'The Bachelorette' Finale Is Painful to Watch — But Here's Why We Do It Anyway

Bachelorette Kaitlyn Bristowe and runner-up Nick Viall during the season finale. (Photo: ABC)

Fans of The Bachelorette were glued to their TVs last night to see which contestant Kaitlyn Bristowe would pick (and, consequently, who she would reject).

This season’s finale was especially painful to watch because (spoiler alert) last Bachelorette season’s runner-up Nick Viall didn’t get the girl again — and he was stopped just seconds before he got down on one knee.

“I look at you and I think about how in love I am with you and what you mean to me,” Viall told Bristowe during the show’s make-or-break moment. “I have such confidence in you and in us and I am yours forever if you’ll have me.” Viall then started to pull out a ring, before Bristowe stopped him.

“Oh my God. I’m sorry,” she said. “I know that we talked about if I didn’t feel this, that I would let you know and I don’t want to take away — because I did need every single second that we’ve had together. … I’ve looked for everything and I want to find something that has gone wrong, and the only explanation that I have is that my heart is just with somebody else.”

In the limo ride away from the final rose ceremony, Viall lamented, “I’m the world’s biggest joke.”

Viall wasn’t the fan favorite, but even those who didn’t like him admitted his rejection was intense:

“This was excruciating to watch,” one fan commented in an Us Weekly story.

Watching a person’s heartbreak on national TV is uncomfortable — and yes, excruciating — every season. So why do millions of people tune in every time?

It’s the same phenomenon that occurs when we see a car accident, says Simon Rego, PsyD, director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

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“Some researchers believe we do this because it allows us to observe something powerfully distressing up close, without actually being directly involved or putting ourselves at risk,” he tells Yahoo Health. The theory is that this allows us to learn from the mistakes of others (and avoid their bad fate) by being able to see what they did to end up in the painful situation.

But we don’t just view reality shows like The Bachelorette from a distance: Licensed clinical psychologist Alicia Clark, PsyD, says we actually experience some level of anxiety when we tune in.

“We feel these emotions as if we are there, and get so involved with contestants over time,” she tells Yahoo Health. “The final outcome of a series is something that is quite real to us and evokes real emotion.”

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We’re hard-wired to feel empathy for others, and anxiety in particular (which The Bachelorette thrives on) is an emotion that we’re sensitive to, she says. So when Viall admitted that he was nervous before his proposal attempt, and upset after he was rejected, viewers felt nervous and uncomfortable on some level, too.

And that’s why so many people flood social media when the rejection takes place. Rego says that urge to talk about what we witnessed is similar to how we cope with other distressing situations. Sharing how we feel about the situation — even though we don’t really know the people involved — helps us process what happened and move beyond it, he says.

Viall seems to be moving on as well, posting a tweet after the finale that suggested he’ll be OK:

We’ll see if fans feel the same way.

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