Sometimes the best way to understand how something works is to think about all the ways it could’ve been different. Such is the case with the supposedly unedited scene from Monday night’s finale of The Bachelor, a half-hour long spectacle of human misery and producer-driven exploitation.
When Arie Luyendyk Jr. decided to break it off with his fiancée, Becca, after the usual rose ceremony conclusion of the season, the rest of the episode could’ve been your typical glossy Bachelor package. If you’ve watched enough Bachelor, it’s easy enough to imagine what it would’ve looked like. We might have seen footage of people weeping prettily, framed attractively by local foliage. We could’ve seen shots of Becca taking off her ring, and a cut to Arie with his head in his hands. It would’ve ended with a shot of Arie walking down a road, perhaps wiping a single tear from his eye, followed by a shot of Becca standing on a balcony, her face crumpled despondently. That alternate version of this episode would have been plenty of exploitation porn for The Bachelor. It would’ve been sufficient to mark Arie as a villain and to launch the redemption narrative for Becca’s inevitable turn as the Bachelorette.
That vision of the breakup between Arie and Becca, that familiar Bachelor construction of a sad moment between two people? That’s not what happened.
What we got instead was an excruciating split-screen scene of the entire final moments of two people’s relationship with one another. For 30 minutes, The Bachelor finale gave us footage from one camera focused on Arie’s face and another on Becca’s, so that we didn’t have to miss even a moment of their pain. The hardening of Becca’s face as she listened to Arie say that he “wanted to see if [it] was a possibility” to get back with Lauren? Saw it. The sudden turn into mortification as Becca realized this entire exchange was being filmed? Saw it. We could see Becca trying desperately to walk away from the cameras, and we could see Arie look to a producer for guidance before he walked after her, bringing more cameras with him. We saw Becca warn him “don’t touch me,” and we saw him continue to dejectedly follow her around, oblivious to her wishes. The decision to air this entire breakdown, from not one but two camera angles at the same time, amounted to a producer-level decision that if some human exploitation was good for the show, the maximum possible onscreen torture would be even better.
Again, nothing about this was inevitable. The most obvious way it could have been different is that Arie could have broken up with Becca off camera. He should’ve had the decency to understand that no person ever wants to experience a totally unexpected breakup from their fiancé, and if it must happen, then they absolutely do not want it to be filmed for a national audience. Even more than that, Arie should’ve had the basic self-preservation instinct to understand that this was an unimaginably bad idea for his own narrative. There was no universe in which watching joyful footage of him proposing to a woman and then watching him immediately, stonily, informing her he just can’t stop thinking about someone else, would’ve made him look sympathetic.
But more importantly, the episode did not have to look the way it did. The wrenching “unedited” split-screen footage had no purpose except to give the Bachelor audience the maximum number of voyeuristic vantage points for someone’s private agony. The lengthy clip of an empty hallway, overlaid with audio of Becca weeping, was cruel. Watching a camera crew following Becca down to a bedroom, capturing shots of her frantically stuffing her belongings into a suitcase, felt like watching a stalking crime in progress. And through it all, we got short clips of Chris Harrison watching from inside a room with a live studio audience, saying things like, “believe it or not, there’s actually much more to come.” Harrison tried to look as shocked as the rest of us as he said it, but the wolfish delight underneath shone through.
The other takeaway of the scene was that while Bachelor producer Mike Fleiss and others at ABC may have been gleefully touting the history-making unedited scene for days ahead of the airing, actually watching the footage immediately called its “unedited” status into question. More than once, one of the cameras following Arie or Becca cut to black. Were those, mercifully, a few brief moments where a camera was turned off to protect one of the two people on the screen?
Probably not. The most telling black screen came after Arie walked outside the house, apparently to finally acquiesce to Becca’s repeated requests that he leave her alone. He exits the house. His half of the screen goes to black. When it flickers back on, there he is, walking back into the house to confront Becca once again. What other conclusion could the audience reach, except that the camera had briefly cut in order to cover up the intrusion of a producer, prodding Arie to keep this ratings gold going? What seemed initially designed to show us a real moment between two people ended up doing something very, very different: It became a presentation of a man being puppeteered by reality-TV producers, and it became an indictment of a franchise plummeting to new depths of ratings-mining cynicism.