Conveniently, Mad Men ended the night before the eleventh season of The Bachelorette premiered on ABC. That means, by pure process of elimination, that The Bachelorette is now officially the best show on television.

Okay, maybe not.

But The Bachelorette is definitely one of the perversely fascinating shows on television. It is also one of the most disingenuous. Host Chris Harrison talks constantly about the protagonists’ “journey to find love” while the show assaults the viewer with an onslaught of romantic clichés: flowers, champagne, hot tubs, exotic vacations. But in truth, The Bachelorette exists to torment its heroes and heroines. For every kiss, there are dozens of tears. For every happy ending, there are (literally) 24 other broken hearts. On the season premiere, Bachelorette Kaitlyn compares her first night on the show to “torture.” That’s fitting, because I’ve always argued that The Bachelorette is torture porn for romance fans.

Admittedly, there is rarely any bloodshed on The Bachelorette. To the best of my knowledge, no one has been sadistically vivisected on their journey to find love. But plenty of bachelors and bachelorettes have been emotionally vivisected on their journey to find love. That’s the sole reason this show exists; not to bring people together, but to bring people close enough to tear them apart for the amusement of the audience. On some superficial level, torture porn movies like Saw or Hostel are simply about luxuriating in gore. On a deeper psychological level, though, they’re anthropological experiments about putting characters into inescapable traps, and watching them wriggle like worms on a hook. The Bachelorette does the exact same thing. In its best-case scenario, a woman chooses a man by process of elimination, but only after falling in love with multiple suitors simultaneously before systematically dumping them (including one guy as he is about to propose marriage) without a) breaking the rejects’ hearts and b) looking like a cold, heartless bastard on television while you do it. It’s the ultimate sexual Catch-22. Don’t let the roses fool you. In this world, misery isn’t a byproduct, it’s the point.

Consider this season’s big twist on the traditional Bachelorette formula, where 25 men vie for the heart of one eligible woman (The Bachelor, which alternates seasons with The Bachelorette, is exactly the same, but with the genders flipped). For season eleven, The Bachelorette selected two bachelorettes: Britt Nilsson, a 27-year-old waitress from Los Angeles, California, and Kaitlyn Bristowe is a 29-year old dance instructor from Vancouver, British Columbia. Chris Harrison — who is basically The Bachelorette’s Jigsaw, dropping these women into hellish dating nightmares they can only escape through agony or humiliation — claimed in the opening moments of the season premiere that the men applying to be on the show were evenly split between which of the women (both rejected contestants from the previous season of The Bachelor) they’d like to date. As a result, Harrison explained, “it seemed unfair to make that decision for the men.”

Instead, the men themselves would decide which woman would be the next Bachelorette. And, because the only thing that’s apparently more important to the producers of The Bachelorette than being fair is making people intensely uncomfortable, the entire decision would play out on television. Both Kaitlyn and Britt show up to the Bachelor Mansion on the first night of the season not knowing who will be the actual Bachelorette. Both must go through the show’s ritualistic cocktail party introductions together. These interactions are already incredibly awkward; it’s one woman simultaneously dating two dozen guys, how could they not be? Now before 25 men can fight for the love of one woman, two women have to fight for the attention of 25 men, leading to some of the most cringe-inducing television in history. Imagine the most gloriously painful moment on The Office and then multiply that by a thousand, because these people and their emotions are (at least theoretically) real.

The most deliciously unpleasant scenes came during the arrivals to the Bachelor Mansion. Britt and Kaitlyn stand side-by-side, waiting to greet each limo and the contestants inside. When each man steps out of his car, he has to decide whether to say hello to Britt or to Kaitlyn first. When a guy would make his choice, the camera would focus on the woman he didn’t pick, lingering over their frustrated, uneasy faces. It was manifestly excruciating, and therefore it was maybe the most Bachelorette-y thing The Bachelorette had ever done.

The highlight of any Bachelorette season premiere is the parade of new men who will spend weeks battling for the Bachelorette and then, after maybe a sum total of four or five dates, propose a marriage that will almost certainly never happen. (The Bachelor/ette franchises have produced more viable Dancing With the Stars candidates than viable happy couples.) Because The Bachelorette is about as fake as reality television gets, the men are cast to types that recur in season after season. There is always:

  • A devoted single parent, who lives only to care for his child. (Jonathan)
  • A humble, earnest guy from a small town. (Joshua)
  • A handsome, charming man of potentially duplicitous motives. (Brady, a singer-songwriter who might be more interested in furthering his music career than finding a wife)
  • A straight-up weirdo. (Tony, a self-described “healer” whose powers apparently don’t extend to his face, because he has a black eye)
  • A straight-up sexual weirdo. (Shawn E., a self-described “amateur sex coach,” who pulled up to the Bachelor Mansion in a hot tub car)

Almost all of these men are introduced in confessional videos which find an impressive number of excuses to get them out of their shirts to show off their hot bods, another shameless Bachelorette hallmark. Ian from Venice Beach likes to run topless (he was also hit by a car, because at least three contestants on every season of The Bachelorette must overcome some kind of traumatic incident from their past), while Josh from Chicago is a straight-up male stripper, who’s paying his way through law school by grinding on women. He takes his shirt off on two different occasions.

And then there’s Ryan M., who takes off his shirt and his pants and goes swimming in the Bachelor Mansion pool, occupying yet another Bachelorette character type: The guy who gets way too drunk at the very first cocktail party and makes a fool out of himself. Before he was sent packing by Jigsaw Chris Harrison, Ryan M. insulted Shawn E.’s hot-tub car, denied he insulted Shawn E.’s hot-tub car, threatened Shawn E., jumped into the pool in his skivvies, and asked another contestant “Why am I not raping you right now?” Often drunks are kept around for at least a few episodes in order to take advantage of their willingness to embarrass themselves for as long as possible, but Ryan M. clearly crossed the line with that last bit of bad behavior, and thankfully got the boot.

He was, sadly, the only contestant, male or female, to get the boot tonight; the premiere ended on a cliffhanger before the results of the bachelors’ voting was revealed. Two hours without even announcing the results of the vote they devoted an entire episode to? Of course. This is The Bachelorette. Once again, this show is all about torture, both for the people on the screen, and the viewers watching at home.

Additional Thoughts:

  • If I had to guess right now I’d say the men picked Britt, but my wife (who has watched these shows even longer than I have) thinks it’s Kaitlyn. We’ll find out tomorrow, when the two-night premiere continues.
  • “Amateur Sex Coach” is the new best Bachelor/ette contestant profession ever, although “Healer” is a close second.
  • One contestant describes Ryan M. level of drunkenness as “white boy wasted,” which is what Ryan M. is going to be called by his friends for the rest of his life.
  • Line of the night: Brady, when he tries to impress old-fashioned Britt by insisting he’s a spiritual guy and that all his songs are about “the old school,” meaning religion. Oh yeah, bro, I’m totally old school too! I’m totes into, like, Abraham and Noah and junk.

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