The Bachelorette isn’t about love. It’s about parliamentary procedure.

That is never more clear than on a week like this, when someone has the temerity — the unmitigated gall! — to attempt to break the rules and rituals that have been forged, officially and unofficially, over almost 20 seasons of television. Allegedly, Kaitlyn has come to The Bachelorette hoping to find love. If the ultimate goal of the show is truly to find her a husband she’s going to spend the rest of her life with, there should be no restrictions or boundaries on that search. One would think she should follow her heart wherever it leads.

One would think that, but in the world of The Bachelorette, one would be wrong. Very, very, very wrong.

Kaitlyn broke the rules a few times this week. After dismissing Clint, who she described as “one of the biggest douches in Bachelor history” (and if you are a regular Bachelor viewer, you know just how insulting that insult is), and canceling the week’s Rose Ceremony, Kaitlyn dared to commit the ultimate Bachelor faux pas: She invited an outside guy into the competition. That would be Nick Viall, a notorious figure in Bachelor lore whose fifteen minutes of fame took place on the “After the Final Rose” episode of his season of The Bachelorette, where he spent 15 minutes confronting his Bachelorette, Andi Dorfman, for sleeping with him in the Fantasy Suite just before she dumped him for another guy. (“Knowing how in love with you I was, if you weren't in love with me, I'm just not sure why, like, why you made love with me,” was the exact, cringeworthy quote.)

Nick seemed genuinely upset about the whole thing, but he was widely pilloried by Bachelor observers for his violation of the unwritten Bachelor code about discussing the activities that occurred within the Fantasy Suite. The Fantasy Suite is supposed to be like Vegas; what happens in there, stays in there. But Nick revealed just how far he and Andi went, and gave her a guilt trip about it in front of a couple million people on national television to boot. He was sort of right — because who wouldn’t feel betrayed pouring out their heart (and, uh, other things) to a woman who seemingly returns all those feelings only get unceremonious dumped hours later — and incredibly and utterly wrong all at once.

When Nick returned to the show this week, it was clear he had learned nothing about respecting the inviolable order of Bacheloretiquette. He shows up in the audience at the episode’s first group date, where eight of the unluckiest men in the history of broadcast television were forced to battle rap one another in order to prove their love (and their total lack of dignity) to Kaitlyn. After the event (which I watched mostly with my fingers in my ears to keep them from bleeding), Kaitlyn was schmoozing with some VIPs when she bumps into Nick — who, it just so happens, had emailed Kaitlyn after her first unsuccessful trip through this show’s romantic gauntlet. The two had started texting but never met, until this moment, when they instantly hit it off.

Nick, who I guess doesn’t have a job or a personal life and can literally drop everything at a moment’s notice to join an in-progress reality show, made it clear he’d love a chance to woo Kaitlyn along with the rest of her suitors. After much deliberation (and at least two lengthy kisses), she decided she wanted him around and invited him to become a full-time cast member, which he will do officially at the start of next week’s episode.

This news was met by Kaitlyn’s extant bachelors with the sort of enthusiasm typically reserved for doctors delivering bad test results. These guys were pissed. Kaitlyn’s already said on numerous occasions that she believes her future husband is somewhere amongst this group. And yet here she is bringing another dude into the competition. These men rap-battled for your love Kaitlyn! What more could they possibly do to prove their sincerity?!?

Several guys, including Shawn B., said it “definitely questions” her commitment to the group (and, by extension, the rules of The Bachelorette). “Are you not confident in what’s here? Like, are you looking for more?” Shawn asked Kaitlyn. She claimed she was confident but she didn’t sound too sure. Sure enough, the next day Nick got the official green light to take his unearned place in the Bachelor Mansion (or Times Square hotel suite).

It was an interesting week for Nick to reemerge, in part because the show played it all as total happenstance, a series of accidental flukes piling up one on top of the other; Nick just happened to come to watch this date, he just happened to have this great online conversation with Kaitlyn, he just happened not to have any kind of commitments for the next six to eight weeks, she just happened to like making out with him, etc. The timing was fortuitous; just seven days after the premiere of a new Lifetime series called UnREAL, a fictional show about the backstage workings of a reality TV show like The Bachelor, co-created by a woman, Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, who worked for nine seasons as a producer on The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. 

In recent interviews, Shapiro repeatedly insisted UnREAL is not based directly on her experiences on The Bachelor. That, frankly, seems about as authentic as The Bachelor itself. UnREAL is a fictional show, and clearly includes fabrications and exaggerations. But it also looks a lot like the genuine article, and if even a quarter of the behind-the-scenes shenanigans it depicts are true, then The Bachelorette is even grosser and more manipulative than I’ve ever realized (and I’m the guy who calls it “romance torture porn”).

On UnREAL, the executive producer pays her staff bonuses for stirring up drama. Her henchmen and women suggest behaviors and dialogue to certain contestants to use in order to shape their characters. Every contestant on the show within a show (called “Everlasting,” where women get diamond bracelets instead of roses) has a psychological profile, which segment producers use to deliberately manipulate their emotions and draw out the breakdowns and tantrums they need to make exciting television.

Even if you’re not a Bachelor fan, UnREAL is a fun, juicy watch (with none of the guilt of watching a reality show, where actual lives are ruined by all the gross behavior). If you are a Bachelor fan, it’s essential viewing. And it’s hard not to think about UnREAL during this week’s Bachelorette, which was so loaded with “spontaneous” drama, all of which, when you think about it, couldn’t possibly be spontaneous. After Nick drops his bombshell, Kaitlyn is so confused she needs someone to go talk to; she winds up at the hair salon of Ashley, one of the crazier women on the last season of The Bachelor. Are we just supposed to believe Kaitlyn randomly decided to stop by her old pal Ashley’s shop because she needed a shoulder to cry on? And, as luck would have it, Ashley didn’t have any appointments at the time?

There’s no luck involved; all these elaborate shoots had to be planned, and staffed, and produced. Later, Nick and Kaitlyn have an intense and allegedly impromptu conversation on a Lower East Side street corner — except it’s impossible to shoot a scene on a New York street corner with one camera, much less the four or five The Bachelorette used, without permission. And that permission has to be set up days (or weeks?) in advance.

I’m not saying Nick and Kaitlyn don’t like each other, or that their conversations are scripted. I’m merely observing that the only “reality” The Bachelorette documents is its own. And in that reality, one must obey the rules or suffer the consequences. It doesn’t matter whether Kaitlyn wants true love; in the minds of most of the other bachelors, she should be forced to choose from one of them regardless of whether they’ve got a genuine connection or not. Just what punishment Kaitlyn and Nick receive from these dudes for daring to violate those rules will likely define most of the rest of this season.

Additional Thoughts:

-Though it got brushed aside by all the drama around Nick, Clint’s dismissal was as awkward as promised, and included what could only be described as a breakup with his bromantic buddy JJ. Before Clint left he confronted JJ (who turned on him as soon as he saw the writing on the wall) saying, in part, “That tie goes really well with your shirt... you piece of s---.” JJ was so upset about that fashion slam that he broke down in tears in an on-camera interview and had to slap himself in the face to regain his composure.

-Both group dates this week involved public humiliation. The men fortunate enough to escape the rap battle got stuck singing and dancing on stage with the cast of the Aladdin Broadway musical, which just so happens to be owned by Disney, which just so happens to own ABC, which just so happens to air The Bachelorette. Because nothing in this world is more romantic than corporate synergy.

-The Good Guy of the Week: Justin, for being one of the few contestants who wasn’t threatened by Nick’s arrival, and encouraged Kaitlyn to do whatever she felt was best for her (since, y’know, the show is supposedly about her and her journey to find a husband.)

-Line of the Night: Justin as well, when he refused to get too worked up about the arrival of Nick and said “It’s not going to detour me.” He meant it wasn’t going to deter him. But sure, he won’t be talking any long car rides down any backroads any time soon either.

-Line of the Night (That Sounded the Most Like a Future UnREAL Subplot): “I’m not here to be the villain. I’m here because of you.” That was Nick, trying to convince Kaitlyn that he’s coming back to the show for “the right reasons.” On UnREAL, producers work hard to figure out who in their cast can “play” the season’s villain, and fight to keep that person around so that she can antagonize the “good” characters for as long as possible. Nick isn’t here to be the villain. But he’s going to become one anyway.

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