All week long, Vulture explores what happens to reality TV contestants after the show ends — and the future of the genre itself.
To date or not to date. This is the question that typically follows a stint on a reality-TV dating show. Once a reality contestant’s been exposed, trying to make meaningful connections in the world can be a tall order (however flattering the attention). Vulture asked Chris Bukowski, Courtney Robertson, and Reid Rosenthal of The Bachelor franchise, along with Marissa Floro of Dating Naked, to share their struggles and experiences.
Reid Rosenthal is best known for his vulnerable marriage proposal to Jillian Harris, after she had eliminated him on The Bachelorette. He gave Bachelor Pad a shot three years later. The 36-year-old Philadelphia realtor has been in a relationship for two years, but he well remembers the heady months after he became one of the franchise’s most popular contestants.
The summer after I came off the show, I almost had to stop going out. Girls will be crazy when they see you on TV, and it’s a show about love. I have a lot of fun memories of girls going wild at bars. My friends always wanted me to go out because I was their wingman. At some point, maybe two months after, I was like, "Guys, I’m done going out, I can’t handle it, it’s too much." You get a little paranoid at certain points because you don’t know if someone knows you for real and you should remember their name, or if it’s a random person. At some point you’ve got to decide to get back to your real life, and that gets a little difficult at times. I might’ve had a little bit of an ego at one point. Not in a bad way, but just knowing that if I went up to somebody because I was interested, they might know who I am. It skews the lines between real life and La-La Land. When you get recognized, you don’t know who to focus on. You have to go back to, what are my values, and what type of person would I have gone for before?
Courtney Robertson became famous for skinny-dipping on the 16th season of The Bachelor, evolving into the mansion’s mean girl. In 2014, she wrote the New York Times best-selling tell-all I Didn’t Come Here to Make Friends: Confessions of a Reality Show Villain, in which she revealed she had dated actors Adrian Grenier and Jesse Metcalfe. Robertson now lives in Santa Monica, California, and works as a real-estate agent.
Dating after the show was really tricky. I had a hard time trusting people's intentions. I was on a date once, and this guy was like, "You have this huge following. Can you post a picture of me and tag?" Like, he was trying to gain followers! That was so unattractive to me. I once got stuck on a dinner-and-a-movie date with a guy whose card was declined, and I ended up paying for the whole night. I’m more than willing to go dutch on a date, but to get stuck for a $300 dinner was kind of crazy. He wanted treats, too. At the movie, he asked, "Hey, can I get popcorn and Red Vines?" They weren’t all bad, though. I dated someone for a while who contacted me through social media. The girl he was seeing at the time made him watch the show. After they broke up, he reached out to me. He was a great guy, actually. But more generally, I didn’t think through how the show would change my life. I don't trust men to begin with, so being on the show made my trust issues worse. I was the villain, and people always have a lot of questions. It was tiring. When I meet someone new that I'm excited about, the last thing I want to do is talk about my failed engagement.
No one has looked for love on The Bachelor franchise more than Chris Bukowski. Since 2012, he’s competed on five iterations of the dating reality contest, appearing twice on The Bachelorette, twice on Bachelor in Paradise, and once on Bachelor Pad. Bukowski, 28, is now a bar owner and dating-app developer in Arlington, Virginia, and recently published a retirement letter in which he calls himself “the biggest joke on reality TV,” vowing to permanently “hang up the roses.”
It is an absolute struggle to date right now, for various reasons. When you do go on that first date, they usually know about you already, so it defeats the purpose. I went on one date, and this girl asked me how my mom and dad were and referred to them by their first names. It was the creepiest thing I had ever heard. I've gotten to the point where dating has just been going on one date — there's never been one where I make it to a second date or think there is something there. Recently, I was out in Vegas, and my friend and I were talking to a few girls, having this great conversation. The next day, one of the girls said, "I love you on the show," and I think, Oh, man. I did go out with a woman once who initially didn’t know I had been on the shows, and it was great. But she found out from her friends, and it was game over for me. Because then it’s all questions, and all she wanted to do was talk about it. I don’t want to talk about it. I guess I do it to myself because I keep going on the show. So I might have this problem for a while.
When people recognize Marissa Floro for competing on Dating Naked, they usually want to know, “What have you done?” The 28-year-old video-game tester’s response: "Uh, I didn't do anything except go on a date. What's so wrong with that?”
Right after the show finished, I went straight back to work. And as soon as I did, I met my current boyfriend. I tried to dress dopey so I wasn't pretty because I didn't want to date at work. But then this guy comes over, and he’s really good-looking. We started dating in June, and he didn’t know I had gone on the show [which premiered in July]. When the show came out, I finally told him. He actually was like, "Okay, this is before I met you." He was fine with it. But then, during the wedding episode, a lot of guys are talking to me, and of course we’re all undressed. He was like, "You know, I really don't want to hear about it. I don't want all these guys looking at my girlfriend being naked. This is really weird.” For me, I was like, "Yeah, it's weird for me, too." It was definitely a learning experience with him. He felt really insecure about it. But now he's secure because I'm like, I live with you, I love you, I've been with you a long time. Most of my relationships have never gone past two months because I figure out what their flaws are. We're both gamers, and that really ties us together. We spend time together playing video games, and he cooks. He handles some of the bills, I handle some of the bills. It's kind of perfect.