a cool dude?”

That’s exactly what Kultgen was saying. It was his contention that it was editing and other production choices that were really responsible for The Bachelor’s improvements this season. It wasn’t that the show was giving Joey a good edit so much as the editors were letting his personality shine through for a change. Back to that moment in the car between Joey and Maria: “In any other season in recent history, that doesn’t make the cut,” Kultgen said. “They give us just this little 20-second bit of a scene that makes us see who they are as people.” It’s a fascinating theory, and if it’s true, hats off to the producers. But I still think Joey deserves a little credit. He’ll probably do something that destroys all his goodwill soon, but until then: best Bachelor ever.