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This Time, the Winner of The Bachelorette Was the Bachelorette

Photo: John Fleenor/ABC

Last night, at the end of one of The Bachelor franchise’s two-night, multi-hour finales, Hannah Brown was treated to rapturous applause from the live studio audience. She stood alone. Her season of The Bachelorette was over, but Hannah was not in an official couple, she wasn’t engaged, and she wasn’t even dating someone. After accepting a proposal from Jed Wyatt in a typically sweeping final rose ceremony in Greece, and then swiftly dumping him thereafter in some anonymous living-room set, no doubt hastily arranged by the show’s producers, Hannah finished the season by herself.

Usually The Bachelorette frames the winner as the final contestant, whichever man who makes it through the gauntlet of group dates and fantasy suites and emerges as the last dude standing. But Hannah, this season’s leading woman, is the first person in the franchise’s history to complete her season by refusing to declare herself in love with someone and get an overwhelmingly positive reception from the show’s audience. (A dozen years ago, when Brad Womack ended his Bachelor season by refusing to propose to either of his two finalists, it earned him a vicious villain edit and a second season as Bachelor so he could redeem himself.) Hannah Brown, Bachelorette, is the undoubted winner of The Bachelorette.

The reason for that comes down to Hannah herself, because she’s hardly the first woman on this franchise to be subjected to a batch of absolute wieners. The show has routinely filled out its cast with dubiously eligible guys, men who are racists or potential sociopaths or just totally underwhelming drips. Hannah’s season was no exception; the poor woman sampled more flavors of toxic masculinity than she did sponsored bites of Halo Top. But unlike many past Bachelorettes, Hannah eventually swatted them all down with a resilience and self-possession that flipped her heartbreak on its head. She roundly refused to find Luke Parker’s stalker-y obsession with the state of her Christian soul to be romantic. After initially declaring herself in love with Jed Wyatt, she read the tabloid coverage about his other relationships with women, saw his dickishness clearly for what it was, and had no interest in staying with him despite his apologies.

Hannah’s dominance went beyond just her interactions with those men, though. It’s true that the season’s most memorable moments were the instances when she smacked her suitors firmly back into place. There was the “I had sex and Jesus still loves me!” moment with Luke, the brilliant podium-moving scene where she literally dismantled the structure of a Bachelor rose ceremony to reassert her own power, and then the deliberate ring-removal breakup in the finale. But Hannah’s more impressive, more unusual choices were the subtler ones. In the “Men Tell All” episode, and then again at the end of the finale’s first night, Hannah turned directly to the camera to address the Bachelorette audience, and explained how she felt about her own role in this reality-TV show.

In the first instance, during the “Men Tell All” episode, Hannah spoke to the camera to issue an apology. She said that she is in part responsible for why this season spent so much time on Luke, an unrepentant jagoff whose manipulative use of Christian ideology should be held up as a case study for emotional abuse. “I just want to say, Bachelor Nation, I am sorry,” she told viewers. “I’m sorry for Luke … being on our television screens for so long. It’s my fault. A lot his, but I did it. I am sorry.” The apology was unusual because she made it directly to the audience rather than to Chris Harrison or to a partner; she took ownership not just of her own behavior, but of the framing and construction of this season of TV. By apologizing for the fact that Luke Parker showed up onscreen so much, Hannah cast herself as the architect of the season. Not the producers, not Chris Harrison, not unnamed and unseen editors, but herself.

The same thing happened during last night’s finale. Though Hannah spoke more to Chris Harrison than directly to the camera, she still framed the end of the episode as a product of her own decisions rather than as the result of producer control. “I know there are a lot of rumors out there,” she said, before adding that she had many questions she wanted to be answered. “I hope I’ll be able to do that.” She did not clarify those questions, but she clearly was alluding to stories of Jed spending time with and ghosting other women. The takeaway, once again, was that Hannah would be asking the questions, and that she would issue the last word on whether the “rumors” were true. It left Chris Harrison with little left to say except “thank you.”

All of these actions — the podium moving and the insistence on not being shamed for having sex, the direct-to-camera address and the ownership of this season’s story — then culminated in Hannah’s position as the season’s hero. Rather than being successfully matched with one of the contestants, the ostensible goal of The Bachelorette, her heroism came by vanquishing the idiots, by sussing out their lies and falsehoods and insisting on her own personhood. Harrison tried to shift the conversation back to dating over and over, particularly once Jed had been put out of his misery and runner-up Tyler was allowed to return. But Hannah was in control.

Most of the applause at the end of the finale, most of the wild and uncontrollable screaming, was sparked by the possibility that Hannah would take Tyler back. As he walked out onstage, Chris Harrison’s main role was to make suggestive expressions with his eyebrows and ask leading questions about whether Hannah still has feelings for Tyler. When Hannah did finally agree to ask Tyler out for a drink, the studio audience exploded with glee. She was maybe going to date him! There might be a happy romantic ending after all!

But even that concession to fairy-tale romance was measured and small scale. There was no Jason Mesnick–esque declaration of love for the runner-up, and Hannah did not apologize to Tyler for picking someone else first. Tyler, to his credit, didn’t ask that of her. All he wanted was to reinforce Hannah’s victory, to celebrate her for standing on her own, and to hope for her future happiness. And Hannah, clearly overcome by the crowd’s reaction, was nevertheless still unwavering in how she wanted to frame the end of this season. She was willing to go with Tyler for a drink. To hang out. To spend some time together as “normal people.” It was a choice made on her own terms.

Hannah Brown won her own season of The Bachelorette. She did it by holding firm against the pressure to stay with men she didn’t trust, and by being both self-possessed and self-aware about her position as the lead of this season. In an ideal world, one where the show’s producers have watched the reception to this season and learned from Hannah’s success, the Bachelor franchise will push the show further in this direction. Hannah entered the Bachelor-verse as a veteran of Colton’s season, a reality-TV story that famously ended with the lead going AWOL in order to ditch the show’s format so he could try to persuade the woman he loved to take him back. Between that performance and Hannah’s careful control of her own narrative, we may be looking at a Bachelor franchise that has finally figured out that the real enemy is its own reality-show structure. It would be a surprising, unexpected, late-in-the-game reveal, something the Bachelor audience could really root for. If this trend continues, and the show leans into the idea of dismantling its own format, that move could save the show from its own outdated, regressive sexual politics. It would be a classic and unexpectedly satisfying Bachelor-style twist.

The Winner of The Bachelorette Was the Bachelorette