In breaking the heart of Des Hartsock during last night’s episode of THE BACHELORETTE, Brooks Forester — who essentially decided that he just wasn’t that into her — may have done the show a massive favor by injecting some much needed realism into what’s become one of the fluffiest campfests on television.
When the franchise first launched as THE BACHELOR back in 2002, it was a bizarre amalgamation of game show and dating show, with the ultimate goal being for the hunk in question to find the woman of his dreams, propose marriage and ride off into the sunset. The premise was a cheesy as it was irresistible, and women clamored to do something they’d likely never do in real life: date a man who was simultaneously dating more than a dozen other ladies.
The following year, THE BACHELORETTE turned the tables, this time turning Trista Rehn, who’d come thisclose to snagging season one bachelor Alex Michel, into the prize being sought by 25 handsome men. In one of the few long-lasting relationships to come about as a result of the show, Rehn fell for and married suitor Ryan Sutter and the two have been together ever since.
While neither series has been particularly successful in forging lasting connections, it has become something of a cult phenomenon… in large part because of the increasingly campy nature of the show. Drinking games — such as chugging whenever “man tears” are shed or someone questions whether others are there for “the right reasons” — and “hate-watching” have become wildly popular. Even much-loved host Chris Harrison has mocked how often he can be heard in promos promising that the episode-ending elimination will be “the most dramatic rose ceremony ever!”
In recent seasons, the show has spent more time playing up the outlandish behavior of competitors — from tattooed off-key crooner Kasey Kahl to self-promoting lounge lizard Wes Hayden — as opposed to the romantic exploits of the titular man or woman. Eventually, it all began to feel as if the whole enterprise was more interested in human oddities than honest emotions.
And then, Brooks broke Des’ heart as America, no doubt lured by ABC’s relentless ad campaign, watched. The heartache on display was about as real as reality television gets. Brooks clearly hated hurting Des, who’d made no bones about her past trust issues. By the end of the episode, the heartbroken Des admitted that all she wanted was to go home… providing an incredible cliffhanger for next week’s finale, given that there are still two men who, unaware of what has transpired, are waiting anxiously to prove themselves worthy.
What became clear during Des and Brooks’ painful break-up was that she had fallen completely, madly in love with him. Viewers had been picking up on this fact for weeks, and here she was, declaring it to be true, finally saying to him the words she hadn’t been able to before: “I love you.” Because, of course, had Des admitted that earlier, the show would have been over. She was, therefore, forced to keep her feelings under wraps… despite clearly having picked the “winner” weeks earlier.
While it’s unclear how things will play out next week, it seems the only logical conclusion is that Des will tell the remaining two man that the “game” is over. After all, how can she wind up with one of these men when all of America knows — and the men themselves would eventually find out — that they are runners up in the most literal sense of the word?
Ironically, it is this unexpected turn of events which might just help revive the ratings of the show that has been on a downward spiral for several seasons. Brooks’ honesty and the painful repercussions of it may have the unintended consequence of showing just how “real” things can get on even a show involving dream dates, fantasy suites and a world in which 25 men can meet a woman for the first time and not one of them declare, “Sure, she’s pretty, but she’s not someone I would date in the real world.”
By breaking Des’ heart, Brooks may just have proven that beneath the fluffy exterior, the franchise actually still has one of its own.