Why Juan Pablo Really Matters

This has easily been the weirdest season of The Bachelor ever. Yes, even weird for a show that is basically about strangers deciding to marry each other. If you’ve never seen The Bachelor and/or haven’t been keeping up with all of Juan Pablo’s exploits on Jezebel, I’ll give you a quick run-down. The show has a very basic structure that they have now reproduced 18 times. In early years, the Bachelor was selected from a normal applicant pool, but now that The Bachelor’s sister show The Bachelorette is a huge hit, the Bachelor is the “fan-favorite” of the rejected contestants from the previous season of The Bachelorette. Some absurd number of women arrive at “the house” (this year it was 27) and they are gradually wittled down to one over the series of group-dates, one-on-one dates, hometown visits (for the final four), a night in the “fantasy suite” (no cameras, for the final three) meeting the bachelor’s parents (the final two), all set in beautiful locations all around the world. The Bachelor is instructed not to reveal his full emotions to the women to avoid too much heartbreak (mostly they don’t say “I love you” on the show until they’ve chosen a winner, although the women are certainly pressured to do so to prove their feelings for him), but when a woman is chosen, the Bachelor is expected to get down on one knee. That is the point of the show after all, an eligible bachelor looking for a wife.

Of course, this isn’t always how it goes down. Only two couples from the show are currently married to their chosen winner (famously, Jason Mesnick dumped his fiance after the finale to be with the runner-up). But recently, The Bachelor has been trying to change its image. The last two seasons of the show (the only two I’ve watched, for the record) have resulted in engagements and had many discussions of being there “for the right reasons.” (Please watch this rap music video from last year’s The Bachelorette featuring Soulja Boy. You won’t regret it.)

This is where Juan Pablo Galvis comes in. He’s a 32 year old, American-born Venezuelan former pro soccer player, who has said he’s a “single father.” (He does have a daughter and he is single, but he pays his ex-girlfriend child-support, so that’s not really the same thing as what the term “single father” implies.) He was kicked off fairly early in Desiree Hartsock’s season of The Bachelorette, but was regardless fan-favorite and chosen to be the next Bachelor. Here’s a run-down of some of the “drama” from JP’s season. Early on, he made homophobic comments to the press about why a gay bachelor would be “too racy” for TV, used his daughter to excuse him from kissing women he was not interested in, slut-shamed a front-runner for hooking up with him in the ocean in Vietnam and said by doing so she had “disrespected” his daughter, constantly told crying women (often crying because of some insensitive or cruel thing Juan Pablo himself had said in the name of “honesty”) to cut it out and promise never to be hurt by him again, made so little of an effort to get to know women that two of them left of their own accord, dumped a single mother (actually a sole-provider for her son) on her birthday, and the list goes on and on. Long story short? Juan Pablo constantly disrespected the woman who were there to marry him and when any of them confronted him, he replied with his now famous line, “It’s okay.”

Screen Shot 2014-03-15 at 12.47.18 PM
Two contestants mock Juan Pablo’s typical routine–face-touching while saying “it’s okay”

This makes him not only a terrible capital-b Bachelor, but just a pretty terrible potential partner. But this wasn’t what the story was after the finale Monday night. As is typical, Juan Pablo did stupid sexist things in the episode. He told the runner-up (consequently the same woman he slut-shamed in Vietnam) in an off-camera moment, “I don’t really know you, and you don’t really know me, but I can’t wait to fuck you,” then convinced her to stay, then dumped her on national TV. Messed up, right? But that’s not the story. That’s not why The Bachelor has all but disowned him from “Bachelor nation.” It’s because when he chose pediatric nurse Nikki he didn’t get down on one knee or make a declaration of love at any point, he just said “I really like you a lot.” At the “After the Rose” special, it was revealed that Juan Pablo, months after the taping of the finale, had still not said those three magic words to his chosen contestant. Most of the show revolved around the host, Chris Harrison, and former Bachelors and Bachelorettes acting shocked that he would not do so publicly, the most notable objection coming from Catherine Lowe nee Giudici who said, “Don’t slap the hand that fed you.”

Obviously, The Bachelor has not become a success because of it’s attention to feminism. The entire show is based on a very heteronormative style of dating. In The Bachelor, the Bachelor is given full credit for “planning” the dates. In The Bachelorette, the Bachelorette acts just as stunned as the contestants when they find a meal laid out for them at a romantic lighthouse, or whatever. It’s a subtle difference but is an example of all the ways The Bachelor wants to enforce gender stereotypes. Female contestants are regularly pushed to do things they’re not comfortable doing (being naked for a photo shoot, eating bugs in a foreign country, going bungee jumping) to prove their affection for the Bachelor. Any time a woman becomes uncomfortable with her “boyfriend” dating and kissing other women, the show makes her out to be irrational and needy (when men do the same on The Bachelorette it’s much more acceptable–they’re just looking out for their woman, after all). The “cat fights” in the Bachelor mansion are edited into main story arcs. While there is a fantasy suite, for the last few seasons everyone has made a big show of not having sex (former Bachelor Sean Lowe was even saving himself for marriage, though he liked to remind everyone that he was “Second,” aka not a virgin). As much as the network markets the show as an unusual way to find love, in the way it’s produced it’s clear that it’s exactly the kind of feminist nightmare you think it is—let’s watch 27 women fight for one lucky, lucky guy by being sexy, not slutty.

But before the finale, watching Juan Pablo on the show was oddly refreshing. The sexism was not subtle, every review of the show was talking about it, though oftentimes without the explicit terminology. Hell, the host himself regularly gave interviews about how he disagreed with how Juan Pablo had handled certain situations. Oddly enough, having a terrible Bachelor was a chance for the show to play with some of the sexist tropes, and maybe even fix some before the next season. Instead, however, they’ve managed to change the conversation entirely so both the show and Juan Pablo come out looking good. Barely fifteen minutes were given to Clare (the runner-up who JP treated terribly the entire season) at the “After the Rose” special, most of the show was dedicated to trying to convince Juan Pablo to give the audience what they wanted and what he had explicitly signed up for (JP himself in an oddly lucid moment said, “I’m sorry the show didn’t turn out the way you guys wanted”). Their meaning was implicit: We made you, you owe us the satistfaction of a public declaration of love on national television. Don’t slap the hand that fed you.

After being publicly bashed by the show and basically everyone even casually watching, Juan Pablo was not going to deliver. The next day he tweeted a video to Nikki that was a montage of their time together not only called “Adventures in Loving You” but also ended with Spanish for I love you, “te adoro.” Not only a personal fuck you to the show, this helps fuel the idea that the main conflict of the show was Juan Pablo vs. The Bachelor instead of the much more obvious Juan Pablo vs. women.

Like I said feminism isn’t what you’re looking for when you watch either The Bachelor or The Bachelorette, so I’ll probably keep watching. It has the same fascination of all other reality television—watching supposedly ordinary people make bad, dramatic, controversial, or even revolutionarily good decisions. But the network missed a chance here to prove that The Bachelor is not only about Real Love but also respect. As is, it still holds a place as the show I only reluctantly admit to watching, but, as Chris Harrison said of this season with Juan Pablo, I’m probably gonna have to “shower this one off.”