So far, two episodes into this 12th season of The Bachelorette, it’s too early to say what will stand out as the signature of JoJo’s turn at the rose-strewn altar. But for now I’d like to nominate Chad, or, as he’ll forever be known to me, Meat Chad.
It’s been astutely and correctly observed that one of Chad’s most notable qualities is being a Bachelor-contestant-shaped Donald Trump. But the thing that drew my eye to him, and the eyes of thousands of Bachelorette viewers, is his penchant for stuffing his face with food. He eats plain lunch meat, most specifically, but he also eats what looks like chicken on a skewer, wings, and a chunk of pineapple. In one shot, the camera zooms in on a loaded plate he’s prepared for himself as he sits down on a sofa to insult some other contestants. In another, we watch him whistle to himself as he fills another plate from the spread provided to contestants during the second episode’s cocktail party. His crowning glory is the moment when, mid–Rose Ceremony, we watch him pull out a piece of meat and eat it. (Pull it out from where?!)
It’s silly. It’s ridiculous. Like so much successful early season Bachelor contestant-dom, Chad uses that meat as a stunt, just like his chained suitcase workout weight and wolfishly negging style. Chad is Brad Pitt from the Ocean’s Eleven movies, if that character were a fan of The Pickup Artist. It becomes yet another way to make himself memorable, and to make himself the center of conversation among the contestants and the audience. He’s provided with lots of help from The Bachelorette’s editing team, which intercuts images of him chewing with other contestants marveling at his rapaciousness.
But the genius of Meat Chad is that he’s also illuminating an element of the show that often gets shoved into a corner: These filming nights are hours and hours long. Keeping contestants happy means making sure they don’t starve. This small feature of The Bachelor and Bachelorette feels like an obvious secret — everyone has to eat at some point, and food appears on the show regularly. One-on-one dates are almost always structured around a meal, and many conversations are framed as food-adjacent. Especially as the season goes on, bachelors and bachelorettes lead their chosen objects to carefully prepared sites ranging from formal place settings to oh-so-casually arranged picnics on windy bluffs. The climax of most hometown dates is an around-the-table family dinner. Bachelors lead contestants to these painstakingly prepared locations to have painstakingly prepared conversations, but we all immediately recognize the pretext: They’re eating together.
Except, they rarely actually eat — at least not on-camera. Shots of the food itself are sparse and downplayed in episode edits. The focus of a Bachelorette date should be the drama, not whether the salmon looks good. And it follows that for the relative scarcity of food depicted on the show, dialogue in which participants discuss what they’re eating is almost unheard of. When it appears, it’s usually an edit to suggest the date was deathly boring.
It’s not hard to see why. Bodies as they actually exist in the world are not the territory of The Bachelor. Hot bodies, leeringly filmed in the context of roaring beaches, are fine. Bodies that have failed in dramatic ways, ideally leading to ambulance sirens, are also fine, at least for one or two dramatic sequences. Bodies tangled up, partially obscured by bubbling hot tubs? Excellent.
But bodies that function as normal human bodies, people who aren’t in dramatic pain but are merely uncomfortable, people who have to pee, people who are exhausted by the hours-long cocktail parties — people who are hungry — those people do not exist in the Bachelor fairy-tale world.
This does not hold true for people who are thirsty. Unlike eating, drinking can usually be done neatly and without making awkward chewing faces, and no reasonably portioned side of asparagus has ever said “TV romance” like a glass of Champagne. Eating, though. Eating is a thing we watch on shows like The Biggest Loser and Survivor and The Last Alaskans, shows where bodily realities exist to create dramatic tension. Food exists on all of the countless reality shows about food preparation, food styling, food competitions. But on The Bachelor, food only lets us remember that these people are less fantastically stereotypical and more messily human than we’d like.
Our eyes are drawn to Chad stuffing rolls of turkey into his mouth, because unlike the staged conversations and perpetually twinkling candles, that turkey feels authentic. He’s a contestant who’s insisted on bursting the typical Bachelorette bubble and filling the empty space with his own loathsome, red-pill-style wooing strategies, and he mocks the falseness of men vying for JoJo’s attention before even knowing her. He’s running on a contestant campaign platform of truth telling. Intentionally or otherwise, drawing attention to this one human aspect of Bachelorette production lets him enact his message. He literally eats his words.
So bravo, Meat Chad. May your reign be delicious, and brief.